Iran’s outspoken Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ali Motahari has attacked Friday prayers, one of the pillars the loyal clergy use to prop up Iranian regimes policy messages to the people and the local media.
The Tehran MP has insisted that Friday Prayer leaders take orders from a “central command” and merely parrot the catchphrases dictated.
In a comparison that most Shi'ite clergy would consider an affront, Motahari compared today’s Friday Prayers to those from the time of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. For Shi'ite religious leaders, this would be like telling a democratic country its media is controlled as in a dictatorship.
In an interview with the Khabaronline news website, Motahari criticized what he said is the “inappropriate distribution of the ruling system’s tribunes,” adding, “It is not right to see that only certain people who praise the system and never criticize it are licensed to speak from public podiums and tribunes.”
Speaking out against the communal Friday Prayer ceremonies is quite unprecedented. The ruling system has always insisted they are the “real trenches of the Islamic Revolution” in a war against “anti-revolutionaries” and all other “hostile forces.”
During the first days of the Iranian Revolution, Friday Prayer ceremonies in Tehran and other cities were jam-packed with people eager for revolutionary guidelines, revolutionary slogans, and rosy messages about an ideal future.
Friday Prayer leaders in the capital -- the ayatollahs Mahmoud Taleghani, Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Mohammad Beheshti, and even Ali Khamenei (today’s supreme leader but a mid-ranking cleric at the time) -- were treated like celebrities. Their speeches attracted hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life.
Comparing the current ceremonies in Iran to those held during the most hated historical eras for the Shi’a, the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, Motahari reiterated, “It is clear that all Friday Prayer leaders parrot the same monotonous hackneyed sermons. There’s a central command that orders them to talk against a certain person or elaborate on a certain subject, and all obey.”
Such a mechanism, he maintained, “eliminates Friday Prayer leaders’ independence.”
Thoughtful, intelligent, quality men have long been kept out of the Friday Prayer arena and public tribunes, Motahari continued. “There would be no problem if a Friday Prayer leader decided to criticize the entities and organizations under the supreme leader’s direct supervision. Then, the audience would feel a natural atmosphere. We should leave artificial trappings behind,” he said.
Noting a drop in quality of the sermons, he said, “Today, the repellant power of the sermons is much more than their attraction. Sermons delivered on the basis of outside orders have deeply damaged the position of communal Friday Prayer as an important Islamic, political, and social stronghold.”
However, historically, Shi’ite clergy have discouraged Shi’a from attending communal Friday Prayer in the absence of their 12th imam, Mahdi.
Nevertheless, the practice of communal Friday Prayer was welcomed by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and became a standard practice in post-revolution Iran.