Part of the text of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's email including his seal.
Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri is one of Shia Islam's most respected theologians.
At one stage he was designated to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini in the role of Iran's Supreme Leader. He is now one of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fiercest critics.
The Grand Ayatollah rarely grants interviews, but when BBC Radio 4's Analysis programme submitted a number of questions via his website, he responded in detail. His answers to those questions are translated below.
What is your view of claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in contact with the Hidden Imam and that his government is working for the return of the Mahdi?
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
With Salaam and greetings!
During his occultation or disappearance it is possible to establish contact with His Holiness the Hidden Imam (may God speed his return). But anyone who made such contact would never dream of announcing it publicly because making use of such claims for propaganda and political purposes would be contrary to the qualities required for such contact. The best way to prepare for the re-appearance of the Hidden Imam would be to act in accordance with Islamic teachings in order to establish justice and Islamic values in society.
How far has the current regime fallen - in your view - from the ideal of the Islamic Republic?
Although some sincere and faithful people have made great efforts and endeavours now and in the past to implement the goals of the revolution, unfortunately, due to the short-sightedness, ineptitude and lack of wisdom, as well as arrogance and neglect of the demands of the majority of the people by a small inefficient minority, many of the initial ideals of the revolution have not been fulfilled. In view of this, our people are very dissatisfied and they protest against the deviations from the goals of the revolution.
In what ways is it, in your view, "un-Islamic" and even guilty of crimes against Islam?
As has been already mentioned, there are some sincere individuals in the country among some sections of the government who are committed to Islam and to the interests of the country and the revolution. Unfortunately, those people are not the ones who take the major decisions. The current decisions, which are being taken by the minority faction that is in power, are mainly against the interests of the country, and are not in keeping with Islamic principles and values. If the present course of action continues - in terms of the way the government has dealt with the protests by the majority of the people against the results of the recent presidential election, and in terms of the arrests and the trials of political activists and members of the elite - trials which are illegal and against Islam - then the rift between the people and the government will continue to grow and people's dissatisfaction will increase.
Has the legitimacy of the role of Supreme Leader been eroded and, if so, why?
As, in my view, the government will not achieve legitimacy without the support of the people, and as the necessary and obligatory condition for the legitimacy of the ruler is his popularity and the people's satisfaction with him; therefore, the present dissatisfaction - which is unfortunately increasing - will have a direct bearing on the legitimacy of the ruling establishment, unless the wiser figures in the nation can think of a solution by changing the current policies, and can remove the causes of the dissatisfaction of the majority of the people, and deal with the people with kindness, mercy, compassion and humility.
You have called for reform and greater democracy. What role do you see for the clergy in a reformed Republic? Should the role of Supreme Leader be abolished?
Just as activist clerics played an important role in starting the revolution, in its victory and in the establishment of the Islamic Republic, so they can play their role in improving the affairs of the current regime and in establishing democracy - which was one of the main goals of the revolution. The leadership can play a fundamental role in winning public satisfaction, in removing the obstacles to reforms, in changing the present violent policies, and putting the key decisions and important responsibilities of the country in the hands of efficient, expert, wise, and balanced individuals who are trusted by the people.
What (if anything) should Iranian clerics do to bring about change in Iran?
The important action that the esteemed Iranian clerics can and must take in order to initiate reforms, to change the present situation and the current policies, must be in step with the people - with intellectuals and experts, with the members of the elite and with committed political activists. The clerics should tell the people of their rights. They must also remain faithful the values of the revolution and to the goals of the reforms. Otherwise, their social standing among the people will become weaker and shakier.
I wish for your success.
Dated: 21 Mehr 1388 [13 October 2009]
Holy [City of] Qum,
[Signed] Hoseyn Ali Montazeri
[followed by Ayatollah Montazeri's signature and seal]
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