Leader's Speech in Meeting with Clergy of Semnan Province

The following is the full text of the speech delivered on November 8, 2006 by Ayatollah Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, in a meeting with the clergy of Semnan Province. The meeting was held on the first day of the Leader's trip to Semnan.

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace and greetings be upon our Master and Prophet Ab-al-Qassem Muhammad and upon his immaculate, pure and chosen household, especially the one remaining with Allah on earth.

It is a source of great happiness for me to be among the dear, honorable and esteemed clergy of Semnan province, including you young clergy and the honorable ulama and professors - whether those who are from Semnan or the gentlemen who have come from Shahrud and other cities. I have been familiar with a number of these dear and great personalities since many years ago and I hold them in great respect.

The virtues of the seminarians of Semnan province - including the city of Semnan, Shahrud, Damghan and other counties and cities - are clear to me. Tonight in particular, I have become really and deeply happy to witness the youthful enthusiasm of you seminarian brothers and sisters. Your enthusiasm, your preparedness, your young sprits and your willingness to take action are a source of hope for the future. I am happy to see this large number of the clergy of Semnan in our meeting.

Of course, religious studies and knowledge in this province enjoy a rich background and the achievements of Semnan, Shahrud, Damghan, Bastam and other cities in this province are clear to you. During the time when we were pursuing our religious studies, there were great personalities such as the late Allamah Semnani in this area. Although he was exiled to Semnan, he stayed in this city and he insisted that he should be called Semnani: Haeri Semnani. This insistence is meaningful.

Another example is the late Ayatollah Shahrudi who was a marja taqlid and a seminarian researcher. Another example is the late Agha Sheikh Agha Bozorg Shahrudi Ashrafi who was an excellent mullah. If he had stayed in Najaf, he would definitely have become a marja taqlid. These personalities strengthened the bases of knowledge and religion in this area. This is the religious and scholarly background and performance of this province.

We do not want to be proud of our forefathers by commemorating their memory because some people might say, "Given that your father was a scholar, what about you?" The issue is not this. The issue is that this area has a talent for building scholars and scholarly and seminarian personalities. When one comes to such an environment, one's mental tiredness will really be relieved. That is to say, whoever comes to this area feels that one branch from the many and bursting branches of hope flows here as well and this is very important.

Wherever we seminarians are - including Qom, Mashhad, Islamic seminaries in other cities or if we are students, if we have a seminarian and clerical job or if we have a job in governmental and executive organizations - we should know that today, the clergy have a prominent and peerless role in our country.

When we say, "today", this is not because of the specific conditions of the Islamic Republic. Rather, Shia clergy have always had a unique characteristic. Even now that the Islamic Republic is thriving, that some of its officials have emerged from Islamic seminaries and that the influence of the clergy and religion is vivid in this system, Shia Islamic seminaries have preserved the same characteristic. What is that characteristic? It is independence and popularity.

This does not exist anywhere else in the world. Clerical groups - whether Muslim, Christian and Jewish - are groups which are in touch with the people. For example, people go to church, but the clergy there is radically different from a prayer leader in our country. The former is a person who is attached to a certain political group which is part of the government and the ruling system of that country: a ruling system like the one during the time of Christianity. For example, he is been dispatched by Catholics or Protestants. In such a system, each of their different denominations is dependent on centers of power and they are appointed and dismissed by them. But Shia clergy are not like this.

Shia clergy are only attached to the people and they render services only for the people and for the position of being a cleric. This is why the clergy are financially supported by the people. A number of well-known and trustworthy gentlemen in Qom said to me many times that we should allocate part of governmental resources to Islamic seminaries as funds and fees. It is many years now that I have been opposing this and I have disagreed with it. When I myself dispense funds, I give it from the people's tithe. This is very important: our supporters are the people.

Each clerical official who has an executive position is firstly a clerical personality and secondly, an official. This means that if they leave their governmental post and if they are dismissed, they are still clergy and they engage in clerical work. This is a very great and significant phenomenon and it should be considered to be very important.

Our relationship with the people is a bilateral and close relationship as well. The people attend to the clergy and the clergy attend to the people. The attention that the clergy give to the people is not confined to explaining religious matters. This has become a common idea among us. But besides this, the clergy solve their problems, offer counsel and resolve arguments and fights between the people. The same thing exists in the present time as well. They sit and talk to the people, they offer them advice and they establish a friendly relationship with them. So, wherever our appointees and delegates are - in different occupations - and wherever we send our clergy and friends, this is our advice: For example on the issue of universities, you should behave in the same way that you do when you lead public prayers. In mosques, you sit and talk to the people and when they ask questions, you answer them. They may have certain complaints and problems including psychological and intellectual problems.

This means joining the people. This characteristic - being with the people - has helped our clergy to play a leading role in the great social developments of our country which is the most important Shia country in the world. You should take a look and see if there has been any great and major political development in the country in which the clergy have not stood in the front.

One example is their resistance against the economic transgression of foreigners. The most important example in this regard is the event of tobacco and Regie concession during the time of Mirza Shirazi. Another example was the Reuter concession during which the clergy mounted another opposition.

Another example was the beginning of the Constitutional Movement when the clergy - ranging from Najaf to other cities and countries - played a leading role. If it had not been for the clergy, it would not have been possible to destroy the oppressive and monarchic Qajar regime. Another case is the events after the Constiutional Movement when there were many protests. When Russian agents and other political transgressors created some problems in cities, it was the clergy who played a leading, protective and monitory role.

Even if there was division among the people on a political issue, the clergy were the leaders of both groups. That is to say, the people trusted the clergy. On the issue of the Constitutional Movement, when there was division among the people and some individuals were against the Constitutional Movement, the people took affairs in their hands and followed the Constitutional Movement because of the trust that they had in the leading clergy. They followed it in Mashhad, Zanjan, Tehran and other cities in different ways. Of course, you should know that no cleric was against the Constitutional movement. Rather, opposition to it began when the English showed their presence and their hidden role became clear to everyone. Otherwise, no one from among the clergy was opposed to the Constitutional Movement. Even in Najaf - where there was some evidence - no one was opposed to it.

On the issue of the nationalization of oil industry, it was again the clergy who played a leading role. You should be sure that if it had not been for Ayatollah Kashani, the issue of the nationalization of oil industry would not have been developed at all. Of course, as they say, "Some people use the salt, but they break the salt shaker" [they are ungrateful]. They are benefitting from the oil movement, but they insult the late Ayatollah Kashani. This was while he played a leading role in it. If it had not been for him, the issue of the nationalization of the oil industry would have definitely not reached anywhere in this country.

And it is completely clear how influential the clergy were during the Islamic Revolution. Notice that this is the meaning of being with the people. When the clergy move forward, the people follow them. As the poem says, "Wherever Abu-Dolf goes, the world goes as well". This is the characteristic of Shia clergy.

Now, the Islamic Revolution has achieved victory. The discourse of Shia clergy - belief in the divine government and the government of divine sharia - has achieved victory and it has become common in society. The clergy are present on the scene with their own independent role. But the political system appoints neither marja taqlids nor seminarians. However, Friday prayer leaders are exceptions. This is because leading Friday prayers is one of the responsibilities of the ruling system and the ruler should appoint him. Friday prayer leaders are clergy. A non-cleric and a person who does not have the qualifications for being a cleric cannot be appointed as a Friday prayer leader. Here too, the clerical position of Friday prayer leaders plays the primary role and their political position plays a secondary role. This is our characteristic. Now, we live in the era of the Islamic Revolution. You are its youth and we are its old men. In the future, some people will replace you and this chain will continue.

Now, what is our responsibility? Our first responsibility is to take a serious outlook towards this role of the clergy. I have said many times that despite all these means of mass communication, mosques, religious meetings, sitting in front of the people and talking to them directly has an irreplaceable role. Nothing can replace this role and this belongs to you.

Of course, the clergy should use all means of mass communication. All the clergy should use the Internet and new communication technologies for the sake of religion, as they use TV, the radio and other such means. Political groups kill themselves to acquire such a role, but they cannot. When you who are a cleric and wear a turban or the lady who is a seminarian or mobalegh, sit in front of your audience and when the people know that you are seminarians, this attachment, interest and trust is of a different kind and it has nothing to do with their trust in other speakers. We should appreciate the value of this role.

We should appreciate the value of mosques. We should appreciate the value of religious meetings. Mosques should not be ignored. I disagree with the idea that a seminarian takes an office job and is a prayer leader at the same time because they will not be able to lead prayers one, two, three days a week. When we ask, "Why do you not go?" they answer, "I was busy doing something". Or if they go to lead prayers, they go late. The people are waiting for them and they come hurriedly and hastily. Sometimes, they carry a Samsonite when they go to their mosque. I do not agree with this. Prayer leaders should consider mosques to be their home, their job and their office. When they enter the mosque, they should be like a fish in water. They should feel that mosque is their home and they should not go to mosque hurriedly. This is the right way. The same is true of religious meetings. Of course, mosques come first and then religious meetings and the religious ceremonies that we thankfully have many of. This is our first responsibility and we should appreciate its value.

As I said, this relationship with the people - which exists in mosques and religious meetings - is an influential and effective task. However, it has certain prerequisites and conditions. Many years ago - 40, 50 years ago - I came across a book by the late Sheikh Mohammad Baqir Birjandi who was one of the great ulamas and outstanding personalities of Khorasan and who was Mirza Shirazi's student. He was the father of the late Ayati Birjandi who was also a great scholar. We had met the late Ayati. The name of the book was "Gems and Pearls at First and Second Stages of Rowza". It may have been written by the late Amirza Hossein Nouri. Now, I have doubts about its author. On that day - hundred years ago - a knowledgeable and wise scholar used to specify certain conditions for the first and second stages of a minbar that a rowza performer took.

I will tell you that in the present time these conditions have increased by thousand times. You are in touch with people from all social backgrounds and therefore, you should prepare yourselves. In general, the society of seminarians are in touch with ordinary people, with educated personalities, with youth and the old, with men and women, with the poor and the rich and with members of different political parties and they should prepare themselves for all these people. Notice how difficult this task is.

One of the issues which is very important for us is the issue of our relationship with politics. First of all, they tried for many years to separate religion from politics. Despite the fact that the Islamic Revolution has achieved victory, that religious policy has become the pivot of all activities in the country, and that the issue of politics' inspiration from religion - not religion's inspiration, rather politics' inspiration - has become a popular convention among Muslim nations, they are still trying to flout this convention. If you are familiar with the deeper layers of global political propaganda - apart from the sophistries that foreign media use - you will see that even right now, they are trying to separate religion from politics. They want politicians to carry out their tasks without establishing a relationship with religion and without paying attention to it. And they want the clergy and promoters of religion to only touch on personal and individual rules, rules about taharat, nejasat, damae thalatha [rules relating to the female menstrual cycle] and at most rules about the issue of marriage and divorce.

In Islam, what was the first event that the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) was involved in during the time that he had gotten rid of the pressures of his opponents in Makka? It was forming the government. The Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) came to Madina and formed the government. He did not go to Madina to merely say, "I will correct your beliefs and I will mention religious rules for you and you can elect someone as a ruler for yourselves". This was not the case. Rather, he went to Madina to take political affairs in his hands. Since the beginning of his arrival in that city, he laid down military, political, economic and social guidelines. How can this religion have nothing to do with political, military, economic and social guidelines and still be the Holy Prophet's (s.w.a.) religion? They distort such a clear issue. This was about the relationship with politics which is the most fundamental issue.

What does it mean when we say that the clergy - even the clergy who are not involved in political work such as those who are teachers and prayer leaders and those who are engaged in some aspects of seminarian work - should be political? This is a fundamental point. It means that they should have the capability to analyze political affairs. I always say this to students and the clergy and I would like to say it to you as well because this is related to all seminarians: you should be political, but this does not mean entering into political groups and parties. It does not mean becoming a tool and plaything for this or that political party or for professional politicians. This is not at all what I mean. Rather, being political means having political awareness and the power of political awareness. It means having a sound political compass which shows the direction.

Sometimes, we clergy make a mistake, our compass does not work properly and it does not show the right political direction. This is not something that can be created overnight and on its own. Political work requires diligence and practice. You should become familiar with political issues. You should know the political events in the country and in the world. Today, the clergy need these things. Sitting idle, adopting an indifferent outlook, ignoring the political affairs of the country and society and being unfamiliar with all events - including good and bad ones - make one deviate from the right path. We are a point of reference for the people. They refer to us and if God forbid, we display a wrong sign, or if we say something which the enemy likes, the loss that will be made is very serious. Therefore, an important responsibility that we have today is relation with politics. Drifting away from politics is not good and it is not typical of Shia clergy.

Another thing that is necessary on the issue of clerical characteristics and that we should carefully and seriously pay attention to is the issue of preserving the sanctified position of the clergy. Being a clergy is holy. When the people look at you and me, they hold us in great respect because of our clothes, our position and our jobs. They consider our position to enjoy a kind of sacredness. They think that we do not commit some of the sins that they themselves commit. They think that we do some of the good deeds that they do not do. They think that we are constantly engaging in dhikr and paying attention to God Who is mostly forgotten. They have such notions and thoughts about us. Of course, such notions should not be strengthened.

In one of the duas of his Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya al-Thania, Imam Sajjad (God's greetings be upon him) asks God for six things one of which is, "The superiority of my inner self to my appearance" [speaking in Arabic]. We have problems in this regard. Our inner selves should be better than our appearances. How should we preserve this holiness? Preserving it is only possible with financial and moral health and by preserving our seminarian form and status. I am not saying that we should wear torn abaas. This is not the meaning of preserving seminarian status. Rather, it means that we should not act like materialistic individuals and that we should not wish for whatever we want.

Once I came across a narration which said, "A person who wears whatever he wants, eats whatever he wants and rides whatever animal he wants is cursed by Allah the Exalted". This is what the rich and materialistic people do. We too desire and wish for certain things, but now we do not have the money to get them. But as soon as we find the money, we go and buy them. Imagine aristocracy on a percentage basis. When we get the first percent, we wait in anticipation to gradually get the other 99 percent with future opportunities. This is beneath the dignity of seminarians. Seminarian dignity means leading an average life which is accompanied by simplicity and monetary health. Moral health is very important. This is the way to preserve such holiness.

Once we went to Imam (r.a.) on a particular occasion. Our discussion was about a seminarian who had committed a wrongdoing. Imam (r.a.) was consulting with us to see how he should be treated. I said to him, "Your victory in the Revolution was the product of the 1,000-year reputation of Shia seminarians. Otherwise, when a marja enters the arena, why should the people follow him and lay down their lives?" This was what the people did during the movement of our magnanimous Imam (r.a.). One thousand years of Shia credibility accumulated until it reached the time when a marja like our magnanimous Imam (r.a.) - who had great courage and capabilities, who was a self-sacrificing personality and who enjoyed awareness of the developments of the time - entered the arena and the people followed him.

Now, some of our colleagues are nibbling at this 1,000-year credibility like a termite which penetrates a structure. Imam (r.a.) expressed his agreement with me. This is the truth. We should take care not to be like termites. God forbid, any indecent and inappropriate course of action that each of us adopts is like a rift in the valuable 1,000-year resource of Shia seminarians and clergy.

Another important task that we should carry out is to acquire religious expertise. We should acquire expertise in our own field and profession. To put it in simple terms, we should become knowledgeable. During the time of revolutionary activities - when they constantly used to arrest and free us - a number of young clergy were in touch with us and we used to undertake political activities with them. I used to say to them, "Without the main ingredients, the food is tasteless". You should study your lessons as well. All the friends that we had in Mashhad at that time and who were in touch with us in political and revolutionary areas were among studious clergy. We should become knowledgeable and study. Of course, I believe that studying should bring about a deep, vast and comprehensive transformation in the quality of our teaching and learning in the Islamic seminaries of the country. But this meeting is not the place to expand on this issue.

We have many flaws and shortcomings which should be made up for by our educational system and we should not allow it to be late. But in any case, we should learn to study, become knowledgeable and become familiar with the Book and the Sunnah and with the principles of religious understanding whether in fiqh or in philosophy. We should be able to show our capabilities in the arenas of intellectual challenges which exist in today's world.

Today, the world is the place for the confrontation of different philosophies and thoughts. This is one of the reasons why the Islamic Revolution has managed to stand up against western obstacles. In the morning, I briefly touched on this issue as well. We brought thoughts and ideas to the arena. We did not launch a coup d'état. Today, the social and political thoughts of the Islamic Republic have seriously challenged the west's political and social thoughts.

One example is the issue of religious democracy and the issue of pursuing justice. Westerners raise the flag of peace and say, "peace, peace". They think that peace is a value in itself, but this is not the case. Peace is not a value in absolute terms. Rather, fair peace is a value. Imagine that an oppressor comes and usurps someone's house and consequently, they fight against one another. The oppressed puts up an opposition and he fights. If someone comes and says, "You should make peace and live with each other" then what about the usurpation of his house? Therefore, what is important is fair peace.

The issue of justice and extending it to all the arenas of political and social judgments was one of the thoughts and innovations of the Islamic Republic in the political arenas of today's world. The Islamic Republic has managed to challenge western thoughts in this regard. Therefore, intellectual bases should be strengthened so that one can stand firm in the battle of different thoughts and ideas and so that one can maintain one's front.

My dear ones, today, the issue of cultural invasion - which uses new means of mass communication and new technologies - is very serious. There are hundreds of tools and information passages towards the minds of our youth and teenagers. They are using all sorts of television, radio, Internet and other such methods and they use many different notions and falsehoods in such means of mass communication. Therefore, we should stand up against them. Today, we cannot only rely on our old methods because youth are not attracted to them.

You should know youth and their thoughts. You should know what it is that has invaded their minds. As long as you do not know a particular microbe and disease, you cannot cure it. All these things require religious expertise. They require studying and working and all of these things are included in religious expertise.

Another issue is combating superstitions. As well as promoting the original principles of religion and original Islam, you should combat superstitions. Some people are promoting new superstitions in our society on a daily basis. You should take a serious look towards the issue of combating superstitions because this has been the method of our ulama. The late Jamal Khansari was a well-known scholar and he was the person who wrote "An Annotated Version of Lomeh". You have seen his annotation in old Lomehs. I do not know if it is published today or not. He was the son of the late Hossein Khansari. Both the father and the son were among the outstanding ulama of Shia history.

Three hundred years ago, he wrote a book, namely "Kolthum Nane" in order to eliminate superstitions. This book exists now as well. I myself had the old copies of this book and recently, I have seen that it has been published again. They have brought the new copy for me. With the language of satire, he challenges the most well-known superstitions of his time. In this book, he uses women faqihs and says, "Women have five great faqihs. One is ‘Kolthum Nane'. One is ‘Dade Bazm Aar'. One is ‘Bibishah Zeinab'". And he goes on to name the rest. Then, by using these women faqihs, he raises certain points on the issue of "mahram and namahram", "taharat", "nejasat" and different other things.

Religious scholars attend to such issues. We think that if we express our opposition to an issue which the people believe in and which is superstitious and wrong, we have acted against our seminary position. But this is not the case. This is the seminary position. One of the dear gentlemen recited an ayah in a beautiful and pleasant voice: "It is the practice of those who preach the Messages of Allah, and fear Him, and fear none but Allah. And enough is Allah to call men to account" [The Holy Quran, 33: 39]. What is this ayah about? It is about combating a superstition. "And when you said to him to whom Allah had shown favor and to whom you had shown a favor: Keep your wife to yourself and be careful of your duty to Allah. And you concealed in your soul what Allah would bring to light, and you feared men, and Allah had a greater right that you should fear Him. But when Zaid had accomplished his want of her, We gave her to you as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished their want of them and Allah's command shall be performed" [The Holy Quran, 33: 37].

This ayah is about the story of Zaid. The next ayah is: "There is no harm in the Prophet doing that which Allah has ordained for him. Such has been the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before and the command of Allah is a decree that is made absolute. It is the practice of those who preach the Messages of Allah, and fear Him, and fear none but Allah" [The Holy Quran, 33: 38-39]. These ayahs are about a superstition. The Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) became aware through Gabriel that he would marry Zeinab, his cousin. Previously, he had married her to his adopted son - Zaid ibn Harethe - in order to fight against aristocracy. The Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) had bought and freed Zaid ibn Harethe who was a slave. He made him his adopted son and he married Zeinab - who was his cousin and who was a member of the aristocratic family of Quraysh and Bani Hashim - to him. Zeinab and Zaid used to live with each other. Gabriel informed the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) that this Zeinab would be your wife, but the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) remained silent: "And you feared men, and Allah had a greater right that you should fear Him". Later on, Zaid himself went to the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) and complained, "I cannot live with this lady. She is a lady from an aristocratic family and I am a simple servant who was previously a slave".

He insisted that he should divorce her. This was the Holy Prophet's (s.w.a.) advice to him: "Keep your wife to yourself... And you concealed in your soul what Allah would bring to light". Finally, the divine will was carried out because the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) was obedient to God. Zaid divorced Zeinab and the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) proposed to and married the former wife of his adopted son. This was while the people in those days used to look at the wife of one's adopted son like the wife of one's son. Superstition means this. According to old traditions during the time of jahiliyyah [ignorance], Muslims used to think that one cannot marry the former wife of one's adopted son. But the Holy Prophet (s.w.a.) did so. This is why the Holy Quran says, "those who preach the Messages of Allah".

This ayah is about this event. Of course, it speaks in general terms, but it came in the course of this event. Combating superstitions is this important. You should be brave in combating superstitions. Now, what is a superstition? This question is important. There are some people who dismiss religious truths as superstitions. We have nothing do with such individuals. What has been proved through the Book and the credible Sunnah is religious whether people like it or not. You should defend and support this. You should remain silent only about those issues which have not been confirmed with strong reasons and which are not compatible with religious principles. You should dismiss and reject those issues which are incompatible with a religious principle and behind which there is no substantial piece of evidence. This is superstition and this is the standard for combating it.

Today, you can see that those who claim that they are in touch with the Imam of the Age (a.s.) and with divine forces, are active in society in different ways. Of course, all of these things show that orientation towards religion is the main element in the people's lives. The people are interested in religious matters and this is the reason why some people make up superstitions. Because they do not have the original product, they bring the fake product to the market in order to attract the people. This is a sign of the people's orientation towards religion. However, it is dangerous. You should be brave in confronting superstitions and the things which are not based on religion and you should express your opinions. You should not think that some people may dislike it and that they may do such and such things. Unfortunately, we can see that such considerations exist in some cases.

If the two elements of freedom of thought and Shia rationality exist together, this is a source of pride for us. Shia thoughts are rational and reasonable. From the beginning of Shia Islam, we have been drawn to reason, logic and rationality by the teachings of the Imams (greetings be upon them) and we should act in the same way in the future, even in the area of fiqh. Notice that Imam Sadiq (a.s.) used to speak with the language of reason to his students and also the students of Imam Baqir (greetings be upon him): "The edict for this matter and similar matters should be issued by using the Book of God the Magnificent. Allah has not decreed you to carry out difficult and unbearable tasks in religion" [al-Kafi, Volume 3, page 33]. That is to say, he used to teach Zurrarah to use God's Book in this way. He used to teach him how to infer from the Holy Quran. From the beginning, we were built like this. Shia has grown with reason and freedom of thought. This should be appreciated and pursued.

I hope that God helps you to succeed. There was one day when people had to go to great trouble if they wanted to go from Rey or Khorasan to these areas. Now, Mr. Masoomi has come from Mashhad. Mr. Ashrafi has come from Shahrud. Other gentlemen have come from the suburbs of Shahrud and Damghan and I have come from Tehran. The situation is not like the time that Abu Tammam describes in one of his long poems:

"When we reached Qomes [one of the states in ancient Iran] my people had become tired. They were riding mahriah camels (mahriah are swift camels). My people asked the guide, ‘Are you taking us to the east where the sun rises?' and the guide answered, ‘No, I am taking you to matla' al-jood'". They were going to, say, Mashhad or Tus. I hope that by "matla' al-jood" he meant, Imam Ridha (a.s.).

Dear God, make us be among the genuine servants of religion. Make us be among genuine and real clergy. Dear God, do not make us become a source of disgrace for Islam and Islamic rules. Help us to strengthen this firm structure. Bestow Your mercy and forgiveness on our forefathers and outstanding personalities.

Greetings be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings