Iran loses faith in clerics

Chicago Tribune ), IL
May 1 2004


Iran loses faith in clerics
Change elusive in rigid society

By Kim Barker
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published May 2, 2004

QOM, Iran — A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: Twenty-five years ago, the
Iranian people toppled the Shah of Iran, seized the American Embassy in
Tehran and established an Islamic republic, a unique form of government
that they thought would rid them of their problems. The fourth part of
this Tribune series on Islam looks at how even some esteemed ayatollahs
are having second thoughts about the wisdom of a government controlled
by clerics–something sought by many factions in the struggle for the
soul of Islam.

The mob shouted for his blood. They called him a traitor; they yelled,
“Death to Montazeri.”

The target of their wrath? The Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri.

Once, he was heir apparent to the ruler of the country, an Iranian
equivalent to Thomas Jefferson, an Islamic revolutionary who helped
topple the dreaded Shah of Iran. Now, though, his fall from grace
seemed complete. Outside his home, an unruly crowd of hundreds had
branded him a heretic.

As Montazeri, partially deaf, prayed in a room behind his office, he
barely heard bricks shattering the windows. But his family members were
scared. They ran from the cleric to the chaos outside and back, trying
to shield Montazeri from harm.

Eventually, the police took action on that day in 1997, spraying the
mob with tear gas. The aging cleric and his family escaped harm. But
they would endure years of punishment, house arrest, prison and

Montazeri’s crime was simple: He had publicly criticized his one-time
allies, the clerics who run the country, for abandoning human rights
and freedom as the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“The shah is gone,” Montazeri said in a recent interview. “But a clergy
has replaced him.”

On one level, the story of Hussein Ali Montazeri is a powerful drama of
life, death and resurrection in one of the world’s most rigid
societies. Critics say he is naive, manipulated by the people around
him and bitter after falling out of favor with the government. But at
82, Montazeri has survived years of intellectual apartheid to rise
again in the eyes of the Islamic world. Today he is considered one of
the top two Shiite clerics worldwide and is a powerful voice for
moderation in Iran.

His story also shows the ups and downs of the struggle over Islam in a
nation where large numbers of people yearn for the economic and
political freedoms practiced in the secular West, often viewed as an
icon of immorality by the conservative clerics of Iran.

In thick, black-rimmed glasses, a white skullcap, cardigan sweater and
long robe, Montazeri hardly fits the image of a rebel. His hands shake.
He often sits on a heating pad. He suffers from diabetes, but he hides
chocolates in a desk drawer. He speaks in singsong sentences that trail
off in a wheeze.

But Montazeri is at the heart of a battle over Iran’s fate–one that
could hint at the future in the Middle East, where radicals from Iraq
to the Gaza Strip want an Islamic revolution like the one that happened
in Iran 25 years ago.

On one side are the powerful clerics who rule Iran and thwart the most
modest reforms.

On the other side, grass-roots reformers complain that the fight for an
Islamic democracy actually led to an Islamic dictatorship, one that
jails or even kills its critics, violates basic rights and distorts the
tenets of Islam.

Led by senior clerics such as Montazeri and one-time foot soldiers of
the revolution, they seek democratic reforms that would restore a
respect for human rights and freedom. Some, such as Montazeri, believe
that the country can be run through an Islamic system. But others
believe that religion has no place in government. They want the clergy
to return to the mosques. They want a true democracy.

“I don’t have any doubt it will come,” said Ibrahim Yazdi, the Islamic
Republic’s first foreign minister, who now leads the country’s only
secular-leaning political party.

The people of Iran are caught in the middle, chanting “Death to
America” at Friday prayers then welcoming American visitors with fresh
fruit. They adhere to strict Islamic codes in public but disappear
behind closed doors to drink homemade vodka and watch MTV.

They live in a nation that is rich in oil but has a stagnant economy.
Jobs are scarce, the air polluted, the press controlled and the
politics repressive.

And in the ultimate irony of the Islamic Republic, the country is
becoming less religious, not more.

Friday prayers

On a Friday in January, one of Iran’s top politicians stood on an
outdoor stage at the University of Tehran, praising the Islamic
Revolution to a crowd of thousands.

“This is a big achievement,” said Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s president
from 1989 to 1997. “In today’s world, when many countries and people
are against religion, we see a religion emerging capable of making a
country run.”

This was no ordinary political stump speech. Rafsanjani was leading
weekly Friday prayers, a blend of politics and religion, of pep rally
and prayer, of love for Iran’s government and hate for the U.S. and

On one side of the audience, about 5,000 women sat on Persian carpets.
Most wore chadors, sometimes using their teeth to hold the sheet-like
coverings over their hair and bodies. They could not see Rafsanjani
over the tall dividers separating them from about 15,000 men.

During Rafsanjani’s speech, the crowd responded with the same cheers of
praise shouted since the revolution. “God is great,” they yelled.
“Death to the United States.”

Iran is still a religious country, despite pushes for political reform.
People in the crowd on Fridays embrace the revolution and all that has

“Until the day we no longer have blood in our veins, we will say `Death
to America,'” said Soraya Ghayoomi, before cheerfully handing an apple
to an American.

But the appeal of such services has slipped. In the early years of the
Islamic Republic, hundreds of thousands of people showed up for Friday
prayers in Tehran, according to press reports. Now, in a city of about
7million, it’s difficult to attract 20,000 worshipers.

Mosques were often filled before the revolution. But those who still
attend say mosques are now often empty.

Frustrated with their government, some people have turned away from
religion. They treat their leaders like ineffectual politicians

“I believe in God, but I don’t believe in the prophet or the imams or
anything else,” a 17-year-old girl in pointy high heels said as she put
on makeup in the bathroom of the only mall food court in Tehran. “The
things we read in the Koran, it’s not like the country is right now.
That makes us hate them more.”

Across Iran, clerics no longer command the respect they once inspired.
Taxi drivers refuse to pick them up. More and more jokes are told about
the clergy. One cartoon, forwarded by e-mail, depicts clerics’ brains
being removed before they get turbans. Some people laugh when asked
whether they go to Friday prayers.

“This is my Friday prayers,” said Vida Farahmand, 40, just after she
finished racing laps at a go-kart track outside Tehran.

For years, a quiet rebellion has been brewing in Iran. Many people
create two lives. Publicly, they obey the strict rules. Privately, they
live as they want. They drink illegal alcohol and watch illegal
satellite TV. They use black-market entrepreneurs who promise to
deliver whatever, whenever, from whiskey to Western movies.

The government continues to rail against the West, but the West
continues to seep into Iran. Instead of McDonald’s, there’s Mc Ali’s,
which sells hamburgers and pizza. Even the shrine to the country’s
founder has a gift shop selling Sylvester Stallone movies.

In a Tehran hotel in February, a hotel worker intently watched a DVD of
“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” on a computer. Several days later,
other hotel workers crowded around a TV to watch a videotape of one of
the many popular Iranian talk shows from Los Angeles, home to so many
Iranians that people call it Tehrangeles.

The biggest pop star in Iran now sings a love song to the tune of
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. Ask young people about their favorite
music, and hear familiar answers: R. Kelly, Metallica, Korn, Madonna.
“It’s like an epidemic,” said Adel Amiri, 16. “Everyone just likes to
listen to foreign music.”

The Internet has helped introduce the world to Iran. Young people
download hip-hop and heavy metal music. In chat rooms, Iranians flirt
and vent frustrations with the country. When the government banned part
of a book by Czech writer Milan Kundera, the objectionable material
soon showed up on the Internet–in Iran’s language of Farsi.

“The problem with our young people is their feet are on Iran’s ground,
but their eyes are on the Internet,” said Hamid Ghassemi, who sells
fabrics in Tehran’s crowded bazaar. “The things they want and the
things they have are very different.”

But the young will eventually determine the future of the country. They
are already a majority, thanks to a push for more Muslim children in
the early years of the Islamic Republic.

About 70 percent of Iranians are now younger than 30. They do not
remember the shah and his secret police. They do not remember the

The revolution

The story of the Islamic Revolution is written throughout Tehran, a
city of smog, traffic snarls and boxy beige buildings nestled beneath a
mountain range.

Palace Street is now Palestine Street. The square once named for a
monarch’s birthday is Revolution Square.

Throughout the city, giant murals feature battlefield scenes of
martyrs, men killed fighting for the new country or in the war against
Iraq. Pictures of Iran’s first two supreme spiritual leaders loom
everywhere, on buildings and inside pizza shops.

The former U.S. Embassy, where Iranians seized American hostages in
late 1979 and held 52 of them for more than a year, is now a shrine to
the hatred for America. Graffiti such as “Death to America” covers the
outside walls. A mural of the Statue of Liberty features a skull
instead of a woman’s face.

The Islamic Revolution had almost as much to do with America as it did
with Iran’s repressive ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, seen as a
pawn of the U.S. in its war against communism.

After Pahlavi fled Iran in 1953, a U.S.-backed coup restored him to
power. He turned into a ruthless leader, paranoid and determined not to
lose his throne again. The shah created a brutal secret police force
and cracked down on Islam. He tried to make Iran a Western oasis in the
Middle East.

When faced with dictator-like leaders who embrace the West, people in
Islamic countries have often used religion as a political tool.

The cleric Hussein Ali Montazeri became a leader in the underground
Islamic movement. He was a close friend of the popular Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, exiled to Iraq and later France for speaking against
the shah. Khomeini called his former student “the fruit of my life.”

Throughout Iran, rebels handed out smuggled tapes and leaflets of
Khomeini’s preachings, from mosque to mosque, living room to living
room, rallying people against Pahlavi and the influence of America.

Young men left home to join the movement. Women abandoned jeans for the
tent-like black chador, a statement of Islamic and Iranian pride.

In Iran, the secular leadership at first refused to bend, responding
with brute force. Police shot unarmed religious students in Qom, home
to major seminaries and clerics such as Montazeri. Rebels were jailed
and tortured.

“They broke all my teeth,” recalled Hussein Shariatmadari, now a
representative of Iran’s supreme leader and editor of the conservative
Kayhan newspaper. “Two of my toenails, they ripped them off. They gave
me electrical shocks. I lost my kidney.”

By 1978, Iran was boiling. Protests and riots rolled through the
country for the entire year. People hurled rocks at soldiers, Molotov
cocktails at tanks. The rebellion spread like a fever.

In a last-ditch attempt to pacify the country, the government in the
fall of 1978 released many political prisoners, including Montazeri,
who flew to Paris to meet with Khomeini.

When a new grandson was born, Montazeri’s family named him “Down with
the shah.”

Within months, the shah fled. Khomeini flew home, and Montazeri became
his right-hand man, helping run the new country’s affairs. He leaned on
an automatic rifle while leading Friday prayers at Tehran University.
He supervised the writing of a new constitution.

Montazeri favored a government that would, theoretically, prevent any
one person from grabbing too much power. Iran would be an Islamic
democracy, with an elected parliament and an elected president, watched
over by the Council of Guardians and the supreme spiritual leader. But
the clerics were on uncharted ground.

“We were not familiar with the issue of lawmaking,” Montazeri recalled.
“We were just some clerics in Qom.”

The more-secular nationalists worried that this system created the
potential for an Islamic dictator. But Iranians overwhelmingly voted
for an Islamic republic and Montazeri’s constitution.

The new leaders promised to respect other faiths and set aside five
parliament seats for minorities. Armenian Christians were even allowed
to legally make their own wine for religious services. But over the
years, many of different faiths, whether Jewish or Zoroastrian, would
leave Iran, complaining of repression and persecution.

As expected, Khomeini was named Iran’s first supreme leader. And
eventually, Montazeri was designated his successor. He never commanded
the same respect as Khomeini, a larger-than-life, god-like figure.
Critics joked that he looked like the cat from a popular cartoon.

Doubts emerge

But Montazeri surprised people.

Emadeddin Baghi was one of many who moved to Qom in the early years of
the Islamic Republic, when seminaries overflowed and people packed into
Montazeri’s office. Baghi, a loner on a spiritual quest, avoided the
powerful Montazeri.

In 1985, Baghi wrote a book that argued for an individual’s right to
interpret Islam. Khomeini banned it. Baghi watched as his books were
shredded, boxed and carried out of Qom.

Montazeri asked to see Baghi and told the young man that he liked his
book. “He was very sympathetic,” Baghi recalled. “He said, `There are
always ups and downs.’ He told me, `One day, as No. 2 in the country, I
still might be sentenced to death by my own friends.'”

Behind the scenes, Montazeri had started to question the direction of
the country. As its next supreme leader, he worried about the death
toll from the war with Iraq. He complained about the number of people
being executed in Iran. Montazeri wrote letters to Khomeini.

“I saw some flaws and faults,” Montazeri recalled. “I always told him
about them.”

He did not see this as a change in his views. Instead, Montazeri felt
he was trying to correct the direction of the republic, which he
believed had veered away from the goals of the revolution and had
started to repress people. As the Iraq war dragged on and the economy
sputtered, others in Iran grew disenchanted as well.

In July 1988, Montazeri accused Khomeini of ordering the execution of
hundreds of jailed opponents. “This genocide is incompatible with
Islam,” he wrote in a letter, later made public.

And then, in February 1989, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Islamic
Revolution, Montazeri gave a critical speech to followers in Qom.

“On many occasions we showed obstinacy, shouted slogans that frightened
the world,” he said. “The people of the world thought our only task in
Iran was to kill people.”

Along with the actions of several leading politicians, Montazeri’s
speech signaled that Iran’s leaders were moving in a more liberal
direction. But within days, Khomeini indicated where he wanted the
country to go: He announced a death ruling for author Salman Rushdie,
accused of defaming Islam.

The next month, Montazeri was asked to resign, and the landscape
changed throughout the country. His photographs were ripped down,
murals painted over. Streets, squares and hospitals were renamed.

Shortly after, Khomeini died, and President Ali Khamenei was named
supreme leader.

Critics said Montazeri became outspoken only because he was bitter.

“As long as he was the deputy, he didn’t criticize,” recalled
Hamid-Reza Taraqqi, a longtime friend of Khamenei’s. “Once he lost his
job and his capacity, then he started to criticize.”

But Montazeri said he had always privately criticized the government.
He made his complaints public only when problems were not fixed.

In spite of his critics, he soon developed a strong following. New
students such as Baghi and a young cleric named Mohsen Kadivar started
to come to Montazeri’s office and his religious classes. They belonged
to an unofficial group of people who had fought the revolution as young
students but now questioned the direction of the country.

These Iranians had not turned their back on Islam, not become
secularists. Instead, they were Islamic intellectuals who pushed for a
new kind of Iran. They called for reform, for change from within the

In Montazeri, who had helped form the republic and write the
constitution, these people found someone they respected.

“If he remained quiet, he would have been the successor,” recalled
Kadivar, who became a top student of Montazeri’s. “But he rejected this
in the name of human rights. It’s a very great thing for me–greater
than all his lessons.”

Hopes for change

By the mid-1990s, many Iranians had grown frustrated with their
government. In an echo of the shah’s time, people complained about a
ruthless dictator, about not being allowed to dress how they pleased,
to say what they wanted. But they also worried about the lack of jobs
and the loss of the country’s brightest to the West because they could
not find good work in Iran.

And then, in 1997, a moderate cleric named Mohammad Khatami ran for
president on a reformist platform. In a shock to the country’s leaders,
he won.

There were high hopes of a “Tehran Spring,” a relaxing of all the
restrictions, a warming toward the West. Reform newspapers were
planned. Reformist political parties were created.

In the new environment, certain social restrictions were eased–an
unmarried man and woman could get away with holding hands. Women
started to wear skimpier head scarves, often pulled back behind their
ears. They dyed their hair with streaks of blond, red and silver.

Despite the optimism, it was soon clear who was really in charge. True
power in Iran rested not with elected officials but with the appointed
Islamic supreme leader and the appointed Council of Guardians.

The supreme leader, not the elected president, controlled the most
powerful parts of the government: the judiciary, the military and much
of the media. And the conservative Council of Guardians, which had veto
power, screened potential candidates for office and laws passed by

After Khatami became president, Montazeri gave a lecture at his small
school in Qom, questioning the authority of the supreme leader. “No
government can rule by the stick any longer,” he said. Although the
speech was not reported in state-run media, copies of it circulated,
and word of it spread.

Hard-line government supporters had often ignored Montazeri. Since his
removal as Khomeini’s successor, the cleric had been shoved aside in
the country’s political scene. He was an old man with little power, the
forgotten ayatollah.

But with so much change and so many ordinary Iranians pining for a more
open society, Montazeri was now seen as a real threat.

In November 1997, five days after Montazeri’s lecture, a rally was held
in Qom to support the supreme leader. But the rally turned violent, and
the mob attacked Montazeri’s school, office and home. People spray
painted “Heretic of the age” on a wall. Police used tear gas on the
crowd. When security forces tried to take Montazeri away, he refused,
saying he would rather die in his home.

Accused of treason, Montazeri was placed under house arrest, guards
stationed outside. His school was closed. Relatives and followers were
thrown in jail.

Other reformists in Iran continued to push the limits of the
government. But there was no chance of winning.

“It was like playing chess with a gorilla,” recalled Baghi, who had
left the clergy to become a writer. “There were no rules.”

The reformists won control of parliament, but the conservative Council
of Guardians vetoed new legislation. The reformist culture minister
granted new newspaper licenses, but the conservative judiciary shut
many new publications–85 in all.

Hamidreza Jalaeipour, a former student revolutionary, helped start 10
reformist newspapers. “All were closed,” Jalaeipour recalled. “They
told me you are threatening the national security of Iran.”

Eventually the government jailed provocative writers, including Kadivar
and Baghi.

>From his home, Montazeri reached out to the world. Followers launched a
Montazeri Web site and published his memoirs, which accused Khomeini of
personally ordering the death of thousands of opponents. With a
worldwide audience, Montazeri became more popular, a symbol of the
government’s repression.

In January 2003, five years, two months and 10 days after being locked
in his house, Montazeri was freed. Officials never gave a reason.

Protected by family members and close followers, Montazeri walked
slowly to the major shrine of Qom to see the grave of his oldest son,
killed in a bombing by Marxist rebels in 1981. And then Montazeri
walked back home. He would rarely leave again.


By this year, many people said they had lost hope. The reformist
government had been unable to make real changes, and the clerics still
controlled Iran. The country’s love affair with Khatami was over.

Parliamentary elections were scheduled for February, but many Iranians
said they planned to skip them.

“We made a big mistake once–we voted for Khatami. We’re not going to
make the same mistake twice,” said Surena, 30, who did not want to give
her last name, fearful that she would be punished for criticizing the

The Council of Guardians made sure that conservatives would win the
election. In one of its boldest moves since being established, the
council disqualified about 2,500 potential candidates, mostly
reformists, even sitting members of parliament. Most were deemed

Reformists called for a national protest. They held a sit-in for 26
days in a lobby area near the parliament meeting room.

On one afternoon, about 100 men and women sat in the lobby, on carpets
and chairs. Hamidreza Jalaeipour, the former newspaper publisher,
stepped up to the lectern. Jalaeipour, who teaches a class about
revolution at the University of Tehran, delivered an unsparing
assessment of the Islamic Revolution. He said the country now has
millions of drug addicts, millions of unemployed people.

“You’ll find fewer people in the mosques,” he said. “They were supposed
to be more crowded.”

Jalaeipour talked so loudly that his voice could still be heard when
his microphone stopped working. He urged the reformists to keep
fighting for a free election. “If it doesn’t happen, you can hold your
head up and say, `We did something,'” he yelled, and everyone put down
their newspapers and clapped.

But the streets outside were largely silent. Students did not protest
as they had in recent years. They knew the reformists would lose, and
they feared that the conservatives would crack down. No one talked
about a revolution against the clerics. And most people no longer put
their faith in the reformists. Instead, many young people were resigned
to waiting. Eventually, they would be in charge.

So in an election with few alternatives, conservatives won. “We must
prove to our enemies that nothing is more important to us than Islam
and the revolution,” Zohreh Moazezi, 40, said as she voted. “We have so
many martyrs here, we have to respect their blood.”

About half of Iran’s eligible voters cast ballots, the lowest turnout
in parliamentary elections since the revolution but not as small as
reformists had hoped. Some voters turned in blank ballots in protest.

Cleric’s regrets

Montazeri, suffering from diabetes and hard of hearing, now spends his
days inside his house. He is not prone to long explanations and does
not always answer questions, preferring to talk about what he wants. He
is full of regret.

As a younger man, Montazeri tried to expand the Islamic Revolution to
other countries. He led Friday prayers and shouted “Down with the
U.S.A.” He supported taking hostages at the U.S. Embassy. All were
wrong, he said.

“These were all mistakes, and maybe I was one of them too, impressed by
the circumstances, like the occupation of the U.S. Embassy,” Montazeri
said. “It was a mistake then, but mistakes prevailed upon wisdom.”

Ibrahim Yazdi, the country’s first foreign minister, met with Montazeri
in January. “He complained about the Council of Guardians,” Yazdi said.
“I said, `Well, that is your byproduct. You created it. You did it.’
Without any hesitation, he said, `Well, we didn’t know these things. We
didn’t have any experience. We made a mistake.'”

Montazeri is now considered to be one of the top two Shiite legal
experts in the world. He has continued to modify earlier opinions.
Women are allowed to watch him teach–a rarity in Qom. Montazeri
recently said women and men can shake hands in certain situations–a
liberal ruling for any Muslim cleric.

He still demands change. He wants Iran to be run according to the
principles of the Islamic Revolution, which he says are freedom,
democracy and Islam. He wants an elected top leader who derives his
power from people, not from God.

Before the election, Montazeri was courted by both reformists and the
government, aware that the dissident cleric’s opinion could sway
certain voters. Reformists asked him to say publicly whether he would
cast a ballot. But he said he did not want to interfere with voting.

On election day, officials offered to send a ballot box to Montazeri’s
home so he could easily vote. He told them not to bother. At least
eight of the top 12 grand ayatollahs did not vote, protesting the
elections, said Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei, who lives next to

It’s not clear what the new parliament will do when it takes over in a
few weeks. Some believe that conservatives will again try to crack down
on social freedoms, and others believe this is impossible.

“Nobody can stop these freedoms,” said Ataollah Mohajerani, the former
culture minister under Khatami. “Freedom is like a genie in a bottle.
Once you open it, it’s hard to put back in.”

If the country does not continue with reform, some clerics worry about
the future of Islam in Iran. They say Iran is still religious, but they
fear that the Islamic Republic and its vision of religion might be
hurting Islam.

“If our prophet said something like what these people say–the supreme
leader and his men–why would people continue to be Muslims?” asked
Kadivar, an ally of Montazeri’s. “No one would follow him.”

Shortly after the election, Kadivar attracted 1,000 people for a speech
at a Tehran community center. For three hours, he lectured in his quiet
voice, laying out 10 ways to identify an unjust government, starting
with lack of tolerance for peaceful opposition and ending with unfair
distribution of wealth. He never mentioned Iran. But the implication
was clear.

Throughout the speech, people listened quietly and took notes. One of
Montazeri’s grandsons, Meisam Hashemi, sat near the front, next to
Kadivar’s son.

When he was born, Hashemi was given the name “Down with the shah,”
which was changed after the shah was deposed. He is now 25, the same
age as the Islamic Republic. He is a religious man, but he believes
religion has no place in his government. Hashemi is no revolutionary.
He understands the value of moving slowly.

Montazeri wants Hashemi and his other grandsons to become clerics, like
all three of his sons. “After all, it is not bad to be a clergyman,”
Montazeri said, talking about all he has done for Islam and for people
in Iran, all that the clergy can contribute to the world.

But Hashemi gives the same answer as Montazeri’s 12 other grandsons:

Hashemi wants to do something with his life that could really make a
difference for his family. He wants to be a criminal lawyer.

– – –

The world’s largest Shiite population

Iran is predominantly Shiite Muslim, a form of Islam that differs
slightly from the more prevalent Sunni Islam. About 10 to 20 percent of
Muslims worldwide are Shiite.


Origin of the split: After Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632, a
disagreement arose over who should succeed him as leader of Islam. Two
main factions emerged, creating a rift that remains almost 14 centuries

– Shiites believe that Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, was his
rightful successor, and that Ali’s descendants are the true leaders of

– Sunnis believe that Muhammad’s most pious companions were his
rightful successors, and that the leaders of Islam may be chosen by


– Shiite clerics generally have more authority among their followers
than Sunni clerics do among theirs.

– Most Shiites reject the idea of predestination (that God has decided
who is saved and who is damned), which Sunnis accept.

– Shiites allow temporary marriages and use different inheritance laws.


Population: 68.3 million (2003 est.)

Government type: Islamic republic

Literacy rate: 79 percent

Industries: Petroleum, textiles, construction materials, food

Poverty rate: 40 percent (2002)

Per capita GDP: $1,686 (2002)

Sources: CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department, University of Texas

Online, Council on Foreign Relations, World Book Encyclopedia,

Chicago Tribune