NCRI – Tuesday marks the 44th anniversary of the martyrdom of the founders of Iran’s main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), by the regime of the Shah. A look back at the PMOI’s founding sheds light on the organization’s ideological viewpoints.
The PMOI, or Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), was founded on September 6, 1965, by Mohammad Hanifnejad, Said Mohsen, and Ali-Asghar Badizadgan. All engineers, they had earlier been members of the Liberation Movement (also known as the Freedom Movement), created by Medhi Bazargan in May 1961.
The Liberation Movement advocated the “democratic principles enshrined in the fundamental laws of the 1905-09 [Iranian] Constitution.” For two years, the group held meetings and was allowed to publish a newsletter, supporting “political freedom and the separations of power.”
After large anti-Shah demonstrations erupted in Iran on June 5, 1963, the Shah’s police responded with “massive fire power,” killing “thousands of people,” in what has become known as the June Uprising. The Liberation Movement supported the demonstrations and, as a result, it was outlawed, alongside other pro-democratic organizations, and Bazargan was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Two years later, the three young engineers came together to develop a new pathway to bring democracy and freedom to Iran. Replicating the actions of the Liberation Movement would lead only to the same disastrous end. Thus, a new strategy was necessary.
The three engineers formed a discussion group with twenty trusted friends and on September 20, 1965, they convened their first meeting. Members were mostly professionals living in Tehran. Twice a week they came together to discuss religion, history, philosophy, and revolutionary theory.
Although Muslim, the PMOI’s founders saw the society divided between tyranny and liberation forces, rather than believers and non-believers. Like most Iranians, its founders sought a secular republic and the establishment of a democracy in Iran. The PMOI has never endeavored towards an ideological government, be it Islamic or otherwise.
The PMOI’s quest culminated in a true interpretation of Islam, which they demonstrated is inherently tolerant and democratic, and fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization. It took six years for the organization to formulate its progressive view of Islam and develop a strategy to replace Iran’s dictatorial monarchy with a democratic government.
The Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, arrested all PMOI leaders and most of its member’s in a series of swoops in 1971. Finally, at the dawn of May 25, 1972 (4 Khordad 1351), the PMOI’s three founders, along with two members of the PMOI’s leadership, Mahmoud Askarizadeh and Rasoul Meshkinfam, were executed by death squads after long months of imprisonment and torture in the dungeons of the SAVAK. They were the vanguards who stood against the dictatorial regime of the Shah.
The death sentence for Massoud Rajavi, who thereafter took over leadership of the PMOI, was commuted to life imprisonment after a campaign from Geneva by his brother, Dr. Kazem Rajavi, and the personal intervention of the French President Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand. Dr. Kazem Rajavi was assassinated in April 1990 in Geneva by the mullahs’ terrorists.
From 1975 to 1979, while incarcerated in different prisons, Massoud Rajavi led the Mojahedin’s struggle for which reason he was taken to the Tehran Komiteh’s torture center and tortured to the brink of death. He stressed the need to continue the struggle against the Shah’s dictatorship. At the same time, he characterized religious fanaticism as the primary internal threat to the popular opposition and warned against the emergence and growth of religious backwardness and despotism symbolized by Khomeini. These positions remained the PMOI’s manifesto until the overthrow of the Shah’s regime.
On 16 January 1979, the Shah fled Iran, never to return. All democratic opposition leaders had by then either been executed or imprisoned and could exert little direct influence on the trend of events. Khomeini and his network of mullahs across the country, who had by and large been spared the wrath of the SAVAK, were the only force that remained intact and could take advantage of the political vacuum. In France, Khomeini received maximum exposure to the world media and assistance from the French government. With the aid of his clerical followers, he hijacked a revolution that began with calls for democracy and freedom and diverted it towards his fundamentalist goals. Through an exceptional combination of historical events, Shiite clerics assumed power in Iran.
In internal discourses, Mr. Rajavi argued that Khomeini represented the reactionary sector of society and preached religious fascism. Later, in the early days after the 1979 revolution, the mullahs, specifically Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who later became President, pointed to these statements in inciting the Hezbollahi club-wielders to attack the PMOI’s supporters.
The fundamentalist mullahs in Iran believe interpreting Islam is their exclusive domain. The PMOI (MEK) reject this view and the cleric’s reactionary vision of Islam. The PMOI’s comprehensive interpretation of Islam proved to be more persuasive, appealing, and successful than any attempt in the past.
While the PMOI is a political organization, its orientation, operation, and support derives from its interpretation of Islam, conceived in its formative years. The PMOI believes Islam is an inherently tolerant and democratic religion, and is fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization.
For the Mojahedin, freedom, gender, ethnic and religious equality, human rights, and peace are not merely political commitments, but ideological principles based on its view of the Quran and the traditions and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Shiite Imams, and other leaders.
The PMOI’s political platform and interpretation of Islam are one and the same. The combination makes the PMOI politically unique and is a major reason the organization continues today to garner broad public support.
The Shah feared the PMOI because of its popularity and support for democracy and human rights. The same is true for Iran’s mullahs. The Mojahedin’s interpretation of Islam directly discredits the clerics’ ideology, which is intolerant, extremist, genocidal, non-democratic, and misogynist.
In 1982, Mr. Rajavi discussed the PMOI and Islam in a speech as following:
“The Islam we want is nationalistic, democratic, progressive, and not opposed to science or civilization. We believe there is no contradiction between modern science and true Islam, and we believe that in Islam there must be no compulsion or dictatorship.” (“Mujahidin’s Masud Rajavi: ‘We are the only real threat to Khomeini,” MERIP Reports, March-April 1982.”)
Below are additional details of the PMOI’s interpretation of Islam.
Islam is Dynamic
Mr. Rajavi described the mullah’s interpretation of the Quran as mechanical and deterministic. In contrast, the PMOI believes that genuine Islam is so dynamic that it never impedes social progress. It does not oppose science, technology and civilization, but cherishes and promotes them.
During Prophet Muhammad’s twenty-three year mission, Quranic verses were sometimes declared mansouke (outdated). Some verses on social and economic matters changed in the early years of the Prophet’s rule, consistent with changes in society and advancements in culture and social relationships. In the latter years of Prophet Muhammad’s life, new verses that were more advanced in dealing with such issues were revealed to him.
This explains why only 600 verses in the Quran, less than 10 percent, deal with edicts. The limited number of edicts shows the purpose of the Quran was not to legislate for society and mankind instead of human beings themselves. The Quran removed obstacles to social evolution. As the Quran states, it came to remove the chains and shackles from human beings already subjugated by oppressive rulers and regimes. (Quran, Sura 7, Verse 157.) In doing so, humans could formulate their way of life consistent with their specific historical juncture, and in complete freedom and consciousness.
Edicts & Rules of Conduct
Islam is an ideology with a comprehensive view on existence, society, and history, rather than a collection of edicts and rules of conduct on social, political, and economic matters.
Fundamentalists interpret the edicts, precepts, and temporal rules as unchangeable dogma. The PMOI believes neither the Quran nor Islam support the claim that they are unalterable and must be implemented at all times. Rather the Quran emphasizes that social and economic edicts must be formulated in each particular era to prevent decadent, anti-counter-revolutionary forces from halting the advancement of human society.
In the view of the PMOI, the rigid and reactionary interpretation of Islam, exemplified by Khomeini and fundamentalist clerics, is un-Islamic and contrary to the spirit of Islam.
The PMOI views democracy as indispensable to Islam. “Islam blossoms only in the spirit of freedom and truthfulness,” the PMOI maintains, “and therefore cannot trample upon the legitimate rights of the people.” – “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
The Quran says that the most important attribute that distinguishes humans from animals is their free will and individual responsibility. It is on this basis that humans are held accountable for their actions. (Quran, Sura 2, Verse 256.) Having a free will and right to choose is manifested in democracy and a government by the people.
God’s will, as far as societies are concerned, is historically realized through democratic governance. The Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad and leaders such as Ali ibn Ali Taleb, the first Shiite Imam, underscore the necessity to hand over power to the people. Their teachings emphasize the need for progress, social and economic justice, and respect for human rights. References to these values are abundant in Islamic teachings, dating back fourteen centuries.
Fundamentalist mullahs, in contrast, reject the concepts of free will and individual choice, and thus democracy. In their view, it is incompatible with Islam. But spreading the word of God and Islam would be meaningless without freedom and respect for an individual’s free will and right to choose.
The PMOI believes the sole criterion for political legitimacy is the ballot-box. It is the electorate, expressing itself in a free and fair election that gives a party, group, coalition, or individual the mandate to govern.
Fundamentalist mullahs believe in the concept of velayat-e faqih, which invests law, power, and legitimacy to a Supreme Leader. Such a clerical system is by definition totalitarian because it cannot recognize freedom and the right of political activity for anyone other than those who support an Islamic state.
Iranian women are the major victims of the religious dictatorship and dogma of the mullahs. The clerical regime relegates women to second-class citizens. It denies them the right to leadership, the presidency, and judgeships.
Fundamentalist mullahs believe husbands should be able to divorce their wives anytime they so choose and, after divorce, the father should take custody of the child. They believe the father has the right to wed his daughter to anyone he chooses and, once she becomes an adult, she has no right to protest.
The PMOI supports gender equality in all aspects, from choosing a spouse and marriage to inheritance, testimony, custody, employment, and election to the highest positions in government. It is because of Ms. Rajavi’s advocacy that the issue of gender equality has become a main platform for the PMOI.
Mr. Rajavi discussed in 1980 the importance of freedom:
“Freedom is a divine blessing…Anyone trying to restrict human freedom has neither understood Islam nor mankind and the [anti-monarchist] revolution. Freedom is indispensable to the survival of mankind as human beings. Otherwise, human beings would be no different from animals and could not be held responsible for anything.” – Mohahed (PMOI Daily Newspaper), June 15, 1980. See “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.