Modern Vision of Islam
U.S. Undersecretary of State George Ball chastised the press in 1981 for misdescribing the PMOI as Marxist. “The sloppy press habit of dismissing the Mujahedeen as ‘leftists’ badly confused the program,” he said. “Massoud Rajavi … is the leader of the movement. Its intention is to replace the current backward Islamic regime [Khomeini’s mullahs] with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principals from Koranic sources rather than Marx.”1 (emphasis added)
Mr. Rajavi joined the PMOI in 1967 and sat on the original Central Committee. He and other early members of the organization spent years studying Islam, history, philosophy, and economics, seeking to develop a new pathway to restore democracy to Iran.
The three founders of the PMOI were previously members of the Liberation Movement, created by Medhi Bazargain in 1961, to promote “democratic principles enshrined in the fundamental laws of the 1905-09 Constitution” of Iran. After operating for just two years, the group was shut down by the Shah. Bazargain was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Repeating Bazargain’s footsteps, the PMOI realized, would lead to the same fate. Their intellectual inquiry led to a new vision of Islam, based on a modern interpretation of the Quran and the traditions and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Shiite Imams, and leaders.
Mr. Rajavi and other original members of the PMOI were “skillful men of ideology,” according to Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iranian-American professor at Syracuse University.2 The PMOI’s interpretation of Islam proved to be politically very popular and succeeded, he said, in “exhorting a great many Iranian youth to rediscover Shi’ism and return to the Muslim fold, which they were deserting in large numbers.”3
When the PMOI was established in 1965, Marxism enjoyed a large following in developing countries, especially on university campuses. Iran was no exception. The PMOI’s political platform was at odds with the two major Marxist political organizations, the Tudeh Party, the communist group supported by the Soviet Union, and the Fedayeen, a Marxist-Leninist group.
The PMOI argued the restoration of democracy and its modern vision of Islam, as opposed to Marxism, were the best way to remedy Iran’s social and economic ills. It said only Islam was “capable of mobilizing the masses for such a colossal struggle.”4
Mr. Rajavi presented the views of the PMOI in lectures he gave once a week at Sharif University. He contrasted the PMOI’s vision of Islam with Khomeni’s fundamentalist interpretation, at one extreme, and Marxism, at the other extreme. An article in "Le Monde" by Eric Rouleau described the occasion:
“One of the most important events not to be missed in Tehran is the courses on comparatiave philosophy, taught every Friday afternoon by Mr. Massoud Rajavi. Some 10,000 people present their admission cards to listen for three hours to the lectures by the leader of the People’s Mojahedin on Sharif University’s lawn.”5
Rajavi’s lectures were recorded on video cassettes and distributed in 35 cities throughout Iran. They also “were published in paperback and sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies,” Rouleau said.6
The lectures were later combined into a three-volume book titled “Tabyin-e jahan” (Comprehending the World). It presents the PMOI’s beliefs on the nature of existence, humans, history, and epistemology. In the lectures, Bouroujerdi explained, “Rajavi saves his most extensive critical commentary for Marxist materialistic epistemology.”7 Bouroujerdi continued:
"By subjecting the materialistic doctrines of [Aleksandr Ivanocich] Oparin and a host of other orthodox Marxist thinkers to a religious critique the Mojahedin hoped to challenge the more vigorous presence of Marxism within Iranian intellectual circles.”8
Bouroujerdi stated the PMOI “remained skeptical of Marxism’s philosophy postulates and rejected the latter’s cardinal doctrine of historical materialism. They held firm to their beliefs in the existence of God, revelation, afterlife, spirit, expectation, salvation, destiny, and the people’s commitment to these intangible principals.”9
Given the above backdrop, it is clear the PMOI is not, and has never been, a Marxist organization. It politically opposed the Marxists, offering a pro-democratic Muslim alternative.
The mullah’s name-calling propaganda campaign to label the PMOI as Marxist would likely have met limited success in western countries had it not been for the U.S. State Department. To gain the support of Iran's mullahs in freeing American hostages, the Department agreed, as part of a deal, to publicly brand the resistance organization as Marxist.
1) “Iran’s Bleak Future,” Washington Post, August 19, 1981.
2) “Iranian Intellectuals and the West,” by Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1996.
5) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
7) “Iranian Intellectuals and the West,” by Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University Press, New York, 1996.