Yousef sanei

Muslim scholar & jurist
Yousef Sanei
Ayatollah Yousef Sanei
Title Grand Ayatollah
Born 1937 (age 76–77)
Ethnicity Persian
Era Modern era
Region Middle East
Jurisprudence Shia
Creed Usuli
Main interest(s) Fiqh, Irfan, Islamic philosophy, Islamic ethics, Hadith and politics
Notable idea(s) Dynamic Fiqh

Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei (Farsi:آيت الله عظما يوسف صانعى) (born 1937) is an Iranian scholar, renowned theologian and Islamic philosopher. He is admired by many and condemned by others for his radical calls for reforms and also serves as a Grand Marja of Shia Islam.

Early life and education

Sanei was born in Neekabad, Isfahan Province, in 1937.[1][2] He attended the Isfehan Seminary in 1946.[2] Then he joined the Qom Seminary in 1951 and graduated in 1955, and was thus awarded the commendation of Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi for his exceptional achievement.[2] He was further educated by Ayetollah Khomeini and other leading theologians.[2]


In 1975, Saanei became a teacher at the Haghani School of Divinity.[2] Later he became Grand Ayetollah.[2] In 1980, he was appointed chairman of the Guardian Council.[2] Saanei retired from the council in 1983 and has not held any political office since. According to CBS GlobalPost, Sanei has been considered "the successor" of Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri as "the spiritual leader" of the opposition movement.[3]


On nuclear weapons and WMDs

In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei said:

"There is complete consensus on this issue. It is self-evident in Islam that it is prohibited to have nuclear bombs. It is eternal law, because the basic function of these weapons is to kill innocent people. This cannot be reversed.".[4]

Ayatollah Yousef Sanei said clerical authorities have quietly expressed opposition to the development of weapons of mass destruction for many years, and he described it as the reason that Iran never retaliated with chemical weapons when Saddam Hussein used them to kill Iranian troops and Iran-backed Kurds during the 1980- 88 Iran-Iraq war. "You cannot deliberately kill innocent people," he said.

On the status of women

He has declared that women have equal status in Islam. Like Zohreh Sefati, he believes that women can even become a marja in Islam, i.e. that men and women can follow a female Islamic jurists' ijtihad.

On non-Muslims

His view about non-Muslims (if they obey a holy religion) is that they are not najis and they equally deserve to go to Paradise if they follow their religion sincerely.

On suicide bombing

He is particularly noteworthy for issuing a fatwa in which he declared suicide bombing as haram and a "terrorist act".[5]

On the Iranian election of 2009

During the 2009 Iranian election protests, rumours arose that he had issued a religious edict proclaiming that Mr. Ahmedinejad was "not the president and that it is forbidden to cooperate with his government." These rumours were reported as such by several internet news agencies.[6][7][8]

On forced confessions

He is reported to have said during an August 12 speech at Gorgan that “Confession in prison and detention has not been and is not valid ... all persons who have somehow been involved in issuing these confessions are sharing same sin ... they will receive the retribution of their perfidious acts in this world and in a fair, righteous court.”[9]

On democracy of Iran

Sanei is an outspoken Islamic democracy activist and has even called for the "discussion" of the clerical control of the Iranian regime.

On ethnic minorities

Having studied in clerical schools in Qom, Iraq and Tabriz; Sanei was raised fluent in the Persian, Arabic and Azerbaijani languages.

After the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri

According to one report, Saanei was likely to replace Hosein-Ali Montazeri as the leading clerical opponent of the regime and to be even more aggressive. Saanei declared the government illegitimate and warned that it "cannot reverse the situation in the country with terror, killing, torture and imprisonment."[10]

A day after the funeral procession of Montazeri, around 1,000 members of Iran's Basij militia and "plainclothes men" attacked offices of Saanei in the central shrine city of Qom, a reformist website reported on 22 December 2009. The plainclothes militiamen broke the windows of Sanei's office and insulted him and his staff and also beat up his staff. They also put up posters of Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who has been a staunch defender of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial June re-election and who ordered a post-election crackdown on opposition protests. Police sided with the militia and prevented Sanei’s supporters from defending his office, the website said. There was no immediate official comment. However, earlier on Tuesday, the semi-official Fars News Agency said pro-government theology students had staged a rally in Qom to protest "the insult against sanctities" during Montazeri's funeral procession. The demonstration ended outside Saanei's home, Fars said, but it was not clear whether it was linked to the attack on Sanei's house reported by the aforementioned reformist website. The demonstrators chanted "The city of Qom is no city for hypocrites," and signed a statement calling for Sanei to be defrocked, Fars reported. One of the signatories, cleric Ahmad Panahian, said: "The trenches of the hypocrites in Qom must be destroyed."[11][12]

On 3 October 2010, news sites linked with Iran’s political opposition movement reported that Saanei's website was blocked. According to The New York Times, "Internet users who attempted to access them ... were automatically redirected to a standard Iranian government filtering page which offers links to government-authorized web sites ... and the official web site of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei."[13]

Demotion from religious authority

On 2 January 2010, a top clerical body in Qom, (The Qom Theological Lecturers Association, Jame-e-Modarressin), declared that Saanei was no longer qualifies to be a marja al-taqlid, or a source of emulation — the highest clerical rank in Shia Islam. The body said that it had launched a yearlong investigation into the qualifications of Sanei in response to repetitive inquiries on the issue. In a statement bearing the signature of Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the former head of Iran's judiciary, the body announced that the result of the investigation indicate that Sanei is not eligible to be a marja.[14]

Conservatives and traditionalist condemned this move by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi of Hoze Modaresin to disqualify Ayatollah Saanei as a Marja, questioned the authority of the government sanctioned and subsidized association, and pointed out that even a renowned Marja such as Ayatollah Sistani is not even listed by them as such.[15][16]


External links

  •, official website
  • (Persian), An interview with Ayatollah Sanei
Political offices
Preceded by
Position created
Chairman of the Guardian Council
Succeeded by
Abolghasem Khazali
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