In this morning's NYT (here), Michael Slackman profiles Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Interestingly, Slackman is reporting from Cairo -- are there continued restrictions on Western media in Iran, or is this a NYT budgeting issue?.
According to Slackman, Montazeri is "widely regarded as the most knowledgeable religious scholar in Iran." He was close to Ayatollah Khomeini until they had a falling out because Montazeri began to argue that the regime was relying too much on violence to suppress opposition.
Since the election turmoil this summer, Montazeri has been highly critical of Khamenei; Slackman says that he is "issuing one politically charged religious edict after another, helping keep alive a faltering opposition movement."
366. What is the status of the opposition movement? Are there any street protests going on? How is Moussavi spending his days -- is he part of the government? Is he in Tehran?
367. Does Montazeri lead weekly prayers? What are the similarities and differences between ayatollahs in Islam and bishops in Catholicism?
368. In the United States, are there more Shiites or more Sunnis? Which group is more politically vocal in the United States?
369. Which city in Virginia has the largest per capita number of Muslims?
Slackman says that there are conflicting viewpoints regarding the extent of Montazeri's influence in Iran:
Some Iran experts argue that Ayatollah Montazeri’s involvement in politics has undermined his religious credibility, and that he does not have as large a following as other grand ayatollahs. But there is evidence, others say, that the recent conflict has increased his popularity among younger Iranians who knew little of him, and that his edicts resonate with the pious masses.