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The Islamic Republic is facing a growing and often overlooked crisis with the rise of secular sentiments among religious classes in Iran. Some religious officials and ordinary Iranians increasingly disapprove of the state’s behavior and governance, fueling an expansion of the conviction that religion should be kept separate from politics. With the recent protests triggered by the death in morality police custody of a young woman—and the government’s brutal crackdown on the unrest—the phenomenon has only grown.
Tensions over the role of religion in Iranian political life have historical roots and were present among religious officials prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979 which toppled the western-backed secular regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Entities such as the Hojjatieh society—a hardline Shiite group formed in the 1950s that promoted religious orthodoxy and strongly opposed the minority Baha’i faith—felt that religion should be separated from politics and therefore did not oppose the Shah. Conversely, politics and religion combined to play a central role in the opposition movement led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) and other revolutionary leaders.
Following the deposal of the Shah and the subsequent formation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, disagreements among religious classes in society deepened. The establishment position was typified by Khomeini who became supreme leader and...
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