In the ancient city of
By Kim Murphy, Times Staff Writer
April 7, 2007
Mohammed Ali Abtahi, who was former President Mohammad Khatami's chief of staff, is one of
(Kim Murphy / LAT)
Mullahs in turbans pick their way defiantly through tangled ribbons of cars. Here, in a city that is the revered seat of
Nowhere is this jarring juxtaposition of old and new more apparent than at the
Here, stocking-footed men sit behind rows of computer screens in large rooms padded with deep Oriental carpets, typing out Web pages of Koranic analysis and religious edicts translated into 30 languages.
From here, via a server in
For years, many of
Then they got it.
Now, to browse through Iranian websites is to come upon a flood of pages featuring solemn-looking men wearing beards and turbans. Hundreds of Iranian clerics today have blogs of their own.
Want to know what Khamenei thinks about the
Cleric Mohammed Ali Abtahi, who rose to fame as former President Mohammad Khatami's chief of staff, has since become one of
Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though not a religious figure, has a blog (www.ahmadinejad.
"Islam always is in conformance with civilization. If you read history, you will know that Islamic scientists gave their knowledge to early scholars," Lajevardi said over tea one recent afternoon.
Here in these halls filled with the sound of clicking keyboards, websites are produced for Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Hezbollah's spiritual oracle in
The clerics provide advice on religious questions. ("Is it allowed to employ non-Muslims in my office?" Yes, but better to hire Muslims if you can. "Is it permissible to be party to temporary marriage with a woman who is 'known for adultery,' if no other woman is available and the person is in desperate need of marriage?" Not unless she repents.)
Other offices in
"Iran is growing fast in all aspects political, economic and military because we have young scholars with open minds who are ready to try new things, make new inventions and do research. This is why countries like the
Iranian government-linked religious websites based on
Nearly four dozen websites operated by the Qom-based Computer Research Center for Islamic Sciences were removed from servers in Bedford, Texas, in June 2005, said Aaron Weisburd of the Illinois-based Society for Internet Research, which monitors the activities of Islamist groups on the Internet.
Weisburd found that one of the sites was linked to a prison outreach program in the
"We think it fair to ask the question: Do we really want the Iranian regime, a regime that arguably has been at war with the
Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei said clerics hoped their Internet writings would promote dialogue among faiths and, in his case, advocate a tolerant brand of Islam.
"We are on the Internet because it's one of the best devices to spread your ideas and thoughts and attitudes about the world," he said.
From a set of storefront offices in
"A good, successful clergyman is one who has good relationships with others. And a blog is a good tool for that," said Ahmad Najmi, a 27-yearold cleric who writes the blog www.menbar.persianb
"Someone, when they're reading your blog, they'll be a friend of yours, after a passage of time."
Mostafa Esmaili and Farhad Fallah publish a group blog, www.soozanban.
The power of the blog was demonstrated during July's World Cup soccer championship when an international news network posted a poll on its website asking readers whether
"About 70% of the people were saying we should put
Soon, he said, Iranian bloggers picked it up, and within a few days there was major support for
Abtahi, the cleric from Khatami's administration, has delighted his blog viewers by posting private and informal photos of Khatami and his famous guests at home. He wrote about the theft of his cellphone, about his favorite barber, about how fat people need to be accepted in society.
But the cleric also used the blog to criticize the closure of newspapers, to call for harmony with
But in return, he said, readers expect that "their authorities adopt policies that [allow them to] lead their own lives, instead of going to war."
At first, hard-liners accused Abtahi of trying to use the blog to manipulate
"At first, blog writing was an astonishing thing for the government, a shock. And some in the government even viewed it as an opposition activity. Because in general, religion wants to control society. And the problem with blog writing, of course, is it's not controllable.
Now, he said, smiling, "even the hard-liners have their blogs. The technological revolution has changed the world."
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