etcetera | Obituaries Electronic Telegraph
Saturday 30 November 1996
Issue 556

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Ayatollah Morteza Pasandideh

AYATOLLAH MORTEZA PASANDIDEH, who has died aged 100, was the elder brother of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shi'ite cleric and leader of Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979.

Less politically active than his better-known younger brother, Ayatollah Pasandideh was a respected divine in his own right. He consistently supported his brother's policies both before and after Khomeini became Iran's de facto head of state. But occasionally he took advantage of the immunity afforded by their close relationship to dissent from the excesses of Khomeini's more radical supporters.

Morteza Pasandideh was born on April 1 1896 in Khomein, a town about 200 miles south of Teheran, to a religious family. His grandfather had lived as a trader in Kashmir, acquiring the surname al-Hindi, and established himself as a cleric in Khomein, where he married.

Al-Hindi's son, Seyyid Mostafa, Pasandideh's father, was also a clergyman, noted for the severity of his religious judgments. He had three daughters and three sons, Pasandideh being the eldest son. Seyyid Mostafa was murdered in a dispute over irrigation rights when Pasandideh was seven years old and Khomeini five months. The children were left in the care of their mother and an aunt.

In a volume of memoirs published in 1986, Pasandideh recalled that the Iranian countryside was so unsafe in the early part of the century that he and his younger brother would sit on the roof of the family house at night armed with guns to defend it from bandits.

He also recalled how he encouraged his younger brother to perfect his skill as a wrestler, and how pleased he was when Ruhollah became village champion.

Pasandideh had a traditional Islamic education, studying literature, logic, theology and (Ptolemaic) astronomy. As a young man he pursued religious studies in Isfahan. There he acquired the equivalent of a doctorate in theology. He returned to Khomein, where he became Imam of a mosque and established a schoool of theology, training mullahs and traditional reciters of funeral elegies.

Pasandideh's role as guardian of his younger brother and sisters increased when their mother and aunt died within a year of each other. He taught the teenage Khomeini at his school for four years in Islamic theology and jurisprudence.

He took the name Pasandideh in 1929, when the modernising government of Reza Shah required that people take family surnames, preferably Iranian in origin rather than Arabic or Islamic. While his younger brother named himself after his native town, Pasandideh's name is the Persian for "pleasing".

After his brother's exile from Iran in 1964, Pasandideh assumed responsibility for Khomeini's immediate family. He was also a central figure in the network of clerics who opposed the government of the Shah and supported Khomeini.

Money was collected in Khomeini's name and passed on to Pasandideh, then based in Qom. The money was used to support clerics, mosques, seminary students and Islamic cultural activities, but also to fund opposition political movements.

After 1964 Pasandideh was ordered by the Shah's government to return to Khomein, where his house was put under surveillance. This and the surveillance of other religious leaders were lifted in 1978 as part of an unsuccessful attempt by the government to appease growing religious opposition.

Before Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979, Pasandideh helped his brother to consolidate relations with moderate clerics. Politically, he was conspicuously more liberal than his brother, declaring publicly that he had not expected the Islamic revolution to be successful, and expressing his outrage at the excesses of the notorious judge Sadeq Khalkhali, who had sent thousands of Iranians to the firing squad for minor offences.

He also complained of cheating and intimidation of voters in the elections of the following year by zealots of Khomeini's Islamic Republic Party. In a telegram of protest to President Bani Sadr he wrote: "I am grieved to declare that at no stage in history have acts such as these been perpetrated. People did not expect the Islamic government to act in this way."

Ayatollah Khomeini did not favour members of his family with political office, and Pasandideh was content to lead a contemplative and regular existence in the cloistered atmosphere of the city of Qom.

He was married and is believed to have had two sons and two daughters.

Next Story: Michael O'Hehir

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