In what must be seen as a stunning development in the current protest movement in Iran, a group of seminary students and their teachers in the seminary city of Qom issued a statement on Sept. 30, 2022, declaring that the core ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran — the Velayat-e Faqih or Rule of the Jurisprudent — is no longer valid.
It's hard to overestimate how important this statement is to the perception of regime validity among the Iranian people and even more importantly among the Shi'ite clergy.
Velayat-e Faqih, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's signature, personal ideology, has been the absolute foundation of theological legitimacy in Iran since the 1979 Revolution.
It has been challenged from time to time by Shi'ite juridical scholars, yes, but never outright repudiated by students and their clerical teachers in Qom, the center of Iran's Shi'ite establishment.
According to the Qom seminarians' statement, they declare that the current Iranian supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not considered a 'mujtahid', or recognized senior juridical scholar of the Shi'ite Islamic theology, texts, or shariah jurisprudence.
Khamenei, who was hastily chosen by the council of experts to succeed Khomeini upon his death in 1989, did not at that time have the academic or theological credentials of an ayatollah: he was merely a middling rank hojatoleslam.
In the panic of the moment, however, Khamenei was a kind of consensus pick, because the earlier-designated successor to Khomeini, the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Montazeri, had just been demoted for his criticism of the 1988 regime prison slaughter of tens of thousands of regime opponents.
Khamenei was therefore bumped up to the rank of ayatollah without having the credentials for the promotion.
Nor has Khamenei ever approached the necessary theological gravitas to be considered for the rank of grand ayatollah (as Khomeini and Montazeri were), which recognizes such a cleric to be a Marja'-e Taqlid, or one whose superior Shi'ite theological rank and scholarship qualify him to be a model for emulation.
Now, drawing on both Islamic juridical argumentation as well as these earlier criticisms of Khamenei, these Qom students have now declared that he was "never fit to be the Guardian of the people and a ruler" in the first place.
Such a statement from the center of the Shi'ite establishment in Iran is unprecedented but enormously significant for the ability of the Iranian regime to cling to power.
This group in Qom condemned not just the Shi'ite clergy's legitimacy to rule over the Iranian people from a theological perspective, but its legitimacy to continue in power given its murderous response to the ongoing protests of the Iranian people.
Those demonstrations began after Tehran "morality police" bludgeoned Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, to death while in custody after being accused of letting her hijab slip off her hair.
Additional allegations in the Qom seminarians' letter charged that Iran's judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei likewise is not qualified for his position as the regime's chief justice.
Ahmad Jannati, the head of the powerful guardian council, came in for criticism as well for lacking proper Islamic qualifications.
Taken together, these statements by students and teachers at Qom seminaries, amount to a withdrawal of theological recognition of the Khamenei regime, based solidly on Islamic argumentation.
With this loss of critical backing, that regime has just been dealt a serious blow.
The coming days and weeks will tell whether the Qom statement spells the beginning of the end for Khamenei and his rule.
Late reporting on Oct. 1, 2022 claims that Mojtaba Khamenei (the supreme leader's son), along with his wife and child together with the entire Larijani family (top advisers to the supreme leader) have all fled Tehran via Dubai en route to Canada.
This information has not yet been corroborated.