Mohsen Kadivar was born in 1959 in Fasa, in the southern province of Fars, Iran.
He has obtained his primary education at Ibn-Sina Elementary School. He then transferred to Sharghi Primary School and finally to Tohid Junior High School (former Pahlavi University High School) in Shiraz. He graduated from high school in 1977 in Mathematics and began his studies as an honor student in electronic engineering at former Pahlavi Engineering University (currently Shiraz University). Although he had completed half of his coursework in engineering, with the onset of the Islamic Revolution and nation-wide university closures (cultural revolution), Kadivar left his studies in electrical engineering in pursuit of a newly discovered passion in Humanities. In 1981, Kadivar married Zahra Roodi and they have four children.
Kadivar began his theological studies in October 1980 in Shiraz Seminary and in mid-June 1981 he transferred to the Qom Seminary (Hawzeh-ye ‘Elmiyyeh-ye Qom). In 1984 he began his intermediate courses and he completed his final at the top of his class in 1988. In October 1987 he began his advanced courses (dars-e kharej) in methodology of jurisprudance (‘usul al-fiqh) under the mentorship of Ayatollah al-‘Ozma Mirza Jawad Tabrizi (1926-2006), Ayatollah al-‘Ozma Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (1948-) and Ayatollah al-‘Ozma Seyyed Kazem Husseini Ha’eri (1938-). He then completed his advanced courses (kharej-e fiqh) in jurisprudence under the supervision of Ayatollah al-‘Ozma Mirza Jawad Tabrizi and Ayatollah al-‘Ozma Sayyid Mohammad Husseini Rohani (1920-1997). Kadivar owes his expertise in jurisprudence to a decade of studies under the mentorship of his most prominent teacher, the late Ayatollah al-‘Ozma, Shaykh Hossein-‘Ali Montazeri Najaf-Abadi (1922-2008), from whom he has learned discussions on almsgiving (zakat), the Guardianship of the Jurist (velayat-e al-faqih), and forbidden businesses (makasib-e al-muhrramah).
For sixteen years, he has studied Islamic theology (kalam), philosophy, mysticism (Irfan), and Qur’anic exegisis (tafsir) under prominent scholars, most importantly Ayatollah al-‘Ozma, Shaykh Abdollah Javadi ‘Amoli, who turbaned him in 1984. After seventeen years of incessant studies at Qom Seminary, at the age of thirty-nine, Mohsen Kadivar was handed out his certificate of Ijtihad, the highest degree in Islamic religious tradition by his mentor Ayatollah al-‘Ozma, Shaykh Hossein-‘Ali Montazeri Najaf-Abadi.
Kadivar obtained his master in Islamic studies and theology in 1993 at the Center of Tarbiat Modarres at Qom University. His Master thesis was titled, The Existence and Essence of Time in Islamic Philosophy (Vojud wa Mahiyat-e Zaman Dar Falsafe-e Eslami), under the supervision of Professor Ahmad Ahmadi (1933-). Kadivar obtained his Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy and Theology from Tarbiat Modarres University (TMU) in Tehran in 1999. His dissertation was titled, The Critical Analysis of the Innovative Views of Agha ‘Ali Modarres Tehrani in Transcendent Philosophy (Tahlil-e Enteghadi-ye Ara’e Ebtekari-e Agha ‘Ali Modarres Tehrani dar Hokumat-e Mota’alie), under the supervision of Professor Gholam-Hussein Ebrahimi Dinani (1935-).
In conjunction with his studies, Kadivar taught theological studies at Madrase-ye Razavieh beginning 1983 and from 1990 at Madrase-ye Grand Ayatollah Golpayegani in Qom Seminary. For fourteen years he taught Arabic morphology and syntactic, logic, the methodology of jurisprudence: Ma’alim al-‘Usoul, ‘Usoul al-Fiqh, Fara’id al-‘Usoul, Kifayat al-‘Usoul, and jurisprudence (fiqh): Sharh ol-Lum’at ol-Demashqiyah, al-Macasib al-Muharramah on one hand, and Shrh al-Babe al-Hadi ‘Ashar and Tajrid al-‘Iitiqad in theology, and Sharh al-Manzoumah, Bidayat ol-Hikmat, Nihayat ol-Hikmat and Shawahid al-Roboubiyah in philosophy on the other hand. His courses on methodology of jurisprudence were considered to be among the most popular seminars at Qom Seminary.
Kadivar began teaching at the academy in spring 1992. His university courses were divided into two faculties: i) philosophy and speculative theology and ii) political thought and human rights in Islam. For seven years (1992-1998) he taught as a visiting instructor for graduate students at Imam Sadegh, Shahid Beheshti and Tarbiat Modarres Universities in Tehran. Concomitantly (1993-1997) he taught at the newly established School of Philosophy at Mofid University in Qom for undergraduate students.
At the same time from fall 1991 to winter 1998 he acted as Chair of the Islamic Thought office at the Strategic Research Center in Tehran (a research center under the President and from 1997 under the Expediency Council). During this period, seventy research projects were completed as a result of his efforts, eight of which were published as books and two research projects were designated as exemplary researches in the country.
Gradually, since 1992, Kadivar’s articles were published in several journals in Iran. He published fifty-two articles by 1999. Kadivar’s first volume of the trilogy was published in March 1997 titled, The Theories of the State in the Shi’ite Jurisprudence: Political Thought in Islam Series (Nazariyyeh-ha-ye Dawlatt dar Fiqh-e Shi’a: Andishe Siyyasi dar Eslam), which was published by Nashr-e Ney Publications in 223 pages. The second volume titled, Theocratic State [The State under the Juridical Authority], Political Thoughts in Islam Series (Hokumat-e Vela’i: Andishe-he Siyyasi dar Eslam) was published by Nashr-e Ney Publications in 1998 in 483 pages, as a critic to Ayatollah Khomeini’s views on velayat-e al-faqih. The Book of Reason (Daftar-e ‘Aql): A Collection of Philosophical and Theological Articles was published by Ettela’at Publishing Company in 1998 in 483 pages.
Kadivar has spent five years to the revival of the works, deduction of the views, and analysis of innovative ideas of Agha ‘Ali Modarres (1818-1889), a pioneer sage of philosophical school of Tehran. He has published a collection of the works of Agha ‘Ali in three volumes by compilation, edit, prolegomenon and research notes under the title of Majmu’eh Musannafat-e Hakim Mu’assiss Aqa Ali Modarres Tehrani (The Compilation of the Works of the Sage and Originator Aqa Ali Modarres Tehrani), published by Ettela’at Publishing Company in 1999).
Kadivar co-authored Ma’khaz Shenasi-ye ‘Ulum-e ‘Aqli (A Bibliography of Rational Sciences from the advent of print industry till 1996 in Iran) in three large volumes in 3400 pages with Mohammad Nouri, which was published by Etella’at Publishing Company in 2000. However, after Kadivar’s incarceration, the sole responsibility for the conclusion of the research remained with Mohammad Nouri.
Since summer 1987 Kadivar has begun expressing skepticism towards the validity of certain major policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran and has voted against revisions to the constitution of the Islamic Republic in 1989. After the publication of his first series of articles in respect to political thought, gradually and since 1995, he began to face restrictions in Qom. Initially, these restrictions intended to prevent him from presentation in certain conferences and then were extended to academic spheres. In September 1995, the Special Representative of the Leader in Qom prevented Kadivar from teaching at Madrasa Feiziyyeh. These threats increased to a degree that in 1996 anyone who participated in Kadivar’s classes in the seminary were labeled as undesirable elements. Kadivar was prohibited from teaching at the University of Imam Sadegh in Tehran since 1998.
Finally in 1997, different political and cultural pressures forced him to migrate from Qom. In 1998, Kadivar sought to run for a seat in the third election of Assembly of Leadership Experts (Majles-e Khobregan-e Rahbari) of Tehran, but without any justifications the Guardian Council declared him unqualified.
Following the “serial murders” of the Iranian dissidents, Kadivar railed against their assassination in his continuous analytical writings in December 1998. During his speeches at the 1998 Qadr Nights in Tehran and Isfahan he advocated ‘The Right to Life in Religious Society’ and ‘The Religious Prohibition against Terror’. In his extensive interview with Khordad daily in February 1998, Kadivar criticized the Islamic Republic’s 20-year ‘report card.’ On February 17, 1999 the Special Court of Clergy (Dadgah-e Vizheh-ye Ruḥaniyyat) brought specific charges against him, and after two days of interrogations, he was detained on the night of the birth of Imam Reza, and was transferred to Evin prison.
Forty-seven days later, during a semi-public hearing, and without an impartial jury council, the Special Court of Clergy sentenced Kadivar to 18 months prison sentence for one public speech on Qadr Night at a mosque in Esfahan and an interview with Khordad daily. After enduring his prison sentence, on July 16, 2000, he was released from Evin Prison. The designated prosecutor for this unlawful trial was Hojjat ol-Islam Mohammad-Ibrahim Nekounam. Hojjat ol-Islam Mohammad Salimi was the presiding Judge and Hojjat ol-Islam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Eje’i was the Administrative Judge.
It is noteworthy that Kadivar’s first arrest was in May 1978 by SAVAK (National Intelligence and Security Organization of Shah) during the celebrations of the 40th Day of the remembrance of the martyrs of the Islamic Revolution (martyrs in Yazd). He was then sent to ‘Adel Abad prison in Shiraz for the charges of disturbance of peace and order and activities against national security.
The charges at the Special Court of Clergy read that Kadivar had accused the government with serial murders, and in his interview he had called the Islamic Republic ‘reproducing the absolutist authority reminiscent of the Monarchic rule.’ For the charges of dissemination of falsehoods and disturbing the public opinion he was sentenced to a year in prison, and for the charges of propaganda against the Islamic Republic he was sentenced to six months in prison. The book Price for Freedom: The Defense of Mohsen Kadivar at the Special Court of Clergy (Bahay-e Azadi: Defa’iyyat-e Mohsen Kadivar dar Dadgah-e Vizheh-ye Ruhaniyyat) contains details of this event, which were collected in 240 pages and was published in 1999 during the first several months of Kadivar’s imprisonments, through the efforts of his wife Zahra Roodi. This book was republished five times in new volumes during his imprisonment.
After the court’s verdict, Kadivar asserted his innocence and said, “I will continue fighting against religious despotism and pursue giving advice and directions to the religious leaders. I will fulfill my obligation in obeying the progressive Islamic mandate in encouraging the right and preventing the wrong, and enlightening the public in the face of all restrictions and incarceration. I will bear all that with a smile on my lips and an assurance in my heart. I will deprive the totalitarians from gratification to see any expression of pain in me. When my beloved with a jug of wine and a bouquet of flower is in my bosom, even the Sultan of the world will be my slave in this day (gol dar bar-o mei dar kaf-o ma’shugh beh kamast, Sultan-e jahanam beh chenin ruz gholamast).
Kadivar turned his incarceration into an opportunity for research. Prior to his sentence he had edited the third volume of Compilation works of Aqa ‘Ali Modaress. After his sentence, he put his efforts into completing his dissertation. In Mid-1999, Kadivr compiled and edited his book, The Apprehension of Religious Governance, A Collection of Political Papers and Lectures, (Daghehdagheh-ha-ye Hokumat-e Dini). This massive work was published by Nashr-e Nay Publications in 2000 in 883 pages, and in a short time, it was republished in the same year. During the last several months of his incarceration, Kadivar researched and studied the prospect of violence in Shari’at. The product of this research is witnessed in his proceeding works.
On the occasion of his release from prison, the board of directors of the College of Humanities at Tarbiat Modarres University honored Kadivar at an extensive celebration on July 26, 2000. Later, on July 30, 2000 the Islamic Associations of University Students Daftar-e Tahkim-e Wahdat (the office of unity and solidarity) honored him in a celebration at Shahid Beheshti University. Kadivar’s first address after his release during this event was Tafar’un dar Qur’an (Haughtiness in the Qur’an).
From 1998 to 2003 Kadivar acted as the Director of Department of Philosophy and Theology at the Center of Scientific and Cultural Publishing in Tehran. He also was a member of Research Council for Social Security Research Institute in Tehran from 1998-2005. He wrote the chapter of “Social Security in Islamic Teaching” in The Report of Comprehensive regime of Welfare and Social Security.
In October 2000 Kadivar was hired as an Assistant Professor for the Department of Philosophy at Tarbiat Modaress University in Tehran. In February 2002, his position changed from temporary to probationary period and in August 2005 he became permanent faculty. Since July 2004 and for two years he was the Elected Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Tarbiat Modaress University. During this period the entire curriculums in his department were under scrutiny.
The political restrictions imposed by the Ministry of High Education in early 2006 on dissident professors forced Kadivar to leave his tenured position, and in June 2007 he was officially transferred to the Iranian Research Institute of Philosophy (the former Imperial Academy of Philosophy). Although he had the qualification of a full professor, he was promoted to associate professor in May 2008. From 2007 to 2008 Kadivar taught philosophy of Alfarabi. During these two years he initiated and completed two research projects: The Comprehensive Bibliography of the Philosophy in Iran and Avicennalogy (Ibn-Sina Pezhuhi). From 2000 to 2008, Kadivar has presented papers at 24 national conferences.
In January 2001, Kadivar traveled to the United States for six months on leave-of-absence without pay, with an invitation from the Islamic Law Program of Harvard Law School for research and teaching. In Summer 2001 he organized “The Contemporary Political Thought in Shi’ite Islam Seminar.” His fundamental discussion in fall semester was Reason in Shi’ite Jurisprudence. During this time he participated in the Annual Meeting of the Studies of Middle East in North America and lectured on the Mandate of the Jurist and Democracy (Velayat-e Faqih wa Democracy). In December 2002 Kadivar was the keynote speaker at the Social Research Conference at New School University in New York. He lectured on Islam: The Private and Public Spheres.
Kadivar has lectured at universities of Tokyo; Doshisha in Kyoto; Oxford in England; Free University in Brussels, National University in Ireland, and also at seminars of Yale University in Oman in Jordan, Goethe Institute in Germany; seminars offered by the Ministry of High Education in Islamabad, Pakistan; the Center of Japanese-German in Berlin, Germany; in Torino and Frascati, Italy.
During the final period of his incarceration, Kadivar was elected as the CEO of the newly founded Iranian Association for the Defense of Press Freedom (Anjoman-e Defa’ az Azadi-ye Matbu’at) by its board of directors. He began his public Qur’an exegesis lectures called, Religious Research in the Light of Qur’an (Din-e Pazhouhi dar Parto-e Qur’an) at the Technical College at Tehran University. He presented Woman in Islam in 2003-2004. From March 2004 until Spring 2008 he presented discussions on the theme of Qur’an and the Contemporary Human Being (Qur’an wa Ensan-e Mo’aser). These series included discussions about God and human being, divine traditions, and religious rituals. During the decade in 80s, he was the principal speaker during Qadr night and Ashura at Hasaniye Ershad and Tawhid Center. Kadivar supported the sanctuary of the representatives of the Sixth District of the Iranian parliament and in collaboration with the representatives he spoke about “The Appointive Sub-System vs. Republicanism.”
He published 60 articles between 2000 and 2008. His book The Political Works of Khorasani: The Political Statements in the works of Mullah Mohammad Kazem Khurasani (Siyasat-nameh Khorasani), in 423 pages, is the first volume of the Series of Sources of Forerunners of Political Islam in Contemporary Iran, which was published by Kavir Publishing in fall 2006. The Rights Of People: Islam and Human Rights (Haqq ol-Nass: Islam wa Hoquq-e Bashar) was published by Kavir in fall 2008 in 439 pages. In less than a year this book reached to its fourth publication. Shari’at and Politics: Discussions About the Presence of Islam in Public Arena (Shari’iat wa Siyasat) was awaiting publications since Winter 2008 but two years later it was declared forbidden to be published By the Islamic Republic.
The series of monographs on the doctrine of Government by Appointment (Hokumat-e Entesabi) is one of Kadivar’s unfinished books, which only nine chapters of it have been published. In fact, the reminder of this book could not be published in Iran. From the book Virtues Learned Men (‘Ulama-ye Abrar) only three chapters were published: The Forgotten Reading, Re-reading of “the Theory of Virtues Learned Men” the Earlier Interpretation of the Principle of Leadership in Shi’ism, The Classification of the Religious Beliefs, and Deliberations into Theological Sources. Under increasing pressure of the regime the publication of purification of Shi’ite theological thought from the exaggerators interpretations was not feasible.
One day prior to Kadivar’s release from Evin prison July 15, 2000, Keyhan Newspaper (close to the office of the Leader) in its headline wrote Soroush and Kadivar Receive Financial Assistance from US Human Rights Organization. This issue instigated new controversies. Awarding Kadivar with the Hellman-Hammett prize was an excuse for this malicious slander. On July 26, 2000, through his defense attorney, Mohsen Kadivar filed a lawsuit at Tehran Court against Keyhan Newspaper. No action has yet been taken by the Judiciary system in this regard after more than a decade.
After the confiscation of his passport at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran in August 2007, Kadivar learned that he could not leave the country. The prosecutor for the Special Court for Clergy and the Ministry of Intelligence filed a complaint and interrogated Kadivar in fall of the same year, once again accusing him of propagating against the regime and publishing untruths with an intent to disturb public minds.
With an invitation from the University of Virginia, In September 2008, Kadivar went to the United States, and during academic year 2008-2009 he was the visiting professor of Religious Studies of University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Consequently, he was invited to Duke University in North Carolina for the academic year 2009-2010 for a year, an invitation that was renewed two times +
During the past three years, Kadivar has given lectures in several universities in the US: Columbia, Eastern Mennonite, George Mason, Northwestern, Stanford, Austin, DePaul, Lake Forest, George Washington, Georgetown, Washington Saint Louis, Virginia, California (UCLA), North Carolina (UNC), Duke, Harvard and Harford.
Kadivar remained on leave-of-absence without pay until August 2009. Iranian Institute of Philosophy under the pressures from the Ministry of Science did not agree to renew Kadivar’s leave-of-absence. Finally in June 2011, Kadivar was unlawfully laid off from his post and was permanently discharged by the Government Services for the charges of “Publication of offensive articles against the holy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the position of the Mandate of the Juristconsult (velayat-e faqih), the honorable position of the Leader and propaganda against the regime.” Consequently, the Ministry of Science issued an unjustified absentee.
In the 10th Presidential elections, Kadivar supported Mir-Hossein Mousavi. After pervasive electoral fraud and suppression of the peaceful protests of the people, Kadivar sided with the Green Movement and became one of the organizers and a member of policy-making council for the Internet Network of the Movement of Green Path “Jaras” (July 2009- October 2011).
Kadivar in an extensive analytical letter demanded the impeachment of the Leader and evaluated the IRI Leader’s 21-year ‘report card.’ In his address to the chair and the members of the Assembly of Experts (July 2010) he wrote: “As an Iranian citizen, I accuse the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei of tyranny, cruelty, breaking the law, attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran and insulting Islam.”
Reform of Islamic thought, reconstruction of Shi’ite thought, and dialogue between Tradition and Modernity are the main concerns of Kadivar. He is one of the critics of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran and theocracy, opponent of religious autocracy and the notion of the guardianship of the Jurist vilayat al-faqih (in all its forms), and a defender of mercy Islam and ethical society. Kadivar strives for the establishment of justice, democracy, human rights, and objective secularism in Iran.