GOLPĀYAGĀNI, Ayatollah Sayyed MOḤAMMAD-REŻĀ b. Moḥammad-Bāqer (b. 8 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 1316/20 March 1899; d. 24 Jomādā II 1414/8 December 1993; ; Figure 1), a chief figure in the contemporary Shiʿite clerical hierarchy (marjaʿiyat-e taqlid), who took a moderate stand in the opposition to what was considered the state’s disregard for Islamic principles in the name of modernization as well as to the views advocated by the extremist faction of the post-revolutionary period. He was born in Goged, a village near Golpāyagān (q.v.), where received his elementary education from his father. He lost his father at the age of nine but continued his studies under two local mojtaheds until he joined the teaching center of Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Karim Ḥāʾeri Yazdi at Arāk in 1336/1918. When Ḥāʾeri moved his center from Arāk to Qom in March 1922, Golpāyagāni joined him shortly thereafter. In Qom, Golpāyagāni had the chance to attend the lectures of some visiting grand mojtaheds such as Ayatollah Abu’l-Ḥasan Musawi Eṣfahāni (d. 1946, q.v.) and Mirzā Ḥosayn Nāʾini (d. 1936); however, his works and juristic attitude mostly show the influence of Ḥāʾeri.

Golpāyagāni’s teaching career began when Ḥāʾeri assigned him the teaching of the soṭuhá classes at the Fayżiya. By the 1930s he had established his own teaching circle in Qom, where he taught Koran exegesis (q.v.) and, following Ḥāʾeri’s death in 1355/1937, began teaching principles and branches of the Shiʿite jurisprudence (oṣul al-feqh and foruʿ; ʿAqiqi, II, p. 16; Šarif Rāzi, II, p. 32). Teaching was the main characteristic of Golpāyagāni’s career, which spanned more than sixty-five years. His diligent style in training his students often made his courses the most popular even in the presence of a senior marjaʿ such as Ayatollah Ḥājj Āqā Ḥosayn Borujerdi (q.v.). Golpāyagāni wrote twelve books, mainly on Shiʿite jurisprudence, including Efāżāt al-ʿawāʾed (a commentary on Āyatollah Ḥāʾeri’s Oṣul al-feqh), Tawżiḥ al-masāʾel, Majmaʿ al-masāʾel (collection of his juridical opinions), Resāla-ye ṣalāt-e jomʿa wa ʿidayn, Manāsek-e ḥajj, Aḥkām-e ʿomra, Dalil al-ḥajj (the last three on the rituals of pilgrimage to Mecca), and Aḥkām-e amwāt (on funeral rites). His lectures, published by his students, cover another twelve volumes, noteworthy among them are: Ketāb al-qażā, Ketāb al-šahādāt, and Dorr al-manżud fi aḥkām al-ḥodud, concerning the Islamic judicial system, the law of evidence, and penal law respectively (Karimi, pp. 177-84). After the death of Ayatollah Borujerdi in 1962, Golpāyagāni emerged as a marjaʿ-e taqlid (source of emulation) in the collective leadership of the Shiʿite clerical hierarchy of Qom, which included Ayatollahs Ruḥ-Allāh Ḵomeyni, Moḥammad-Kāẓem Šariʿatmadāri, and Šehāb-al-Din Najafi Marʿaši.

Following the patterns set by Ḥāʾeri and Borujerdi, Golpāyagāni put his efforts into promoting the education and the living standard of the students of the Shiʿite seminaries in Persia, especially those of the Fayżiya in Qom. He financed the building of new hospitals, libraries, mosques, religious schools, as well as other public facilities in Qom and some other Persian cities, particularly in Kurdistan and Lorestān. He also founded the House of the Holy Koran (Dār-al-Qorʾān al-karim), the Center for Juridical Indexes (Markaz-e moʿjam-e feqhi), and the Center for Juristic Indexes (Moʿjam al-foqahāʾ). Outside Persia, he financed the building of the Islamic World Center (Majmaʿ-e jahāni-e Eslām) in London in 1971 and continued to pay for its maintenance. He visited the center in 1987. After the death of Ayatollah Abu’l-Qāsem Ḵoʾi in 1992, many of his followers turned to Golpāyagāni as their marjaʿ-e taqlid, taking over the supervision of the former’s legacy, but the administration of Al-Khoei Foundation in London became a matter of controversy among the members of the Ḵoʾi family.

Ayatollah Golpāyagāni’s role in the socio-political changes of the second half of the 20th century is significant despite his essentially apolitical attitude. In October 1962, he joined Ayatollah Ḵomeyni and other leading clerics of Qom to oppose the government’s new law on elections to the provincial councils, which no longer required that members of those councils should be Muslim. He also, along with other religious leaders, found the enfranchisement of women unacceptable and consequently boycotted the Shah’s referendum for the White Revolution (Enqelāb-e safid) in January of 1963 (Madani, I, p. 624; Karimi, p. 119). On 22 March 1963, his house in Qom came under attack by security forces; one of his sons-in-law, Ḥojjat-al-Eslām ʿAlawi, was seriously injured and Golpāyagāni was surrounded by his student to protect him from injury. Golpāyagāni, despite his generally quietist disposition, at times voiced his objection to the measures taken by the government which he considered not to be in keeping with Islamic principles. In July 1971, he declared as religiously unlawful (ḥarām) the government’s project for the sale of pious endowments (waqf) to private individuals, and in March 1976 he sent a telegram to the then speaker of the Senate denouncing the adoption of the so-called imperial calendar as contrary to Islam (Davāni, IV, pp. 49-50, VI, p. 288). During the 1978-79 Revolution he often put his signature on joint declarations by the ʿolamāʾs of Qom condemning Moḥammad-Reżā Shah’s regime and supporting Ayatollah Ḵomeyni’s leadership. His house in Qom was attacked by security forces on 9 May 1978, when students commemorating the killings that had taken place in Yazd forty days earlier sought refuge in his residence. He reportedly suffered a heart attack on this occasion (Ruḥāni, II, passim). On 11 February 1979, he issued a message of congratulation to the people for the triumph of the revolution. He also called on people to vote for the establishment of the Islamic Republic in the referendum held on 2 December 1979 (Davāni, X, p. 299).

After the founding of the Islamic Republic, Golpāyagāni remained generally supportive of the new regime but kept a safe distance from it. He had a fair relationship with Ayatollah Ḵomeyni and, at the beginning of the post-revolutionary period, tried to reconcile him with Ayatollah Šariʿatmadāri by inviting both men to his own house for a meeting (Momen, pp. 291-92). He, however, maintained a conservative attitude on social issues and was sharply critical of some of the policies of and seriously alarmed by the radicalism displayed by the Ḥezb-e jomhuri-e eslāmi. He condemned the continuation of summary trials and the war with Iraq to the extent that he urged his followers not to pay income taxes to the government (Akhavi, p. 190). He seemed vocal on the continued disrespect to his fellow marjaʿ Ayatollah Šariʿatmadāri even after the latter’s death (ibid.). Furthermore, he objected to Ḵomeyni’s exposition of the absolute authority of the ruling faqih (welāyat-e moṭlaqa-ye faqih), according to which, the ruling faqih (waliy-e faqih), may suspend certain aḥkām ṯānawiya (e.g., ḥajj) if he deems the higher interest of the Islamic state to necessitate this (Akhavi, p. 190, quoting Iran Times, 21 March, 1986). In a published letter to Ḵomeyni, dated Šawwal 1407/May-June1987, Golpāyagāni asked the latter to present unadulterated Islamic rules and to supervise their purification from non-Islamic tendencies (Karimi, p. 101). After the demise of Ḵomeyni (1989), Golpāyagāni distanced himself still further from the official authorities, although he practically controlled the clerical network of Qom.


Shahrough Akhavi, “Elite Factionalism in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” The Middle East Journal 41/2, 1987, pp. 181-201.

ʿA.-R. ʿAqiqi Baḵšāyeši, Foqahā-ye nāmdār-e Šiʿa, 2 vols., Qom, II, 1414/1994.

ʿAli Davāni, Nahżat-e ruḥāniun-e Irān, Qom, n.d.

Michael M. J. Fischer, Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution, Cambridge (Mass.) and London, 1980.

ʿAli Karimi Jahromi, Ḵoršid-e āsmān-e feqāhat wa marjaʿiyat, Qom, 1414/1994.

Jalāl-al-Din Madani, Tāriḵ-e siāsi-e moʿāṣer-e Irān, 2 vols., Qom, 1370 Š./1991.

Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shiʿi Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shiʿism, New Haven, 1985.

Ḥamid Ruḥāni, Barrasi wa taḥlil-i az nahżat-e Emām Ḵomeyni, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985.

Moḥammad Šarif Rāzi, Ganjina-ye dānešmandān, 7 vols., Tehran, 1352-54 Š./1973-75, II, pp. 31-36.

(Ahmad Kazemi Moussavi)

Originally Published: December 15, 2001

Last Updated: February 14, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 1, pp. 98-100

Cite this entry:

Ahmad Kazemi Moussavi, “GOLPĀYAGĀNI, MOḤAMMAD-REŻĀ,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, XI/1, pp. 98-100, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/golpayagani-ayatollah (accessed on 30 December 2012).