Islamic Studies Muhammad Khatami
Nader Entessar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0127


Muhammad Khatami was born on 14 October 1943 in the city of Ardakan in the Yazd Province in central Iran. He is a Shi’a cleric with a rank of Hojjatol Eslam (authority or proof of Islam), an honorific title applied to middle-ranking theologians in the Twelver Shi’ism. Known for his moderate and reformist views on religion and politics, Khatami served two terms as the president of the Islamic Republic from 1997 to 2005. Prior to his presidency, Khatami served the Islamic Republic in a number of capacities, including as a member of Parliament, or Majlis (1980–1982), two terms as the minister of culture and Islamic guidance (1982–1986 and 1989–1992), and as the head of the National Library of Iran (1992–1997). He is a graduate of Isfahan University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and earned his master’s degree in educational sciences from Tehran University. In addition, Khatami received seven years of theological training in Iran’s theological seminaries in the holy city of Qum to become a mujtahid, thus allowing him to interpret religious doctrines and issue religious rulings. In addition to his native Persian language, Khatami speaks Arabic, English, and German. He is also a member of the Central Council of the Association of Combatant Clerics, the main reformist clerical association in Iran.

General Overviews

Notwithstanding Khatami’s positions in the Islamic Republic, he was a candidate little known by the general voting population of Iran and was viewed as a safe candidate by the country’s establishment to run against the odds-on-favorite, Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri, the speaker of Parliament. Khatami ran as a candidate of reform and promised individual freedom and rule of law. Khatami’s promise of inclusion (Iran for all Iranians) created an avalanche of support for his candidacy (Tazmini 2009), leading to an unprecedented voter turnout of 80 percent. Khatami was elected on the 2nd of Khordad 1376 in the Iranian calendar (23 May 1997), receiving 70 percent of the votes cast. The coalition that brought Khatami to power was composed of young voters, women, business leaders, and those who had grown tired of revolutionary excesses and wanted normalcy in their lives (Gheissari and Nasr 2006). This coalition became known as the “2nd of Khordad movement,” or the “reformist movement.” However, reform had not started with Khatami. In fact, the victory of the “reformist movement” marked the culmination of a century of popular struggle for democratic change in Iran (Ansari 2003, Azimi, 2008, Dabashi 2007, Keddie 2003). Khatami was elected president of Iran for a second term on 8 June 2001 with over 65 percent of the votes cast, and he finished his presidency on 3 August 2005.

  • Ansari, Ali M. Modern Iran since 1921: The Pahlavis and After. New York: Longman, 2003.

    A readable overview of Iran’s political history during the 20th century. It highlights the struggle for power among the country’s contending forces and the popular response to the country’s autocratic governments.

  • Azimi, Fakhreddin. The Quest for Democracy in Iran: A Century of Struggle against Authoritarian Rule. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

    One of the most detailed scholarly treatments of the struggle for popular democracy in Iran, from the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to the early 21st century.

  • Dabashi, Hamid. Iran: A People Interrupted. New York: New Press, 2007.

    A critical history of Iran since the 1990s that evaluates the Iranian people’s democratic struggles against dictatorship and highlights key events through the collapse of the reform movement.

  • Gheissari, Ali, and Vali Nasr. Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195189671.001.0001

    This book examines Iran’s political history in the modern era and evaluates the prospects for establishing democracy in the country. The authors also evaluate various narratives and ideological debates on this topic.

  • Keddie, Nikki R. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.

    A thorough analysis of modern Iranian history that seeks to establish continuity among the various protest movements against dictatorial rule in Iran.

  • Tazmini, Ghoncheh. Khatami’s Iran: The Islamic Republic and the Turbulent Path to Reform. London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2009.

    An even-handed treatment of Khatami’s rise to power and his presidency. The author analyzes the success and failures of Khatami’s presidency and places it in the context of factional groupings in Iran.

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