By Track Persia

October 17, 2018

The Islamic Republic of Iran has used education as a key element for its soft power in its pursuit of exporting its version of the Shi’i revolutionary doctrine of wilyat al-faqih, or the guardianship of a cleric to rule. The strategy of the theocratic regime is to become a regional power.1

Shortly after the success of his Islamic revolution in Iran that overthrew the Shah in 1979, the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the spread of his revolutionary Shi’i version to the Islamic world, particularly, in the majority-populated Sunni states, targeting young minds and academics. Khomeini vehemently believed that the educational field is a suitable means  to pursuit the spread of his revolutionary Shi’i ideology of wilayat al-faqih.

The implementation of this strategy is assigned to Iran’s Cultural Revolutionary Council which has 17 bodies. One of the tasks of this institution, whose foundation is based on a decree issued by Khomeini himself, is to change the country’s education system to Shi’i-oriented one that matches the objectives of the new revolutionary Shi’i Islam that Khomeini had envisioned.

In Iran, this strategy is implemented in the education sector by publishing new textbooks that reflect the regime’s official Shi’i ideology, dismissing students and academics who do not believe in the regime’s sectarian ideology. The regime also increases the enrolment of foreign students into the Iran-based educational institutions, in particular from the Islamic countries, offering free Persian language courses in order to establish at network at home and abroad.

Khomeini sponsored the establishment of several Shi’i-indoctrinated educational institutions in the Muslim world after the success of his Islamic Revolution. Most protagonists of the 1979 Revolution believe that in order to gain a soft power in the Muslim world, the regime needs to create a leverage in the educational sector and sponsor academic institutions there.

One of the most prominent religious sectarian establishments established in the pursuit of the Islamic Republic’s strategy is Al-Mustafa International University (MIU) which was established as an ideological institution with religious and geopolitical mission. The university has been the most active institution in Iran and abroad. It has several branches across the Islamic world such as Afghanistan and Malaysia and Indonesia. The MIU has also branches in non-dominant Muslim countries such as Islamic College of London and the Islamic University of Ghana.

MIU was founded in 2008 by Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who selects its members of trustees’ committee and its president. However, the university’s activities were carried out since 1979, as it was the brainchild of prominent clerics in Iran such as Grand Ayatollah  Murtadha Mutah’hari, a prominent protagonists of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Grand Ayatollah Hussain Broujerdi, the founder of Iran’s Qom seminary. Both clerics sponsored the training and dispatching of propagandists to disseminate the Shi’i revolutionary ideology across the Muslim world.

The university was established in Qom, where Iran’s religio-political dynamism is based. It has directly been supervised by the radical religious establishment there to ensure that the university’s  activities fit with the conservative Shi’i principles.  Under the regime’s stated condition of training ‘pious’, ‘devoted clerics’, ‘researchers’ and ‘experts’, the taught subjects should promote the Islamic Republic’s official ideology such as Khomeini’s  wilayat al-faqih and the idea of the Hidden Imam Mahdi who most of the Shia believe that he disappeared many centuries ago and will reappear to fill the world with justice.

The university was directly funded by Iran’s Global Centre for Islamic Knowledge and the Organisation of Overseas Religious Seminaries, both later were merged to form MIU. Currently itfunded by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

In the fiscal year 2013-2014, MIU received over $135 million from the Iranian public fund, that does not include the budget allocated for its affiliated religious seminaries and the development budget of the university.  This heavy funding spent on MIU’s activities is aimed to attract students, who can be indoctrinated in order to achieve the university’s objectives of dissemination the Shi’i revolutionary values that the Iranian theocracy.

MIU has become one of the largest Shi’i indoctrinated establishment in a few years later with several sub-institutions and around 60 branches overseas. It has offered admission to 40,000 students from 120 countries. The university also runs international research centre, issue-based publications journals and magazines and public libraries and translation of Shi’i literature into several languages including Aryan, Indian, East Asian, Turkish, Latin, Balkan and Slav, German, African, Arabic and English Beside Shi’i studies, the MIU organises social activities such as sport and cultural activities for its students and their families who are also offered spiritual training, legal protection and welfare services in Iran and abroad.

The Iranian regime has also established international research centres that organise seminars attended by Iranian scholars and Iran sympathisers, offering cooperation between Iranian universities and top international universities including exchanging academics and students.

The targeted individuals of MIU’s strategy are proselytizing Sunni academics and students from around the globe and recruiting them to spread the teaching of Iran’s Supreme Leader and the regime’s Shi’i values, exploiting the failure of the governments of the Sunni dominated states in meeting the rising demands for higher education opportunities. This strategy is hoped to  influence the policy making in the countries of the targeted individuals.  If this strategy appears to be difficult to implement, the targeted individuals will receive training that can influence them to be sympathizers or propagandists who will serve as the reserve army of the Twelfth Imam al-Mahdi, who has been living in occultation for more than a thousand years, according to most Shi’i factions, and will prepare the ground for the imam’s reappearance.

The MIU’s intensive ideological indoctrination at overseas branches is also aimed to recruit  staff and students as political agents in their societies. These individuals are called by the Iranian religious circle as ‘mustabsirs’, which means the people whose hearts have been exposed to the truth. These mustabsirs are usually recruited to be affiliates to Iran’s Ahl-ul-bayt World Assembly (ABWA) institution to receive special indoctrinated training that is usually designed for non-Iranian propagandists. ABWA’s training is conducted in various means including face-to-face contact, tutorials, writings and translation of books and articles, conferences, seminars and workshops.


1 For more details on the findings in this articles, consult: Abdolmoghset Banikamal and Wahabuddin Ra’ees (2018), ‘Iran’s Educational Diplomacy in the Muslim World: Activities of Al-Mustafa International University in Malaysia and Afghanistan’, Insight Turkey, Vol 20, No 1.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.