In the very cold winter of 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, returned to Qom, the spiritual capital of the Shiite world, for the first time after his long exile. A huge crowd came out that day. As he made his way to the stage, passing through those who pressed together to see him, the ayatollah's mantle fell off. Once he had settled in his chair, he noticed how chilly he was. "I'm cold," he said. Within seconds, another mantle fell over his shoulders and wrapped him warm.
This mantle belonged to my father, Mohammad Taghi Khalaji. After my father draped his mantle over Ayatollah Khomeini's shoulders, he went to the podium and gave the introductory speech on behalf of the clerical establishment, as well as the people of Qom. I never saw my father with that mantle again.
Right now, my father is in solitary confinement in Evin prison in Tehran. He was arrested in his home in Qom on Jan. 12. On that day, he joined hundreds of Iranian citizens who have been arrested by the Iranian regime after the rigged election in June 2009. My family has been given no information -- either by the Special Court of Clerics or by the Ministry of Intelligence -- about any charges against my father. Furthermore, my father has not been allowed to contact us or hire a lawyer. The government's denial of his basic legal rights is not unusual; it is the typical treatment of political prisoners.
The son of a farmer, my father was born in June 1948 in the province of Isfahan. When he was 5 years old, he moved to Tehran, where his three brothers lived. In 1968, after graduating from high school and then Shokooh English Language Institute, he started to work as a bank accountant. Although he came from a conservative religious background, he was the first in his family to become a cleric. Under the influence of the rising religious fervor in Iran, and despite his family's discontent, he left his job in the bank and its good salary. In 1969, he moved to Qom with his fiancée -- my mother, Mohtaram -- and began to study in its seminary.
A revolutionary-minded young cleric, my father soon joined Qom's pro-Khomenei clique and proved himself to be an excellent orator with an innate talent for scholarship. As he was making stunning progress in his theological studies, he employed his rhetorical skills in the service of the revolutionary cause. He was a disciple of Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari and close to other founding fathers of the Islamic Republic.
For delivering speeches critical of the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he was arrested three times. The last time he was released, three month later in February 1979, the revolution had toppled the shah and established the foundations of a new government.
On Feb. 1, 1979, following the revolution's success, Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in Paris. When he returned to his hometown Qom a month later, the conventional wisdom, shared by my father, was that Khomeini would leave politics to the politicians and return to teaching theology. But the course of history proved everyone wrong.
Khomeini was looking to realize his dream of an Islamic government that applied his authority as the "ruling jurisprudent," or wilayet-e-faqih. Khomeini stayed in Qom for only a few months and, after suffering a heart attack, moved to Tehran. He governed the Islamic Republic from Iran's political capital for the rest of his life.
During Khomeini's time in Qom, my father became very close to this charismatic leader. Every day, he went to the home of Mohammad Yazdi, where Ayatollah Khomeini resided. Yazdi, now an ayatollah himself, served as the head of Iran's judicial system for ten years under its current leader, Ali Khamenei. Parts of our families have remained in touch to this day: My younger brother is married to one of Yazdi's close relatives.
But some of Khomeini's tactics eventually alienated my father. To consolidate power in the clergy, Khomeini convinced Iran's power-hungry clerics that they were the legitimate heirs of the Islamic Republic and deserved their own portion of the spoils of war against the shah's regime -- in other words, political power. Despite my father's loyalty to Khomeini and his ideals, he became disgusted by these clerics and kept his distance from them. He decided to return to the seminary, and limited his social activities.
Nonetheless, my father's views of the Islamic Republic remained naïve and optimistic. He was hugely resistant to the criticism of government behavior from both the secular and religious strata of society. Unconsciously, he resisted the belief that the revolution for which he sacrificed his youth could possibly lead to human rights abuses, executions without trial, the imprisonment of the innocent, and the suppression of freedom of speech.