One of the many slogans chanted during the revolution against Iran's monarchy went, "From the blood of martyrs, tulips have sprouted." Lately some Iranian cynics have begun circulating a new slightly modified version: "From the blood of martyrs, mullahs have spouted."
Taht sarcasm aimed at Iran's Shiite Moslem clergy tells a lot about what is happening in postrevolutionary Iran. There is growing resentment of the Islamicleadership on the part of many Iranians who feel cheated by the clergy's increasingly authoritarian monopoly over the country's political and social life.
These Irianians formed a united front behind Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the fight to dethrone Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and believed the ayatollah when he promised to give them the democracy they were fighting for.
Since the revolution swept away the monarchy in February and replaced it with an Islamic republic, however, these Iranians-including much of the middle class, the educated, the youth and political liberals and leftists-have begun to complain that the new government is more Islamic than republic.
They say the clergyman in Khomeini's camp are picking up where the shah left off, that they are out to create what might be called a "dictatorship of the mullahtariat."
There only used to be a few ayatollahs," griped a young Iranian the other day. "Now there are thousands.They're everywhere. Everybody's an ayatollah these days."
It does appear that clergymen are occupying more positions of authority and taking on higher titles than were bestowed on them in the past. This proliferation of ayatollahs has added to public confusion over who is running the country.
The problems of identifying who wields the power in the Islamic republic are further compounded by the secretive nature of the various revolutionary organizations.
Just as the marriage of convenience between the religious and secular opposition to the shah went on the rocks shortly after the new government took office, so strains have begun to appear in the Shiite Moslem clergy dubbed by some critics here as Iran's "new ruling class."
Basically the clerical leadership can be divided into four main categories:
At the lower end of the scale is the mullah, an Islamic priest or preacher. The term is also the generic name applied to Moslem clergyman here generally.
The more learned mullahs are called hojatoleslam, roughly meaning "vicar of Islam." They are usually men who have completed higher theological courses and can boast some expertise in religious law.
Next comes the ayatollah of "reflection of Allah." These holy men are regarded as authorities on religious law, teach advanced theological courses and receive major donations from the faithful.
The title of ayatollah only became popular in the Shiite world in the early 1900s, according to religious scholars here. Before that the leading clergymen were merely called hojatolslam. Then, it seems, ayatollahs multipled so rapidly that an even more authoritative appellation was required.
During the 1920s a few of the most learned, pious and aged holy men earned the title of ayatollah alozma or grand ayatollah.
These religious leaders also came to be known as maraja taqlid, or "sources of imitation." They are authorized to interpret Islamic law and rule on major issues arising from modern-day circumstances that may not have been explicitly covered in the Koran.
Not since Ayatollah Mohammed Bourjerdi died in 1956 has there been a single maraja taqlid whose preeminence was universally recognized by Iranian Shiites. Today, Iranians follow the religious rulings of no fewer than six grand ayatollahs. Khomeini is by far the most popular; he ranks in a class by himself as the political leader of the revolution and is the de facto chief of state.
Because of this, many of Khomeini's followers refer to him as imam, a common term for Islamic leaders but which when used here places him in a class with the saints of the faith.
The second most revered grand ayatollah is considered to be Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, 77, the spiritual leader of several million Iranians, especially the Turkish-speaking inhabitants of his native Azerbaijan Province in the northwestern Iran.
A third major religious leader, perhaps more widely respected in Iran than both Khomeini and Shariatmadari but who lacks the stature of a maraja taqlid, is Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani, 72. His popularity cuts across political, class and generation lines, and he is praises both by devout Moslems and youthful leftists.
Khomeini and his followers, on the other hand, appear to have adopted an intolerant attitude toward parties that oppose them. Crowds of Khomeini loyalists at demonstrations have been heard chanting, "The only party is the party of God."
Khomeini recently warned followers that "differences" created by small parties could undermine "the godliness of this revolution."
Shariatmadari's party has taken to criticizing the proliferation of ayatollahs.*t"One should be very careful about determing who a real clergyman is," a party spokesman said recently. "Just wearing a turban does not make one an ayatollah."
Although the religious leaders try to maintain a semblance of unity, signs of rift between Khomeini and Shariatmadari have become increasingly obvious. Known as more of a political moderate than Khomeini , Shariatmadari is considered a relative liberal in religious matters compared to Khomeini's hard-line Islamic fundamentalism.
While Khomeini's reputation rests on his uncompromising opposition to the shah. Shariatmadari is generally acknowledged as a superior religious scholar and intellect.
Recently Shariatmadari launched a political party to counter the totalitarian tendencies of Khomeini's new Islamic Republican Party, which was created with the apparent aim of channeling Khomeini's popularity into polling strength in the future parliamentary and presidential elections. Its organizers say it has attracted about 2 million members.
Shariatmadari denies that his Moslem People's Republican Party has any major policy difference with the Islamic Republican Party. He says it was created to counter "the danger of a one-party dictatorship." Shariatmadari favors the participation in elections of other political groups, including leftists ones.
The spokesman said criteria that used to be applied for high religious titles "are not being observed strictly."
The remarks were interpreted here as a swipe at some members of Khomeini's entourage who have declared themselves ayatollahs, such as a 31-year-old clergyman who claims to run the southwestern oil center of Ahwaz.
The fledgling ayatollahs can often get away with their new titles because there is no formal procedure for graduation and appointment to Islamic religious ranks. A Shiite clergyman's status is based on recognition by his followers.
Thus one man's ayatollah can be another man's hojatoleslam. This frequently the case with the shadowy figures who make up Khomeini's secret Revolutionary Council, the revolutionary courts and the committees that field thousands of Islamic militiamen.
The May Day assassination of Ayatollah Morteza Motaheri, a Revolutionary Council member, shed some light on this secret world when millions of Iranians who had never previously heard of the man suddenly discovered he was an important personage in the scheme of things.
According to informed sources, the Revolutionary Council has about 15 members. Not all the members are religious leaders, but sources who claim to know the workings of the group say they might as well be.
"They're all mullahs, but three of them don't wear turbans," one government source said, referring to Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi, radio and television chief Sadegh Ghotbzadeh and Khomeini economic aide Abdol Hassan Bani-Sadra. All three were members of the ayatollah's Paris entourage before he returned from exile Feb. 1.
Another layman, Mehdi Bazargan, is said to have resigned from the council when he became Prime Minister following the fall of the shah's monarchy. CAPTION: Picture, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ranks in a class by himself as the political leader of the revolution and the de facto chief of state.