Patrick Riordan, the Irish Jesuit who teaches philosophy in Heythrop College, London, and is superior of Copleston House there, has other strings to his bow. Media reports of the show trials from Tehran have highlighted the fate of Mr Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former vice-president of Iran under President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). Patrick, as a member of the Church of England delegation, met Mr Abtahi on three occasions at triangular meetings (Anglicans, German Evangelicals and Muslims) in London, Berlin and Tehran, and presented a paper in Tehran. Mr Abtahi in his role as President of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue in Tehran led the Iranian delegation to these meetings and in turn hosted the meeting in Tehran in January 2006.
Mr Abtahi’s wife is now quoted as saying that her husband has lost a lot of weight during his six weeks of imprisonment. She is an Islamic scholar in her own right and contributed to the 3-way discussions. It does seem as if his public confession is forced, as the result of duress. The pictures of him at the trial show him as gaunt and drawn, very different from the jovial plump character Pat photographed on the bus journey to Qum, where another session of the dialogue was held.
The seminar in Qum at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute was an opportunity to meet a friend from a different context of dialogue. Mr Mohammad Ali Shomali participated in the series of Catholic Shi‛a Engagements organised jointly with Heythrop College (2003, 2005 and 2007) and co-edited the three publications arising from these meetings to each of which Patrick contributed. He also spent the academic year 2006/07 as a Visiting Professor at Heythrop College. Patrick’s contribution in all of these dialogues is concentrated on developments in the Catholic understanding of the Church’s relationship with the secular, with the world of politics and with philosophy and ethics. Respect for religious liberty is key to this story.
In Mr Abtahi’s fate we see the great gulf separating what Catholics have by now learned to take for granted, and the disregard for human rights, especially religious and civil liberties, in Islamic regimes.