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Iran's Al-Mustafa International University, By the Numbers

December 20, 2020

The Al-Mustafa International University (MIU) is a non-transparent organization under the leadership of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. In the wake of fresh US sanctions, its name has been repeatedly mentioned in the media.

Iran says the Al-Mustafa International University is "training mujtahids and scholars and spreading pure Muhammadan Islam" around the world. The United States, on the other hand, believes that it is the center of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force intelligence operations, and a center for recruiting Pakistani and Afghan Shi’a to fight in Syria.

There is no information available on the major financial resources of the Al-Mustafa International University, including the "assistance of the leader", "endowments" or "religious proceeds” mentioned in its articles of association. However, a new analysis by Iran Open Data shows that over the past decade, the Islamic Republic has probably spent more than 2.5 trillion tomans (560 million USD) of taxpayer money on this organization.

Two and a half trillion tomans is equivalent to the minimum monthly wage of 1,316,000 Iranian workers in 2020. Comparing MIU’s 10-year budget to the average Iranian household income, this religious-political institution’s budget, in the past decade, is equal to the total annual incomes of 46,000 Iranian families in 2009.

According to the budgetary data, from 2012 to 2020, a total of 2.123 trillion tomans (505 million USD) has been allocated to this institution. In the next year’s appropriation bill, the administration allocated 467 billion Tomans (111 million USD) for MIU. Adding that to the previous number, this institution’s budget will exceed 2.5 trillion tomans (560 million USD) by the end of next year. The set value of this budget is varied according to inflation. The set value for MIU’s 2011-2020 budget, considering this fall’s market basket and gross domestic product (GDP) numbers, is calculated as six trillion tomans (1.4 million USD). In other words, the Iranian government has appropriated a budget comparable to the value of 43,000 square meters of apartment space to MIU. Considering the above information, MIU has received a budget equivalent to 400,000 square meters of apartment space, equal to 5,000 80-meter residential units in Tehran, from taxpayers to spend on its religious and political aims.

Link to MIU’s state budget data for the last 10 years

MIU’s Performance

In the past, some MIU administrators have claimed that the number of former and current foreign students exceeds 80,000. They claim that they have followers in 60 countries, and this institution facilitated the conversion of 50 million people to Shi’ism. This claim cannot be verified, but, assuming this claim is accurate, the Islamic Republic has, so far, spent 500,000 tomans (120 USD) for each alleged conversion.

Cost per Capita Comparison between Religious and Other Highschool and College Students

Dividing MIU’s 10-year budget of 2.5 trillion tomans (560 million USD) by 80,000 foreign students, each student cost around 31,000,000 tomans.

Meanwhile, according to the 2019 fiscal year budget, K-12 students were allocated 4,300,000 tomans (1,000 USD) and college students were allocated 5,200,000 tomans (1,230 USD), per capita.

Organizational Structure

MIU was established in April 2008 with the message of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its constitution was approved by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution seven months later. From 2009 onwards, a special budgetary line was appropriated for it in the annual appropriations bill.

According to its constitution, the three main duties of this religious-political institution are as follows:

  • Training of mujtahids, scholars, researchers, specialists, teachers, missionaries, translators, and devout, committed, and practical educators and managers
  • Expatiating, producing, and deepening religious 
  • Quranic thought, developing Islamic theories in various fields, and publishing and promoting pure Muhammadan Islam (PBUH) based on the teachings of the Quran and Ahl al-Bayt

MIU is under the exclusive authority of the Office of Iran's Supreme Leader. However, according to its constitution, approved by the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, it has the same legal rights as any other scientific, research and academic institutions in Iran.

The highest executive of this institution is the Leader of the Islamic Republic, who appoints the executive officer of the MIU. The board members, who are charged with setting the political and economic direction of this organization, are also appointed by the Supreme Leader.

This institution is permitted to establish offices outside Iran. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Science, and other government offices are legally obligated to facilitate this religious institution’s foreign operations.

Financial Resources

The government budget is the transparent part of the financial resources of MIU. Based on the MIU’s constitution, this organization can utilize the following six financial resources:

  • The Office of the Supreme Leader’s assistance as the highest executive; like every other financial activity of this office, there is no record of it.
  • Government "grants": This includes the fixed budgetary line 114400 in the annual appropriations bill and non-specific miscellaneous grants. For example, in 2018’s budget, in addition to the specific budget of 305 billion tumans, there was a miscellaneous appropriation of an additional 2 billion tomans to MIU under “Assistance to non-governmental, cultural, and religious legal entities”.
  • "Revenue from capital, properties, and providing services": This, at a minimum, indicates that MIU is free to have financial activities for the purpose of generating revenue. It is unknown whether MIU has engaged in revenue-generating activity. But, according to the current statutes and no matter the size of these activities, it has no legal obligation to announce its income to anyone other than to the Supreme Leader himself.
  • Endowments, and revenues from endowments, are resources that are distributed to MIU by Iran’s Endowment and Charity Organization – another organization under the direct supervision of the Office of the Supreme Leader. There is no information about the volume of these financial resources available to MIU.
  • Sharia Payments and contributions of private and legal entities; there is no data regarding these payments.
  • Loans and other financial assistance from banks and other financial institutions. Current statutes allow MIU’s usage of these institutions for political, religious, and economic purposes.

This article was originally published in Persian (available here)