Massoud Rajavi was born in the town of Tabas in 1947. He attended Tehran University where he earned his degree in political science. Rajavi became influenced by PMOI’s modern interpretation of Islam early in life. Joining the PMOI in 1967, he was involved in discussions on religion, history, and revolutionary theory. Rajavi later became a member of the Central Committee.
In 1971, all the founders and the Central Committee of the PMOI, including Rajavi, were arrested and sentenced to death by SAVAK, the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service established by Iran's Mohammad Reza Shah. From 1975 up until his release in 1979, Massoud Rajavi led the Mojahedin’s resistance against all three fronts while incarcerated in different prisons. He stressed the need to continue in the fight against Shah’s dictatorship and warned against the emergence and growth of religious backwardness and despotism symbolized by Khomeini.
After his release, Rajavi was dedicated to rebuilding the PMOI. He gave weekly lectures at Sharif University that attracted large audiences. An article in Le Monde described the occasion:
“One of the most important events not to be missed in Tehran are the courses on comparative philosophy, taught every Friday afternoon by Mr Massoud Rajavi. Some 10,000 people presented their admission cards to listen for three hours to the lectures by the leader of the People’s Mojahedin on Sharif University’s lawn.”
In 1980, Massoud Rajavi was nominated for the Iranian presidential election. In his book, The Iranian Mojahedin, Ervand Abrahamian writes:
“Rajavi’s candidacy was not only endorsed by the Mojahedin-affiliated organizations...; but also by an impressive array of independent organizations including the Feda’iyan, the National Democratic Front, the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Kurdish Toilers Revolutionary Party (Komula), the Society of Iranian Socialists, the Society for the Cultural and Political Rights of the Turkomans, the Society of Young Assyrians, and the Joint Group of Armenian, Zoroastrian and Jewish Minorities. Rajavi also received the support of a large number of prominent figures: Taleqani’s widow; Shaykh Ezeddin Hosayni, the spiritual leader of the Sunni Kurds in Mahabad; Hojjat al-Islam Jalal Ganjehi...; fifty well-known members of the Iranian Writers’ Association, including the economist Naser Pakdaman, the essayist Manuchehr Hezarkhani and the secular historians Feraydun Adamiyyat and Homa Nateq; and, of course, many of the families of the early Mojahedin martyrs, notably the Hanif-nezhads, Rezais, Mohsens, Badizadegans, Asgarizadehs, Sadeqs, Meshkinfams, and Mihandusts. The Mojahedin had become the vanguards of the secular opposition to the Islamic Republic.”
Khomeini denied and vetoed Rajavi’s candidacy for the Iranian presidential election. Khomeini’s reasoning was that Rajavi had opposed the national referendum on Iran's new constitution, which established a theocratic government. Rajavi ran for a seat in Iran’s new Majlis (parliament), but lost the race after a discrepancy in the vote tally and election process.
On July 29, 1981, Massoud Rajavi announced the formation of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. He invited all democratic forces opposed to religious despotism to join the democratic alternative to the religious, terrorist dictatorship.
When the mass arrests, imprisonments and executions of PMOI members began to accelerate by the mullah’s dictatorship, he was forced to leave Iran. Mr Rajavi travelled to Paris on board of an Iranian aircraft from a military base in Tehran. The extraordinary flight was organized by PMOI supporters within the Iranian Armed Forces.
During a critical time for regime’s internal situation in 1984, Senators Gary Hart and Edward Kennedy - in addition to thousands of statements of support from other countries - wrote to Massoud Rajavi, to declare their support for the Iranian people’s just resistance. These statements of support alarmed the mullahs, who subsequently made any normalization of relations with Western countries, including the United States, contingent upon curbing the activities of the Mojahedin and National Council of Resistance.
During the time that the Iranian people were being devastated by the Iran-Iraq war which had destroyed the country and had taken the lives of over a million on the Iranian side alone, Massoud Rajavi made the tough decision to initiate a peace campaign to end the war. A decision which was wholeheartedly supported by the Iranian people who had suffered so much during the war.
Rajavi had to leave France in 1986, when the French government, which was involved in negotiations with the Iranian regime over the fate of French hostages in Lebanon, pressured him to do so, and as a result he traveled to Iraq in June 1986. The Iraqi government at the time had recognized the PMOI’s political, financial and military independence.
Since the formation of the NCRI, Massoud Rajavi has concentrated his efforts to the Council. His management of the NCRI’s affairs earned him the trust of the NCRI’s members. In August of 1993, The NCRI elected Maryam Rajavi, wife of Massoud Rajavi, as the future President of Iran.