Iranian activists have analysed passages of Mr Rouhani’s Glasgow Caledonian University PhD thesis, titled The Flexibility of Sharia (Islamic Law) with reference to the Iranian experience, that closely match sentences written in a book by an Afghan author.
Behdad Morshedi, a London-based writer, said Mr Rouhani appeared to have lifted segments from a book by Mohamad Hashem Kamali, the chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies.
“Mr Kamali is closely associated with the regime but his book was published in his own name and the extracts are virtually identical,” said Mr Morshedi (a pen name). “We will be submitting a petition calling on the university to cancel the PhD.”
Charles McGhee, a spokesman for Glasgow Caledonian University, said its staff had received the allegations from another activist in the US and would be looking into the matter.
He said the university library had already established that the thesis references Kamali’s book in the main body of Mr Rouhani’s thesis and that the text was cited in the bibliography.
Two passages in the short extract from the 500 page thesis have come under scrutiny.
Glasgow Caledonian University published the two-page extract online, but the full thesis was not available.
One sentence in Mr Rouhani’s extract also appears in identical form in Mr Kamali’s book, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence: “The Koran is not specific on the precise value of its injunctions and it leaves open the possibility that a command in the Koran may sometimes imply an obligation, a recommendation or a mere permissibility.”
A second instance of closely matching sentences has also been cited.
There is some doubt over whether Mr Rouhani, who was a high-ranking official in the Islamic Republic during the 1990s, actually attended the British university in person or undertook his studies there by remote study.
However academics said that serious flaws in the work should lead to Mr Rouhani being stripped of his award.
“I do not know if Mr Rouhani has engaged in plagiarism or not. What I do know is Glasgow Caledoninan is not an obvious place for a PhD in a subject dealing with Shia jurisprudence or Iranian politics,” said Kaveh Moussavi, an associate fellow at the University of Oxford.
“I do not expect any adverse consequences to flow from this episode. It would however be nice to see Mr Rouhani give a press conference in English and let the audience decide for themselves whether his English is at the PhD level.”
Mr Rouhani, who will be inaugurated on August 4, did not respond to a request for comment.