Mohammed Khatami was born in 1943 in the southwestern town of Ardakan, in the Iranian province of Yazd. His father was a prominent religious scholar who was appointed prayer leader of Yazd by Ayatollah Khomeini following the 1979 revolution. After finishing his theological studies at Qom and Isfahan, Mohammed Khatami received a master's degree in philosophy and education from Isfahan University.
Khatami is widely regarded as an honest and virtuous cleric. He lives modestly in a yellow-brick townhouse in northern Tehran and drives an Iranian-made car. He is married and has one son and two daughters. Khatami is well connected to important clerical families through marriage. He wears a black turban, indicating direct descent from the prophet Mohammad. This enhances Khatami's charismatic appeal along with his reputation as a liberal-minded cleric. The contrast between Khatami and the hard-line clerics who dominated Iran's political establishment until 2000 is such that some Iranians referred to him half-jokingly as Ayatollah Gorbachev, after the leader of the former Soviet Union who opened that country to the West in the late 1980s.
Khatami speaks Arabic, German, and some English. He reads a great deal and has published several books on subjects such as the relationship between Islam and the modern world. His hobbies include hiking and table tennis.