Iran,  Religion,  Theology

On Mahdism, Millenarianism and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

by Joseph W

CNN reports on the arrest of Abbas Amirifar, the head of the Presidential Council in Iran, and a close ally of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff:

Top officials and media outlets close to Khamenei have mounted a campaign of criticism targeting Ahmadinejad, while several of his top aides have reportedly been arrested.

The reported arrest of presidential palace prayer leader Abbas Amirifar on charges of “sorcery” is perhaps the best sign of how serious the political feud in Tehran has gotten.

Amirifar produced a controversial film predicting the imminent return of the Shiite saint Mehdi, a messianic prediction that Ahmadinejad often refers to in his speeches.

Potkin reports on the arrest of the exorcist and mystic Abbas Ghaffari, another religious ally Ahmadinejad.

You might have seen the word “sorcery” in the CNN article, and you might be tempted to dismiss the whole affair as a superstitious tale of wizardry and alchemy, in a country where the government routinely uses religion to manipulate people.

But there is a more profound story within these accusations.

Radio Zaamaneh explains further why Amirifar was arrested. It is based on his controversial eschatological (End Times) views:

Amirifar has been referred to the Special Court for the Clergy for his involvement in the production and distribution of the film “Appearance is Close!” as well as disturbing public minds and insulting political groups and figures.

The documentary “Appearance is Close!” by filmmaker Ali Aghar Seihani has drawn adverse reaction from the Islamic Republic establishment. The film set out to prove that the re-appearance of the twelfth Imam of the Shiites, who is supposed to initiate judgement day, is near. The film has apparently been produced and distributed free of charge all across Iran by groups connected with the Islamic Republic government.

Ahmadinejad may have willing workers who will spread his millenarian message throughout the Iranian lands, but Khameini holds the judicial and clerical power in the Republic.

This is why Iranian state judges will be prosecuting a man who distributed a film apparently endorsed by the Iranian state.

Here is the controversial documentary with English subtitles:

The Appearance is Close documentary claims that the rise of the  Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the oppression of Shi’ites in Yemen, and the oppression of Arabs by Zionist Jews in Palestine are all signs of the End of the World. It claims that key hadiths predict the rise of evil world rulers like Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and Angela Merkel. The hadiths also predict that men and women will become increasingly more promiscuous, and even many Muslim women will abandon the hijab.

The death of the Saudi leader is predicted in the hadiths. When the 82-year-old King Abdullah dies, there will be 3 and a half years until the appearance of the Mahdi.

According to Appearance is Close, three men have been assigned a divine mission to usher in the kingdom of the Mahdi and the return of Jesus: Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and – significantly – Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

Appearance is Close gives each of these men a title. It claims that Khamenei is the End Times leader from the East, “Seyed Khorasani”. Khamenei was clearly not consulted about this beforehand, otherwise he would have dismissed the idea.

The documentary makers apparently belong to the same Qom-based sect as the Iranian President himself. Yet tension between the millenarianism that Ahmadinejad adheres to, and the Iranian state apparatus, have been evident for years.

Khamanei and the conservatives have long been aware of other religious leaders outside of the Supreme Leader’s inner circle, who might make a push for power. A good example of this, is the Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi of the Hojjadieh group.

Ali Afoneh reported for AEI in 2008 on the issue of millenarianism in Iran. He explains why Khamenei and the Islamic republic would be tense about Mahdist messianism:

Islamic Republic authorities must take millenarianism seriously, for any discussion of the Mahdi’s return undercuts the legitimacy of the Iranian government. After all, if the Mahdi returns, there is no need for placeholders to remain in power. Indeed, the Iranian constitution stipulates as much when it declares the supreme leader’s authority to be valid only “during the Occultation of the Wali al-Asr (may God hasten his reappearance).”[4] After the Hidden Imam’s reemergence, the executive and spiritual leadership of the Iranian state and society will pass to the savior, and the supreme leader will be out of a job.

Since Ahmadinejad has been in power, millenarianism has increased:

In May 2007, a mob invaded the Tehran neighborhood of Shahrak-e Gharb to see “the shadow of the Imam of the Era” in a pattern left on a wall by a leaking drain pipe. In February 2008, law enforcement forces in the Kordestan province arrested a woman who claimed she could cure the terminally ill because she was the reverend mother of the Prophet Muhammad. In June, a religious sect emerged in Qom calling itself “Followers of the Thirteenth Imam.” Its followers broke with both Shia and Sunni tradition by facing toward Jamkaran–from whence many Shia believe the Mahdi will return–rather than Mecca for prayer. A clearly exacerbated public prosecutor complained not only about people claiming to be imams reincarnate, but also about people claiming to be the Fourteenth Imam.

Here’s an interesting detail:

According to the Nowsazi News Agency, a “deviant sect” led by Seyyed Khorasani has arisen in the city, claiming that any government formed by man is imperfect. In the absence of infallible imams, the sect argues, any government is a revolt against God and must be defeated, a necessary condition for the hasty emergence of the Imam of the Era.

The name “Seyed Khorasani” appears to be linked closely with millenarian ideology, which emphasises that worldly governments are ephemeral and flawed – including the Islamic Republic – and longs for the just rule of the Mahdi.

Clearly Khamanei objects to being named and linked with the millenarian ideology he is suspicious of. The documentary tells all Iran that Khamanei will play a key role in an End Times scenario that he doesn’t even believe in. How humiliating for the Supreme Leader!

Of course, Khamanei strongly believes in the coming of the Mahdi, as much as Ahmadinejad does. Here is Khamanei praying to the Mahdi in front of worshippers, telling the Mahdi that he is weak, but all his strengths come from the Mahdi. At the end, he claims that the Mahdi is the head of the Islamic Revolution:

And there is the key. Khamanei believes that the establishment of the Islamic Republic is key to ushering in the kingdom of the Mahdi. The Khomeinist state is part of the Mahdi’s plans, and the Mahdi is ultimately in charge of the Iran, guiding Khamenei’s hand, and the decisions he takes. The Mahdi oversees the Republic, and the Republic oversees the people. When he is ready, the Mahdi will make his appearance.

Contrast this, with the Ahmadinejad approach, which encourages populist millenarianism, seeking to inspire the people with love of the Mahdi at a grassroots level, fuelling the messianic expectations of common folk.

Khamanei fears the effects of millenarianism. Those touched by it, compare their dire situations with the promise of a utopian, prosperous life in the Mahdi’s kingdom. Consequentially, these believers may become disillusioned with reality in the Republic, and turn to esoteric viewpoints which the conservative clerics deem to be occult, politically-threatening, or even heresy.

Without the clerics to regulate belief for the masses, all sort of heresies and deviations are possible. For Khamanei, the Mahdi wants order, not chaos, in Iran.

This is why we are reading about accusations of “sorcery”.

Khamanei thinks Ahmadinejad is a heretic, or at least, someone who allows heretical beliefs to flourish.

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