Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s belief that the Imam Mahdi is helping run his government led several leading clerics in the country to sharply rebuke the politician last week. Gholam-reza Mesbahi Moghadam of the Association of Combatant Clerics was scathing about the president invoking the imam, who most Shia Muslims believe was concealed by God more than 1,000 years ago so that he can return to save the world at a time of violence and war. “If Ahmadinejad wants to say that the imam is supporting the decisions of the government, it is not true,” Mesbahi Moghadam said. “For sure, the imam does not approve of inflation of 20 per cent, the high cost of living and numerous other errors.” And cleric Mahmoud Madani Bajestani worried that since the remarks create an image of a “holy” relationship, it would be harder to criticize the government.
The criticism came after Ahmadinejad stated in a speech aired on state television that “the Imam Mahdi is in charge of the world and we see his hand directing all the affairs of the country.” Regardless of the motives, Ahmadinejad has made no secret of his devotion to Muhammad al-Madhi. Indeed, during a 2005 speech to the UN General Assembly, the Iranian president asked God to bring back the imam (he also later claimed that he felt surrounded by a ring of light and the leaders of the world were too transfixed to even blink). But many clerics are uncomfortable with Ahmadinejad’s encouragement of a growing devotion among Iranians to the Imam Mahdi. Ali Asghari, a cleric and parliamentarian, thinks the political leader, who is not a cleric, should focus on more secular issues: “Ahmadinejad should manage the country. People are not expecting [religious] advice from the president.” M
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