Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ahmadinejan waiting for 12th imam to return from his occultation...

Second coming for imam is first concern for Iranian president

At the mosque of Jamkaran, 110km south of Tehran and just east of the holy city of Qom, tens of thousands gather on Tuesdays to pray and drop messages for the "missing" imam into a well. Abul-Qassem Mohammed, the 12th leader whom Shia Muslims regard as a successor to the prophet Mohammed, entered "occultation" in 941 and will one day return to rule justly before Judgment Day.

In the women's section by Jamkaran's well, Mina, 18, faints, only slowly regaining consciousness and whispering. "Last night she dreamed the 12th Imam asked her to come," says an older female relative. "Don't interrupt, she is talking to the Imam."

Pilgrims then take small pieces of Mina's green scarf torn up by her relatives.

Veneration of the 12th Imam is common among Iran's 68m population, whose religious practices mix piety, respect for learned clerics and age-old mysticism. But the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, has placed a special emphasis on the 12th Imam, even referring to him in his October United Nations speech.

Wait. It gets nuttier...
Three months after Mr Ahmadi-Nejad became president, whispers about his view of the 12th Imam are growing. According to one rumour, as mayor of Tehran he drew up a new city plan for the imam's return.

The culture ministry last month denied the government had dropped a letter pledging loyalty into Jamkaran well. But an early cabinet decision allocated the equivalent of $17m for Jamkaran. And Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's promises to eliminate injustice, corruption and unemployment have more sense of "heaven on earth" than mundane government targets.

"His behaviour shows he has more important goals than politics," says Mr Abtahi. "He speaks with the confidence of someone who has received God's word. Whether genuine or a means to power, this is a new discourse for the Iranian revolution."

Some senior clergy are alarmed. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a conservative, has attacked maddahs for singing about dreams and "fake meetings" with the imam.

In foreign policy, officials worry an emphasis on the 12th Imam not only puzzles Europe and Russia while Iran tries to revive talks over its nuclear programme but alienates Sunni, a majority in the Muslim world, who do not share the Shia view of the Imam's return.

The consequences of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's religiosity are also uncertain for Ayatollah Khamenei, to whom many look to rein in the president. "So far, the leader has seen Mr Ahmadi-Nejad as loyal, someone who should reach the 12th Imam through him," says a senior reformist. "But this is an unstable situation."

"Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's project must fail," says Mr Abtahi. "He is caught in the paradox of those who understand religious mystery in a physical [literal] way. Of course, we must pray for the return of the imam, but [in government] we must also tackle inflation and unemployment."

And wiping Israel off the map. Oh, and the United States, too.

Here's a little tidbit about the Imam:
Name: MOHAMMAD(as)
Title: AL-MEHDI(as)
Kunyat: ABU QASSEM(as)
Born: On Friday, 15th of Shaban, 225 AH
in Samarra, northern Iraq
Father: The Eleventh Imam Hassan Al-Askari(as)
Mother: Nargis Khatoon
Date of Death: Unknow as he is still living and waiting God's Divine Order to make himself known to the world and fight injustice and instigate justice, law and order for all mankind!
Cause of Death: Killed by a dagger in his chest thrusted by an old Jewish woman.
Buried: Will be buried in Karbala, Iraq