Waiting for the rapture in Iran
(Page 3 of 3)
Critics, many of them clerics, accuse Ahmadinejad of manipulating public sentiment, even if he is personally sincere in his belief.Skip to next paragraph
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"They pay more attention to the facade of religion, rather than the jewel of religion," says Mohammad Ali Ayazi, a professor at the influential seminary in Qom. "Having sincerity or honesty does not make any difference to the results.
"It's very dangerous, a person exploiting religion for political achievement, because everyone has their own relationship with God," says Mr. Ayazi, who estimates that focus on the Mahdi's imminent return appeals to 20 percent of Iranians. "It makes me sad that someone would endanger that."
Ayazi says that Ahmadinejad uses religion to motivate the public because he lacks political legitimacy. "You don't expect such a thing from a leader, because it turns comic. You laugh, but you become sad, because it is not supposed to be funny."
Sayed Hadi Hashemi, a black-turbaned senior cleric in Qom, says that "The Mahdi will rise, and it's a reality that needs [study] by religious science. But if you say, as Ahmadinejad says, 'We should construct an avenue in Tehran for the Mahdi to arrive,' this is only fooling the public."
But few doubt the sincerity of Ahmadinejad's belief. Some point to his seemingly impossible prediction of electoral success, three months before the June vote.
"You will see, on the day of the election, I will be the winner - I have no doubt about it," says political editor Mohebian, quoting those who heard the remarks. "People change, and we can calculate [politically] why he won. But this [gives a] kind of self-confidence," he says. "Mr. Ahmadinejad thinks he has a mission."
Even as the last lilting note of the night fades, burly guards surround the religious storyteller, linking arms to protect him - not from assassination, but adulation.
As the Madoh - a Shiite Muslim storyteller - rises from a sea of red-eyed, kneeling men at the Jamkaran Mosque, devotees surge forward to try to hug, kiss, or touch him.
Later, like a rock star leaving a backstage exit, Mahdi Salashur puts on a basiji militia jacket, pulls the hood over his head in semidisguise, and steps out the door.
For the previous two hours, he has relentlessly rallied his listeners around the belief in the Mahdi, the all-powerful 12th Imam, whom Shiites expect to return to earth.
"Don't let the wish stay in our hearts! Come on, come on! I have a fear of not seeing You!" Mr. Salashur tells the crowd in a poetic, longing voice. "Everybody wants to see the Lord and Master of the Age! Mourn, raise your hands."
People chant. Men cry.
"Those who sinned, cry more!" orders the Madoh.
Salashur's voice steadies as he tells a story of a faithful friend "martyred" during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The friend dreamed that Imam Hossein, who was killed in battle in the 7th century, appeared and said he would take him away.
"The night before he becomes a martyr, he was crying," Salashur recalls, raising the emotional heat. His friend worried that he was not "pure enough" to stand before the martyrs.
"If they ask: 'How do you justify yourself?' I have no answer," Salashur quoted his friend saying. That night, he was killed.
"Yah, Imam of the Age! I ask you to swear, whom [do] you love more?" says Salashur, sitting quietly with hands folded, his voice choking.
Then, imploring: "For Heaven's sake, take us away in a way that we can look at your eyes [without shame]!"
The Madoh cools the crowd with a lengthy standard prayer, the Tavasol, and then begins more stories. One is of Zeinab, aunt of the Imam, when she entered Damascus.
"Aye, cry! Love your own crying!" Salashur cringes, before he even starts. "Akhh, [it is so bad] I want to die! I want to die!"
"They wanted to pour flowers on the head of Zeinab," he says, as the crowd approaches meltdown. "Yah Imam of the Age, our apologies! All of a sudden, people were throwing stones at Zeinab from the top of the buildings..."
The audience bursts, and wails as if at a funeral. The Madoh cries out in God's name, again and again.