What drives Ahmadinejad's combative rhetoric
The hard-line views expressed by the Iranian president at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday are informed by a Messianic religious belief.
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While rejoicing that Iran today "pays more attention than ever to the issue of Mahdaviat," Mr. Khamenei warned that "those who pursue personal interests sometimes take advantage of this fact."Skip to next paragraph
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Claims of seeing the Mahdi were "utterly false and shameful," Khamenei said, while claims of "being connected with, meeting, or receiving orders from this honored Imam cannot be confirmed." The warning was aimed at charlatans who profit from claims of a direct connection to the Mahdi, who advertise with posters in shops and homes that they will pass on prayers and requests to the Imam for money. Police swooped on many such places days after Khamenei spoke.
Shiite tradition holds that after being absent for more than a millennium (he is believed to have disappeared in 874 AD), nobody but God knows when the missing 12th Imam will return. Those who believe they have seen him are forbidden from saying so.
But analysts in Iran say Khamenei's words were also directed at Ahmadinejad and his government to not to go too far in their claims. The supreme leader backs them on many key issues and even recently told the cabinet to prepare for a second term after June 2009 presidential elections.
"The very, very top of the religious leadership is strongly concerned about this business," says a former Iranian official. "It's a warning … a very strong alarm of the Leader to the government."
Critics found voice in a July article about "deviant" claims of the president's proximity to the divine. "Do you believe that these speeches can excuse the government of its mismanagement, inflation, increasing prices, dissatisfaction, and the protest of people?" wrote Rasoul Montajabnia, a cleric and opposition politician.
Few believers in Iran doubt that the "ultimate savior" will come one day. Ahmadinejad says the Mahdi will destroy unjust rulers who "are not connected to the heavens [and are separated] from the almighty prophets" – meaning those of the United States, Israel, and the West.
There is no more important subject, Ahmadinejad said during his speech at the Mahdism Doctrine conference. God had created mankind "from soil and mud" but wanted him to move "toward the peak of perfection, toward godliness."
Ahmadinejad and several top officials attended the conference, which was sponsored by the Bright Future Institute, based in Iran's religious center of Qom. It was backed by the president's office, which has earmarked millions for Mahdaviat study.
"Although 1,100 years have passed, each hour can be a century for those who feel," said Masoud Poursayed-Aghaie, the director of the Bright Future Institute. He said government had "one purpose, to pave the way for the appearance of the Mahdi."
But standing in the way of this vision, Ahmadinejad added, were "those who are willing to sacrifice the whole of humanity to satisfy their own devilish interest and desires and filling the deep pockets of capitalists."
Only the Mahdi can restore justice, he said, though believers will have to work hard: "We should do our best and if we change our hearts, if we change our ideas … then that great auspicious event will happen."