Islam in Iran

A few strange and interesting facts about the theologico-political situation of our friends in Iran. Several men who work closely with president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been arrested recently due to pressure from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s and Ahmadinejad’s relationship has been deteriorating rapidly. His associates have been accused of performing magic and conjuring djinns in order to increase the president’s power in the country. An Iranian newspaper reported that one of these men, Abbas Ghaffari, has “special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds.” Ahmadinejad is said to be a man of devout faith who expects the immanent return of the Hidden Imam, Mahdi, the Islamic savior who is supposed to bring justice to the world.

From a Guardian story by Robert Tait (2006):

The deep percussive thud sounded ominously like the drums of doom – an impression compounded by the preacher’s doleful wailing and the copious weeping of thousands of worshippers.

However, the bass-like rhythm was produced not by drums, but by the beating of countless hands against chests in the age-old ritual of Shia Islamic worship. And the faithful inside the packed prayer hall were conveying a message not of dread, but of fervent hope.

Encouraged by the preacher’s impassioned pleas, they were expressing their desire for the return of the hidden, or 12th, imam – the revered saviour of Shia Islam, whose reappearance after more than a millennium in occultation is awaited by believers in a manner similar to that with which Christian fundamentalists anticipate the second coming of Jesus. In Shia Islam, the hidden imam is predicted to reappear in Mecca and herald a new dawn of justice after the world has been torn asunder by violence and oppression.

“O thou who are close to God, be the middle man between us and God,” bellowed the preacher, prompting a noisy chorus of tearful sobs from the crowd in Jamkaran, a 1,000-year-old, five-domed shrine on the outskirts of the holy city of Qom, home to Iran’s religious ruling establishment. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all corners of Iran go there every Tuesday night – when the imam’s spirit is said to be present – to pray for their saviour’s return and ask him to perform miracles.

Such devoutness is in harmony with the beliefs of Iran’s ultra-Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has put the hidden imam’s long-awaited return at the heart of his political philosophy in a manner not exhibited by his predecessors.

I mention this only because I’m growing increasingly fascinated by the way religion in every culture continues to push back against the supposedly inevitable secularization of the planet due to the spread of liberalism. What does the failure of the secularization thesis mean for the future of the geopolitics? Whether all this worship is just superstition or truly supernatural (or perhaps the result of an imaginal activity somewhere in between), how will the power of the spiritual impulse continue to shape world-history?

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