Ahmadinejad under fire from Iran's clerics
IRAN'S president has alarmed the nation's conservative clerics with remarks suggesting he believes a mystical Shiite religious leader backs his government.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came to power in 2005 with the votes of Iran's religious poor, has in the past courted controversy for his public devotion to the return of the 12th Imam, a figure he regularly refers to in speeches.
According to Shiite Muslim teaching, Abul-Qassem Mohammad, the 12th leader whom Shiites consider descended from the prophet Muhammad, disappeared in the year 941 but will return at the end of time to lead an era of Islamic justice.
While this is a core Shiite belief, some critics say that Mr Ahmadinejad has encouraged "superstitious" practices surrounding it.
"If the president means that the 12th Imam is supporting the government, we should say that it is wrong," Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, a conservative cleric and member of parliament, was quoted as saying by the daily newspaper Etemad-e Melli yesterday.
"Surely the 12th Imam is not supporting the current 20 per cent inflation in Iran," he added, referring to Mr Ahmadinejad's failure to curb price rises.
He was responding to a speech Mr Ahmadinejad made a month ago at a Shiite shrine in Mashhad, in eastern Iran, and broadcast on state TV on Monday. The BBC monitored the address.
Ali Asgari, from Mashhad, another conservative cleric, said: "Ahmadinejad should think in a more worldly way. He should manage the country. People are not expecting (religious] advice from the president."
The president's speech began with an appeal for the 12th Imam's speedy return and was peppered with references to him. But he denied accusations that he has claimed a particular relationship with the Imam.
Mr Ahmadinejad, Iran's first non-clerical president in more than a quarter of a century, has had other run-ins with the religious establishment. Several top clerics scolded him last month for blaming Iran's economic problems on "mafias".
One analyst said some in the clerical establishment were wary of the president, who represents a new breed of devout politicians with fewer ties to the Islamic Republic's traditional clerical class, thus potentially undermining their authority.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters under Iran's system of clerical rule, has lavished praise on Mr Ahmadinejad.
In his Mashhad speech, the president told his audience Iran had made nuclear progress with the 12th Imam's help. "Iran has become nuclear before their eyes, despite their will… We behold the hands of Imam," said Mr Ahmadinejad, who denies western charges that Tehran wants to make atomic weapons.
He also suggested the United States might have sent troops to the region because of the Imam's imminent return. "Those who came and occupied Iraq, (on the] surface, they have come to take oil, loot the region, but when you go a layer down you realise their analyses. They are aware that something is about to happen in this region. A holy hand is about to come and uproot cruelty in the world," he said.
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