December 17, 2010

A CRISIS OF LEGITIMACY:

In Iran: A Taboo Is Broken (Amir Taheri, 17/12/2010, Asharq al-Awasat)

The attempt to define, or rather redefine, Islam came in response to another debate provoked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his philosophical guru Esfandiar Masha'i who have been trying to market their "Iranian school" as a new brand, much to the chagrin of pro-regime mullahs.

A new poster that declares "the Iranian school is the way to progress and salvation" has just been put up in many government offices throughout the country.

As defined by Masha'i, the so-called "Iranian school" is a mixture of values espoused by Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, and the teachings of Islam which appeared over 1000 years later. Masha'i demands that Cyrus be acknowledged as being equal to the Semitic prophets mentioned in the Koran and the Bible.

Debating what is Islam and what is not may sound strange in a country whose rulers, since 1979, have claimed to represent "the truest of Islamic systems." It may be a sign that the ruling establishment, which consists of several thousand mullahs and their allies within the military and security services, is experiencing a loss of confidence.

Last year's split over the presidential election and the continued tensions caused by workers' strikes and growing middle class discontent have sapped the regime's claim of legitimacy. At the same time, there are signs that at least part of the clergy may be prepared to openly reject Khamenei's claim of being the Supreme Leader of Islam throughout the world.

Partly to address that problem, Khamenei has made an unusual visit to Qom, the "holy" city south of Tehran where many of the better known mullahs reside. However, the visit seems to have highlighted the split.

In one meeting, the "Supreme Guide" was faced with students of theology chanting "Where is your thesis of Ijtihad?"

In Shi'ism, no mullah could use the title of ayatollah without publishing an ijtihad thesis approved by at least one grand ayatollah. Khamenei, whose supporters call him ayatollah, has not done so.

Periodically, government-controlled media have published reports that Khamenei would soon publish his thesis, known as the "risala al-marjaiyah", promising that it will be "the greatest text of Islam in centuries."

Some prominent ayatollahs of Qom have already come close to challenging Khamenei's position.

Grand Ayatollah Asadallah Bayat Zanjani has rejected the claim that denying Walayat al-Faqih is tantamount to abandoning Islam. Grand Ayatollah Yussuf San'ei, for his part, sees the present system as "despotism using Islam as a pretext." Grand Ayatollah Wahid Khorasani has gone further by asserting that mullahs should not assume political positions. All three refused Khamenei's demand for a meeting during his recent visit to Qom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 17, 2010 7:08 AM
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