Monday, July 04, 2005

The Corruption of the Mullah: Rafsanjani's Deceit

Hojjat al-Islam 'Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (right), one of the leader's of the Islamization of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution that swept Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khumayni to power, recently lost in his bid to become president of the Islamic Republic for a third time. He had previously served two terms as Iran's president, from 1989-1997, but was most recently defeated by Mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, a religious conservative in the Khumaynist mold.

Over the last three decades, Rafsanjani has moved steadily toward the center of Iran's political spectrum, at least publicly. In 1979, he was one of the original members of the Revolutionary Council, along with Khumayni's acolyte, Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari, who was assassinated by leftist terrorists in May of that year. However, in the most recent presidential election, Rafsanjani portrayed himself as a reformer who wanted closer ties with the West (i.e. the United States) and increased social liberalization.

However, his reputation as a corrupt and possibly morally lacking cleric proved too much to overcome. Rafsanjani, who is a member of the Twelver Shi'ite 'ulama (clergy), happens to be, reportedly, the richest person in Iran. As one of my mentors said recently, how does a cleric become the richest person in Iran?

One of the most impressive images of senior ayatullahs, from Khumayni to Grand Ayatullah Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani in Iraq and Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah in Lebanon, is how simply they live. Photographs of their offices and homes generally show simple decor (low cushioned coaches with pillows.) The only signs of sophistication are bookshelves full of religious texts and monographs on philosophy and logic and perhaps beautifully decorated copies of the Qur'an.

The duty of the clergy is to serve the needs of the laity, not to pursue wealth. Instead, the clergy are supposed to pass on their knowledge to their students and followers, study and write commentaries on religious texts, serve as guardians of society, and run charitable foundations.

Rafsanjani, in short, is a clear example of a cleric gone "bad." The corruption that fattened his personal coffers when he was president has not been forgotten by the Iranian public, who rejected his attempts at whitewashing his image. Rafsanjani should be ashamed of himself; his betrayals of his religious duties are simply vile. Thankfully, the bulk of Shi'ite and Sunni clerics are not of his ilk.