Monday, June 27, 2005

Hardliner Wins Iranian Presidency; The Islamic Revolution Redux?

This entry originally appeared in an e-mail to a mentor of mine. I have edited it and made additions as necessary.

During the last Iranian Presidential election, which wrapped up yesterday, several things struck me. First, the fact that Iranian security forces, apparenty sent by the conservative, revolutionary judiciary, seized hundreds of thousands of pamphlets and other political advertising for Ayatullah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the original participants in the 1979 Revolution, because they objected to words used on them.

Second, that Rafsanjani's opponent in the run-off, the ultra conservative Mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (right), has said that he might shut down the Tehran stock market because he thinks it is "un-Islamic" and a form of gambling. Now, I am by far not an expert on Islamic finance or economics, but my understanding of the vast majority of contemporary opinions by Sunni and Shi'i 'ulama is that the stock market is not gambling because one is actually investing in something tangible, as opposed to playing, well, a game of chance as the Qur'an forbids. Now, perhaps Ahmedinejad was simply cozying up to his conservation base; he is particulaly popular among religious conservatives, the rural poor, and the para-military militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Shortly before the election, two of Iran's senior Shi'ite clerics, Grand Ayatullahs Husayn 'Ali Montazeri and Yusuf Saanei, expressed doubts as to how free and how fair the presidential elections would be. "My point of view, and I cannot say more than this, is that things are not going in the right direction," said Montazeri, who was once tapped to succeed Revolutionary Iran's founder, Grand Ayatullah Ruhollah Khumayni (right). "At the beginning of the revolution the late Imam [Khumayni] and I gave promises of liberty, and these promises have not been lived up to." It is interesting to note that he uses Khumayni's revolutionary title of "Imam," which, for Shi'ites carries a lot of religious meaning, since the title is also used for the successors of the Prophet Muhammad, the "People of the [Prophet's] House" or Ahlul Bayt.

To see the article about Saanei and Montazeri's comments, see:

In the end, Ahmedinejad won the run-off vote, with over 61%, crushing Rafsanjani, who won a mere 35%. About 49% of Iran's eligible voters participated in the run-off election. The president-elect has stated that he wants to create a modern Islamic republic, which remains true to the spirit of the 1979 Revolution. "Today is a day when we have to forget all our rivalries and turn them into friendships," Ahmedinejad said on state radio. "We are one nation and one big family. We should help each other to make a great society," he said. With Iran facing severe economic problems and outside threats from both the belligerant U.S. Administration of President George W. Bush and Israel, Ahmedinejad will face challenges to his leadership almost immediately.

The revolutionary spirit in Iran has gone sour. The current government has driven many young Iranians away from Islam, since they seem to (foolishly) connect "Islam" with the government; the 'ulama has become corrupted by politics instead of serving as the guardians of social morality and order, as they have historically done. Thank God for clerics like Grand Ayatullahs Sayyid al-Sistani (right) and Muhammad Taqi al-Modarressi in Iraq who don't subscribe to the concept of wilayat-i-faqih, the "government of the supreme jurist" put into practice by Ayatullah Ruhollah Khumayni.

Now, I must admit that as a Shi'i, I do feel some sort of weird pride in the fact that one of the 'ulama (Khumayni) was able to successfully spearhead a revolutionary movement in the modern age that toppled the awful "Pahlavi" (so-called) regime. The first major Sunni-led revolution didn't occur until almost a decade later, in 1989 with the emergence of the National Islamic Front, then influenced by Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, and presently, the Iranian Islamic "experiment" survives, as the Sudanese model is facing revolts in Darfur and the eastern coastal regions.

But, in hindsight, two and a half decades down the road, the problems that are inherent to wilayat-i-faqih are becoming clear. The fact that 'Ali Khamenei (left) was "promoted" to the rank of Ayatullah al-Uzma (Grand Ayatullah), without the requisite seminary training, by the revolutionary Iranian regime is one of the clearest examples of the corruption that has come from wilayat-i-faqih; no wonder traditionally-trained ayatullahs like Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah don't respect Khamenei. At least Khumayni was indeed a legitimate ayatullah, with all the training required of his clerical rank and status.

However, after speaking with a valued mentor today via e-mail, it was pointed out to me that every revolution will inevitably "fail" in the sense of not living up to all of the promises that it made in the beginning. So, perhaps I am being overly critical of the Iranian model.

I must say, of all the Shi'i 'ulama alive today, I believe al-Sistani understands his role vis-a-vis politics and society the best: the cleric as the guardian and guide of the believers and morality, but not the political leader. His colleagues on the Marja'iyya (ruling Shi'i clerical council in Iraq), including Grand Ayatullah al-Modarressi, and Grand Ayatullah Fadlallah in Lebanon also undertand their societal role as that of a guardian and learned advisor rather than an active political leader.

I predict that the Shi'i revival over the next two decades will come from Iraq and Lebanon. After viewing the success in practice there, the Iranian 'ulama (those who are traditionalists, not the revolutionary Khumaynists) will lead a revival in the lands of Persia. I suppose in a decade, we'll see how right, or wrong, I am.

For more on Ahmedinejad's election and platform on major issues, see:

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Ha'aretz: Five Israeli Jews Planned to Fire Missile at Dome of the Rock

This entry originally appeared on May 16; I have slightly edited and updated it with new link(s).

The premier Israeli English-language daily newspaper, Ha'aretz, reported on May 16 that Israeli internal security (Shin Bet) agents and Jerusalem police officers had arrested five Israeli Jews who they believed were plotting to launch an anti-tank missile at Dome of the Rock (left) before committing suicide in the Old City. Dome of the Rock, originally built during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph 'Abd al-Malik in 692 C.E. and rebuilt and refurbished several times since, is sacred to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, since it is traditionally believed to contain the rock formation where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into the Seven Heavens to meet God and the Prophets of old.

According to Ha'aretz, the Israeli security establishment reported that the five Jewish men had toured the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, which Jews believe is the spot of the Biblical Mount Moriah where King Solomon built the First Temple, and where the second and Herod's massive reconstructed temples also stood, before they were finally destroyed by Roman legions during the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-72 C.E.

Although traditional religious Jews believe that the Messiah will rebuild the Temple, radical Jewish groups, including many that make up the bulk of the militant Jewish settler movement, believe that they must destroy the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque and begin rebuilding the Temple before the Messiah will deem them "worthy" and thus return. Last year, Shin Bet Chief Avi Dichter (left) warned of the dangers that such radical Jewish militants pose to the state of Israel, saying that they threatened to turn the Arab-Israeli conflict into a wider, religious war that would pit 13 million Jews against 1.5 billion Muslims.

A recent plot to pilot a model airplane laden with powerful explosives into the Dome of the Rock has also been uncovered during the last two years.

Palestinian Muslims, knowing that religious buildings on the Haram have been attacked before, continue to be agitated by these reports.

In 1969, an Australian Evangelical Christian set fire to al-Aqsa, severely damaging one of its wings and destroying a pulpit (minbar) from the time of the great Kurdish Muslim Sultan Salah ud-Din Yusuf ibn al-Ayyub, who recaptured the city from the Crusaders in 1187 C.E. An Israeli court judged him to be insane and released him to Australian authorities.

In 1982, an American member of the Israel Defense Forces fired at the Dome of the Rock, killing two Palestinians and wounding nine others.

In 1984, Israeli security forces uncovered a plot by the radical Gush Emunim settler movement to blow up Dome of the Rock.

Israeli militants (right), mostly from the extreme right of the settler movement, seek to not only forcibly expel all Arabs and Muslims from the state of Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, they also want to destroy the current Israeli state. They hate the secular nature of this state and seek to replace it with a religious state run by militant interpretations of Jewish law. In fact, many wish to provoke a great conflict with the Arabs and Muslims in order to achieve this. What they seem to forget is that they are in the minority around the world. Any conflict that they provoke will bring nothing but harm to the Israeli state and the Jewish communities outside of it.

For the Ha'aretz stories, see:

For an in-depth look at the radical Israeli settler movements, see PBS' Frontline special program:

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Pentagon Confirms Five Cases of Qur'an Abuse

The Associated Press is reporting today that the Pentagon is confirming several instances when U.S. government personnel at Guantanamo desecrated or "mishandled" the Qur'an. In one case, a soldier kicked the Qur'an; in another an interrogator (who was fired for "a pattern of unacceptable behavior") stepped on the Qur'an; in another, a guard's urine came from an air vent and splashed onto a prisoner and a Qur'an; in another, a two-word obscenity was written on the inside cover of a Qur'an.

In a clever and frequent move on the part of a U.S. government that wishes to fly under the news radar, the Pentagon's confirmation was released to news agencies after business hours today. This is usually done because it is a fairly well-known fact that Saturday newspapers do not have the circulation of issues on other days of the week, particularly Sunday. The hope of the U.S. government is clearly to avoid the maximum level of criticism for the multiple actions of its employees by minimizing the exposure the story receives. However, the story has the possibility of sticking around and is sure to outrage Muslims across the globe even more. The U.S. is seen as waging a war against Islam, under the guise of fighting an amorphous and undefined "war on terror;" actions such as those that the Pentagon confirmed today do little to combat that notion.

Of the over 539 prisoners currently at Guantanamo, the vast majority have been held for over three years without being charged with a crime. In fact, more prisoners have been released to their home countries than have been charged with crimes.

The Pentagon also says it has documented 15 cases when prisoners mistreated the Qur'an, from using one as a pillow to ripping one up. As I stated in a previous entry, I have an extremely difficult time believing this. The Qur'an is highly revered by Muslims, perhaps more so than many in the West can understand.