Monday, December 28, 2009

Professor Ali Ansari explains the religious backgroun of the Iranian situation


From the Times Online:

Ancient power struggle has relevance for today’s Iran
Professor Ali Ansari: Analysis


Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Moharram in the Muslim calendar, is a day replete with symbolism for much of the world’s Shia community. In Iran, in the run-up to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it acquired enormous political significance as the message of Ashura was redefined for the modern age and the struggle against the Shah. Now it has been reinvigorated and turned against today’s Islamic leadership.

The story of Ashura revolves around the succession to the Prophet Muhammad. According to Shia belief the succession should have devolved to the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin, Ali, the first of the Shia Imams. Ali finally assumed the leadership and became the fourth Caliph but after his death the succession should have followed through his family. Unfortunately for them, the leadership was seized by a rival family, the Umayyads. In 680AD one of Ali’s sons, Hussein, with a small band of followers, challenged the Umayyads, who were led by the Caliph Yazid. Hussein was defeated and killed. Ever since Hussein has been hailed as the Lord of Martyrs, the champion of the oppressed. His sacrifice is lamented every year on Ashura.

The Government has tried to portray Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the new Ali, and there is a suspicion that he is seeking to make the title of Supreme Leader hereditary. This has outraged orthodox clergy and many devout Iranian Muslims.


Thus, instead of being the new Ali, Khamanei has been portrayed as the Yazid of the age. With news of fatalities as the clashes continue, it is an association he will find increasingly difficult to shake.


I am fascinated by the "suspicion" noted in the second-last paragraph above. It sounds like something out of a Left Behind novel.

Image: Pious Shia still weep over the martyrdom at the battle of Karbala. Ashura is the most emotional day on the Shia calendar.

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