Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the Iranian nuclear scientist who was killed in a bomb blast, was not only a man of science but also a man of faith. He had a master, Ayatollah Azizollah Khoshvaght, a little-known but highly-ranked cleric.
On the anniversary of Roshan’s death, his widow told an interesting story in an interview she gave to a newsite identified closely with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). She related that her husband had once asked Ayatollah Khoshvaght when Mahdi, the “hidden Imam” prophesied to dominate the world and cleanse it of sin and sinners, would reappear. Ayatollah Khoshvaght looked at him and said “it depends on what you are doing in Natanz [Iran’s enrichment facility].” The story wouldn’t be significant if Ayatollah Khoshvaght had merely been an old mullah spouting nonsense with no one listening to him, but he was not.
Khoshvaght was Mostafa Khamenei’s father in-law and very close to the supreme leader himself. Khamenei believed deeply in Ayatollah Khoshvaght. Recently, Khamenei’s favorite Imam and Khatib, ayatollah Kazem Sedighi, said:
“Hazrat e Agha [referring to Khamenei] told us ‘do not depend only on your own knowledge, there are storms in this world. Some of them are very powerful. You need to hold firmly to someone or something if you want to be saved, find someone who can save you.’ We asked ’Hazrat e Agha,’ who do you propose?’ Khamenei answered ‘Ayatollah Khoshvaght.’”
Ayatollah Khoshvaght, who died in February, was a teacher and preacher of morality, an interesting occupation for someone whose hobby was to issue death fatwas. He delivered regular lectures on morality and his audience included high-ranking IRGC officers, intelligence officers and operatives, and nuclear scientists like Ahamdi Roshan.
Khsohvaght was not the only one among Ayatollah Khamenei’s closest advisors and followers to be obsessed with the idea of Mahdi’s reappearance. Khamenei’s appointee at IRGC, Ayatollah Ali Saeedi, regularly mentions this notion in his speeches to IRGC officers. In a recent speech in Bushehr, where the nuclear plant is being built, he said that Mahdi’s reappearance is imminent but that before his return, the Middle East has to change radically and fundamentally. In another event he asserted “Ayatollah Khamenei is preparing Mahdi’s reappearance and IRGC is the instrument to do it.” IRGC is, of course, in charge of Iran’s military nuclear program.
Alireza Panahian, an extremely radical cleric close to Khamenei and the favorite mullah of many hardliners, has said in Khamenei’s presence that “the reappearance is very close.” In fact, he has frequently referred to Khamenei himself as Seyyed-e-Khurasani, a figure Muslims believe will appear just before Mahdi’s return. Khamenei, who is from Khurasan, likes to be called Seyyed-e-Khurasani. On a number of occasions, he has said it is the responsibility of the Islamic republic to prepare the world for Mahdi’s reappearance.
To IRGC officers, Mahdi may be hidden, but he is far from absent. In a rare public appearance at Qum, Ghassem Soleimani, the notorious commander of the Quds force, said that during the Iran-Iraq war some IRGC commanders in war-fronts were in contact with the Hidden Imam. Salar Abnoush, commander of IRGC at Qazvin province apparently believes the West has imposed sanctions in order to prevent Mahdi’s reappearance.
High-ranking clerics in Iran claim that the Hidden Imam actively supports their cause. Ayatollah Ahmad Alam-ol-hoda, Friday prayer Imam of Mashhad and a powerful ally of Ayatollah Khamenei, recently said the Hidden Imam was behind the operation to capture the US drone in December 2011. Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, vice-president of the Assembly of Experts and the former head of Iran’s judiciary, recently said that the hidden Imam supported Ali Khamenei during the 2009 uprising.
Two of the most lunatic and apocalyptic high-ranking figures in Iran are Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself and his now disgraced one-time protégé, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While Khamenei deeply believes his task is to prepare for Mahdi’s appearance, Ahmadinejad takes the apocalyptic narrative to an unprecedented level of lunacy and weirdness, even by the Islamic republic’s measures. He believes, for example, that the real reason behind the US invasion of Iraq was to search for the Hidden Imam and to postpone his appearance. Many observers believe Khamenei chose Ahmadinejad as president mainly because of their shared belief in this apocalyptic version of Islam.
While many experts tell us Iran is a rational, pragmatic regime like any other in the world, all the facts shout that it is not. A large number of Iranian officials and decision makers have deeply rooted apocalyptic beliefs. Underestimating this radical ideology even as the Iranian regime is on its way to building a nuclear bomb can lead to dangerously wrong conclusions. The suggestion taking hold of late that a nuclear armed Iran is not the end of the world may unfortunately be dead wrong.