Ali Deilami

The two Imams: Redemption of a bad element

If you grow up in an Islamic country, you would encounter many people who carry the title of “Imam”. Especially if living under a theocratic state like me.

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In the Islamic republic of Iran, all neighborhoods, all schools and universities, have mosques and any mosque needs an Imam to do the Islamic daily prayers. They are called Imam of the crowd and daily prayers are the only moments that they are Imams. You won’t put an “Iman” before their name when you are talking to them. Even Imams of joma, who are in charge of holding the highly sacred prayers on Fridays, can’t have this title as a designation in their names.

Apart from 12 shia Imams, the Iranian state media and the books we studied in school, use the title of Imam also for a few clerics, that only two of them lived in the 20th century, one of them as you probably guess is Ayatollah Khomeini. The other one is Musa Sadr, an Iranian-Lebanese cleric and political leader who reorganized the collapsed shia community in Lebanon, founded the amal movement, and finally on 31 August 1978, disappeared in Libya, after a meeting with Gaddafi.

His niece married the second son of ayatollah Khomeini, so they were relatives, but they weren’t close, neither in political views, nor in religious opinions. The only major issue they agreed on was Israel; that it’s a cancer and Muslims must annihilate it!

Sadr disappeared 6 months before the victory of Iranian Islamic revolution but some of his friends were in charge of the new government in Iran. There were only two problems to recognize Sadr and his followers as allies: first, agreement about Israel wasn’t enough for some revolutionary troops who hated Sadr because of his collaboration with the former shah of Iran, and also because of his speeches in churches with avant-garde pluralistic views. Second, Gaddafi, who was the main suspect of his disappearance, was an important player and the controversial Musa Sadr simply didn’t think it worthwhile to bother the Libyan commander.

Still today, sometimes hardliners in Iran say harsh words about Musa Sadr. The Sadr’s friends were also kicked out from offices during the 80s and even spent time in jail in the past 42 years. But despite all this, the state medias and school books, unusually, talk about “Imam Musa Sadr” with ultimate respect and always using the title of Imam. This is weird, because Musa Sadr was a bad element. What changed? Why does he receive respect from Islamic Republic of Iran today?

“We have gathered for the human being.” At least in Iran it’s the most well-known phrase of Musa Sadr. He said this in a catholic church in Beirut, only two months before the beginning of the Lebanese civil war. Before and after the war, he tends to speak about humankind, about unification of Lebanon, and about the fact that Israel is the only enemy!

Imam Sadr was a handsome cleric, and a fabulous lecturer who talked about the charming topic of humanity, but Imam Khomeini was a cranky old man and his character has no charisma for the Iranian young generation. In 1963, when Khomeini began his movement, his problem was women’s voting rights, not establishing a modern Islamic civilization, as they say today in Iranian schools. By praising Sadr, Islamic republic is going to make up for Khomeini’s weaknesses.

Khomeini just wanted a country to rule with the Islamic law in it. He was just like Taliban. No horizon for the country and no planning for the future. Having a horizon and concerning the future came to Islamic republic of Iran, from Lebanon. although most of the Iranian politicians who were close to Sadr, purged in the first decade after the revolution, and hence Islamic republic fans can’t admire them, but one of the closest friends of Musa Sadr, Mostafa Chamran, was lucky enough to get killed in the Iran-Iraq war! (so not purged). Today, Martyr Chamran, alongside Imam Sadr, are great tools in the hands of Iranian mullahs to recruit young students. Specially because Chamran was a Berkeley PhD graduate in Plasma physics, so if such a high educated person approved the Iranian regime and followed the idea of vanishing Zionists from earth, it should be a good approach for life!

Of course Sadr and Chamran aren’t exactly what the Islamic republic wants. Their manuscripts don’t 100% match with the particular version of Shia Islam that Islamic republic follows. To make them suitable, the young generation should see only one side the story, a version aside from Lebanese politics. History isn’t so attractive for youths, so they won’t even track their activities accurately. These new young people, are like Sadr because of “we have gathered for the human being” and his other liberal-looking phrases, but it won’t prevent them from supporting the Islamic republic’s strategies against Israel.

About the Author
Ali was a journalist in Iran, working for ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) from 2019 to 2021. He now lives in Milan, Italy.
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