Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s longtime aid and potential presidential candidate, has been criticized for controversial remarks about “a new era” of Islam.
In a meeting with students and youth and social activists yesterday, Mashaei said that “there is a new era of Islamism, and this era must be named Mahdism (or Messianism).” Ahmadinejad and Mashaei have been accused by the ruling clergy in the past of trying to minimize the clergy’s role in religion by promoting a form of Islam that is more focused on Imam Mehdi rather than the clergy. Shias believe that Imam Mehdi, the last Shia imam, is in occultation and will return before Judgment Day to rid the world of evil.
Mashaei said that “the whole design of Islam no longer offers answers, and the world’s understanding of Islam, as a general concept, especially with the interpretations that some countries have presented, is a negative one. Therefore, we have to introduce our own Islam to the world, which comes from the Iranian school and is based on the original Islam, and this doesn’t mean we put Islam away.”
Mashaei attempted to elaborate and clarify previous controversial remarks by saying that “I’ve said tens of times which Islamism is coming to an end. Today there are those in Syria who kill people by beheadings and bombings and they also yell ‘Allahu Akbar’ and speak of Islamism. When I had spoke earlier about the end of Islamism, this is the type of Islamism I was speaking of.”
Mashaei continued, “The era has arrived that anyone in a general way speaks of Islamism, and especially after the victory of [Iran’s] Islamic revolution, a new era has arrived, and not everyone can claim Islamism.” He asked rhetorically, “Can we endorse the form of Islamism of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt or Qatar?”
Mashaei, who is also the head of the Non-Aligned Movement, has been accused by critics of promoting Iranian nationalism to appeal to a specific base of voters. He has previously been publicly threatened with death for various statements and positions by hard-line figures in Iran.
In response to Mashaei’s statements, head of the judiciary Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani said that “this claim is not correct because first we are Muslim, then Iranian, and Iran shined with Islam.” Larijani continued, “The supreme leader has said that Islamic communities must work to promote an Islamic civilization. Of course, some say we will progress if we put Islam away.”
Mashaei has not yet announced his candidacy for the presidency, but he has been traveling alongside the president across the country to the various provinces. The president has been criticized for taking these trips so late in his presidency and using these trips as unofficial campaign rallies for Mashaei.
Candidates desiring to run in the presidential elections have from May 7 to May 11 to register. Afterward, the Guardian Council approves the final list which can run in the elections. The head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, had previously said that “seditionists” and “deviants” would be “confronted lawfully.” Those in Ahmadinejad’s camp close to Mashaei are commonly referred to as “deviants.”