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PART VI: I am the one, ask the Hidden Imam

(2005–2008)

One of the most important stories in Iranian mythology is of Zahak or Azhidahak.

Thousands of years ago, the earth was ruled by a wise king called Jamshid. He was appointed by Ahura Mazda, God of Goodness and Light, to make life better for the people. Jamshid expanded Iranian territory, invented chariots, created medicine, developed writing, architecture, social classes, different professions. He ruled for 700 years until he fell prey to the most fatal sin: Pride. He claimed that he was God and not his messenger. This cracked the shell that protected the people from Evil during his reign and Ahura Mazda stripped him of his divine grace.

It was then that Ahriman, God of Evil and Darkness, introduced his greatest creation: Zahak.

Zahak, a prince in Babylonia, was born a good man. But in his quest to win power over the world he succumbed to Ahriman and let him kiss his shoulders. Two kisses turned him into a powerful Dragon-king. Two serpents, satiated only with a daily diet of human brains, grew out of his shoulders.

Zahak then attacked Jamshid’s realm of Iran which, at the time, covered most of the known world. The people, tired of Jamshid’s pride, didn’t try to stop Zahak’s invasion. He had promised them prosperity and abolition of the social classes and support for the poor. Jamshid’s army was thus easily crushed and he was pursued to the end of the world where Zahak finally slew him and then took over his kingdom.

Zahak ruled over Iran for a thousand years. Every day, his agents killed two young men and fed their brains to the serpents. Then Zahak had a nightmare: a hero knocked him down with his mace and then took him to a high mountain. The dream readers said it was a sign of Zahak’s downfall at the hands of Fereydun, a prince from Jamshid’s bloodline.

Horrified, Zahak decided to consolidate his reign. He called an assembly of the patriarchs and forced them to sign a document testifying to his righteousness. Thus, no one could have any excuse for rebellion. But a blacksmith named Kaveh, who had lost 10 sons to the serpents of Zahak, spoke out against this charade and tore up the document. Then he left the court and raised his leather apron as his standard. People gathered around him and followed him to the Alborz Mountains. There they found the righteous King Fereydun and began their resistance. Fereydun defeated Zahak but Ahura Mazda did not allow him to execute the demon; instead, Fereydun was commanded to chain him in a cave, deep in the bowels of Mount Damavand.

According to the apocalyptic lore of Iran, Zahak will be released from his prison at the end of time and will destroy one third of those living on earth. At that time, Garshaseb, the Iranian hero, supported by Kay Khusro, the legendary king, will emerge and kill the dragon once and for all with his legendary mace.

The Avestan texts hold that Zahak is the greatest lie that Ahriman created.

This story ran through my mind when Ahmadinejad won the election. He came to power by promising people that he would destroy the gap between rich and poor and bring glory back to Iran. Because of the corruption that had infiltrated all layers of the government, people were looking for someone who could bring good health back to the administration and who would support the poor. I believe the election wasn’t rigged the first time Ahmadinejad came to power. He won fairly against Rafsanjani who had been in power for a long time and who had become associated with corruption.

But we knew that this was only the surface. Ahmadinejad was an ambitious and deluded man who would do anything to increase his power. The Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guard, who were losing control during Khatami’s presidency, wanted to come up with a new face to regain their power. Ahmadinejad was just such a face, a manifestation of all the lies. The real Zahak was the Supreme Leader himself, a good man who sold his soul to Ahriman in his lust for power.

Lying is what defines Ahmadinejad. He thrives on lying and lying is his only weapon. The number of lies he has spouted during the past six years could fill a book. The world knows about his denial of the Holocaust, his claim that there are no homosexuals in Iran and that Iran is the freest and most democratic country in the world. But these are just a few. The Iranians needed only a few months to discover that their popular President was nothing but a liar. But it was too late.

The most dangerous aspect of Ahmadinejad’s administration was his alleged relationship with the idea of the emergence of the Hidden Imam. There were rumours that he was part of a messianic Shia sect, led by the cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi.

According to Shia lore, the Hidden Imam had disappeared into a well in Basra in present-day Iraq, and it is from there that he will emerge when the time is right. Ahmadinejad, as a devoted disciple of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, took these stories literally.

From the news leaked out of government circles, we learnt that Ahmadinejad was a puppet in the hands of this dangerous messianic sect that had gradually infiltrated all the centres of power in the regime, especially the Revolutionary Guard’s Army. Ahmadinejad was apparently preparing for Armageddon. And he was planning to build a road from Basra to Tehran. When the Hidden Imam emerged, he could come directly to Tehran to establish his headquarters and wage war on all the world’s infidels. Ahmadinejad was also rumoured to be consulting someone very often, someone who claimed to be in direct contact with the Hidden Imam. Someone who claimed that the Hidden Imam had asked him to seal the pact between Ahmadinejad and his cabinet, most of whom had backgrounds in the Revolutionary Guard’s Army.

All of this may seem ridiculous to someone unfamiliar with Shia messianic lore. But the belief that the Hidden Imam will emerge is very much alive in Iran; and, as Islam is a highly political religion, the idea has overtaken the regime. If you review Ahmadinejad’s behaviour over the past five years, signs of his belief in being the Chosen One preparing the ground for the Imam’s reappearance become clear.

According to the lore, the world will be in a state of chaos just before the Hidden Imam appears; Christian rule will be dominant; a Sunni leader will emerge from the Middle East and will be engaged in a war with the Christians. There will be a dispute over who has won the war, the Christians or the Muslims, until a big battle ensues in which the Sunni ruler will be killed. The First and Second Gulf Wars between Saddam Hussein and the US and its allies were interpreted by this sect as the sign that Saddam Hussein was the Sunni ruler defeated by the Christians.

The red and the white death will arrive before the Hidden Imam’s coming. The red death is the sword and the white death is the plague. There will be a great conflict in the land of Greater Syria—present-day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Jordan—will result in its destruction. Death and fear will afflict the people of Baghdad and Iraq. A fire will appear in the sky and envelop them in a cloud of red. Adultery and fornication—and children born out of such alliances—will be rampant as will the consumption of alcohol; women will outnumber men; the Muslims will be riven with internal conflict; the nations will gather against the Muslims; acid rain will fall; the rich will get richer and the poor poorer; men will obey their wives and disobey their mothers; people will walk in the marketplace with their thighs exposed; great distances will be traversed in short spans of time; the people of Iraq will receive no food and no money because of the oppression of the Romans (the Westerners); people will leap from cloud to earth and back; female singers and musical instruments will become popular; people will dance late into the night; smog will appear over cities because of the sin of the people; earthquakes will increase; there will be attempts to make the deserts green; false messengers will appear; women will appear naked in spite of being dressed; India will be conquered by the Muslims; people will begin to compete to construct the tallest buildings; bearing false witness will become widespread; men will lie with men and women with women; trade will become so widespread that a woman will be forced to help her husband in business; women will enter the work force out of love for this world; family ties will be severed; there will be many women of child-bearing age who will no longer give birth; and men will begin to look like women and women like men.

An army bearing black signs, created by a man from Khorasan and led by his general Sho’aib Bin Saleh or Mansour (the victorious) will come to prepare the people for the Hidden Imam. This army, on their way to conquer Jerusalem, will kill many infidels. No power will be able to stop them and they will eventually reach and conquer Jerusalem where they will erect their flags. When the black flags of the Army of Khorasan appear on the dome of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the Hidden Imam will show himself.

Rumour has it that each of these signs had been traced and interpreted by the sect. And the Coming was believed to be imminent.

Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, grew up in Khorasan, a province in north-east Iran. The idea of the Supreme Leader as the vicar of the Hidden Imam and the Rule of the Jurisprudent is compatible with the prophecy of the man who, immediately before the Coming, will rule the Muslims and conquer Israel and defeat the Jews. In this Shia apocalypse, the Jews are the main enemy who must be wiped out before the appearance of the Saviour.

Ahmadinejad publicly announced that Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’; and if you count the number of times he has mentioned the word ‘victory’ in his speeches, you may be left with the feeling that he doesn’t mind being called ‘the Victorious’.

The Army of Khorasan will help the Hidden Imam when he emerges and together they will conquer the world. They will fight the Jews and kill them all. Ahmadinejad has said that the main reason for the US attack on Iraq was that it knew that a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad would emerge from Iraq to destroy all the oppressors in the world. According to Ahmadinejad, the US attacked Iraq to prevent the emergence of the Hidden Imam. He has also claimed that he was surrounded by a halo during his speech at the UN.

It was obvious since the beginning of Ahmadinejad’s presidency that he was not looking at it as a political position but as a ‘mission’ assigned to him by God. Israel should be destroyed before the Hidden Imam can emerge. What the Western countries don’t understand is that someone who lives under the delusion of being the Chosen One cannot be reasoned with. He will not give up his mission because he is convinced that he will be victorious.

There is yet another important element in this doctrine: taqiyya. This refers to a dispensation allowing Shia Muslims to conceal or disguise their beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions or strategies at a time of imminent danger. In other words, lying is sanctioned. This doctrine has been widely used by Ahmadinejad’s administration.