Iran’s useful business of tombs and shrines

Sunday 25/09/2016
An Iranian man takes a picture of women outside the Massoumeh holy shrine in the city of Qom, 130km south of Tehran.

The Iranian regime is spending and making a lot of money from the business of tombs and holy shrines.

Before the 1979 revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, there were approximately 1,500 shrines in Iran. Today, that figure is seven times greater, reaching an estimated 10,500 across the coun­try, an average increase of nearly 300 shrines a year.

On occasions when the govern­ment wants to evict people from a certain area to allow for space for a project, it claims that it found the remains of a revered figure. The figures were often cited as the grandsons of Musa al- Kadhim, a descendant of Prophet Mohammad and the much-revered seventh Shia imam.

The shrine would be accompa­nied by positive media attention, leaving the remaining local residents happy with the reli­gious finding. The small space taken up by the new tomb allows the government to install other projects without paying compen­sation to the people who had to leave their land or homes.

The holy tombs and shrines are also a source of substantial income, as visitors often donate money and valuables for the maintenance of the sites, which the state takes charge of.

This part of the business proved so profitable that Iran has expanded its projects of shrine building in Iraq and Syria. The shrines there also serve strategic purposes, where they are used by Iran for its sectarian wars in the Arab world.

The Iranian regime has found another method to benefit from the dead.

According to the Iranian constitution, the position of the country’s supreme leader, which was filled by Khomeini till his death and is now occupied by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is meant to serve as acting on behalf of the revered Twelfth Imam in Shia Islam.

Article 5 of the constitution states that “during the absence of the removed Twelfth Imam (may God hasten his reappearance) government and leadership of the community in the Islamic Republic of Iran belong to the rightful God-fearing… legal scholar”.

According to Shia teachings, the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi (born in 869AD), is said to have disap­peared in 931AD in Iraq and will reappear at the end of time. In Iranian law, the supreme leader takes charge of the country’s most important decisions, including the declaration of war and peace.

Ruling on behalf of the absent Mahdi, the supreme leader replaces the people’s sovereignty with the absolute power of the “government of the legal scholar” (known as velayat-e faqih).

So the reasoning goes that Khamenei is authorised by the Mahdi and the 11 imams before him to appoint the head of the judiciary, the commanders of the armed forces, the head of radio and television and six members of the Guardian Council.

Some of the attributions normally given to the 12 imams began to be used to describe the supreme leaders.

Not only did Khomeini rule in the name of the dead but since his death 27 years ago, the former supreme leader has become a revered figure religiously.

Criticism of Khomeini is harder today than during the years when he was in power.

Now we hear of “the spirit” or “the path” of Khomeini that we must follow.