Is Ahmadinejad the Bab?

There was once a town in Iraq called Babel. The name means “Gate of God” (Bab-El), and among Jews and Christians elicits all sorts of images of human arrogance and unholy ambition. Men strove to reach up to heaven, perhaps to be as God, and were swiftly scattered in chaos and confusion to the corners of the earth.

The word “Bab” is an old semitic word for “door”, “gate”, or entrance” that is commonly seen in Arabic place names. Twelver Shi’a Islam has used this term to represent the divine messengers who in past times facilitated communications between the Mahdi (the 12th Imam) and the believers.

Amazon: Ahmadinejad

164 years ago, Sayyid ‘Ali-Muhammad Shirazi claimed to be the latest Bab, then claimed to be the Mahdi as well. His embattled crusade eventually evolved into the religion that I was raised in, whose adherents, along with homosexuals, are chief targets of persecution in Modern Iran.

I mention all this because I was reminded of it today by a Terry Gross interview with the author Kasra Naji on the May 13 episode of Fresh Air. I was stunned to hear the guest say:

Ahmadinejad has been on the record, saying to various people that he believes that by the end of his term in office the Mahdi will return, and he has to hand over power to the Mahdi.

This should sound familiar to Baha’is. Naji continues:

And only a few days ago, he said in a speech in northeast Iran that, in his belief, the Mahdi is managing the affairs of the State, and he is only doing the legwork—if you like—that he is representing the Mahdi, the Mahdi is in charge; Mahdi is managing the affairs.

It sounds as though Ahmadinejad may see himself as a kind of “Bab” to the Hidden Imam.

According to Naji, Shi’ites in general do not expect the Mahdi to literally return:

Many people in Iran, many Muslims, many Shi’ites around the world take that as an abstract idea, that justice will prevail in this world; so there’s no literal belief that somebody is going to come tomorrow …

But there are those, such as Ahmadinejad, that take the Mahdi prophecy quite literally. That doesn’t mean that everyone that shares that belief are allies. To the contrary, it puts them in direct opposition if they should happen to disagree on the specific details of the Mahdi prophecy. It seems to follow that those in opposition to the dominant representative of the Mahdi—those Shi’ites who claim to have their own Bab, may be in mortal danger. Hopefully, the Baha’is of Iran will be spared the full wrath of Ahmadinejad’s millenarian zeal. They are already suffering through yet another surge of persecution.

How far will it go? It’s hard to know just how sincere Ahmadinejad is in his fanaticism. Sincerity, in this case, could be a very dangerous thing.

4 comments on “Is Ahmadinejad the Bab?

  1. Dan Jensen says:

    According to Bahman Aghai Diba in his May 13, 2006 article in the Persian Journal, the following statement was published in the Washington Post on May 11 of the same year:

    in a dusty village outside this Shiite holy city [Qom], a once-humble yellow-brick mosque is undergoing a furious expansion… the expansion is driven by an apocalyptic vision: that Shiite Islam’s long-hidden 12th Imam, or Mahdi, will soon emerge-possibly at the Mosque of Jamkaran- to inaugurate the end of the world. The man who provided $20 million to prepare the shrine for that moment, the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has reportedly told his cabinet that he expects the Mahdi to arrive within the next two years…

    Jackson Diehl Washington Post, May 11, 2006, P.A27, “In Iran, Apocalypse vs. reform”

    Two years? According to this article, the Mahdi has appeared and is walking the earth collecting volunteers and armaments.

  2. Wahid Azal says:

    A couple of issues in your garbled message (never mind that your message would make the propaganda churning machine of the CIA proud).

    1) ‘Bab’ (gate) has multiple connotations in the Shi’ite context.

    a) It refers to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), His daughter Fatima and the 12 Imams, in turn, such that Bab’ullah (gate of the Godhead) is an epithet denoting the whole Ahl al-Bayt (people of the house). This is its originary meaning in the Shi’ite hadiths, which is why such usage would not have been lost on the early Babis as well as the ‘ulama who persecuted them. They perfectly understood what the Essence of the Seven Letters meant by ‘Bab” and it wasn’t simply a representative of the Imam.

    b) Now in the period of the minor occultation of the 12th Imam, ‘bab’ was also the title used for his 4 representatives or gates interceding between Him and the faithful, showing how the nascent Shi’ite mind perceived a hierarchy of correspondential gates to the divinity, from Its Proof (who is the Imam of the Time) then to the Prophet (perhaps another tier rank of gate from the Prophet to the Archangel Gabriel and then the Karubim/the Archangels of the Proximity) and finally to the Godhead Itself. The Isma’ilis started using the term just a short little time before the Twelvers did to designate the intermediary rank leading to their own Imam (see Corbin and Daftary).

    2) The metaphoricity of the parousia of the Imam Mahdi in the contemporary Shi’ite mind of the ecclesiastical establishment is quite a recent development, and also not a point shared by a majority of Shi’ites (who expect the Imam’s Return), and, on the one hand, has to do with the final triumph of the ‘usuli mujtahids and their consolidation of political power together with their claim to be the special deputies (na’ib al-khass) of the Imam in Occultation in perpetu. Khomeini’s guardianship of the jurisprudent doctrine entirely stems from this development. From the usuli angle, this development is a not so surreptitious attempt to usurp the prerogative of authority is supposed to be invested in the Imam in absentia, not them.

    Ironically, from the other angle, the metaphoricity of the Imam idea is also a remaining influence of the ideas of the Shaykhi school; that is, when Shaykh Ahmad’s eschatology is read as exclusively being a doctrine of esotericism and initiation – as Corbin’s reading of Shaykhism, for example, demonstrated – it leads to the idea that the Imam of the Time is a Symbolic Allegory. Shaykh Ahmad and his successors are somewhat equivocal on this in other contexts, but it is the manner in which the Karim Khani line of Shaykhism came to reflect on the matter (look at Corbin’s essay on Karim Khan’s theory of colors/fahrbenlehre in TEMPLE AND CONTEMPLATION where this is borne out). Yet given this, even when the Imam is completely esotericized, the addendum doctrine of the Fourth Support leads to an Isma’ili-like Twelver intercessorship between the Imam and the initiate/faithful – much like the idea of the Sufi qotb – which then bolsters some sort of active role of an Imam of the Age beyond the symbolic.

    That said, in the mass popular consciousness of the Shi’ite faithful, and outside of the sanctified halls of the mullahs and their entrenched power, people literally believe in a literal End Time and the Parousia of the Imam-Messiah. Ahmadinejad is definitely not in a minority here. His ‘ulama colleagues are however, given that any Appearance of an Imam Mahdi ipso facto makes the bases of their political power and claims illegitimate, ergo the crises with the Babis, and closer to our time, the crisis the regime had with the Hujjatiya who took Khomeini to task on his metaphorizing the Imam away. Of course there are today ideological regime stalwarts who believe Khomeini himself was the Imam Mahdi.

    3) The leadership of the Haifan Bahai organization deserves whatever the Iranian state metes out to it since it is an unabashedly 5th columnist influence in Iran aiding and abetting Iran’s foreign enemies.

    Now go worry about the psychopathy of the leaders of your own nation and especially your civic religious leaders in the USA before commenting on those of others. America these days has the highest concentration of psychopaths in one place at one time, many of whom are serving in your government and business sectors, a fact that is universally perceived from Antaractica to the North Pole. What your government did to your own people in the aftermath of Katrina is sufficient proof, let alone what it has done to other people elsewhere recently.


  3. Dan Jensen says:

    Thank you for your comment, Mr. Azal. It is a pleasure to hear from the only living Babi/Bayani that I am aware of. I have not yet confirmed Your assertions, but I appreciate your input.

    Your first point is made rather ambiguously. Perhaps this is due to the complex symbolism of your own Bayani doctrines. I can say your second point appears to confirm my own understanding. As for your third point, it may be true that the majority of Shi’a are literalists with respect to the Mahdi, but you as a literalist (a Babi) may come to this discussion with a bias that I think you —in all fairness— ought to confess at the outset.

    Wahid Azal writes:

    never mind that your message would make the propaganda churning machine of the CIA proud.

    That’s FBI, Wahid. The Forum for Baha’i Investigations. You ought to know. You’re one of our top agents! 😉

    Wahid Azal writes:

    Now go worry about the psychopathy of the leaders of your own nation.

    Oh I’m plenty worried, and plenty of damage is already done. I’ve read that the Mahdi is supposed to return with Jesus Christ, and that Jesus will kill the Islamic Antichrist. Perhaps this makes my beloved president the return of John the Baptist, and his Lord will get together with Ahmadinejad’s Lord to take on the Antichrist, which I presume you believe is the Universal House of Justice?

  4. Wahid Azal says:

    Your sarcasm (logical straw man) nothwithstanding, whenever purported ex-bahai Americans (who practice censorship over lists) rail against Iran and its leaders, they are doing so for far from altruistic motives and are basically giving their own bark to the paper dog being wagged via the connivance of their own politico-economic establishment’s attempts at hegemonization and economic exploitation in the Global South — or what Noam Chomsky calls “manufacturing consent”; this, especially given that the word on the street is that some sort of attack on Iran is possibly coming before the next US presidential election.

    My POV regarding the Imamate as a Bayani is axiomatic, since I believe that Siyyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Essence of the Letters, the Bab, was the Twelfth Imam and Mahdi. That said, the parousia of the Mahdi with Jesus (and as two separate individuals) is an exclusively Sunni permutation of Islamic eschatology and not one shared by the Shi’ite weltanschauung.


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