The widely-circulated picture depicting Imam Hussein hugging Soleimani shocked many in the Islamic world. (Ayatollah Khamenei’s official website)

By Track Persia

January 31, 2020

More than 50 mourners died in the tragic stampede of the funeral procession of Iran’s Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani, who had been killed by an American drone strike along with a number of companions and Iranian surrogates outside Baghdad airport early this month.

Iranian state media claimed that millions of Iranian people attended the procession. Some reports indicate that the Iranian regime closed schools and universities and forced students to attend the funeral procession. According to witnesses, the regime ordered businesses and shops to close near Imam Reza shrine and some other areas. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s prayers at the body of Soleimani had been also called for by the regime. The regime offered in a formal statement tempting incentives for the funeral participants such as free trip, breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to portray the crowd of the funeral ceremony significantly large.

Soleimani’s funeral procession witnessed scenes that some might find exaggerated. For example, Iran’s Supreme Leader did not say anything at the funeral, except crying and trying to drive around the casket of his slain general. Additionally, photos of Soleimani were seen hanged everywhere in the streets and intersections of Iran’s big cities, while car drivers were ordered to put the Soleimani’s photos on their cars’ windshield. However, some of these drivers are reported to have thrown Soleimani’s photos out of their windows shortly following the funeral procession.

Shortly after the burial of Soleimani, the Iranian nation and even countries where the Iranian regime has significant influence in, such as Iraq and Lebanon, witnessed rituals of reverence and glorification for the slain general and his companions, as the case in Iraq. For example, in Iraq unusual reverence rituals held for Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Iraqi Shiite militia Hezbollah Brigade, The Iranian-associated Shiite militias in Iraq transformed the place near Baghdad airport where al-Muhandis was killed along with Soleimani into sort of a shrine that people can gather at and light candles.

However, Iran witnessed the most exaggerated practices of revering Soleimani after the latter’s death such as a video that circulated widely on social media showing some Iranians hurdling to get some dirt believed to be taken from Soleimani’s tomb. The most shocking of them all is a picture depicting Imam Hussein, the third Imam in the Shiite Islam, hugging General Qassem Soleimani posted on the official webpage of Iran’s Supreme Leader. Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammed and one the most revered Imams for the Shiite faith, was killed in Karbala in 680 CE.

Some might wonder why the Iranian regime is keen to portray Qassem Soleimani as a messianic hero. In the early months after the success of the Islamic Revolution, the founder of the Islamic Republic and late Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini was often associated with the Imam Mahdi, or the Hidden Imam, the twelfth and last Imam for the Shia, who the Twelver Shia believe he disappeared in 945 CE and will reappear anytime to fight wrongdoers and rule the world to prevail justice. It is the reason why Khomeini’s title is ‘The Imam’, which the Shia only call for their infallible twelve Imams, the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali Bin Abi Talib, Prophet Mohammed’s close cousin.

Majority Shia worldwide reject the rituals that revere individuals who they do not consider infallible, nor do they associate these individuals with the Hidden Imam’s four ‘wikala’ (ambassadors) who during the Imam’s the Lesser Occultation (al-ghabya al-sughra), acted as the Imam’s messengers.

With the death of the Hidden Imam’s fourth ambassador who refused to name a successor in 945 CE, the Hidden Imam has been in his second ‘absence’ in a mode known as the Greater Occultation (al-ghayba al-kubra), the second stage of his absence. The Imam had previously spent 72 years of his ‘absence’ in the mode of the Lesser Occultation.

The widely-circulated and controversial picture of Imam Hussein hugging Soleimani indicates the extent of extremist messianism the Iranian regime has been adopting since the foundation of the Islamic Republic.

Despite Shis’sm is seen as the most messianic Islamic sect and the first sect to have adopted the inauguration of Islamic messianism, the Iranian theocracy has paved the road to an extremist and exaggerated messianism (ghulu) in Shiism.

The majority Muslims in the world, including the majority Shia, consider Iranian theocracy’s extreme ideological msessianism as nothing less than a new religion. Adopting Khomeini’s wilayat al-faqih doctrine, (the right of a cleric to rule), means that Iran’s revolutionary clerics, such as Supreme Leader Khamenei, do not only reject the orthodox ideology of the Twelver Shi’ism which obliges the Shia not to take part in politics, but these clerics also usurp the rights of the Hidden Imam.

Orthodox Shiism which is adopted by the School of Najaf in Iraq, currently represented by the senior Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani, rejects Khomeini’s version of wilayat al-faqih, which is currently represented by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and before him his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini. Most Shiite clerics based in the holy city of Najaf see the rule based on wilayat al-faqih in Iran is usurping the right of Imam Mahdi.

Consequently, the school of Najaf rejects the absolute version of Khomeini’s wilayat al-faqih and it has been applied in Iran since the success of the 1979 and adopted by the school of Qom because they see that as a mechanism to legitimise the Iranian regime’s policy and actions. The divergent positions on the right of clerics to rule between the two schools has led to a tacit animosity between them that might go to the surface if the theocratic regime in Iran continues to exaggerate its extreme messianic and ideological rituals that associate its revolutionary leaders with the most revered Imams for the Shia.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.