Akbar Ganji writes: Senior clerics, such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Khamenei, believe in a moral mission for the state. They do not, however, believe in moral pluralism and people’s right to choose their own way of life. They also try to impose the Islamic teachings on the people using the state power, believing that it is their duty to send people to paradise. Critics, on the other hand, say that it is not the government’s mission to do so, and that one cannot create hell on Earth for the people, so that they can go to paradise after they die.
Responding to the critics May 13, in a speech to a group of people visiting with him, Khamenei said:
Sometimes, when there is a debate about teaching the people about religion, we hear some people saying here and there, ‘your Excellency, is it our mission to send the people to paradise?’ Yes, it is. That is the difference between an Islamic ruler and a non-Islamic one. An Islamic ruler wishes to rule in a way that people go to paradise [after they die]. Thus, he has to pave the way. We are not talking about using force and imposition, but about helping [the people]. People’s nature tends to want to go to paradise and we should open the way [for them]. This is our duty, the duty that Imam Ali [Shiites’ first Imam, and the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin] considered his own also.
Responding to Khamenei, in a speech at a conference on public health on May 24 Rouhani said:
We should not futilely worry the people and make them concerned [about their divine fate]. Do not intervene so much in people’s [private] lives, even if it is with good intentions. We should let the people choose their own path [in life]. They cannot be sent to paradise through use of force and lashing. The Prophet did not have a lash in hand; he was a teacher and kind; we should emulate him.
Rouhani’s response angered the hardline and conservative clerics. Ahmad Alamolhoda, a leading conservative cleric and Friday-prayer Imam of Mashhad, the religious city in northeast Iran, angrily declared, “Not only will we use lashes, but also all of our power to stand up against those who block people from going to paradise.” Reactionary cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi asked sarcastically, “Where did you [Rouhani] learn about your religion? In Feyzieh [seminary in Qom] or in Britain?” Another leading conservative cleric, Ahmad Khatami, said, “You [Rouhani] should not pave the path to hell by your speeches.” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi reacted by saying, “We should not open the hell’s gates to the people.” The country’s prosecutor, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejehei, who has played a leading role in cracking down on the dissidents for years, said, “They say do not bother with people going to hell or paradise. Such statements are mocking the great work of senior clerics.”
Most recently, on June 12, the judiciary chief, conservative cleric Sadegh Larijani, said, “The root of the claim by those who say that we cannot force the people into paradise is in liberalism and [Western] modernity. Rouhani responded to Larijani almost immediately, “What have we said that has disturbed some people? We only said that culture belongs to the people and it is them that should [choose the] best path for their lives. Are we supposed to make pills of culture, write prescription for the people, and ask them to buy the pill at a pharmacy? It is as if some people are still living in the medieval age.” [Continue reading…]