By Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says that when he delivered his speech at the UN General Assembly in September, he felt there was a light around him and that the attention of the world leaders in the audience was unblinkingly focused upon him. The claim has caused a stir in Iran, as a transcript and video recording of Ahmadinejad's comments have been published on an Iranian website, baztab.com. There are also reports that a CD showing Ahmadinejad making the comments also has been widely distributed in Iran. Is the Iranian president claiming to be divinely inspired?
Prague, 29 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- According the report by baztab.com, President Ahmadinejad made the comments in a meeting with one of Iran's leading clerics, Ayatollah Javadi Amoli.
Ahmadinejad said that someone present at the UN told him that a light surrounded him while he was delivering his speech to the General Assembly. The Iranian president added that he also sensed it.
"He said when you began with the words 'in the name of God,' I saw that you became surrounded by a light until the end [of the speech]," Ahmadinejad appears to say in the video. "I felt it myself, too. I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there, and for 27-28 minutes all the leaders did not blink."
Ahmadinejad adds that he is not exaggerating.
"I am not exaggerating when I say they did not blink; it's not an exaggeration, because I was looking," he says. "They were astonished as if a hand held them there and made them sit. It had opened their eyes and ears for the message of the Islamic Republic."
Baztab.com reported that during the meeting, Ayatollah Amoli said that "carrying out promises and restraining from fooling people" is the most important duty, presumably of officials . However, it is unclear whether that comment is made in reaction to the claim made by Ahmadinejad.
Critics And Skeptics
Iranian legislator Akbar Alami has questioned Ahmadinejad's apparent claims, saying that even Islam's holiest figures have never made such claims.
Alami told ILNA news agency that it is hard to imagine that someone who is delivering a speech can at the same time focus his attention on the eyelashes of all the people sitting at a distance from him and categorically tell a leading Qom cleric that they did not blink.
Alami said he hopes the film of Ahmadinejadâ€™s comments has not been distributed by people close to the president to make criticizing him "taboo among ordinary people."
However, FardaNews.com, a conservative website, reported that the meeting between Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Javadi Amoli was private. [Editor's note: FardaNews.com has no relation to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.] The website accused unspecified Ahmadinejad opponents of distributing the CD of the meeting to insult him.
Hossein Bastani, an Iranian journalist based in France, told RFE/RL that Ahmadinejad's comments can be interpreted in two ways.
"One analysis is that this government believes that it came to power with the votes of the so-called lowest class of the Iranian society and these are classes that believe more in such supernatural tales," Bastani said. "Therefore, this government tries, by propagating such rumors, to gain a dogmatic, charismatic, and holy status among those whom they think support them. The second view is that despite the fact that they are trying to fool people, maybe they also believe in these things that are being repeatedly published about them and said by them. This is more dangerous.â€
Since the presidential elections in Iran, many bizarre stories and rumors have circulated about Ahmadinejad. Many of them are related to his devotion to the 12th Imam, also known as Imam Mahdi, who according to Muslims has disappeared and will return at the end of time to lead an era of Islamic justice.
During his September speech at the UN, Ahmadinejad called for the reappearance of the 12th Imam.
In mid-November, during a speech to Friday prayers leaders from across Iran, Ahmadinejad said that the main mission of the revolution is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam.
In recent weeks, the president's aides have denied a rumor that he ordered his cabinet to write a pact of loyalty with the 12th Imam and throw it down a well near the holy city of Qom, where some believe the Imam is hiding.
Ahmadinejad's supporters said such rumors are being circulated about the president by opponents in efforts to defame him.
But journalist Bastani said that many of the reported stories are based on comments made by Ahmadinejad and his cabinet members.
"Inside Iran, no one in a news [organization] takes the risk of publishing incorrect information about the president, who also controls the Information Ministry, [so] spreading lies about him has serious consequences," Bastani said. "In recent weeks and months, there has been much news similar to the meeting between Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Amoli. These [reports] include the allocation in at least two cases of heavy budgets for the Jamkaran mosque [at the well where some believe that Imam Mahdi is hiding] or comments by the president that have been quoted by the Iranian media in which he had said in an official meeting that the Hidden Imam will appear in two years."
There has been no reaction from President Ahmadinejad to the distribution and publication of his claim that a light surrounded him while he was addressing world leaders at the UN.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an adviser to former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, has warned against the misuse of religious sanctities and written on his website that it is natural that, at a time when the world is expecting a plan to end the deadlock over Iran's nuclear issue, attention is paid to the comments by the country's president.
Ahmadinejad has been criticized inside the country for his seeming lack of tact and his confrontational style on the international stage. His comments about his mystical experience at the UN could well lead to further criticism.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org