Last week General Rahim Safavi, a former chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), claimed that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has cured his grandchild of jaundice.
In a video released on June 16, Safavi told an audience at the Iranian army’s AJA University of Command that the youngster was yellow down to his belly and, in a panic, he had asked the Supreme Leader to pray for him. Khamenei, he said, had done so, blown on a sugar cube, and placed it in the baby’s mouth. Just like that, the infant’s jaundice disappeared.
Two days earlier, a TV channel close to the IRGC had had another eyebrow-raising story to tell. After his confirmation as Supreme Leader, Eslahat News’s commentator claimed, Khamenei had no place to live and for three to four years straight had lived in a 100-meter Conex storage container.
Participants at the round table event being broadcast made the appropriate stunned gestures and impressed noises. But later on June 16, Mohammad Hashemi, former president of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), said of the story: "I do not remember the Leadership living in a Conex at all. It is true that the situation in the country was not good at that time, but I cannot accept that the Leadership lived in a container."
Tall tales about Khamenei working miracles have a long precedent, both in Iranian state media and at Friday prayers. He appears to welcome these stories, and even bestow favours on those who ascribe to him unworldly powers.
Cheap Fruit and Robes with Holes
One of the biggest and most enduring Khamenei myths is that of his “frugality”. In 2014, for instance, Alireza Marandi, president of the Iranian Academy of Medical Sciences, said that Khamenei tried to live like the poorest in society: “When I advise him that he must eat fruit because his body needs it, he does not reject my advice, but when he wants to buy fruit he asks what the cheapest ones are... He always wants to know about the difficulties that the needy classes face. This is a characteristic you find in few officials or individuals.”
Khamenei’s clothes, Marandi went on, were always clean but “sometimes I have seen the holes in them have been darned, although this might not be visible on TV.”
The same year, Tasnim News Agency published a report that, among other things, claimed that Khamenei slept on a rug, no rice can be found in his home and he ate small, simple meals. There were many such reports about Khamenei’s “simple life” issued after a 2013 report by the Reuters estimated Khamenei’s empire to be worth $95 billion, a sum 40 times Iran’s oil revenue in 2012 and greater even than the wealth of the last Shah. This empire is controlled by the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam (Setad).
Those claims persist up until today. On April Fools Day this year, Khamenei’s chief of staff claimed: “The Exalted Leader mostly keeps company with the poor, the needy, the families of the martyrs and veterans... The living standards of the Exalted Supreme Leader are below average.” IranWire has since debunked this falsehood based on records from Khamenei’s own website.
When Khamenei ‘Jumped from the Train to Pray’
In a 2008 speech about the importance of praying, Khamenei reminisced about an incident went on to become the subject of a great many jokes and satirical videos. Once before the revolution, he claimed, while on a pilgrimage to Iraq, the train hadn’t stopped for morning prayers. He was forced, he said, to throw himself from a window at the back of train “because inside the train was dirty and you couldn’t pray there.” To make this unlikely story more palatable, he added that the train had been “close to the station” at the time.
One of the most memorable stories about Khamenei’s miracles was told in 2011 by Mohammad Saeedi, Qom’s Friday Imam. Quoting Khamenei’s stepsister, he declared: “When the Leader of the Revolution was about to be born, they pushed us out of the room. The midwife was making preparations for the birth of the new child. Suddenly we heard the midwife crying out, ‘May Ali protect you!’ We opened the door, went in and asked her what was happening. She said that this gentleman — meaning the Exalted Leader — had said ‘Ya Ali!’ [‘O, Ali!’] as he was leaving his mother’s body.”
The story was so outlandish that a little later, Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, head of the Supreme Leader’s Inspection Office, put paid to it. He said: “to say that when the Exalted Leader was born he said ‘O, Ali!’ is nonsense and an insult to the Supreme Leader.”
Meeting with the Shia Messiah
The fables about Khamenei didn’t end with leaps from trains, curing the sick, talking in the birth canal and living like a pauper. Sycophant clergymen have gone even further, claiming Khamenei has not only met with the “Hidden Imam”, or the Shia Messiah, but that thte Hidden Imam rose to greet Khamenei when they met.
In 2011, the same year of the “O, Ali” controversy, Ayatollah Mehdi Ahadi told another story, quoting Tehran’s Friday Imam Kazem Sadighi. Sadighi, he claimed, had broken into sobs before he could finish his story, the core of which was that Khamenei had been visited by the Hidden Imam while in hospital. Naturally this story, too, was attributed to somebody else – Ayatollah Reza Bahaadini, who had died in 1997.
Shias believe that Muhammad al-Mahdi, the 12th Shia Imam, also known as the Hidden Imam and Imam Zaman/Lord of the Ages, born in 868 CE, is alive and in occultation and will emerge at the end of days to establish peace and justice. They also believe that the Hidden Imam does meet with exceptionally pious, worthy Shia believers.
Apparently, however, Kazem Sadighi was not content with this story alone. So in 2014, he recounted yet another, this time atttributed Grand Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Behjat (also dead by that time): “A reliable source quotes Ayatollah Behjat as saying that he had dreamed Imam Zaman was in a meeting with great Muslim authorities. Then Ayatollah Khamenei entered and Imam Zaman stood up and made a place for him to sit.”
Sadighi has repeated stories about the special relations between Khamenei and the Hidden Imam many times over, not just from the Friday pulpit but in the media. In one TV interview, he claimed: “A religious authority was honored by a meeting with Imam Zaman. He asked about the Exalted Leader and Imam said ‘He is one of us.’” The TV host duly exclaimed “Bravo, bravo!”. announced his own joy by exclaiming “Bravo! Bravo!”.
Kazem Sadighi’s latest pronouncements about this came on June 8, 2022 at a meeting of so-called “Mahdi Activists”: “Whenever he feels pain for young Muslims, the Supreme Leader pays a visit to Jamkaran”, he said, adding: “We believe that the Supreme Leader has been appointed by the very top.” The Shia faithful believe that Jamkaran Mosque, located in a village near the holy city of Qom, is where the 12th Imam meets with the deserving few.
Khamenei had initially appointed Sadeghi as spokesman for his office. Later, he bestowed on him the title of Tehran’s Friday Imam. Other slavish mullahs have done their bit for Ali Khamenei too; asked why he has always stood in front of marches and demonstrations since Khamenei became Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani answered: “One night, in my dream, I met Fatima Zahra [daughter of Prophet Mohammad and the wife of Imam Ali]. She said: ‘My husband Ali was left alone. Do not allow my son Ali to be left alone.’”
Buying Credit for a Discredited Leader
Who buys into these fantasies, and what are they for? Mohammad Javad Akbarin, a journalist and scholar of religion, told IranWire in his view, they are the last resort of a government that cannot defend its record in any other field. “Let me quote Khamenei himself: we’re in the ‘second phase’ of the revolution. In the first, people were waiting for the regime to prove its ompetence. Now, after four decades, the incapability, systematic corruption and betrayal of trust have all been proven. The Islamic Republic has been a failure in both its domestic and foreign policies.”
Now that people’s trust in the regime has vanished, Akbarin believes, the government has no choice but to declare a divine right to rule. “What’s interesting is that the stories Sadighi and others like him quote are attributed to people who are no longer alive,” he said. “These fantasies and superstitions are an attempt to buy credit for a discredited leader.”