Iran's Supreme Leader has reportedly issued a fatwah, or Islamic edict, demanding that people obey him as the earthly "deputy" of both the Prophet Muhammad and Shi'ism's mysterious 12th Imam. He also accused the U.S. and Britain of sowing division among Muslims and of fomenting the recent mosque bombing in Sistan-Baluchestan.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has created a stir after apparently issuing a religious edict Tuesday claiming ultimate spiritual powers on Earth. Iranian media reported that he told followers that they must "obey him" as the "representative of the Prophet Muhammad and [Shi'ism's] 12th Imam on Earth."
Iranian television also broadcast a communiqué by the Ayatollah claiming the United States and Britain were behind last week's suicide bombings at a Shi'ite mosque in Sistan-Baluchestan province. "All Muslims," he said, "must combat the evil and corrupt [powers] waging war on Earth."
Other top Iranian officials had previously accused Britain, the United States, Israel and al-Qaida of responsibility for the blasts that killed 28 people and wounded hundreds of others. The Sunni Balluch rebel group Jundallah claimed on its website that it was behind the suicide attacks.
The names and photos of the two alleged suicide bombers were posted on its website. Jundallah claimed the attacks were to avenge Iran's hanging of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi on June 20.
His controversial claim to represent the Prophet Muhammad and the 12th Imam on Earth, followed strong, recent criticism by several Iranian religious leaders, questioning his policies. Mohsen Kadivar, an exiled Shi'ite cleric, went so far as to demand his "impeachment," recently.
University of Birmingham Professor Scott Lucas, who writes the popular Iran blog "Enduring America" says Ayatollah Khamenei's controversial fatwah could be a way of lashing out at those adversaries now attacking him.
"It is the first time that Khamenei has specifically gone so far as to claim that kind of authority, and there is a theological debate as to whether this constitutes heresy, in the sense that some interpretations of Shia Islam say that no one can claim to represent the Prophet and the Imams on Earth," he said. "Khamenei, feeling pressure on a number of fronts, regarding his clerical and political authority, feels the need to assert, effectively, 'You must obey me."
But Professor Hilal Khashan of the American University of Beirut says Ayatollah Khamenei rules Iran under the Wilayat al Faqih principle, which does give him broad powers to represent Shi'ism's Hidden or 12th Imam.
"It depends if you believe in Wilayet al Faqih concept," he said. "Now, Shi'ites who subscribe to Wilayat al Faqih concept would accept this, because, actually, this is the designation of the Supreme Leader of Iran. He is the 'deputy of the hidden Imam until his return, to lead humanity', quote unquote, 'into redemption and salvation.' So, for the believers, there is nothing unusual about the statement."
But Khashan notes many Shi'ites, who are not fundamentalists, do not believe in the Ayatollah Khamenei's extraordinary powers on Earth, and that they frown on anyone claiming to represent the Imam. Lucas, says many top Iranian religious leaders are now questioning Supreme Leader Khamenei's authority, amid a growing political and religious ferment.