Mythical Beliefs Threaten the Middle East

Hamid Alkifaey*

Creed is sacrosanct; no one has the right to interfere with people’s beliefs or impose their beliefs on others, it’s a basic human right guaranteed by laws, norms and religions themselves. The Qura’an, for example, has many verses to this effect such as verse 29 of the Cave Chapter “The truth is from your Lord. Whoever wills—let him believe. And whoever wills—let him disbelieve” and Verse 99 of the Younis Chapter “Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Will you compel people to become believers”?.

But people do worry if the beliefs of others threaten social peace or compromise the sovereignty of their countries. Thus, it’s their right to object, especially when a few of them share those beliefs which do not conform to reason, public interest, and international law.

Some armed groups in Iraq and other countries believe in a historical narrative that ‘a man from Khurassan (Iran) will emerge to pave the way for the Mahdi (saviour) by establishing a righteous state. They think Al-Khurasani, as the he is known in Shia books, is in fact the current Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamenei! This means, that an Iranian politician has now attained a mythical religious status outside his country where he can manipulate people’s feelings to his advantage. 

The idea of a ‘saviour’, Mahdi or Messiah, is common in many religions. It’s an expression of hope for the future, but in the Shia narrative, the Mahdi is the 12th infallible Imam, who was born 1200 years ago, and has been absent ever since, but he will emerge when the time is right. No problem so far, but some Shia groups believe there must be an effort to prepare the grounds for the Mahdi as a way of enticing him to reappear and this effort is led by (Khurasani) who is non-other than Ali Khamenei!  

Notwithstanding people’s right of belief, it becomes dangerous if they carry arms to achieve their goals and kill or silence those they disagree with. Iran makes no secret of its support for these groups; supplying them with weapons, money, plans, ideas and religious legitimacy. If Iran’s leader is considered a spiritual leader, it means these groups will do anything against their own country if he orders them to do so. Iran is exploiting people’s innocent religious feelings in order to destabilise other countries. Ironically, Iran had no such groups within its borders. It only supports armed groups in other countries.

A modern state would not allow armed groups to operate on its soil. On the contrary, it cracks down on them and puts them in jail. Weapons are exclusively held by the official representatives of the state, which are normally members of the army and security forces. This is what any state does, regardless of the type of its political system. If a state allows armed groups to operate on its soil for whatever reason, such as the existence terrorist groups, as was the case in Iraq when it was fighting ISIS in 2014-2017, it would not allow them to take orders from another country, especially when these orders are religiously binding. Iraqi politicians, especially those in government, face a real challenge. These groups operate on Iraqi soil, draw salaries from the Iraqi state, yet their activities undermine the state and violate its sovereignty.

If Iraq falls in the hands of these groups, the matter won’t end there. The long-term plan of these groups, and their backers, is to move into other countries since the Mahdi ‘must rule the world’ in their creed. Sheikh Salah Obaid, a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah, said once he believed in the ‘World Islamic Republic’, led by the Mahdi.

There are now dozens of armed groups who believe in the Mahdi. They also do what it takes to make their beliefs come true as were told in old history books. These groups, by their nature, do not conform to the laws, rules and norms of a modern state. If they really apply what they believe in, Iraq would end up torn apart by division and civil war. As a result, it would pose a serious danger to its people, neighbouring countries and perhaps the larger world.

Once again, no one has a problem with people’s beliefs, provided they remain private and peaceful. The problem stems from these groups’ allegiance to Khamenei who they regard as the deputy of the Mahdi. This poses an imminent danger to Iraq. All Iraqis, those believe in a civil state in particular, are urged to be vigilant.

These groups hold a religious creed that runs counter to the very basics of the modern state and international law, just like ISIS, Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda. They are also armed, trained and believe in achieving their aims by violence. If they continue to pursue their aims through kidnapping and assassinations, why should the state accommodate them and pay their salaries? If Iraqis yielded to their terror, regional states would certainly resist and respond accordingly. The international community would not cohabitate with groups that seek to impose their esoteric beliefs by violence. They will be treated like other terrorist groups. The result might be another war that will not leave a stone unturned.

The interests of Iraq, regional countries and the international community, require that Iraqis respond to this imminent danger that threatens their country and society. These groups do not currently make public their detailed plans, but we know where they are heading to. Appeasing dangerous groups, and their backers, will lead to a catastrophe. There must be concerted efforts now to ban these groups, strip them of their arms and try their leaders for the crimes they have committed in Iraq and elsewhere. Iranian leaders must be held accountable for supporting violent groups outside their borders.

*Iraqi Writer and Academic