By Potkin Azarmehr
15 Jan – Last Saturday, the Iranian Shia cleric, Hassan Agha-Miri, was disrobed by the Special Court for the Clergy. He was charged with the following:
– insulting the sanctities by making fun of, and causing doubt in Islam’s tenets, and promoting uncertainty in the authenticity of the Koran and the belief in it by producing distorted interpretations of it;
– publishing lies and affecting public opinion, causing insecurity in the beliefs of the faithful and the youth and;
– engaging in actions and behavior contrary to clerical dignity, and in so doing discrediting the clergy.
Agha-Miri is a charismatic and competent orator who can spellbind his audience. His sermons, speeches and reflections on the country’s malaise often go viral on social media. He had just over 1 million viewers on Instagram until last Friday. After Agha-Miri was disrobed, his followers jumped to 1.5 Million in almost one day.
While his sermons did not directly challenge the state or call on his followers to rise up and overthrow the regime, the cleric criticized those who made a show of their piety and used religion for illicit ends.
One of Agha-Miri’s latest Instagram posts is a collage of his sermons in which he addresses those who profit from hoarding essential goods:
“You hoard medicine for children to earn more profit, what kind of an animal are you? And you do your prayers too? …. Another hoards rice and then goes on to the Hajj pilgrimage. It is absurd! He hasn’t gone to circumambulate God’s house, he has gone to circumnavigate the Almighty!”
In another sermon which was posted online, he can be seen to be saying:
“In our country whatever is wrong, we blame it either on America, England or Israel. We are always blameless ourselves. If our car industry produces inferior vehicles and parts, is that England’s fault? It is ridiculous to claim so.”
Agha-Miri has branded “extremists” and “zealots” as misinformed people without any morals, always keen to insult their opponents:
“In the beginning of the revolution, there were a lot of extremists and zealots, and sadly we seem to be mass producing them with their made-up chants such as, “The Shah is a bastard,” yet the Shah’s parents were married and he was born within wedlock. Ignorance makes you come up with all kinds of nonsense.”
Agha-Miri is also critical Iran’s elections:
“You [the unelected Guardian Council] are the ones who decide and approve which candidates we can vote for, then we vote for one of them and you accuse us of being a counter-revolutionary and an infidel!”
Hassan Agha-Miri was not always a dissident cleric. Until 15 years ago, he was a zealous Baseeji and theology student. He was known for his bad temper in the Shahid Sadooghi seminary Baseej base. There are accounts of him kicking down the doors of other theology students’ rooms if he heard them listening to music or if he caught them smoking.
Agha-Miri may be thought of as a regime critic now, but what is significant is his u-turn on politics and religion. In 2009, during the Green Movement demonstrations he stood with the protesters. He also became a keen sportsman, and started mingling with film and theatre celebrities. No longer an angry extremist, he started promoting forgiveness, tolerance and kindness to others.
His transformation is typical of Iranians inside the country who are beginning to challenge decades of anti-Western thinking. Having lived through 40 years of Shia clerical rule, Iranians now realize that revolutionary dogma will not bring about justice nor provide them and their families with a better way of life.