Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been criticised for saying that Hugo Chávez will be resurrected along with Jesus Christ in his tribute to the Venezuelan president who died on Tuesday.
Ahmad Khatami, an influential cleric in the country’s assembly of experts, said on Wednesday that Ahmadinejad went “too far” with his claim that Chávez would “return on resurrection day”.
“I say directly that he went too far with what he mentioned in his tribute,” said Khatami, who is a Tehran Friday prayer leader and a close ally of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The president is well aware that such a tribute will provoke reactions in our religious institutes … He could have sent a diplomatic message with no religious connotations.”
On Wednesday, the Iranian cabinet declared a day of national mourning, and Ahmadinejad wrote a letter of condolence addressed to Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro.
“Chávez is alive, as long as justice, love and freedom are living. He is alive, as long as piety, brightness, and humanity are living,” he wrote, according to the English translation of the letter published by the semi-official Mehr news agency.
“He is alive, as long as nations are alive and struggle for consolidating independence, justice and kindness. I have no doubt that he will come back, and along with Christ the Saviour, the heir to all saintly and perfect men, and will bring peace, justice and perfection for all.”
The president did not name Imam Mahdi, the revered saviour of Shia Islam, in his tribute, but by naming Christ he made clear that Chávez would also be among the Imam’s allies. The reappearance of Mahdi is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christians anticipate the second coming of Jesus. Shia Muslims believe both will come on the resurrection day.
“Hugo Chávez was a name known to all nations. His name is reminiscent of pure innocence, kindness, fortitude and love for the people, to serve the people, especially the poor and the victims of colonialism and imperialism by arrogant powers,” he wrote. “He is indeed a martyr of the road to service to Venezuelan people, and preserving human and revolutionary values.”
Other religious figures in Iran have also echoed Khatami’s criticism of Ahmadinejad’s remarks about Chávez, one of his closest allies. Hossein Rouhaninejad of Iran’s Islamic development organisation said the president’s remarks were against Shia Islam beliefs. Another senior cleric, Seyed Mahdi Tabatabaei, chastised Ahmadinejad for “wrong moves”, saying his comments were “legally and religiously wrong”.