Islamic clerics are expressing outrage following comments made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that deceased Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez will come back to earth at the return of Jesus Christ.
Chavez, a Roman Catholic, passed away on Tuesday following a two-year battle with cancer.
“Give me Your crown, Jesus. Give me Your cross, Your thorns so that I may bleed,” he said in a tearful public message last year as he clutched a Catholic crucifix. “But give me life, because I have more to do for this country and these people. Do not take me yet.”
After what appeared to be improvement, his cancer returned months later, and Chavez’s health continued to decline. He died at age 58.
Hearing the news of Chavez’s death, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was reportedly a close friend of the ruler, released a statement of condolence.
“Venezuela has lost a brave son, and the world has lost a wise and revolutionary leader,” he wrote on his website. “He took a firm stance against the demands of oppressors and broke down the all their attempts for discord, propaganda and coup d’etats. He was a bridge that connected all justice-seeking leaders in the world.”
“He finally gave his entire life and being to a suspicious illness and with that, he is undoubtedly a true martyr in the path of serving the Venezuelan nation and safeguarding the revolutionary and human values,” Ahmadinejad continued. “Although Hugo Chavez is no longer among us today, I am sure that his innocent spirit has ascended to the heavens and will one day return to us with Jesus Christ and the Mahdi to establish peace, justice and kindness.”
Muslims believe that in the 10th century, Imam Mahdi went into hiding, but will appear again to make all things right with the world. According to the website Answering Islam, Muslims also claim that Jesus will return as a follower of Islam and will establish the religion on the earth.
“Muslims believe that after Allah miraculously delivered Jesus from death, He was assumed into heaven alive in a similar fashion to the Biblical narrative regarding Elijah,” the site outlines. “Since then, Muslims believe, Jesus has remained with Allah and has been awaiting His opportunity to return to the earth to finish His ministry and complete His life.”
“While the Mahdi … is clearly seen as being a superior to Jesus, Jesus is still said to be a leader of the Muslim Community [upon His return],” it continues. “According to the Islamic traditions, Jesus’ primary purpose will be to oversee the institution and the enforcement of the Islamic Shariah law all over the world.”
Following Ahmadinejad’s allusion to this Islamic belief and his assertion that Chavez will be involved, a number of Islamic clerics criticized his statement.
“The terms Mr. Ahmadinejad used to describe the Venezuelan president are not appropriate for us,” Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, a cleric and a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, is quoted as stating.
“One can naturally send a diplomatic letter without getting into religious discussions,” said Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, who led Islamic prayers in Tehran on Friday. “It would have been sufficient to simply send a diplomatic message without getting involved in ideological issues.”
He called Ahmadinejad’s comments “an exaggeration.”
Ahmadinejad, who worked with Chavez as part of an axis against the United States, is said to leave office in June. A replacement will be selected for Chavez in April.
Photo: Agencia Brasil