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‘Islamic Vatican’ in Qom; Clerics Dream of A Shiite Empire

Qom is the eighth largest city in Iran. It lies 125 kilometers by road southwest of Tehran and is the capital of Qom Province.

Ahmad Zadhoush, the Dean of Al-Mortada School, at the Qom Seminary, has called for the town to be turned into an “Islamic Vatican,” independent of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where clerics rule.

Zadhoush wants the new country, Qom, to have its own flag, borders and constitutional law. He also called on the international community to recognize Qom and send their ambassadors to the new state.

However, Zadhoush who is aware that Qom, a dust-covered town between a salt lake and a dried out river, has little resource to subsist on, demanded that Tehran lend “a few sources of income such as oil refineries and petrochemical plants” to the independent Qom to make the Islamic Vatican economically viable.

Currently, the major sources of income for Qom, the venue of one of the world’s two major Shiite seminaries, are the pilgrims that visit the holy shrine of Hazrat Masoumeh, the sister of Imam Reza, the only Shiite imam buried in Iran, and the confectionary workshops that sell sugar candies to the pilgrims.

Iranian officials, who normally frown at any call for cessation and respond to such calls heavy-handedly, simply ignored Zadhoush and his idea. The public also took his comment light-heartedly, welcoming the idea of sending all the mullahs to Qom as non-oil export.

Ahmad Zadhoush, the director of Qom’s al-Murtadha Islamic University, undated.
Ahmad Zadhoush, the director of Qom’s al-Murtadha Islamic University, undated.

“It is a good idea for clerics to have a country of their own. Only if they would leave everyone else alone to carry on with their life,” said one social media post.

In an interview with Radio Farda, Paris-based Iranian commentator Morteza Kazemian described Zadhoush’s idea as “odd” and dismissed it as an example of the way Shiite “clerics extort concessions from the government in addition to the hefty budgets they get.”

Berlin-based Iranian analyst Mehdi Mahdavi Azad told Radio Farda “Shiite clerics have always been dreaming about leading the Muslim world from Qom,” adding that “Iran’s regional ambitions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other places have created the illusion of Shiism conquering the world.”

“Part of Shiite fundamentalist clerics believes they are forming a Shiite empire. These shocking suggestions such as the one made by Zadhoush are the outcome of that illusion,” Mahdavi Azad added.

“For four decades, Iran’s Shiite clerics have had access to wealth and power thanks to the Islamic Republic. Now they want a country of their own,” Mahdavi Azad said.

The idea of turning Qom into a Shiite Vatican dates back to February 1979, when Iran’s last prime minister under the Shah, had suggested isolating the clerics in Qom. “We will build a wall around Qom, so that Ayatollah Khomeini can have his own little Vatican there,” said Prime Minister Shapur Bakhtiar, who was later assassinated by Iranian regime agents in Paris in the 1980s.

Kazemian told Radio Farda’s Vahid Pour Ostad, that Zadhoush’s suggestion is different from Bakhtiar’s idea “Bakhtiar believed in separating religion from the state and wanted clerics no to meddle with politics, but Zadhoush’s idea redefines the Islamic Republic and gives it more power and prominence.”

Zadhoush, who is relatively younger than other well-known clerics in Qom, once worked with the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is currently a member of Iran’s Cultural Revolution Council, a body committed to Islamize the universities.

His school, Al-Mortada, trains clerics from other countries to propagate the Iranian brand of Shiism once they go back to their own countries.