Iranian officials are citing President Obama as evidence that their leaders have issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against the use of nuclear weapons.
It appears, however, that Obama is the only source, as no one seems to be able to find an original document.
The reference, nevertheless, has been common in Obama’s speeches, including an address to the United Nations last September.
“The [Iranian] Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President [Hassan] Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
Last year, the Middle East Media Research Institute reported that there appeared to be no original of the fatwa. While Obama has referenced it repeatedly, no one had ever claimed to have seen the original.
MEMRI said the fatwa “was never issued by Supreme Leader [Ali] Khamenei and does not exist; neither the Iranian regime nor anybody else can present it.”
Now MEMRI reports the claims have come full circle, and Iranians are saying they know there is a fatwa because of Obama’s claims that it exists.
“Our Supreme Guide has issued a fatwa against the use of nuclear weapons, as confirmed by the president of the United States,” Ayatollah Mahmoud Yussefwand said, according to a report by the official Islamic Republican News Agency.
Columnist Amir Taheri, who was editor of the Iranian daily Kayhan before the Islamic revolution and now lives in Europe, blasted Obama for referring to the “fatwa,” according to MEMRI.
He said “that neither Obama nor anyone else has ever seen this fatwa, and that, even if it exists, it is likely to be phrased so ambiguously as to be open to countless interpretations,” according to MEMRI.
“Moreover,” Taheri said, “Iranian clerics recently voiced opinions suggesting that the religious ban on nuclear weapons is by no means absolute. One ayatollah even implied that building a nuclear bomb is a necessary condition for the return of the Madhi, the Shiite messiah.”
In Taheri’s commentary, published by the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, he said even Obama never has quoted directly from it.
“Nor does he tell us where and when he saw it,” he wrote.
“In a bizarre twist, some mullahs even quote Obama as the source that confirms the existence of the fatwa,” he said.
Yussefwandwas one of more than 100 leaders at a two-day conference in Tehran on “A Theological View of Nuclear Weapons,” the columnist wrote.
“None of the speakers claimed that he had seen the text of the fatwa. Nor did anyone suggest that the fatwa – if there were such a thing – was meant to stop the Islamic Republic from securing the means of making a bomb,” Taheri continued.
The Islamic experts said there is no ban on nuclear weapons. They indicated a nuclear weapon would be a legitimate deterrent and would not be banned, because it could ensure ultimate victory for Islam.
Taheri noted that during the seminar, two theologians, Mahmoud Hekmati-Nia and Hashem Zaafarani, criticized Ayatollah Bahman Akbari for not referring to Khamenei’s fatwa.
“The reason, of course, was that neither Akbari nor anyone else had seen the non-existent document,” Taheri wrote.
“While the conference was under way, Ayatollah Hassan Mamduhi, a member of the Assembly of (Clerical) Experts, offered an enigmatic quotation from the late Ayatollah Aziz-Allah Khoshwaqt to the effect that the Hidden Imam would conclude his Grand Occultation only when his ‘sword’ was ready. ‘The Return of the Mahdi is conditional on what our nuclear scientists are doing,’ Mamduhi said, without elaborating. The Tehran media, however, claimed that ‘The Sword of the Imam’ in the modern world could only mean a nuclear arsenal.
“A week later, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Council of the Guardians of the Constitution, claimed in a Friday sermon that the return of the Hidden Imam was ‘ imminent’ thanks to ‘fantastic progress’ achieved by the Islamic Republic in Iran. Ayatollah Khoshwaqt, who died last year, was regarded as Khamenei’s teacher and ‘guru’ and a strong opponent of negotiations to limit any aspect of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. His views have found echoes among a number of Khomeinist clerics who argue that, with the US in retreat under Obama, there is no reason to make concessions to the P5+1 group.
“One prominent cleric, Ayatollah Mahmoud Nabawian, has published a 40-page essay arguing that Tehran is now in a position to tell the rest of the world to ‘get lost.’ Another critic is Muhammad-Javad Larijani, son of an ayatollah and brother of Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani. He argues that Islamic powers should only ask non-Islamic nations to ‘submit’ to God’s ‘Final Word.’ In 1988, he carried a letter from Ayatollah Khomeini to Mikhail Gorbachev, inviting him to convert to Shiism.
Taheri said Obama “would do well to consider three points before beating the drums for the mullahs.”
“The first is that the famous fatwa either does not exist or is couched in the style of obfuscation that would open it to countless interpretations,” he said. “The least that Obama should do is demand to see the fatwa that he is defending as a text that trumps even international law.”
The second point, he said, is that Khamenei, though a major political figure in Tehran, is “not generally regarded as a theological heavyweight.”
“In religious terms, any of the 10 or 12 grand ayatollahs and hundreds of lower-ranked clerics could overrule Khamenei’s fatwas,” he said.
“Finally,” he wrote, “Obama should know that the Iran nuclear project is a political issue, and not a religious issue.”