Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded today against critics who have publicly reprimanded him for saying that “heaven cannot be forced” onto people. He also compared some of the clerics opposed to change to the reactionary clerics who were also once opposed to private showers and daylight savings on the grounds that it would harm religion.
“Some people seriously have nothing better to do,” Rouhani said May 31 during a speech in front of environmental officials, without addressing his critics by name. “They have no work, no profession, they are with delusions. They are incessantly worried about people’s religion and the afterlife. They know neither what religion is nor the afterlife, but they’re always worried,” Rouhani added to applause.
Rouhani has been under fire for saying on May 24, “One cannot take people to heaven through force and a whip.” On May 27 conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said those types of comments would “straighten the path to hell” for people. During Tehran Friday prayers, an important outlet where government positions are presented and widely disseminated, he again criticized the president. Conservative Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, who is Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, also used May 30 Friday prayers to criticize the president, saying, “The whip is easy, we will stand with all of our might in front of people who want to prevent people from going to heaven.”
Rouhani said that technological advancements have been good but have also brought challenges. But he also mocked reactions of some of the clergy to these changes. He joked that when Iran’s traditional-style public baths were eliminated in favor of showers, many clerics argued that “half of religion would be destroyed.” He laughed, and said he was in Qom during this change and remembers the commotion over it.
In continuing his attacks, laughing intermittently at his own comments, Rouhani said, “There were two great events in Qom during those years. One was the bath becoming a shower, a tragic event in the minds of some, and the other was when they wanted to change the time, winter and summer hours. They said that this was to ‘eliminate religion.’ They said, ‘How will we know noon prayers?’ Well, how did we know until then? We used to pray at 12:15, now we pray at 1:15, will something happen?”
Rouhani also made it clear that he would not use his administration to promote religious activities but rather would facilitate religious activities that are initiatives of the people. “A religious government is a very good thing, but a governmental religion, I don’t know, we need to discuss that,” Rouhani said. “We must not give religion to the administration, religion is in the hands of experts themselves, the clerics, the seminaries, the specialists. It is them who have to propagate religion, the administration must support them, help them, all of this is right.”
With respect to the environment, Rouhani said that one of the first things his administration did was to address the drying of Lake Urmia. The saltwater lake in northwest Iran is almost completely dried. It is one of the Middle East’s largest lakes and one of the biggest saltwater lakes in the world. Many experts have warned that if the lake completely dries, it will cause great environmental damage. While Rouhani acknowledged that actions were taken and the condition of the lake has “slightly improved,” he warned that much more needed to be done.