IRAN: Top cleric reiterates claim that piety prevents earthquakes
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati might have thought he was clarifying remarks by his colleague, the cleric Kazem Sedighi, who suggested in a Friday prayer sermon a week ago that women who dress immodestly cause earthquakes by angering God.
Instead Jannati, who delivered the nation's keynote sermon in the Iranian capital this Friday, reiterated the claim that human behavior causes -- and can also prevent -- earthquakes.
He told worshipers on Friday that while science cannot yet predict earthquakes, they can be spiritually prevented by repentance and prayer.
"We can avoid earthquakes if the faithful and devoted people pray to God," Jannati said during the Friday sermon.
Sedighi spawned headlines worldwide when he preached last week that young women who dress provocatively corrupt men and drive them to adultery, incurring God's wrath in the form of earthquakes.
The story went viral online and Sedighi has since become a subject of international mockery. One U.S.-based blogger is even calling for an organized show of flesh on April 26 in an event that so far has garnered over 70,000 guests on Facebook.
But Sedighi a relative newcomer to the high-profile Friday prayer pulpit.
Jannati, on the other hand, is no newly arrived fringe figure on Iran's political scene. He's the longtime head of the ultra-conservative Guardian Council, which vets all laws and political candidates for office. It was his hard-line panel of jurists and clerics that certified President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's widely disputed reelection last year, triggering months of unrest and political discord.
Iranian authorities may believe invoking that the fear of earthquakes, such as those that devastated Haiti and Chile in recent months, makes for good politics. For Iranians, earthquakes are more than a disaster in some far-off land. Their country is among the most seismically active in the world. The capital of Tehran, home to 12 million people, lies on a major fault line that could be struck by a huge earthquake at any time, scientists say.
Iranian hard-liners may believe raising the specter of earthquakes might keep people in line. Ahmadinejad himself is using the threat of earthquakes in his drive to push for measures to encourage emigration from the capital to rural areas, an alarming idea that has reminded some of Pol Pot's drive to destroy Cambodian cities in the 1970s.
Still, Sedighi and Jannati are hardly the first religious figures to blame natural disasters on the sins of man. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in an editorial Friday, American evangelical Christian Pat Robertson claimed that 2005's Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for legalizing abortion and that the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti was a result of a pact with Satan.
"We regret that clergy are blaming women for natural disasters, as well as for the weaknesses of men so easily led astray," the editorial read. "We believe women should have the right to cover or not to cover their heads as dictated by their faith. In this, as in all their struggles, they should move heaven and earth to get their rights."
While Jannati called for prayer as a way of preventing earthquakes, he didn't rule out using less celestial methods. "Officials precautionary moves to make homes quake-proof are appreciated," he said.
Photo: Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati at Friday prayers in Tehran. Credit: AFP