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Revamped Khomeini Shrine Shocks Even His Fans


A debate has erupted over the merits of a grand expansion and renovation of a mausoleum to honor the late founder of Iran's Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, forcing an official defense of the project.

Angered by fresh images of the shrine, which lies on the southern outskirts of Tehran, Iranians have questioned whether the famously ascetic leader of the 1979 revolution would have approved of such an "extravagant," presumably costly facility.

Even ardent Khomeini supporters are among the critics.

The photographs of the palacelike construction show a high ceiling decorated with tiles and glitter, and new latticework alongside the tomb for Khomeini's remains.

Some shared the images on social media with quotes from Khomeini and his allies about living simply and modestly. There have been comparisons with palaces built under the Pahlavi regime that the 1979 revolution, led by Khomeini, brought down.

"Is this the mullahs' idea of a simple lifestyle?" one man asked sarcastically on Facebook.

Another suggested that what was needed was a museum to remind everyone of Khomeini's "crimes" and not a "palace" to celebrate the man who took Iran back to the "dark ages."

"They've built a palace for the leader of [slum-dwellers]?!" read one comment posted on a forum posted on Fardanews.com.

The news site had asked its readers to react to the images and comment on whether the site matched the status and ideals of Khomeini, who is referred to as "Imam Khomeini" by his admirers.

Many wrote that the "imam" himself would have disagreed with such a construction, while others said that the site damages Khomeini and his legacy.

"I wish they would have spent the money to promote Khomeini's ideas," wrote a reader.

Criticism also came from conservative media.

In a May 18 op-ed piece, Masih Mohajeri, the editor in chief of the conservative Jomhuri Eslami daily, said that a recent visit to the mausoleum had left him disturbed for days.

"The very wide area, the ceiling and the strong foundation, the thick concrete walls around [all] grabbed my attention so much that I wasn't able to engage in pilgrimage as usual," Mohajeri wrote.

He added that he has no doubt that the growing complex -- which includes a hotel, several halls, shops, large and small domes, and other structures -- is ill-suited to be Khomeini's resting place.

Mohajeri said a "simple shrine" is sufficient as a pilgrimage site for Khomeini's admirers to pay their respects and for commemoration ceremonies on the anniversary of his death.

The conservative website Alef.ir called the project reminiscent of houses in "Hollywood films" or "the myths of Persian kings."

Alef said the expansion of the site at a time when many Iranians are suffering economically could engender pessimism among the poor about Khomeini's legacy.

But Mohammad Ali Ansari, who oversees the complex, dismissed the criticism as unfair at a May 26 press conference.

Ansari said that "millions of people" visit Khomeini's mausoleum: "Could we hang a sign and write on it that since the imam led a simple life, we wouldn't do anything...?"

"The truth is that people have demanded something different of me in the past 25 years," he added.

Ansari said the shrine, which he described as a "magnificent and national project," has been built to last "500 years."

He also discussed plans to mark the 26th anniversary of Khomeini's death on June 4, when he said some 800,000 people are expected to visit the shrine.

He said 400 foreign guests will attend the ceremony to unveil the newly renovated shrine.

He didn't say how much the project has cost.

-- Houshang Jeirani and Golnaz Esfandiari

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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