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Iranian Cleric Floats 'Vatican' Plan For Holy Shi'ite City Of Qom

Looking out over the future Qom City?

Home to some of its most influential clerics, Qom is among Iran's most important cities, politically and religiously.

Thousands of religious authorities are based at its seminaries, and the city is also a frequent stop for politicians eager to brief senior ayatollahs in hopes of getting their approval for their plans and policies.

Yet at least one cleric wants to make Qom even more powerful by turning it into an independent country.

Ahmad Zadhoush, who heads a religious center in the desert city, has suggested that Qom should become like Vatican City, the world's smallest state and the home of the Roman Catholic Church controlled by the Holy See.

Zadhoush's Almourtaza Society trains clerics and organizes religious courses and conferences. He made the proposal in a post on the messaging app Telegram that was widely cited by Iranian media outlets.

"The time has come for Qom to become an independent country, a country with specific geographic borders, special flag, constitution, [a country] that will be recognized by the international community and will be hosting ambassadors from different countries," he wrote.

Ahmad Zadhoush, the director of Qom’s Al-Murtadha Islamic University
Ahmad Zadhoush, the director of Qom’s Al-Murtadha Islamic University

Zadhoush added that such a move could pave the way for Qom to become a leading center for Shi'a around the world.

A vast majority of Iran's 82 million citizens are Shi'a.

Zadhoush said that "the country of Qom" should be given several refineries or petrochemical plants to provide for its financial needs.

Hesamedin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, reacted to the proposal by telling Zadhoush "to do some research to find out who made the [same] proposal 40 years ago and why."

Ashena appeared to refer to comments by Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister under the shah of Iran, who had said that the clergy should move to Qom to tend to religion and not interfere in politics and state affairs.

"I'm ready to build a wall around Qom, create a Vatican, and give it to them," Bakhtiar said in an interview days before the 1979 revolution that ushered in strict Islamic rule.

Bakhtiar, who was assassinated in Paris in 1991 by a suspected Iranian agent, made the comments in response to a threat by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution and the founder of the Islamic republic, to form an interim government.

This week, the daily Qanoon criticized Zadhoush's suggestion and said such "reckless" comments can only create "chaos" in the country.

On social media, Iranians poked fun at the proposal.

Some welcomed it, saying that Tehran should cut ties with Qom, where many hard-line clerics oppose reforms and the opening up of the country.

"Qom will become a country. Iran will cut it ties. Oh God! Oh God! Is it possible?" documentary filmmaker Hossein Dehbashi said on Twitter.

Journalist and former political prisoner Ali Malihi said he would welcome the decision as long as all the clerics from across Iran moved to "the newly established country" of Qom so that they could live the way they wanted and let others have peace.

A graphic by Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani titled Boundaries For Qom
A graphic by Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani titled Boundaries For Qom

Amid the discussion, senior Qom-based cleric Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi criticized the authorities for treating Qom like an "ordinary city."

"If the authorities give importance to Qom they will see its national and international results," he was quoted as saying by Iranian media. "Qom has a huge capacity, if used. Islam, Muslims, the establishment and the country, everyone will benefit."