Change the name Rick Perry to Mohammed-Hossein Khatami and modify a few small details. How does the story read now?
Mohammed-Hossein Khatami, leader of the Islamic Freedom Party and prominent candidate for the Iranian Presidency, has been criticised for organising a huge Islamic rally in a Teheran football stadium.
Khatami, who lies in second place behind front-runner Hassan Farrokhi Hashemi, has attracted controversy through the planned day of prayer and fasting that he has declared in response to the economic and moral crisis facing the country.
Khatami, the governor of Mazandaran, has been accused of mixing politics and religion, and faces questions over the organisation financing the rally – which has been described as a “hate” group by discrimination monitors. Atheists filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to have the rally stopped and Khatami’s involvement declared unconstitutional.
Khatami, in a message inviting Muslims to the rally, said: “Iran is in crisis. We have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Al’lah to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.”
He added: “Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Quran, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on 7 August, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.”
He called on Muslims to join him at the 71,000-seat Ayatollah Khomeini football stadium for the seven-hour rally, “with praying people asking Al’lah’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our nation. There is hope for Iran. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.”
The Iranian Family Association, formerly known as the Iranian Chastity Movement, is financing the rally. The organisation, based in Central Iran , runs about 200 radio stations. Western Islam-watchers have described it as a hate group.
Critics of the rally, including moderate Muslim groupings, were scheduled to hold a counter-rally on Friday. Mullahs from some mosques signed a letter critical of Khatami for holding a rally that they say is only for Muslims and excludes Christians and other faiths.
The Teheran Clergy Council, in a letter to Khatami, said: “The Iranian Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.”
It added: “We ask that Mohammed-Hossein Khatami leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our country.”
But Khatami is to follow up the rally by speaking at Teheran’s Liberty Muslim Academy, one of the powerhouses of the Islamic movement, on 14 September.
Oops. Correction. That should have read Rick Perry.
(With apologies to The Guardian)