Earlier this year Iran’s authorities arrested a score of men who, in separate incidents, claimed to be the Mahdi, a sacred figure of Shia Islam, who was “hidden” by God just over a millennium ago and will return some time to conquer evil on earth. A website based in Qom, Iran’s holiest city, deemed the men “deviants”, “fortune-tellers” and “petty criminals”, who were exploiting credulous Iranians for alms during the Persian new-year holiday, which fell in mid-March. Many of the fake messiahs were picked up by security men in the courtyard to the mosque in Jamkaran, a village near Qom, whose reputation as the place of the awaited Mahdi’s advent has been popularised nationwide by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...
Last year a seminary expert, Mehdi Ghafari, said that more than 3,000 fake Mahdis were in prison. Mahdi-complexes are common, says a Tehran psychiatrist. “Every month we get someone coming in, convinced he is the Mahdi,” she says.