Inside Iran: Ahmadinejad's 'Divine' Mission

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From the moment he stepped to the podium, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations sounded like a call to religious piety.

"In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful" he began.  "...The only path to remain safe is to return to monotheism and believing in the oneness of God."

Despite criticism of him and his regime, the 53-year-old president of Iran is a deeply religious man.

"The belief in the one God has been replaced with selfishness," Ahmadinejad said.  "Man has has taken the place of God."

To understand his religious convictions, you have to go to a mosque in the small village of Jamkaran tucked in a corner of Iran.

Behind the mosque there is a well and according to Ahmadinejad and millions of Shiite Muslims, out of that well will emerge one day their version of an Islamic savior.

They call him the Mahdi or the 12th Imam.  Ron Cantrell has written a book about the Mahdi.

"The Mahdi is a personage that is expected to come on the scene by Islam as a messiah figure," he explained.  "He is slotted to come in the end of time according to their writings very much like how we think of the return of Jesus."

Tens of thousands of Muslims visit the sacred well every night.  The opening of the well is covered by a green-like metal box to prevent people from jumping in. 

Most of the time there is spent praying and kissing the metal box. Others scribble prayer requests to the Mahdi on pieces of paper that are then dropped into the well.     

"This day belongs to the Mahdi and I've come to share my heart with him," said one follower, Akram Alsadat Emmami.

Many believe the Mahdi is actually hiding at the bottom of the well reading the prayer requests.

"I was looking into the well with my flashlight hoping to see the Mahdi but not to tonight," one boy said.

Cantrell says the Mahdi, a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, vanished in the middle of the 9th century.

"With a promise that he would return and he would bring Islam to its total fruition as the world's last standing religion," he said.

Since becoming the president of Iran in 2005,  Ahmadinejad has emerged as the Mahdi's most influential follower.

In almost all his speeches, whether at home in Iran, or traveling abroad, the president begs Allah to hasten the return of the Mahdi. 

Ahmadinejad is reportedly tied to a radical Islamic society in Iran that believes man can hasten the appearance of the Mahdi by creating chaos in the world.

"Ahmadinejad has stated that this chaos must take place before the Mahdi can come on the scene," Cantrell said.

Shiite eschatology says the Madhi's second coming will be marked by apocalyptic times.  Wars, famines and floods will ravage the earth.  Followed by judgement day and a battle between good and evil.

There's also the belief that when the Mahdi comes back, he will be accompanied by Jesus Christ.

"These will all come true under the rule of the perfect man, the last divine source on earth, the Mahdi, who will re-emerge, and Jesus Christ and other noble men will accompany him," Ahmadinejad once said.

But until that day comes, Ahmadinejad, who sees himself as a kind of John the Baptist figure, is telling the world to prepare.

"Yes, indeed," he said.  "The bright future of mankind will come."

*Parts of this report aired October 31, 2008.

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