One of the crucial humanitarian tragedies- that the world and the mainstream media has failed to focus on- is the fate and current living situation of Jewish communities in the Muslim-dominated countries, particularly the Shiite-Islamist country of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Jewish community in the Islamic state of Iran has been subject to little scholarly work and research. Largely due to the fact that the Islamist theocratic regime of Iran has not granted access to scholars, journalists, and other researchers to deeply investigate the conditions of the Jewish community under Islamist rule in Iran.
Although the Jewish community has long faced discrimination, inequality, and intolerance in Muslim communities such as Iran (for example in March 1839 many Jews in Iran were horrifically forced to convert to Islam in what is known as the Allahdad incident), the persecution of the Jewish people exponentially increased since the Shiite-Islamist and Sharia law-based ruling cleric came to power under the rule of the Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini. The Jewish community of Iran is a staple of the nation’s history though, as the Jews of Iran trace their history back 2,800 years, when communities of the tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrian king and sent into exile. The Jewish community primarily settled in the Giliard region of Damavand, near Tehran.
When Ayatollah Khomeini began galvanizing the Iranian people against Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he issued statements on the condition of Iran’s Jewish community. Before ascending to power; Khomeini claimed that he believed the Jewish people in Iran should enjoy the same citizenship rights as every other citizen. This classic Machiavellian strategy was intended to gain the support of influential Jewish social groups in Tehran, which comprised approximately 150,000 members.
Nevertheless, when the Ayatollah Khomeini was capable of overthrowing the Shah’s government, and when the Islamist state of Iran was established, he and the ruling clerics immediately arrested some of the most prominent Iranian-Jewish community leaders and businessmen, including Habib Elghanian. The Jewish community leaders were tortured and executed. Since the onset of the persecution, the Israeli flag has been repeatedly torched, and the Star of David desecrated, in Palestine Square in Tehran. The Jewish community found their survival threatened and humanitarian rights repressed. These actions forced them to flee the area after calling the area home for thousands of years. The Iranian-Jewish population decreased to approximately 10,000 people who chose to remain in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Jewish community that was unwilling to flee from Iran was made up of devout and committed people aiming to protect their sacred places and synagogues regardless of the threats and persecutions, as well as seniors who were unable to resettle elsewhere.
When I lived in the city of Esfahan in Iran— a place where a few hundreds of Jewish people still reside— I met a young intelligent, cheerful, and kind girl called Zahra. After time I realized that her real name, what she was called at home, was indeed Abbey. She explained the reason for having two names: “I feel as if we live two different lives. We have to keep everything secrets about our faith, religion, and family from the public. We even have to have different names in the public. All my family members have two names. My parents always tell me that these times will pass.”
As the Islamist party of Iran came to power, verses of the Quran claiming the inferiority of the Jewish and Christian peoples became popular slogans for the Shiite-Islamist ruling clerics. The several verses of the Quran include:
“5:51- O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people”, “4:91- If the unbelievers do not offer you peace, kill them [The Jews] wherever you find them. Against such you are given clear warrant”, “5:59-Jews and Christians are evil-livers”, and “9:30- Christians and Jews are perverse. Allah himself fights against them.”
Disregarding the public persecution, intolerance, and inequality that other religions face, the constitution has been used to safeguard the rights of the Muslim population in Iran. Article 12 of the Iranian Constitution states:
“The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari school, and this principle will remain eternally immutable. Other Islamic schools are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious rites. These schools enjoy official status in matters pertaining to religious education, affairs of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and wills) and related litigation in courts of law. In regions of the country where Muslims following any one of these schools constitute the majority, local regulations, within the bounds of the jurisdiction of local councils, are to be in accordance with the respective school, without infringing upon the rights of the followers of other schools”
Currently, Jewish people are not allowed to take key governmental positions in Iran. According to the constitution, the Jews cannot hold decision-making positions such as being a member of the influential Guardian Council, a Commander in the Iranian Army, and serving as the President of the nation, among others. More fundamentally, the Jewish people can neither become judges at any level nor assist in the judicial and legislative systems. Furthermore, Jewish-Iranians are banned from becoming members of parliament (The Consultative Assembly) through general elections.
In addition, qisas or the right to equal retaliation has not been specified in the Penal Code for the Jewish people. Meaning that in the case of murder, the right of a family member to demand execution of the murderer would be totally left to the discretion of the Islamist judges. Furthermore, the diya, or blood money (compensation for the family of a victim) is half for the Jews and women.
These few Islamist rules and laws based on the Quran, Shiite-Iranian clerical and Shari’a law only begin to encompass the deep-rooted religious inequality of the region. Western Muslim scholars who enjoy their lives in the majority Christian societies, must look more closely at how other minorities, particularly the Jews, are being treated in nations such as Iran under majority Islamic and Shiite rule.
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