When US Customs Confiscates Qur’an-Quoting Tiles From Iran

All hell breaks loose.

The case is very simple. A mosque in Manassas, Virginia had imported tiles from Iran, on which verses from the Qur’an were inscribed, for its brand-new mosque. But a Customs-and-Immigration official, following the American law which prohibits the importing of any goods from Iran –not just Qur’anic-quoting ceramics, but Persian rugs from Kerman and Tabriz, pistachios, oil, and so much more—into the United States, proamptly confiscated the tiles, which must now either be returned to Iran, or destroyed. This outraged the head of the mosque, Abolfazl Nahidian, who had ordered the tiles, and such stout defenders of Everything Islam as Nihad Awad of CAIR. Ilhan Omar and Rashia Tlaib have not yet weighed in on the matter, but they will, they most certainly will.

A report on this sober enforcement of American law is here: “US mosque denied shipment of religious tiles due to sanctions on Iran,” by Matthew Barakat, Times of Israel, August 11, 2021:

A US mosque in northern Virginia is asking the Biden administration to release a set of religious tiles that were confiscated at Dulles International Airport after they were deemed to violate sanctions on Iran.

At a news conference Tuesday at the Manassas Mosque, Imam Abolfazl Nahidian said the custom-made tiles were shipped in June from the Iranian city of Qom, to be used in the construction of a new mosque a few miles away.

He said the tiles were a gift and he paid no money for them, but a Customs and Border Protection officer at the airport blocked the mosque from claiming the tiles, citing the sanctions.

Nahidian said he has received other tile shipments throughout the years without incident, including one shipment that arrived eight months ago.

This statement needs to be examined. Nahidian said that eight months ago he received a shipment of tiles “without incident.” But he does not say where these tiles were from; it’s entirely possible that they came from a. country other than Iran, possibly from a Shi’a ceramic workshop in Iraq. He should be questioned about this at his next press conference. If it turns out that they did come from Iran, it should be pointed out that the failure in that previous case to enforce the prohibition on the importing of goods from Iran does not now justify deliberately ignoring the law.

A letter from Customs and Border Protection informed the mosque that the tile must be shipped back to Iran or destroyed.

Destroying the tiles, which are adorned with Quranic verses, would be especially disturbing, Nahidian said.

“Destroying the tiles is the same as destroying verses of the Quran, or the whole Quran itself,” he said.

“Destroying the tiles” is not in the cards, and the troublemaking Mr. Nahidian knows it. The American government is not crazy. Even if Abolfazl Nahidian defies the law and refuses to agree to have the tiles shipped back to Iran, the government is quite capable of doing it on its own; it doesn’t need Nahidian’s approval. Problem solved – no “destruction” of tiles with Qur’anic verses on them, no world-wide Muslim hysteria (riots in Pakistan, marches in Iran, and so on).

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that whatever one’s views are of the Iranian sanctions, it makes no sense to enforce the rules on a benign piece of religious art.

“They are not weapons of mass destruction,” Awad said. “We believe the government should have common sense.”

The sanctions on imports from Iran are across the board. The American government did not commit itself to exempting what Awad calls a “benign piece of religious art.” It bans imports of all kinds from Iran – pistachios and Persian carpets do no harm, but are among the best-known of the banned items. One might take issue, by the way, with Nihad Awad’s characterization of the Qur’anic-versed tiles as necessarily “benign.” Could it be that among the verses on those tiles are those that call on Muslims to “fight” and to “kill” and “to smite at the necks” and to “strike terror in the hearts” of the Infidels? Or perhaps some tiles include the verses that tells Muslims that they are the “best of peoples” (3:110) and that Infidels “are the most vile of created beings” (98:6)? It would be fascinating to find out. And if any of those verses were included on the tiles, that might make Abolfazl Nahidian more likely to fold than to continue to kick up a fuss. No sense in drawing the American public’s attention to those verses.

Let’s not forget that the U.S. does not distinguish between “good” and “bad” imports from Iran, with the former allowed and the latter kept out. The Islamic Republic is a rogue state, supporting terrorist groups throughout the Middle East – in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza — and engaging in terrorism itself, as it hastens pell-mell toward acquiring nuclear weapons which, the Supreme Leader and his cronies have repeatedly claimed, will be used to destroy the Jewish state. The American government has decided that no Iranian goods or produce can be imported into the United States. These need not be harmful in themselves; their importation alone will help the regime financially, and possibly in other, more subtle ways, as well. Even if the tiles were not purchased but were a “gift” to the mosque, as is claimed implausibly by Abolfazl Nahidian, they would still redound to Iran’s credit, help it to accrue good will, among the members of the mosque, and for that reason – even if a “gift” — should be included in the general ban on Iranian imports.

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the tiles were placed on hold on June 21 and that on June 30, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control determined that, under the sanctions imposed on Iran, the tiles could not be imported. The spokesperson said no final determination has been made on the tiles’ disposition.

The Treasury Department declined to comment Tuesday.

Speakers at Tuesday’s news conference suggested that anti-Islam sentiment may be responsible for the confiscation.

“If this were a statue of the Virgin Mary, would we be here discussing this?” asked Rafi Uddin Ahmed, president of the Muslim Association of Virginia.

Rafi Uddin Ahmed doesn’t get it. Anti-Islam sentiment had nothing to do with the confiscation of the tiles from Iran. If instead of Qur’anic-quoting tiles, a statue of the Virgin Mary had been imported from Iran, it would also be impounded by customs officials, either to be returned to the seller in Iran, or to be destroyed.

Furthermore, if those very same tiles had been imported not from Iran but from Saudi Arabia, or Turkey, or Pakistan, they would have without question been allowed into the U.S. But this is something Abolfazl Nahidian, Nihad Awad, and Rafi Uddin Ahmed prefer not to discuss.

Nahidian has led the mosque [in Manassas, Va.] for nearly three decades, and has occasionally drawn scrutiny from critics who say he is anti-Israel and was a supporter of the ayatollahs in the Iranian Revolution. He has blamed the September 11 attack on Israel; in 1979, he and others chained themselves to the railings of the Statue of Liberty after climbing to the top and unfurling banners criticizing the shah of Iran, who was overthrown.

Nahidian’s support for the Iranian Revolution and the murderous Ayatollah Khomeini, his crazed belief that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, a staple of antisemites (“none of the Jews at the Twin Towers went to work that day”), his history of anti-Israel remarks, suggest another possibility. Perhaps the importation of those tiles was a set-up, arranged between Nahidian and Iranian authorities, designed to make the American authorities look “anti-Muslim” when they were simply enforcing the law against Iranian imports. It’s worth investigating.

Nahidian said his history is irrelevant to whether the tiles should be imported.

On this point alone, Abolfazl Nahidian is correct.


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