By: Mehrangiz Kar
December 30, 2014
The Friday prayer leader of Rafsanjan, Hojatoleslam Abbas Ramezani-Pour imitates Hitler, but we are silently ignoring it. He has asked, and in fact has incited the lovely and pleasant people of Rafsanjan to expel all Baha’is (1) who are active in business and commercial activities, and who fulfil all duties of law-abiding citizens, from Rafsanjan. He said “In the course of history many sects have been created among the people, and the Holy Qur’an predicted this… there are a number of sects in this province, and because people are ignorant they are able to live and work among ordinary people… They conduct business and they can’t even be recognized… This sect has established many activities and programs in our city, and the people’s legitimate demand that they should not be in this city should be implemented.”
Referring to Jews and to excuse their presence in town – who by the way become “Zionist agents” if they don’t pay tribute (2) (you may read tax or bribe) when held by security officers – he added that “There are a few Jews in the city’s bazaar doing business, but the order of Islam for Jews is different from that for the Baha’i sect. This sect is impure, according to the ruling of the clergy”.
What municipal, provincial or ultimately national interests will be served by the repetition of this kind of mind-poisoning propaganda, which damages and diminishes the commercial stability and peaceful coexistence of Iranians? Those sovereign states with national security in mind actively aim to balance and moderate the existing contradictions and differences present among people of different backgrounds and different religious beliefs, and seek to promote a sense of tolerance among them so that the governance of the society may become easier for the governors and the managers of the country. Why is it that the Islamic Republic, after 36 years of experience, actively seeks to upset this balance, and welcomes and promotes division and disharmony? What good has this brought them? How have they benefited?
It seems that citing and referring to the Qur’an, as done by the governors of Iran with the sole purpose of harassing Baha’is, is tied to their personal and perhaps to their gang interests. Otherwise, it is clear that by sowing dissention and fostering division no government’s long-term interests can be served. Creating mental chaos among people who, despite 36 years policy of dissention and division, have remained in markets which still interact with each other, do business with each other, buy from and sell to each other, is unwise. If these governors of Iran had the degree of wisdom and courage which would enable them to read and interpret the Qur’an in line with the needs of our time, they would not find a single verse that would give them the right to call Baha’is “unclean” (3).
We consider it our right to criticise cruel and ignorant treatment of people like Hojatoleslam Abbas Ramezani-Pour, who by misusing the Qur’an want to endanger the security of a large minority group of Iranians. As Ayatollah Montazeri (4) once famously said: Iran belongs to all those who have the right to “Water and Soil”. Abbas Ramezani-Pour’s opinion compared to the insight of such a pious and oppressed clergyman is nothing! Hopefully the honourable residents of Rafsanjan, as a sign of respect to the Qur’an, and as sign of respect to the peaceful insights of such clergymen who interpret and recognise the support of the Qur’an for Iranian Baha’i citizens to have the “right of Water and Soil” like any other citizen will not be provoked to sacrifice the healthy atmosphere of the marketplace for the sake of remarks which are akin to the ideas of Hitler and fascism. Let’s remember that Germans, due to their blind obedience to Hitler, to this day are still blamed more than Hitler himself. The ugly and horrid actions of Iranians who harass Baha’is and deny them education and interrupt or endanger their source of income and the means of their livelihood is not any different from what Hitler did to the Jews. All those who say that the Qur’an should be read and interpreted in line with the circumstances of modern times should react to this degree of injustice. This expedient silence endangers the interests of the whole nation. No voice can be heard of those righteous people who encourage a contemporary interpretation of the Qur’an. Haven’t we had enough of religious dissimulation (5)?
Perhaps the subject is beyond the framework of an article and requires a deeper level of consideration, based on an official critique of religion. But has Hojatoleslam Abbas Ramezani-Pour considered this matter deeply and carefully? Has he even bothered to study the matter and consider it intelligently? He has talked about the demand of the people that Baha’is should be eradicated. But, in our modern civilization, do people fundamentally have the right – even given a position such as Supreme Leader (6) – to demand the eradication of a group of people or that their businesses be shut down? Which theory would justify such a demand as “the people’s right”? Why is this behaviour, that violates the rules of statesmanship and results in violations of human rights, attributed to the Qur’an? Why isn’t the Supreme Leader, who has total control over Friday prayer leaders, protesting against such actions among his employees? Where is the root of such ignorant comments? Is it the Friday prayer leader or is the root somewhere else? Is not possible that some shopkeepers and businessmen who are connected with Friday prayer leader have paid him a sum of money, maybe a commission in hope that they can drive out their competition by starting a Baha’i-hunt, and also, perhaps, gain control over the whole market? In any case a number of innocent citizens will be harassed; it is not clear how one can rationalize this gross injustice by using verses of the Qur’an and order officials to shut down the businesses of these Baha’is.
By means of scientific knowledge and fear of being declared an apostate (7), many just like those who rule us have endangered everything in those societies with a Muslim majority. Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid (8) has opposed them. Mahdi Khalaji has translated his book, and it is available in Persian. He writes:
“As is evident in his writings, his main concern was for social justice. Abu Zaid from childhood had lived with and experienced social inequalities. If eventually he accepted the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was because he was enchanted by their promise of social justice. Under the influence of the ideology of Brotherhood leaders he was convinced that Islam was the solution for social justice. Later, when the charm of the Brotherhood ideology was removed and cleared from his mind, he pursued a hermeneutic approach with a systematic understanding of the Qur’an, so to show that the ultimate message of the Qur’an was in fact social justice, not the laws that theologians under the emblem of Islamic Law represent as sacred. For him not everything that was in the Qur’an was Qur’anic – meaning not every rule was sacred.
“Many of the provisions laid down in the Qur’an were reflective of the history and life of Muhammad, and came from the need for God to speak and converse with humanity through Him. The Qur’an refers to slavery, but very few clergymen nowadays consider slavery to be legitimate and advise it. Similarly, with respect to polygamy and the beating of women, only half of the male inheritance and blood money rights for available for women, and many other rules are not sacred. Many of the provisions laid down in the Qur’an are social rules to discipline the social life of what had existed before Islam. Even the provisions for establishing an Islamic government were meant for that time, and were meant to form the social and political relations of that specific time and place; they were not applicable to all times and places. He even considered the law on interest charges (9) to be meaningless. He argued that the prohibition of interest at the time of the Prophet contributed to social justice, but that today there is no connection between this law and social justice.”
In another passage of the book he continues: “In his writings Abu Zaid shows that current Islamic traditions misinterpret and ignore the social and human aspects of the formation of the verses of the Qur’an and its oral discourse. That is why the Qur’an does not relate to our modern life. If we want the Qur’an to become a source of inspiration in life, we must rely on and emphasise its human and social features, and scrap the layers of sanctity under which it is buried. We must manifest the real gem of the Qur’an, which is human dignity and social justice. In other words, the only way to revive the Qur’an is to view it as a historical and human product, and to review and re-examine the whole Islamic legal system. Abu Zaid wrote that the Qur’an is not a book of law. Islamic law is not sacred. Islamic law or current Islamic jurisprudence is a human creation. Current jurisprudence is based on certain scientific principles that are not valid anymore. The common values of the Qur’an must be understood; based on those values a civil law must be formulated.
In Iran, just as we began to hear a hint of these ideas they immediately stopped and banned it. The Special Clerical Court has been so intolerant that through its verdicts many clergymen lost their cloak and turban (status and position), and at the same time many also reached the throne.
As a result, expediency, contrary to all the claims, has become personal, and has turned into a means by which to amass and protect the wealth and position which clerics close to the Government have easily gathered.
Is it not time to announce and publish the fallacy of 36 years of theocracy in Iran using the mere language of religion?
Is not possible to view the rights of the people differently, by perhaps using criteria related to an updated view of Islam, and extracting social justice from its text? Is it not possible, in fact, to show more respect to the Qur’an and not defame it by claiming that Qur’an regards the flowers of other religions and beliefs as “unclean”? Has turning the Qur’an into law protected Iranian society from harm? Or has it made the society highly vulnerable? The Friday prayer leader of Rafsanjan sure seems to have all the statistics!
The Friday prayer leader of Rafsanjan, by provoking and stirring up the emotions of one group of people against another group, is either serving himself or his gang interests, or in fact he reads the Qur’an like a parrot and has never wanted to adhere to the book he pretends to follow properly, in a manner worthy of our modern times, and not based on the circumstances and conditions of its revelation.
These tragic events have happened during the presidency of President Rouhani: Baha’is are being banned from work in various cities of Iran and the Government is absent. It is not clear what was meant by the President’s campaign slogan – Government of Prudence and Hope – and where that can be found. Maybe in Geneva and Vienna, where Iran’s nuclear negotiations are taking place?
1. Here is a report about Hojatoleslam Ramezani-Pour’s earlier statement: news.bahai.org/story/1031
2. This is a reference to the jizya, or “poll tax”, paid by non-Muslims in Iran, based on this tax as originally described in the Qur’an. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jizya
3. The term is “najis”, which is used in the Qur’an to refer to pigs, dogs and other ritually unclean things – Shi’ite clergy in Iran have expanded this to refer to Baha’is. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Najis
4. A description of Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri can be found here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hussein-Ali_Montazeri
5. Taqiyyah: a rule in Shi’ite Islam which allows dissimulation of oone’s religion if one’s life is in danger. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taqiyya
6. The Persian is referring directly to a rather complex theory in Iranian Shi’ite theology, called vilayat-e faqih, which gives the right to rule to theologians, headed by the Supreme Leader, currently Ali Khamenei, who serves as vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist). See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardianship_of_the_Islamic_Jurists
7. The actual Persian/Arabic word is takfir. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takfir
8. Nasr Abu Zaid was an Egyptian Muslim liberal theologian. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasr_Abu_Zayd
9. Riba. For most Muslim theologians, this refers to all interest charges, though some consider it refers only to usurious charges. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riba