Ali Kalai, human rights activist
Every human being should be revered, and so should his property, life, honor and reputation. This rule is the foundation of people’s lives in today’s world, people of different colors, races, religions and economic levels who all agree on their common humanity. However, sometimes human beings go astray and value something more than the nobility of man. When this happens, the property, life, honor or reputation of a dissident has no value, and its confiscation becomes legitimate. It is by using this kind of justification that human beings commit acts that even animals would not.
An Iranian citizen, named Mr. Ziaollah Motearefi is a land owner who since 1982 has purchased many acres of agricultural and animal husbandry land. He is a long-time resident of the city of Semnan, and has been farming and developing this land for more than 30 years. He owns more than 124 acres of agricultural and grazing land, and has truly not been content with the bare minimum. Motearefi became the most recognized producer of farming products in the country. He launched the first pressured irrigation system in Semnan Province and planted the first olive trees in the area. He has received more than four letters of appreciation from the old regime’s Ministry of Agriculture as well as the current Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Agricultural Jihad. He also received a letter of appreciation from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Please note the level of pride and honor he has created in more than 30 years. Such a productive and innovative person would be honored and revered by the government anywhere in the world! A person like him should be valued like a gem in the agricultural field by a country like Iran which is one of the five largest OPEC oil exporters in the world.
However, the news gives us stories of other incidents. Motearefi took action to purchase and register the land. The government ordered him to pay for all the land and fields. He accepted and paid up to the last penny they had ordered him to pay. However, the political system played another game. They prevented the land from being registered in his name and later ‒ under pressure from the security forces and with a warrant ‒ reversed a ruling that was originally in his favor. His 124 acres of land were confiscated. In all honesty, no other word can be imagined to call this but illegal confiscation. An individual has labored on a piece of land for more than 30 years, has paid for the land and everything on it, and at the time when he is obtaining the registered documents, the oppressive, gold-digging, deceptive government reneged on everything and using weapons such as warrants, security forces, prosecution and other deceitful means took the land from its lawful owner.
So, most readers may ask: why? What is hidden beneath the many layers of this story? How come other farmers who own many acres of land are not treated this way? The answer is very simple. Ziaollah Motearefi is an Iranian Baha’i citizen.
Starting in the early days after the 1979 anti-monarchy revolution, the violation of the rights of these compatriots began. These violations continued with the massacre of the National Spiritual Assembly members of the time, and continue to this day with the prevention of Baha’is from getting higher education, obtaining work permits and occasional arrests. In the past, we have briefly covered the contradictions between this type of behavior from the Iranian Government and the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on one hand, and the religious, Quranic perspective on the other hand.
Reflecting on this, a point may be raised and a question asked as to what the foundation of this type of behavior is. Was there a history of this type of behavior prevalent among Shi’ite scholars, if not necessarily in action but in opinion?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes.
Unfortunately, among the majority of past Islamic scholars, only the life, property and honor of a believer was respected and the ultimate discussion among them was the question of the extension of this respect to Muslims as opposed to non-Muslims. Sadly, past scholars did not approach this issue from an anthropocentric point of view, but from a belief-centered perspective. This means that respect was not bestowed on individuals because they were human beings, but it depended on their beliefs. Based on their understanding of the original sources ranging from the Qur’an to the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, the interpretation of the scholars in those days was one and the same. According to their limited historical vision, they considered their viewpoint, which was based on their own intellectual understanding (considering the common logic of their time) to be truth; due to the repetition of this point of view, a historical value has been placed on it.
This type of mentality was common in Iran even before the 1979 revolution. There were a few individuals such as Mr. Taleghani (1) or Sayed Moussa Al-Sadr (2) who insisted on stepping beyond religious jurisprudence and focused on the text of the Qur’an (as the late Mr. Taleghani referred to verses 7 and 8 of Surat Al-Imran as the key to understanding the laws of the Quran) to open another door. The result of their vision was Taleghani’s treatment and respect toward the officers of the Tudeh Party of Iran (3) in Borazjan Prison as well as Moussa Al-Sadr’s treatment of Lebanese Christians, leftists and Druze. After the Iranian revolution, the same transformation occurred to some individuals among the ruling clergy who had not been blinded by wealth, power and deception. Sheikh Hussein-Ali Montazeri Najafabadi (4), a village-born cleric who was a distinguished student of the late Mr. Borujerdi (5), and his credibility and religious knowledge could not be doubted by the rulers, even through clashes and years of house arrest.
He addressed this issue in his course on holy Makasib (6) and by criticizing the edicts of the past scholars, gave the opinion that all individuals should be respected as equal human beings and should have equal civil rights. In truth, the experiences of the government on one hand, and direct references to the text of Quran and a humane understanding of it on the other, caused Montazeri’s viewpoint to shift to an anthropocentric and not a Muslim-centered viewpoint. It was with this kind of logic that Montazeri – at the beginning of his first practical treatise, named the Treatise of Rights ‒ became the first Islamic scholar to provide an understanding of religion as focused on human rights and not human responsibilities.
In an article, Mohammad Nasr Isfahani, a student of Mr. Montazeri, refers to a portion of the Makasib course. Nasr writes: “In the Makasib course, while discussing the prohibition against insulting a believer, Mr. Montazeri was faced with edicts of Sheikh Ansari (7) and Saheb Jawaher (8) that allowed insults, epigrams, rape and backbiting against non-Shi’ite individuals, which did not agree with the values he had accepted as the laws of the Qur’an. After presenting their views by referring to Saheb Jawaher’s talks, he raised these questions that were in his mind related to insults against a non-believer: Could one not consider the permission given for insults in the Traditions as exceptions, and not in reference to all non-Shiites? Does a human being not have an inherent right to his life, property and reputation solely due to being a human, or is the only value of a human his “belief”? Yes, we accept the value of belief for the hereafter, but is it only a believer who has social and civil rights? Do other human beings not have any rights? How can the property of a non-believer who has labored and invented something not be respected? Should an inventor be insulted instead of being thanked? Should an individual who has never harmed anyone and has behaved in a rational manner be cursed and not revered? Is this kind of religious jurisprudence practical for this age? Do the Muslims expect from scholars the jurisprudence of a thousand years ago or today’s jurisprudence that can solve the current problems of Islamic society? In response, he himself says: “Saheb Jawaher insists that the ‘non-believer’ deserves no respect, but I say the ‘human being’, as the most noble creation of God, should be respected (Makasib, pg. 19-30). In his opinion, based on Qur’anic verses and Traditions, any individual is revered because of being human, and should possess civil rights for this same reason. His interpretation of Qur’anic verses and Traditions is that insults to individuals are not permissible solely because individuals are human beings, unless there is an exceptional case and these exceptions apply to both believers and non-believers. (Makasib, pg. 19)”
It is this same point of view that leads Montazeri to a point where he openly announces that Iranian Baha’is have civil rights, and as a religious scholar defends the citizenship and civil rights of Baha’is from a religious perspective. This opinion was given by a religious scholar who (by other scholars’ admission) had either the same or more knowledge than other contemporary scholars. Now a question should be asked from the religious regime of Iran. Should you not also refer to the edicts and opinions of such scholars when you decide how to treat these Iranian citizens? You had an issue with the political views of Montazeri; however, this view and opinion is religious and not political. Should one not conclude that more than being religious, the regime’s treatment of and attitude toward Baha’is are based on the repressive politics of the governing body?
Let us study the case of the confiscation of Mr. Motearefi’s land from another perspective. No matter what religion Motearefi believes in, he is a farmer who has planted some crops. Perchance he has mentioned harvest time, and complained that officials have not allowed him to harvest the minimum crop for this year. Regardless of their respect or lack thereof for the civil rights of Baha’is, the actions of the regime clearly contradict an irrefutable religious law ‒ a law that is also referred to in Article 33 of the Civil Law.
“The crop belongs to the farmer even if he has illegally possessed the land.”
Let us assume Motearefi illegally possessed the land (which he did not); nevertheless, the crop and harvest still belonged to him. This means that based on this religious law he should have been given the time to harvest his crop. As a farmer, the crop belonged to him entirely, and the government would only have been allowed to confiscate the land after the harvest. However, they confiscated Motearefi’s farm in a matter of two hours. In fact, they stole and repossessed it illegally. Based on this religious law, the regime has definitely repossessed Motearefi’s crop illegally.
The late Sheikh Fazel Lankarani (9) ‒ one of the scholars who had excellent relations with and who was not an objector or despised by the regime ‒ gives the following opinion on this law in lesson 62 of his book, Al-ghasb: “What is rather well-known and is also verified by Tradition is that “The crop belongs to the farmer even if he has illegally possessed the land.” Tradition does not specify the confiscated item. However, it is evident that the meaning is the confiscation of land. This means that if a farmer confiscates a farm and plants crops in it, the crop belongs to him. Why? Because this crop is the outcome of the seed that was planted in this land, which belonged to the violator. Therefore, the crop belongs to the violator. This also applies to planting trees, even though we don’t have a Tradition directly referring to planting trees. However, since this edict agrees with the rule, it can be applied to trees and structures as well.” Fazel Lankarani continues to say that the condition for not harvesting before leaving the land is if the time for harvest has not yet arrived. According to Mr. Motearefi the time for the harvest of all or part of his crop had arrived.
Considering this religious law, there is absolutely no doubt that what occurred to Mr. Motearefi is a full blown illegal confiscation ‒ confiscation of a property that is religiously unlawful to be possessed by the aggressor ‒ regardless of whether the aggressor is the regime or an individual. The fact that the government has done this does not make the confiscation and the repossession of the property right or permissible. Violation of the rights of religious minorities and dissidents in Iran completely contradicts religious principles. These actions are done solely because of the short term, political and profit-driven perspective of the regime. Motearefi’s land was confiscated because, after thirty years, he had turned into a capable farmer, and allowing him to register the land in his name would have turned him into a major economic hub in the province, and even in neighboring provinces. A regime that is afraid of the power of its citizens, which considers all to be obedient and submissive subjects of itself and the top leader, is naturally terrified of the notion of a Baha’i ‒ who has the support of the entire Baha’i community ‒ becoming powerful. Consequently, this regime uses a new excuse everyday ‒ be it religious, political or economic ‒ to eliminate this obstacle.
What has happened to Motearefi and people like him reminds us again that we must speak up to retrieve the rights of religious minorities and dissidents in Iran. We must speak up until no Iranian is subjected to abuse and suffering because of his belief. It is not too late, and at least Iranian society is onboard when it comes to this issue. The only issue that needs to be resolved is the political power.
Ali Kalai: Ali Kalai is a former student activist and human rights activist. He is a member of the National-Religious Activists outside Iran. Kalai has undertaken numerous activities and written several articles related to human rights.
1. Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Taleghani
6. A Twelver Shi’ah legal manual of Islamic commercial law written by Morteza Ansari; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makasib
8. Named Sheikh Muhammad Hasan Najafi. See http://www.tahoor.com/en/Article/View/116390