Minorities in Iran

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[The following essay by Jahanshah Rashidian appeared on Monday, 10 November 2008, at http://www.agoravox.com/article.php3?id_article=8872 and is shared below for your information. Ahang Rabbani.]

The Islamic Republic of Iran places the Shiite sect of Islam at the heart of the state apparatus. The “Islamisation” of all life, based on Khomeini’s own interpretation of Islam, is the central policy of the Islamic ruling elite.

Religious minorities, which include the Sunnite sect of Islam, Christian, Jews, Zoroastrians and Baha’is compromised about 10% of the population after the Iranian revolution, most of them Sunnite Muslims who also suffer from discrimination as national minorities. In addition, increasing numbers of Shiites, especially after the inception of the IRI, are non-believers.

In an interview with United International on November 8, 1978, Ayatollah Khomeini said: “In an Islamic Republic, all religious minorities can freely celebrate all of their religious ceremonies and the Islamic government will protect them to the best of its ability.” Later he said again, “The religious minorities, such as the non-Shiite Muslim population, are Iranians and must be respected.”

Masses of religious minorities joined the revolution against the Shah’s regime, despite the religious character of its leadership, with the understanding that tolerance would prevail.

Short after the revolution, their schools have been closed and their teachers dismissed-Christian schools were initially closed, then reopened due to pressure, while the harassment of Christians continues. According to the IRI’s Constitution, religious minorities are not allowed to hold high-ranking government jobs. According to the interpretation of the Constitution, they are rejected from lower level jobs as well, even factory work. They are subjected to Shiite dress codes, holidays, and prohibitions on liquor and music. They are under the jurisdiction of the Islamic tribunals.

The IRI’s Constitution enjoins Muslims to respect the rights of non-Muslims, unless they “conspire against Islam or against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” It is up to the Shiite clergy to decide what constitutes a conspiracy.

The regime has issued decree forbidding non-Muslims from renting the upper story of a house where Muslims live the lower floor. It has forbidden the use of Muslim cadavers for medical research while recommending the use of non-Muslims. It has enacted a new tax structure in which non-Muslims pay dues, called “Jazyeh”, an echo of the old laws of tribute. Religious minorities are forbidden to enter barber shops, communal baths, grocery stores and other public places.

The Bill of Retribution, a criminal law which mandates stoning, the amputation of limbs and the gouging out of eyes as punishment, regards the lives of religious minorities as worth half those of Muslims.

The 75,000 members of the Jewish community have been suspected of being pro-Zionist. Many Jews have been forced to leave the country and some have been executed.

Zoroastrians, adherents of the ancient Persian faith and representatives of the pre-Islamic culture, are also systematically persecuted. In their capital city of Yazd, young girls have been kidnapped by “Pasdaran”, Islamic revolutionary guards, taken to the home of the Ayatollah Soddoughi, gang raped and forcibly converted to Islam. Their families’ complaints went ignored and they were not allowed to visit them. In one case, the announcement was made of a marriage between a girl and a Pasdar.

In November, 1979, the Assembly of Experts declared Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism the only officially recognised minority religions, leaving the Baha’is without constitutional protection. The Baha’i faith was founded in Iran in the 19th century and believes in the essential oneness of all great religions, honoring all of their prophets, including the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. After the Sunnite sect of Islam, they are the largest of the religious minorities, numbering a half million. Because of its root in Islam, Baha’i faith is viewed as heretical and particularly threatening by the Shiite clergy.

Baha’i faith actively seeks converts and has attracted a predominantly prosperous and modernised membership. Organised opposition to the Baha’is has existed since before the IRI. The Hojjatieh sect, to which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad belongs, has started their “holy” war against them under the Shah. At that time, a number of Baha’is had important commercial holding, such as Pepsi-Cola; they also preached non-intervention in politics.

Since the inception of the IRI, the Baha’is’ religious centres and property have been confiscated and their shrines destroyed. Their members in the armed forces have been given choice of converting to Islam or being dismissed. In August, 1980, their entire governing board was kidnapped and disappeared; six months later, their successors were arrested, charged with treason and executed. Other Baha’is have been fired from their jobs, driven into exile, and arrested for conspiring against Islam and killed.

The oppression of religious minorities, especially the Baha’i faith, is not incidental; it is part of the nature of the IRI and continues today.

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