Andrea Claudia Hoffmann, a German journalist working for ‘Focus’ magazine as a Middle East expert, wrote in her book ‘Der Iran’ that international media corporations prevents the Western audience from getting to know the ‘real’ Iran. Often presented as a country which aims to wipe out all Jews just as Nazi’s intended during World War Two, the Iranian government struggles to reach to international audience. ‘Der Iran’, in which she made an interview with different representatives of Iranian society including Christians, Jews and Baha’is, aims to explain what Christians, Jews and other minority groups think of Iran and its highly debated regime.
After the lifting of sanctions, Iran is poised to be a tourist hotspot if it succeeds in presenting itself as a new ‘safe haven’ in the Middle East for Western companies and expats. Foreigners who are willing to get to Iran at least for a couple of weeks, deserve to know more about the situation for minorities. What I figured out during my ‘little research’ was that Iranian minorities can not dare to loudly utter their problems with the regime and Iranian society because they have fear of being alienated and even expelled from the country. Until now, everything is as expected.
Yet, Jewish politician Maurice Motamed, who was a member of the Iranian parliament between 2000-2008, claims that Iranian Jews don’t have too much difficulties in the society as much as people from foreign countries imagine.
For example, Iran surprisingly has the biggest Jewish population in the Middle East, of course, apart from Israel. About 35.000 Jews (according to some estimates it is between 15.000-25.000, yet I quote what she has written in her book), who were even fought with the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war between 1980-88, are living in Iran. About 150 Jews, who are conscripted into the Iranian army like all Iranian citizens, were killed in the last conventional war in the region.
The leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, who reportedly held a meeting with Jewish community leaders before the revolution in order to win their trust and support against the Pahlavi dynasty, had issued a fatwa (religious decree) declaring that Jews are to be protected under the Islamic regime. Although Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel must be ‘wiped off the map’ in 2005, speaking to an audience of about 4,000 students at a program called ‘The World Without Zionism’, Iranian politicians keep emphasising that their enemy is the ‘Zionist regime’, not the members of the religion or Israeli citizens.
Whether it is Pahlavi dynasty or Islamic regime, unassimilated minorities represented a threat to the construction of prescribed national identity in Iran. Jews and Christians, too, have to wear veil just as other Iranians do. Iran is always aware of the fact that Western actors can try to manipulate Iranian minorities, thus preventing the regime from imposing its rule on minorities.
Article 13 in Iranian constitution says “Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are considered the only recognized religious minorities. They may exercise their religious ceremonies within the limits of the law. They are free to exercise matters of personal status and religious education and they follow their own rituals”
For instance, the Islamic regime officially recognizes that alcohol is a part of Christian belief and Christians can consume alcohol although it is strictly forbidden for the Muslims.
One of the biggest problems for the Christians, though, is that they can’t launch an organized effort to spread Christianity in Iran because regime doesn’t allow any other religion to be spread to the public. Being a missionary is a religious duty for Christians. In Iran, if a Muslim converts to Christianity and leaves ‘the true path’, the punishment for that person is a death penalty.
Yet, being a Jew or Christian itself is not a reason for death penalty since the Iranian regime supposes that there minorities can find the ‘true path’ in the future. It is believed, though, that the church operates secretly to spread the Christianity and gives Bibles to those who are interested in it.
THE BIGGEST QUESTION MARK COMES NOW
BAHA’IS. (Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority)
Just give you an insight: More than 20.000 pieces of Anti-Bahai propaganda have been disseminated in the Iranian media between 2013 and 2016. When a person officially recognizes Bahaism, this person has no right to buy a house, to marry, to run a business or to go to the university. Economic pressure on Baha’is is acute, with both jobs and licenses being denied to Baha’is. Hoffmann claims that about 300.000 Baha’is are living in Iran right now.
Baha’is refuse that Mohammed is the last prophet, which is the core of Islamic belief, and promotes that woman and man are equal in the society. The Iranian regimes firmly believes that Bahaism was brough to the Persian land by Western countries to divide the unity of Islam and the Islamic society. When asked whether the Islamic regime would respect Baha’is, “No. They are not welcome. They will not be accepted” said the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.