Shi’ite view of non-Muslims rooted in 17th century

Mohammad Baqer al-Majlisi, who did much to influence Persian attitudes to non-Muslims in the 17th c.

The re-establishment of a theocracy in Iran has revived the Shi’ite concept of najis, as applied to ‘impure’ or ‘unclean Jews’, thus seamlessly connecting today’s Islamic regime with their Safavid or Qajar forbears, Dr Andrew Bostom argues in The National Review:

Shiite clerics emphasized the notion of the ritual uncleanliness (najis) of Jews in particular, but also of Christians, Zoroastrians, and others, as the cornerstone of relations toward non-Muslims. The impact of this najis conception was already apparent to European visitors to Persia during the reign of Ismail I. The Portuguese traveler Tome Pires observed (between 1512 and 1515) that “Sheikh Ismail . . . never spares the life of any Jew,” while another European travelogue notes “the great hatred [Ismail I] bears against the Jews.”

The writings and career of Mohammad Baqer al-Majlisi elucidate the imposition of Islamic law (Sharia) on non-Muslims in Shiite Iran. Al-Majlisi (d. 1699) was perhaps the most influential cleric of the Safavid Shiite theocracy in Persia. For six years at the end of the 17th century, he functioned as the de facto ruler of Iran, making him the Ayatollah Khomeini of his era. By design, he wrote many works in Persian to disseminate key aspects of the Shia ethos among ordinary persons. In his Persian treatise “Lightning Bolts Against the Jews,” Al-Majlisi describes the standard humiliating requisites for non-Muslims living under sharia, first and foremost the blood-ransom jizya, or poll-tax, based on Koran 9:29.

He then enumerates six other restrictions relating to worship, housing, dress, transportation, and weapons, before outlining the unique Shiite impurity or najis regulations. It is these latter najis prohibitions which lead anthropology professor Laurence Loeb — who studied and lived within the Jewish community of Southern Iran in the early 1970s — to observe, “Fear of pollution by Jews led to great excesses and peculiar behavior by Muslims.” According to Al-Majlisi:

And, that they should not enter the pool while a Muslim is bathing at the public baths . . . If something can be purified, such as clothes, if they are dry, they can be accepted, they are clean. But if they [the dhimmis] had come into contact with those cloths in moisture they should be rinsed with water after being obtained. . . . It would also be better if the ruler of the Muslims would establish that all infidels could not move out of their homes on days when it rains or snows because they would make Muslims impure.

The dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations fomented recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence, including pogroms and forced conversions throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, which rendered areas of Iran Judenrein — free of Jews. For example, the preeminent modern historian of Iranian Jewry, Walter Fischel, provides these observations based on the 19th-century narrative of Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel and additional eyewitness accounts:

Due to the persecution [by] their Moslem neighbors, many once flourishing communities entirely disappeared. Maragha, for example, ceased to be the seat of a Jewish community around 1800, when the Jews were driven out. . . . Similarly, Tabriz, where over 50 Jewish families are supposed to have lived, became Judenrein towards the end of the 18th century through similar circumstances. The peak of the forced elimination of Jewish communities occurred under Shah Mahmud (1834‒48), during whose rule the Jewish population in Meshed, in eastern Persia, was forcibly converted, an event which not only remained unchallenged by Persian authorities, but also remained unknown and unnoticed by European Jews.

The so-called “Khomeini revolution,” which in 1979 deposed the secular, Western-oriented regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, was in reality a mere return in full (including najis regulations, etc.) to oppressive Shiite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Iranian governance during four centuries. Conditions for all non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Jews, rapidly deteriorated. Historian David Littman recounts the Jews’ immediate plight:

“In the months preceding the Shah’s departure on 16 January 1979, the religious minorities . . . were already beginning to feel insecure . . . Twenty thousand Jews left the country before the triumphant return of the Ayatollah Khomeini on 1 February . . . On 16 March, the honorary president of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, a wealthy businessman, was arrested and charged by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal with “corruption” and “contacts with Israel and Zionism”; he was shot on 8 May.”

Indeed, the demographic decline of Iranian Jewry after the creation of Israel was dramatic even before the revolution — from nearly 120,000 in 1948 to roughly 70,000 in 1978. The current Jewish population is perhaps 10,000, or less.Ayatollah Khomeini’s views were the most influential in shaping the ideology of the revitalized Shiite theocracy, and his attitudes towards Jews — both before and after he assumed power — were particularly negative. Khomeini’s speeches and writings invoked a panoply of Judenhass motifs, including orthodox interpretations of sacralized Muslim texts, and the Shiite conception of najis. More ominously, Khomeini’s rhetoric blurred the distinction between Jews and Israelis, reiterated paranoid conspiracy theories about Jews (both within Iran and beyond), and endorsed the annihilation of the Jewish state. The pillars of this continuous modern campaign of annihilationist anti-Semitism are the motifs from traditional Islamic Jew-hatred, including Islamic eschatology, grafted seamlessly to jihadism. These deep-seated Islamic theological motifs are further conjoined to Holocaust denial and the development of a nuclear-weapons program intended expressly for Israel’s eradication.The writings and speeches of the most influential religious ideologues of this restored Shiite theocracy — including Khomeini himself — make apparent their seamless connection to the oppressive doctrines of their forebears in the Safavid and Qajar dynasties.
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One Comment

  • you wanna know something? I am an impure Jew and I like myself that way.
    To hell with fanaticism!!!

    sultana latifa


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