Imam Tawhidi: Facts Vs. Hypocrisy, The Story of Iranian Jews

By Mohammad Towhidi
Source: The Times of Israel (TOI) Blogs
Iranian Jewish woman praying during Hanukkah, the festival of lights, at Abrishami synagogue in downtown Tehran.

Judaism is the oldest Abrahamic religion that forms the basis and foundation for both Christianity and Islam. Having said that, it is impossible to erase or ignore the history of Judaism in the Middle East or the impact it has on the region, whether it be Jewish people returning to their homeland to form the only democracy in the Middle East or the ongoing, never-ending, conflict between Islam and Judaism. One way or another, the presence of the Jewish people and Judaism in the Middle East has a direct influence on the regional politics, economy and social development in general.

Iran is an important part of the Middle East, and in more recent decades, its ruling Ayatollahs have managed to become significant players in world politics (thanks to other spineless world leaders who failed to draw the line for the Iranian Regime, I guess it might be too late now).

With the growing U.S-Iran tensions, a handful of organizations such as CodePink and If Not Now are promoting peace with the Iranian Regime and claiming that Jewish people are living the dream in Iran. Peace is beautiful. Who in their right mind doesn’t want to see peace established? But I guess the question revolves around whether or not peace can be made with terrorists. A regime such as the Iranian Regime has a proven record of promoting terrorism for decades. I don’t see the same Islamist Ayatollahs letting go of their agenda and the ideology that drove their 1979 revolution; especially when I knew many of their leading figures on a personal level in my past life.

An old picture of one of my meetings with Ayatollah Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
“Where Are Your Jews?”

A powerful question directed by Hillel Neuer to the leaders of Muslim and Arab nations at the U.N Human Rights Council in 2017, which left them silent.

A honest individual can never deny the continuous persecution of the Jewish people, especially those of Iranian/Persian descent. Whether it be during the Assyrian exile of Northern Kingdom, The rule of Cyrus the Great, Haman, the Parthian period, the Sassanid period, the Islamic Conquests, the Mongol Rule, Safavid and Qajar Dynasties, the Pahlavi dynasty and the current Islamic Republic of Iran; Jewish people suffered under all these governments for the simple “crime” of being a Jew. 

The Importance of Acknowledging the Good in History

Not all eras are the same.

From religious and historical standpoints, the Biblical books of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah speak of the lives of Jewish people throughout Persia. The book of Ezra mentions the care and hospitality of Persian Kings towards the Jewish People, mainly throughout the 6th Century.

And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” – Ezra 6:14

In the same light, I also feel that it is important to remind our current communities of the short but significant periods within history wherein Jews were afforded basic rights as everyone else. That, I feel, is essential in eliminating AntiSemitism from our societies. Yes, the majority of times were dark, but there were very short periods within very few governments and dynasties that might just be worth acknowledging.

Two examples I never fail to mention during my talks and interviews, but have never really had the opportunity to elaborate on due to either time, or in order to stick to the topic of my speech, are: 1. The period before the 1979 Revolution of Iran and 2. The current developments in the UAE.

1. The Period Before Iran’s 1979 Revolution

It is safe to say that towards the end of the Pahlavi Dynasty, and before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there was a brief time of relief for the Jewish Community in Iran. For about 30-40 years, Iranian Jews thrived by building synagogues, community centers and worshipped freely.

Charles Recknagel and Azam Gorgin write that: “Under the Pahlavi dynasty in the 20th century, the political and social conditions of the Jews changed fundamentally. Reza Shah prohibited mass conversion of Jews and eliminated the Shiite concept of uncleanness of non-Muslims.

Modern Hebrew was incorporated into the curriculum of Jewish schools and Jewish newspapers were published. Jews were also allowed to hold government jobs. But the rise of Hitler in Germany caused anti-Semitic propaganda to intensify once more.

When Reza Shah’s son, Mohammad Reza Shah, succeeded him, the economy boomed and the Jews who previously lived mostly as peddlers and moneylenders benefited tremendously. In 1950, the Shah granted Israel de facto recognition, much to the calamity of the religious establishment of Iran and the Arab states.”

This period came to an end when Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah and established his Islamic Government.

The following are five out of tens of important Synagogues that the Jewish Community established in the Capital city of Tehran alone, all during this period.

Abrishami Synagogue of Tehran was built in 1965.
Bagh Saba Synagogue is an important Synagogue in Tehran, founded in 1951.
Danial Synagogue in Tehran was built after Jewish Refugees from Poland settled in Iran in the 1940s.
Ettefagh Synagogue of Tehran was built in 1946. Interior.
Ettefagh Synagogue of Tehran was built in 1946. Exterior.

Thus, I find it safe to say that for a very brief period of time before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iranian Jews thrived in Iran for about three decades.

Today however, there are organizations such as CodePink that try to bury the fact that Jewish Iranians live under immense pressure from the Iranian Regime. They send delegations to visit Iran to show the West that “Everything is Okay” with the Jews in Iran, whereby that is far from the truth.

Almost 95% of Iranian Jews have left Iran since the Islamic Revolution of Khomeini and migrated to Israel, America or Europe. The Iranian Regime has allowed the remaining Iranian Jews to live for the one purpose of being able to say: “Our problem is with Zionism. See, we have Jews in Iran and we have no problem with them.”


2. Judaism in the United Arab Emirates

The Jewish community in the UAE has been growing for many years. At this moment, there are over 3,000 Jews in the UAE according to Marc Schneier.

Synagogue has been built in 2008, and it has been both supported and protected by the government of the UAE. In May of 2019, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna was appointed as the Rabbi of the synagogue and chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates.

Although I have always maintained that all Islamic nations have a problematic governing system, and have heavily criticized them in my book, I feel that it is important to appreciate the good within our Muslim societies as well.

Muslim Societies Vs. Islamic Scriptures

I cannot address the historic persecution of Jews under Islamic governments, rulers and dynasties while acknowledging the short periods Jewish people were allowed to thrive… without mentioning the root cause to all this chaos: the Islamic scriptures. I will not single out any particular book, because they all contain problematic teachings towards Jews. I will also not dive into the world of interpretations while trying to justify one over the other.

The reality is that our Islamic Scriptures, the important ones, all of them, are against Jewish people. I, Mohammad Tawhidi, cannot change them. But I do believe that our senior clerics should own this problem and explore appropriate solutions.

Personally, and based on my abilities and limited influence, I continue to advise my co-religionists to exercise kindness and compassion when dealing with the Jewish people.

I have stated previously: For thousands of years, powerful forces have exerted all efforts possible to annihilate the Jewish race and religion. Until 70 years ago, there was no government which protected the Jews. Neither do rabbis or believers proselytize Judaism. One would think that with these three factors, Judaism would cease to exist, yet it continues to rise and revive itself as a community and its adherents as a nation. I invite Muslims to continue believing that Islam is the absolute truth, but to also recognize and acknowledge the fact that God has a special covenant with the Jewish people, one that no force can break.

Islam is not a friend of the Jewish people, but Muslims can become their friends. I am their good and close friend. Then again, I am the minority… and a hypocrite in the eyes of the majority of Muslims.

That is because I put humanity before religion.

Imam Mohammad Tawhidi is a third-generation Iranian-born Australian Muslim imam and a publicly ordained Islamic authority who comes from a prominent Islamic lineage. His ancestors were the companions of Prophet Mohammad and played a significant role in the early Islamic conquests. He was born in the Holy City of Qum, Iran, into a spiritual family with a history of decades in the Islamic Seminary, and had memorised half of the Quran by the age of nine. Imam Tawhidi ended his relationship with the Iranian regime and continued his studies in the Holy Cities in Iraq. In 2014, ISIS conquered large parts of Iraq’s territory and murdered members of Tawhidi’s family. In 2015, Imam Tawhidi began to gradually call for reform within Muslim societies. His views have been broadcast on international media and have been met with both criticism and praise. He is seen as one of the main leading voices in the global movement of Islamic reform who has dedicated his life to ideologically tackling the spread of Islamic Extremism. Celebrated as the Imam of Peace, Tawhidi’s international activism against Islamic extremism has earned him a nomination for the 2019 Australian of the Year Awards.
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