Karmel Melamed
Iranian American Journalist and Commentator

Iran’s Laws Bias Against Jews & Religious Minorities

Jews in Iran forced by the regime to memorialize Ayatollah Khomeini's death anniversary in their Tehran syangogue

On a regular basis I am asked on social media outlets and at venues when I speak to different groups how troublesome life is for Iran’s religious minorities which include; Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and people of the Baha’i faith. Unfortunately the treatment of Jews and other religious minorities in Iran has not been accurately covered in the American or European media for whatever reason and the regime’s apologists in the West have always painted a rosy picture for religious minorities which is just plain false. In reality, just examining the Iranian regime’s radical Shiite laws alone, reveals that the regime’s ayatollahs have created an environment of discrimination and inequality for religious minorities living in Iran for the last 40 years. A closer examination of the Iranian regime’s laws pertaining to the country’s religious minorities is needed to expose the true evil nature of the Iranian regime when it comes to non-Muslims living in Iran.

Since 1979, the Iranian regime has been ruling Iran by Shiite Islamic Sharia laws. As a result of these Sharia laws, non-Muslims can be subjected to mass punishment and exile, even in their own lands which have fallen under Islamic rule. Under the current Iranian regime’s constitution non-Muslims are identified as different “nations” even if they live within the boundaries of Iran. While the constitution does recognize some individuals as second or third-class residents, there are also many “unrecognized” minorities in the document, referring to non-Muslims who do not have any human, legal or civil rights at all. According to these laws, non-Muslims are all “infidels” who are either the “tolerated infidels” with limited rights, or “enemy infidels” with no rights. Jews, traditional Christians such as Armenians, Chaldeans and Assyrians, as well as Zoroastrians, are considered as recognized minorities or tolerated infidels. However religious minorities who are Bahais’, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists are unrecognized minorities with no rights.

Muslims who have converted to Christianity are considered as apostates and face the threat of the death penalty if they are discovered to have left the Islamic faith by the Iranian regime. While one may argue that the Iranian regime affords a limited number of minorities such as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians some protection under the law, this is inaccurate because Iranian judges are allowed to directly rule on the validity of any law in the country based on the random authoritarian edicts of major Shiite Mullahs whenever the actual laws are deemed inadequate or “un-Islamic”. This factor, in essence, means even recognized religious minorities have no rights at all, including the right to life, marriage, education, work or even burial in “Islamic land” if an Iranian judge or mullahs randomly considers the law or situation to be “un-Islamic”.

Perhaps one of the worst discriminatory aspects of the Iranian regime’s jurisprudence is its asinine constitution when it comes to the country’s religious minorities. Sadly in the constitution, every time a certain right is expressly given to “Muslims” as it pertains to civil and criminal laws, it clearly means that those rights are being withheld from the country’s religious minorities. The following are just a few of the major discriminatory aspects of the Iranian regime’s constitution with regards to non-Muslims living in the country:

  • Article 1 describes the mentality of the Iranian nation as, “based on its age-old belief in the divine government and the justice of the Koran”. As many know, the Koran and Islamic laws greatly limit or altogether do not recognize the rights of non-Muslims.
  • Article 4 mandates that all laws and regulations “should be based on Islamic tenets”, meaning that Shariah laws are the supreme laws of the land, including the discrimintory laws pertaining to non-Muslims.
  • Article 12 declares one official religion for the country to be Shiite Islam – which the government has to protect and promote. This article is in fact a clear declaration of the inferiority of the followers of other religions and preferential superior treatment Muslims will receive over non-Muslims under the laws of the land.
  • Article 13 grants limited rights to three recognized minorities: Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Jews and the Zoroastrians, but denies all rights to all other minorities such as the people of the Baha’i faith, Hindus, Buddhists and the non-believers of god.
  • Article 14 is in fact a declaration of the conditional and temporary nature of the rights given in Article 13, and a threat against the “recognized” minorities in case they do anything “against Islam”. This could be any act, as frequently indicated in Islamic sources, including the prohibition of non-Islamic praying in public, sounding church bells and etc. In addition, according to the regime’s Islamic minority laws, a non-Muslim cannot bring up his own children in such a way that upon reaching adulthood, the child would not be open to accepting Islam.
  • Article 19 denies equal rights to non-Muslims, by excluding them from the list of those who do have equal rights. This article declares that all Iranians have equal rights, “regardless of language, race, color, ethnicity and tribe”, purposely excluding religion in a constitution whose fundamental focus is on the religion of Islam.
  • Article 20 also denies equal rights for non-Muslims by qualifying equality, conditional upon “Islamic principles”, which of course includes the laws pertaining to religious minorities.
  • Article 64 limits the number of members of Parliament for the recognized minorities to one each, even if their population increases in the future.
  • Article 68 demands non-Muslim members of Parliament take an oath to safeguard the religion of Islam and not their own religion.
  • Article 167 requires judges to rule primarily based on Islamic laws, regardless of the letter of the law, which might present loopholes which may be considered un-Islamic. This article clearly places the “authoritative Islamic sources of credible edicts” or “fatwas” above other laws. This therefore permits Iranian regime judges or officials to use the fatwas created by fanatic hate filled mullahs such as Khomeini are always given precedent over other contradictory laws. Finally, this article confirms that even if there are certain concessions given to non-Muslims in other sections of the law, judges are allowed and even encouraged to ignore them.
  • Article 170 grants the full right to judges and the regime’s authorities to refuse to implement government regulations which they deem to be un-Islamic. This always includes civil or criminal cases pertaining to religious minorities which permits the regime’s leadership the easiest way to defeat a ruling or judgment that may otherwise come out in favor of a non-Muslim.

Aside from the Iranian constitution being bias or discriminatory against non-Muslims, the regime’s criminal and civil codes are also clearly against non-Muslims. The following are just a few examples:

  • In many criminal cases, the punishment for the same crime differs, depending on the religion of the offender or the victim. In all these cases the Muslim offender or victim is given an advantage over non-Muslims in Iran. According to Iranian criminal codes, the murder of a non-Muslim is not punished according to “retribution laws” and only carries a financial penalty, unless in limited circumstances if the Muslim criminal is a habitual murderer then his punishment may be made more severe if a judge deems his actions to be harmful to the image of Islam. Now if the victim of the murder is not a member of a “recognized minority” such as Jews, Christians or Zoroastrians, then the murderer of such a person is not charged with any crime whatsoever. Such is the case with murders of people from the Bahai faith who have never been arrested or set free after perpetrating the killing of a Baha’i person.
  • According to Iranian criminal laws official penalty for leaving Islam and converting to a different religion – even a recognized religion – is death. For the last 40 years the regime has executed or assassinated Iranian “apostates” but due to the negative publicity generated outside the country because of such actions, the Iranian regime has in some instances refrained from executing apostates, but still imprisoned, tortured and condemned them to death. In some rare instances the regime’s authorities have freed from apostates condemned to death after such individuals have sought repentance after a long imprisonment.
  • According to Iranian criminal laws the penalty for adultery and homosexual sex can be death, if the individual which the sex act is being performed on is a Muslim. Yet if the perpetrator of the sex crime is a Muslim and the person have the sex act performed on them is a recognized minority, then the penalty for both are only multiple lashes.
  • According to Iranian criminal laws the marriage between a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman is considered as adultery. Likewise the children produced from such a marriage are considered illegitimate in the eyes of the Iranian regime and such individuals have no rights, including the right to receive an education. However if a Muslim man marries a non-Muslim woman, there is no penalty for either party as Muslim men are encouraged to marry out of their faith in order to produce more Muslim children.
  • Under criminal and civil laws in Iran, non-Muslims do not have the rights to testify against Muslims in court, because one of the conditions for testimony is “righteousness” which cannot be an attribute of non-Muslims.
  • According to Iranian civil probate laws, a non-Muslim who has converted to Islam can claim the entire inheritance of his non-Muslim family member to exclusion of the rightful non-Muslim heirs because the Iranian regime is seeking to promote new converts to Islam.
  • According to Iranian civil laws, recognized non-Muslim minorities in Iran such as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians are not allowed to have jobs in government which place them in a superior position over Muslims.
  • Iranian civil laws indicate that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians do not have the right to build new houses of worship and if must obtain special permission to repair their existing ones from the Iranian authorities. Likewise Sunni Muslims who are Muslims but a minority in Iran are not permitted to have mosques outside their remote provinces where there numbers are locally larger than Shiites.
  • According to Iranian criminal laws, Muslims are prohibited from entering minority venues. To enforce such laws, the Iranian regime’s Intelligence Ministry agents regularly check the participants of church services in Iran against their lists of the regular members.
  • According to the Iranian criminal laws non-Muslim prayer books and language instruction materials must be strictly controlled by the Intelligence Ministry to make sure nothing is said or taught which may be offensive to the Islamic regime or their beliefs. Likewise Jews in Iran are prohibited from teaching their children the language of Hebrew, even if it is only for religious educational purposes because the Hebrew language is deemed by the Iranian regime as the evil language of the Zionist entity.
  • Iranian civil codes identify the “blood value” or the value of life and limb very differently between Muslims and non-Muslims when it comes to be compensation for loss of life or limb. Officially Iran’s Shariah laws and the various fatwas issued by Khomeini as well as other mullahs have determined the value of the life of a recognized religious minority at 1/8 or 1/12 the value of that of the life of a Muslim. However in some instances Iranian courts and officials have been “more generous” and set the value of a recognized religious minority at one half that of the life of a Muslim. The Iranian laws deem non-recognized minorities, such as Baha’is, Hindus, Buddhists or atheists as having no life value and if they are killed, the victim’s family will receive zero compensation.
  • The Iranian regime’s criminal laws pertaining to “religious impurity” of non-Muslims are in accordance with Sharia law and enforced by the regime and taught in schools. Such laws declare non-Muslims as “filthy” – physically – and prohibit Muslims from physical contacts with them. Even though average Iranian Muslims in Iran are increasingly disregarding these laws, minority owned food establishments, laundromats and public venues have at times been forced to have signage outside their businesses, warning the “clean Muslims” about the “filthy” minority owners. Likewise in some Iranian schools the regime’s authorities have required segregating classroom seating for non-Muslims because of their “religious impurity.

Any normal human being with even half a brain who is exposed to the countless bias laws of the radical Islamic regime in Iran would very easily determine that the Iranian regime is nothing more than a totalitarian, repressive and very violent regime not only towards its religious minorities but even its own Muslim majority citizenry. The preposterous comments by the Iranian regime’s stooges and apologists about how life is  supposedly “safe and great” for Jews, Christians and other religious minorities must be ignored and refuted by all freedom loving people. Just examining the Iranian regime’s bias and radical Shiite Islamic jurisprudence reveals that the regime does not provide any equality under the law to all of its non-Muslim citizens. Such a regime and its supporters should be shunned by the international community and by all democratic societies who value freedom of religion and equality.

About the Author
Karmel Melamed is an award-winning internationally published Iranian American journalist based in Southern California; He is a member of the Speakers Bureau of JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa
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