Many of Iran’s Shia citizens are frustrated that their leaders have hijacked their religion for personal gain and power. It's time, writes Reverend Johnnie Moore, to remember that the faith was founded on tolerance and compassion.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the revolution in Iran, an event that laid the groundwork for much of the turmoil we’ve unfortunately become accustomed to emanating from the Middle East.
When I think of the revolution, I have often wondered what could have been. I see its tragedies against the backdrop of another idea of Islam best articulated by an early Islamic leader whose words were written down well over a thousand years ago.
He was writing about the sacred “duties” one has “towards their neighbor.”
I bet you’ll be struck by his words.
They go something like this:
“Protect your neighbor’s interests when he is absent; show him respect when he is present; help him when he is inflicted with any injustice. Do not remain on the lookout to detect his faults; and if, by any chance, you happen to know any undesirable thing about him, hide it from others; and, at the same time, try to desist him from improper habits, if there is any chance that he will listen to you.”
(from Risalat Al-huquq, or The Charter of Rights)
We could certainly use more of these enlightened sentiments in our modern world where, despite our education, prosperity and sophistication, we have found it increasingly difficult to accept our neighbors who look, think, believe and vote differently than we do.
The author went even further: “Never leave him alone at any calamity. Forgive him, if he has done any wrong. In short, live with him a noble life, based on the highest Islamic ethical code.”
These beautiful words demand tolerance, coexistence and acceptance, and a society that promotes those values. They reflect a fundamental piece of theology shared by all Abrahamic faiths, which each teach in their own way that every man, woman and child is made in the very image of God.
Yet, because of Iran’s theocratic leadership many people in the world would be utterly astonished that these elegant words were written by one of the most revered figures within Shia Islam, Ali ibn al-Husayn. He was son of the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
As a student of religion, I’ve often wondered how especially frustrated many of Iran’s Shia citizens, whose ire for their regime is emblazoned daily on social media, must be to see extremism hijack their historic faith.
For they know, more than any other, that their government is not in keeping with ancient Islam, but instead based on a dangerous mix of Marxism and Islamism, both political ideologies that are only as old as the last century — ideologies that have left incomprehensible suffering in their wake. If you doubt their influence, just simply read the works of Ali Shariati or Sayyib Qutb and you too will recognize their obvious dependence on Marxist politics.
The current Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his henchmen, and his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution, have entirely rebranded Shia Islam in our popular imagination through their unrelenting pursuit of personal, political power.
Rather than being a religion marked by benevolence towards one’s neighbor, Khomeini and Khamenei’s religion has ruthlessly victimized Iran’s own citizens. At home, the regime has imprisoned women for refusing to wear the hijab, participated in ISIS-like executions including via a public hanging just days ago, and has viciously persecuted countless thousands of religious minorities, especially Baha’is, Dervishes and Christians. True to Marxism, they hate the West, while ordinary Iranians want nothing more than personal freedom, education, high-speed and uncensored internet and to live in the modern world.
And that’s just what Khamenei’s regime has allowed to be done to his own citizens.
Outside of Iran, its well-documented assassinations and other treasonous activities have extended even to different European countries. How awful and ironic it is that when the Germans and French were themselves fighting to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“the Iran deal”) that Iranian agents were simultaneously plotting to bomb an anti-regime gathering in Paris and plotting the assassination of Iranian dissidents living in Germany.
All of these vices — and there are numerous other examples — have been accomplished under the protective cover of religion, defiling the name of God with actions that are not only inhumane, but also irreligious.
Take, for instance, the fact that Iran rounded up more than 100 Christians right in the middle of advent season, days before they were to celebrate Christmas.
Is this the Shia Islam that regular Iranians support?
Of course, it isn’t, but it is the “religion” of their dictator.
Iranians must continue to proclaim from every corner of their country their support for the Islam of the Prophet Mohammed himself, who once wrote a letter to “The Christians in Persia” which read: “they shall not be persecuted for their faith or their customs but shall be allowed to pray as they will in their own places of worship and according to their own rites.”
How long will Ayatollah Khamenei defy the Prophet Muhammad himself?
Scores of Christians like me pray daily for Iranians to have the blessing of returning back to the fold of freedom and civilization.
It seems the very dignity of this ancient civilization is perilously at risk, and the very name of God is shamed. It all reminds me too of another few words, words far less obscure to Iran’s Shias.
“I will neither give my hand to a tyrant like a humiliated man nor flee like a slave,” said Imam Husayn. “Let me never accept humiliation over dignity.”
The message of Husayn at Karbala, the battle where he lost his life defending his faith, was to reject tyranny and the politicization of religion.
“Can you see,” Husayn said, “that truth is no longer practiced?”
Reverend Johnnie Moore is a Commissioner on the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom