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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Iran's refusal to permit Israeli assistance at earthquake reflects Islamic law


According to a contemporary Iranian Muslim writer, "The Shi'ais demonstrated a far greater concern with the Islamic concepts of Taharat (purity) and Nejasat (impurity), and non-believers were classified among the impure or Najess, where any contact with them or objects touched by them, required the ritualistic act of purification.

Being classified as ritualistically impure, the jews were put in the same category as dogs and pigs which were considered as Najass, required to live in a segregated area, stay indoors at times of rain or snow, and not to touch any item for sale in a store unless it was promptly purchased. Such restrictions, to a lesser degree, were prevalent well into the 20th century and part of the religious teachings of Ayatallah Khomaini. . . "

The following, from The Jews of Islam by Bernard Lewis (Princeton University Press, 1984, pp. 181-183), attests to the historical entrenchment of such a view:
The Jewish traveler J.J. Benjamin, who traveled in Iran at mid-[19th] century, summarized the misfortunes of the Persian Jews under fifteen headings:

1. Throughout Persia the Jews are obliged to live in a part of the town separated from the other inhabitants; but they are considered as unclean creatures, who bring contamination with their intercourse and presence.

2. They have no right to carry on trade in stuff goods.

3. Even in the streets of their own quarter of the town they are not allowed to keep any open shop. They may only sell their spices and drugs, or carry on the trade of a jeweller, in which they have attained great perfection.

4. Under the pretext of their being unclean, they are treated with the greatest severity, and should they enter a street, inhabited by Mussulmans [i.e. Muslims], they are pelted by the boys and mobs with stones and dirt.

5. For the same reason, they are forbidden to go out when it rains; for it is said the rain would wash dirt off them, which would sully the feet of the Mussulmans.

6. If a Jew is recognized as such in the streets, he is subjected to the greatest insults. The passersby spit in his face, and sometimes beat him on unmercifully, that he falls to the ground, and is obliged to be carried home.

7. If a Persian kills a Jew, and the family of the deceased can bring forward two Mussulmans as witnesses to the fact, the murderer is punished by a fine of 12 tumauns (600 piastres); but if two such witnesses cannot be produced, the crime remains unpunished, even though it has been publicly committed, and is well known.

8. The flesh of the animals slaughtered according to Hebrew custom, but as Trefe declared, must not be sold to any Mussulmans. The slaughterers are compelled to bury the meat, for even the Christians do not venture to buy it, fearing the mockery and insult of the Persians.

9. If a Jew enters a shop to buy anything, he is forbidden to inspect the goods, but must stand at a respectful distance and ask the price. Should his hand incautiously touch the goods, he must take them at any price the seller chooses to ask for them.

10. Sometimes the Persians intrude into the dwellings of the Jews and take possession of whatever pleases them, should the owner make the least opposition in defence of his property, he incurs the danger of atoning for it with his life.

11. Upon the least dispute between a Jew and a Persian, the former is immediately dragged before the Achund [religious authority], and, if the complainant can bring forward two witnesses, the Jew is condemned to pay a heavy fine. If he is too poor to pay this penalty in money, he must pay it in his person. He is stripped to the waist, bound to a stake, and receives forty blows with a stick. Should the sufferer utter the least cry of pain during this proceeding, the blows already given are not counted, and the punishment is begun afresh.

12. In the same manner the Jewish children, then they get into a quarrel with those of the Mussulmans, are immediately led before the Achund, and punished with blows.

13. A Jew who travels in Persia is taxed in every inn and every caravanserai he enters. If he hesitates to satisfy demands that may happen to be made on him, they fall upon him, and maltreat him until he yields to their terms.

14. If, as already mentioned, a Jew shows himself in the street during the three days of the Katel (feast of mourning for the death of the Persian founder of the religion of Ali) he is sure to be murdered.

15. Daily and hourly new suspicions are raised against the Jews, in order to obtain excuses for fresh extortions; the desire of gain is always the chief incitement to fanaticism.
The Muslim writer linked at the beginning of this post, born in Tehran and now living in Arizona, brought the following story to my attention, a story which continues to resonate:
19th century massacres and persecutions of Persian/Iranian Jews prompted many European Jews - by now enoying "far greater tolerance and better treatment than their co-religionists in the 'East' - to petition the Persian monarch, Naser-al-Din Shah, for protection and improved conditions for the Jews in Iran. Naser al-Din Shah received several petitions in the European capitals and in his 1873 memoirs provides this account of his conversation with the celebrated Rotheschild, the Jewish leader and capitalist:
"He greatly advocated the cause of the Jews, mentioned the Jews of Persia, and claimed tranquillity for them. I said to him: ‘I have heard that you, brothers, possess a thousand crores of money. I consider the best thing to do would be that you should pay fifty crores to some large or small State, and buy a territory in which you could collect all the Jews of the whole world, you becoming their chiefs, and leading them on their way to peace, so that you should no longer be thus scattered and dispersed." We laughed heartily, and he made no reply. I gave him an assurance that I do protect every alien nationality that is in Persia"

[from J.W. Redhouse, The Diary of H.M. the Shah of Persia, London, 1874, reprinted by Mazda, 1995, p. 237].
ironic, non?