Iran’s Resurging Islamic Jihad
It has been practically four months since the face-to-face meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani in Iraq. The Pope’s visit to Iraq, according to the Chaldean Patriarch, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, has in part alleviated the suffering of an Iraqi population grappling with numerous problems — this was raised during a meeting between Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi and Francis in the Vatican last month as the two discussed the importance of protecting the Christian presence in the Middle East. While it seemed that the pope’s encounter with the Shi’ite al-Sistani would have also served to assist Christians in neighboring Iran, it seems as if it has born little or no fruits as Christians continue to be persecuted by the Islamic regime.
Christians, although being an extremely small part of the population — estimates number them at about, of which 130,000 are ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians, and the remaining 670,000 converts from Islam of the 80 million total Iranian population — they have always been suspected after the deposition of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979 as a threat to “national security.” Now since Iran has the world’s ‘fastest-growing church,’ the mullahs are unleashing an unrelenting crackdown on them, especially converts from Islam.
The Catholic Church in Iran was to get a new archbishop for the Latin Archdiocese of Tehran-Isfahan, Dominique Mathieu, O.F.M., Conv., who received the episcopal consecration on February 16 — in theory, the archbishop’s see has been vacant for six years after the retirement of the previous archbishop, Archbishop Ignazio Bedini, SDB. I say in theory because the Archdiocese of Tehran-Isfahan is still without a bishop because Mathieu has not yet been allowed to enter the country. With deleterious consequences, such as the denial of a residential visa to the seventy-five-year-old Sister Giuseppina Berti, of the Daughters of Charity, active for 26 years in the leper colony of Tabriz, the Islamic Republic of Iran is showing itself to be the draconian theocratic country it is with the goal to eradicate Christianity from its land.
As a result, the Christian minorities in Iran are unable to live in peace as their plight continues. Some Christian converts have recently been arrested or summoned to serve their sentences. In some cases, their assets have also been confiscated:
- In May 2021, three Christian converts Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi were accused of spreading propaganda and educational activities contrary to sharia law.
- Christian convert Reza Zaimi was sentenced to serve a nine-month prison sentence. In February Section 4 of the Revolutionary Court of Karaj sentenced him to a year and six months in prison and prohibited him from leaving the country on charges of “propaganda against the regime through the proselytizing of evangelical Christianity.” The sentence was reduced by the Alborz Court of Appeal to nine months in prison and a two-year ban on leaving the country.
As testified by Saghar, a Christian evangelist convert, house churches are regularly raided, and dozens of Christians end up in prison each year. During interrogations, newly baptized Christians are forced by security officers to renounce their faith, which includes their baptismal names.
According to an Iranian Catholic, who wishes to remain anonymous, the religious police have a habit of inadvertently entering churches from Easter Sunday on to see if they can pick up anyone who was baptized into the faith as is the practice during Holy Week.
Mansour Borji, a spokesperson for Article 18 — a London-based nonprofit that promotes freedom of religion in the country — highlighted how the Iranian regime is developing new methods of surveillance, particularly online, which…explains why so many more people in Iran are now being arrested.”
It is true that Christians from Armenian and Assyrian communities — predominantly Catholic — are recognized and “officially” protected by the state, yet they are nevertheless treated as second-class citizens. For exmple, during the COVID-19 confusion, according to Open Doors USA, many Iranian prisoners, including some imprisoned for their faith, were released from prison in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 in packed jails. Other Christians, however, remained in jail and the sentencing of other Christians continued.
Persecutions Justified Under Islam
The Iranian constitution, while officially recognizing the human, political, economic, and other rights of citizens, nonetheless declares that all laws and regulations must be based on “Islamic criteria” and an official interpretation of the Sharia law. Its Preamble declares:
[T]he Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in Allah’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of Allah’s law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse: “Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them.” [Sura 8, 60]
Because of this, in application of the hadith in which the Prophet of Islam stated: “Whoever changes his [Islamic] religion, then kill him,” the Iranian Criminal Code foresees the death sentence for proselytizing and attempts by non-Muslims to convert Muslims, as well as is for moharebeh (enmity against Allah) and sabb al-Nabi (insulting the Prophet). The law naturally prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs.
Iran, as a sponsor of the terrorist organization Hezbollah, is also building a state within the state of Lebanon — the last Christian-majority remnant country in the Middle East — with money from the black market. Supermarket shelves, for example, are gradually being emptied for the reason that Lebanon does not have enough U.S. dollars to allow Lebanese companies to import goods and services with which to satisfy the demand of the internal market.
“The Lebanese people are dying,” commented Lebanese social media user Marianne Mouzaya. “No medicine, no hospitals, no electricity, no water, and an almost non-existent purchasing power.”
As reported by Khaled Abu Toameh:
- There is growing concern among the Lebanese and other Arabs that Iran is planning to exploit the severe political, economic and financial crisis in Lebanon to complete its takeover of the country.
- Iran already has a political and military presence in Lebanon through its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. The current crisis, however, is likely to facilitate Iran’s mission of adding Lebanon to the list of countries it already occupies: Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
- “Iran is already very dangerous without a nuclear bomb. The region is witnessing a state of chaos and agitation by fundamentalist forces, which threaten all Arab countries without exception.” — Mishary Dhayidi, Saudi writer, Al-Arabiya, July 21, 2021
Now the situation has worsened with the new president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, a great violator of human rights.
Weekslong Iranian protests over water scarcity present an early test for Raisi, who takes office next week amid mounting challenges including a grinding economic crisis and stalled nuclear negotiations with the West.
What has become more scandalous for Iranians the apathy of Western heads of state on the aforementioned tragedies.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.