Rights of Religious Minorities in Islam and Iran
By Prof. Dr. Amid Zanjani
The history of human rights developments must be studied in two parallel lines: the political thought of the prophets for achieving a divine human society; and the history of human thought for achieving a civil society. The religions and the true followers of the prophets have always moved in the direction of man's dignity and have insisted on respect for human beings. On the other hand, the ancient Greek philosophers in their classic philosophical matters used to follow the issues of human rights within the framework of practical philosophy. These issues had their influences in the medieval age in the form of natural rights. However, the medieval Europe witnessed the decline of individual rights and freedoms and with the end of this period when the individual freedoms were victimized by Church despotism and religious fanaticism, at the surface the era of human freedoms began, leading to major social developments and revolutions in the seventeenth century.
Rightly the rights of the individuals are studied from two aspects, that is, domestic and international. With regard to domestic rights, they are studied in respect of national policies on ethnicity, religion, language, minorities, nationality, and the civil rights of the minorities; while from international point of view they are studied with regard to human rights issues, for minority rights is a subdivision of human rights.
Thus the minority rights are assessed and guaranteed at two levels. When they are breached, it is not only the governments that are considered the violators of human rights for breaching on the rights of the religious minorities rather the rights of religious minorities are violated in the international community in another form.
If the rights of minorities are studied from political point of view, the minorities within a political system have delegated their power to some representatives in the ruling system to decide on their behalf. Thus any decision made about the minorities in a political system enjoys political legitimacy which also applies to the international community. In fact, the governments on behalf of the majority of their people, which also includes the minorities, put forth their viewpoints in international organizations where the decisions are made on the basis of majority votes.
On the basis of this viewpoint, basically the question of minority rights is wiped out and there is no need to study it. For instance, we study the rights of the Muslim minorities in the Western countries. Western democracy, which is the basis of the constitution of Western countries, allows any Muslim to vote for his desired representative. On the basis of majority vote system in a democratic system the representatives who are elected to the legislative or executive have the right to decide on behalf of the entire nation. Thus the religious feature of a citizen – for instance a Muslim - which shows his specific lifestyle, is set aside in this political process and the religious demands of the Muslims in the Western countries are not only neglected but they are forced to follow certain rules which are not compatible with their religion.
The same issue applies to the democratic processes in the international organizations and forums. The governments represent their peoples and decide on their behalf in various branches of the United Nations Organizations. The decisions of most of the international organizations regarding all nations and governments are made in a similar way. How could the Muslim nations preserve their rights in this democratic process in the international arena if in some cases they are not able to fulfill their demands? Democracy does not provide a positive answer to this legitimate demand. Particularly, with regard to the decisions of international forums which are taken in the interest of majority but breach on the rights of the Muslims, is there any solution through which the Muslims would preserve their rights when an international decision is contrary to their rights and goals?
Let me give you an example: In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly by announcing the Israeli entity and legitimatization of the Jewish government in Palestine not only destroyed the rights of a nation, that is, the Palestinian Muslim nation, but openly transgressed the rights of the Muslim nations by blocking all the ways for the restoration of the rights of the Palestinians and other Muslim nations.
The statement of the problems seems a little bit unusual, for it seems that we have been distracted from the main topic of the rights of minorities. In fact, if we pay attention to the point made in the beginning of this article, we will realize that the very fact that the issue of minority rights is an international issue, it entails such objective examples.
In the light of this introduction we may focus on the main question: What are the minority rights and what are the methods for their guarantee to fill up the existing lacunas? The main hypothesis of the present paper is: The national and international relations are elaborated through a contract for safeguarding the rights of majority and minorities on the basis of their content and preservation of the minority rights.
The theoretical bases of minority rights
Through a legal outlook to the minority rights not only one can justify and legitimize the minority rights within the framework of human rights, but can consider it a principle in human relations on the basis of human dignity which equally applies to the majority and minorities. The First Imam of the Shias has stated: "They are of two groups: some are your brother-in-faith and some just similar to you in creation."
The above statement implies that all human beings, coreligionist or otherwise, are all dignified and respectful and that the opposition of the majority cannot undermine human dignity.
Human dignity is the main base and index for the merit of individuals for the restoration of human rights, while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, instead of emphasizing on this cause, has focused on the effects. Clearly, the word inherent dignity, mentioned in the introduction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the interpretation that follows it cannot refer to inherent dignity as mentioned in Islam.
Inherent human dignity in its humanistic term is neither provable nor has it any acceptable base, but the inherent human dignity in its monotheistic term which is a divine blessing stemming from God's providence fits within man's reason and power of thought. It has been granted to man by God. Like reason and thought, dignity is a divine blessing which is inseparable and inextricable from man's being. It is the source of man's entitlement to various rights and freedoms.
In philosophical and logical terms, the application of the word inherent to human dignity does not refer to the material and immaterial constituent components of human being rather it is inseparable from man's being.
Freedom, in its philosophical denotation and connotation, means that man has been born free and has the power of will and choice. Freedom is the foundation of rights and duties. Hence this blessing is neither deniable nor grantable. The objective being of this truth can not be changed into an "ought to" even by the legislator.
What the law and the legislator can do is to approve legal categories about this objective truth to regulate it and to administer justice. However, freedom too just like reason and conscience is among the effects of human dignity. Moreover, the relations of freedom, reason and conscience with human rights in general and with the minority rights in particular are not as transparent as the relations of human dignity with the two are.
Besides that fraternity has not been mention as a principle of human rights in any international document, while in Islamic viewpoint fraternity is a recognized right: "Verily all the believers are brethren." (Hojorat: 10) "They are of two groups: some are your brother-in-faith and some just similar to you in creation." (Nahj ul Balagha, Letter 53) Hence, there are two kinds of brotherhood: a brother who is your brother in faith; and a brother who is your brother because of his human creation and similarity in creation.
The issue of primordial nature (fitra), which is considered the basis of legal assessment in the system of natural rights, is another criterion signifying the rights of the minorities and the human concept which does not tolerate discrimination. In fact on the basis of justice which is always a scale and criterion for assessing the legal rules, one can have a just approach to this issue.
Thus the rights of minorities – either in domestic or internationals aspects – are based on the truth and justice which pale away in this political and democratic approach and despite the legitimacy of the decision of majority in public decision-making, the rights of minorities must be taken into account even though they have not been able to win the majority vote.
Those who want to solve and interpret all social problems with the formula or formulas of democracy, in many cases including the case of minority rights should take into account the bases and nature of the law, which is justice and order. Even the most democratic laws cannot overlook the truth, justice and public order what to speak of violating them.
It is pertinent here to mention that the inefficiency of democracy in fulfilling the bases of law, that is the truth, justice and public order, is due to relying on the majority that sometime is congruent with the said three bases and sometime not. Attempt should be made to replace democracy with another criterion when dealing with social relations in the social system – the new criterion must be congruent with the truth, justice and public order. Without any doubt the new criterion is nothing expect a contract in which the agreement and content of both the parties are taken into account. Therefore, instead of solving the issue of minorities through the legitimacy of the majority, Islam has solved this problem through a bilateral or multilateral contract in which the content of all the parties has been taken into consideration and also contains justice and order. This solution can be studied from the viewpoint of domestic and international law.
The minority rights in domestic field
The minority rights within the framework of citizenal rights and on the basis of the principle of citizenship entail transparent articles within the public law. In fact, the law and rules and regulation are approved in a manner that both the minority and majority enjoy those rights equally. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to designate some advantages to the minorities, though it is not always so. In some cases the law are insufficient in meeting the demands of the minorities and in some cases their rights are transgressed upon, for the legislator focuses on the rights and exigencies of the majority. The issue of personal affairs is an outstanding example. The rules and regulations on the marriage, divorce, inheritance, will and other related issues in the viewpoint of the majority are seen as stipulated in the legislations, but when it comes to the beliefs and traditions of the minorities in the society, they cannot be overlooked on the pretext of the legitimacy of the majority. The law must envisage the rules based on beliefs, customs and traditions of the minorities and organize them in a manner that the rights of the minorities are not neglected.
Let us have another example: Many countries have prohibited the slaughter of domesticated animals, for they consider it violence against animals. Regardless of the legal viewpoints, majority of Westerners consider the slaughter of domesticated animals an uncivilized act. They argue that with the existence of modern slaughter houses with modern equipment that reduce the pain of the animals at the time of slaughtering there is no need for slaughtering an animal in the residential houses. This approach is distinct from the hygienic approach, which is different.
Slaughtering of an animal for many Muslims and Jews who live in these countries is considered a religious or social tradition. Why should their tradition be sacrificed for the cause of majority? The law must solve this problem in the form of a clause and by taking all the problems, including the hygienic and other limitations, into consideration. The minorities must be allowed to perform their social and religious rites and rituals in the manner that they believe. Although such acts involve some social aspects, they are within the framework of religious rites and rituals in whose performance they have been free and must be free.
Today the rights of the minorities have been trampled upon in the world in the name of democracy. By attaching exclusive value to its achievements, the civilized world has limited the arena for the materialization of the demands and realization of the rights of the minorities who do not believe in the beliefs of the dominant civilization. In some cases, living on the basis of beliefs has become impossible. It is not only the Islamic dress code (hijab) in the cradle of Western democracies that prevents the youth from continuing their education, but the religious minorities despite paying their taxes to the governments have to rent small houses so that they perform their prayers in turn there.
The religious education and traditional customs of the minorities have been given up in a number of countries. If the minorities decide to teach religious, ethical and traditional values to their children instead of teaching them dance and music, they have to pay for this purpose from their pockets. The taxes paid by these minorities are spent for the welfare of the children of the majority.
Probably, Germany is the only country where attention has been paid to the religious education of the Muslim youth at the school. Even for years some books have been printed for the Muslim religious minority. Perhaps, this is the surface of the issue, which is really laudable, but at the depth of the problem, as some German officials have said, the German government tries to integrate the Muslim youth into the German society through a veneer of Islamic teachings.
Genocide is an international crime.
The elimination of the religious or ethnic beliefs and traditions should not be considered a crime similar to pogrom. The Western societies are following some policies whose end will be the end and elimination of the beliefs and traditions of the minorities.
c) A cursory look at the minority rights on international level
An undeniable fact about our contemporary world is the violation of the rights of minorities on international level. Some of the latent methods of violation of the rights of the minorities are given below:
1 – The insistence of the international organizations, particularly those affiliated to human rights, on the unification of the laws opposing the demands of the West, particularly in some of the countries including the Islamic countries, where the law has been prepared on the basis of the demands of the majority, is among the illogical coercions which is a clear example of the violation of the rights of minorities on international level.
The term reform that is always used by the West for the imposition of its wants on the weak countries that want to remain independent and live on the basis of their own beliefs and making it a precondition for cooperation, assistance and international coordination is nothing but an example of the violation of minority rights.
How is it that the oil and material resources of the Muslims that are plundered by the West are good and desirable, but their beliefs and traditions are undesirable and unbearable? Why is it that the precondition for the cooperation of the West with the Islamic governments is the reformation of these religious beliefs and traditions?
Leveling the charge of terrorism against Islam in today’s world is one of the manifestations of violation of minority rights on international level. Waging the clash of civilizations and widespread propaganda against the Arabs (from ethic point of view) and the Muslims (from religious point of view), and introducing them as potential terrorists all in all underline the exclusivist sub-conscience of the West that tries to tramples upon the rights of the its potential rivals through different methods on international level.
2 – The presence of the representatives of minorities in international forums is a sign of observation of the rights of minorities. Is this principle observed regarding the religions? It is said that each of the representatives of the countries participating in international organizations follow a specific religion and their presence means the presence of the religious representatives. If fact most of the representatives of the countries in international forums have nothing to do with religion and probably lack the necessary qualifications to represent the religions. This also applies to the representatives of the Muslim countries in these international organizations.
Through their majority presence in most of the international organizations, laicism and secularism have got the control of the entire UN structure, leaving no room for the official representatives of the religions to the extent that even the very expression of this fact surprises a number of figures. Is it possible to take major decisions on the fate of the nations and mankind at the UN level without giving any role to the official representatives of the religions that govern the hearts of a major chunk of humanity? Here the presence of the official representatives of the religions in international organizations is not the issue. This objective is achievable on the basis of similar cases and man’s progress.
The main issue is the presence of the official representatives of religious thoughts in international organizations and forums. This issue is related to the minority rights because the true followers of religions who are committed to the religious principles in their social life are in minority compared to those who are not committed to these principles. Hence, this minority is entitled to the right of participation in the forums that determine the fate of all of them.
The ballyhoo that the West and arrogant powers have made under the title of fundamentalism and fundamentalist groups, depicting them in a dastardly manner as anti-democracy and anti-civilization, has grown to the extent that a number of governments and those who are committed to religious beliefs and do not like to give their beliefs up for the liking of others have to hide their beliefs and even in concordance with those propaganda innovations condemn such trends. Indeed fundamentalism means positive commitment of any believer to his beliefs, which is distinct from negative fanaticism that means transgressing the rights of others. In this deceptive trend, the violation of the rights of minorities is clearly observed which is worse than limiting the activities of the minorities accused of treason.
3 – The nations consciously choose a social lifestyle based on religion and express their collective will on loyalty to the way they have chosen through free elections and referendums. Also through democratic methods and formation of religious governments they respect both democratic methods and their religious beliefs. In application of this method in many cases they employ the most democratic methods. In some cases the votes cast into the ballot boxes in these countries are much more than those cast into the ballot boxes in the Western countries, but in dealing with these countries, the West follows a repressive policy merely because these governments do not comply with their demands. Also by relying on propaganda means at their disposal as well as through political, economic, cultural and spiritual embargos, they try to isolate such governments or overthrow them or exert pressure on them so that they give in to the reforms advocated by the West.
Isn’t this method a clear example of violation of human rights? In fact the nations that follow their independent policies are in minority compared to those that follow the policies advocated by the Western theoreticians. They are always under the pressure of imposition of the beliefs and policies of the majority. Is not such violation of human rights as condemnable as the violation to naked body demonstration in the public or violation of right to dance at a party?
4 – The international problem of the rights of minorities not only is related to the past and present but also to the future. The study of the rights of minorities should not be carried out on the basis of a double-standard. Without any doubt, Islam in the past and present has played a considerable role in the formation of the contemporary civilization. This also applies to the future. What is the target of the plot which is carried out today under the guises of clash of civilizations, new crusades, and campaign against Arab or Islamic terrorism and has led to a range of military actions? This will only deny the Muslims of their rights to play their roles in the determination of man’s fate and prepares the grounds for the West to become the standard-bearer of the determination of man’s fate in the future.
The events of the recent years have shown that the advocates of campaign against terrorism in the new form and through militarism have controlled the public opinion of the world, while there is no document supporting their accusations of the Muslims regarding the September 11 events. Moreover the US has not been able to create a consensus among the Western countries for its military attacks or in achieving the preplanned goals. At the same time the US is using the ballyhoo it has made to violate the rights of a minority that have a theory about the fate of the human civilization and the future of humanity. The US also creates limitations for this minority to the extent that most of the Muslims residing in the Western countries have to hide their religion in order preserve their live and jobs.
The violation of the minority rights is not confined to the issues that fulfill the demands of the West. In fact, all latent and open aspects of any approach to violation of minority rights should be studied in fair and just study so that the truth will be unveiled from the tick clouds of propaganda ballyhoo in order for the world to undertake a fair camping against the violation of minority rights.
5 – Is not the support of the West of Israel – whose existence is the domination of an armed group on the Muslims who were in majority but now are in minority – a clear instance of the violation of the rights of the minorities?
Today there is a latent collusion and agreement between the Western countries and the United States for an all-out support of the Zionist regime. This collusion stems from the interests of the West in survival of Israel, but it is at the cost of victimization of a Muslim nation. Can the strategic policies for the preservation of the interests of the West be a permission for the violation of the rights of the minorities?
D) Jurisprudential fundamentals of minority rights
The reason for putting forth the above-mentioned issues is not drawing of attentions to the violation of an Arab-Muslim minority in Israel. The violation of the rights of Palestinians has some international aspects, which is carried out by the supporters of Israel, while the human rights organizations either indifferently observe this tragedy of the century or listen the voice of the suppression of Intifada but keep mum.
If this indifference is compared with the sensitivity the international organizations show towards the treatment of the religious minorities in Iran – although these minorities have their representatives in the Iranian Parliament and enjoy their rights more than the minorities in the Western countries – we will easily discern the political nature of such approaches to the human rights at international level.
According to the jurisprudential notion of Dar-ul-Islam (Islamic homeland) the citizens are divided into three groups: the believers, the ahl-e-zimah (the protected citizens) and others (infidels). In the early days of Islam the protected citizens were those who migrated from outside to the Islamic homeland to live with the Muslims in order to enjoy its advantages. They accepted the conditions of protection (zimah) and utilized the advantages of this contract. However, according to the notion of Islamic homeland, the conditions applied to the protected citizens were also applied to those non-Muslims who had been living in the Islamic homeland for years. If this condition is studied regarding the Christians currently living in the Islamic homeland, the differences between the two performances regarding the religious minorities will be clarified.
Today, a number of largely-populated religious minorities live in the Islamic countries. The Christians constitute about one percent of the total population of such countries as Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya. The strength of the Christians in Sudan is five percent, in Egypt one percent, in some countries in West Asia 3.5 percent, in some Asian countries 17.5 percent, in Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran less than 10 percent, and in some other Islamic countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine the figure is higher.
However, the religious developments of Christian faith in Europe have left a weaker impact on the Christians living in the Islamic countries. Hence their denominational classification is not similar to that of Europe, that is, Catholics and Protestants, rather the classifications are mostly under the influence of ethnic and national cleavages.
Religious Minorities in the Islamic Countries
With the political developments during the independence movements in the Islamic, Arab and non-Arab countries and with the emergence of national, independent states in the Islamic territories, the jurisprudential notion of Covenant of Protection (zimma) regarding the religious minorities was totally set aside and the independent Muslim nations approved new constitutions according to which they set up civil societies instead of religious society in which the Muslims and Christians enjoyed equal rights as equal citizens.
It is noteworthy that none of the Islamic countries were formed on the basis of Islamic political thought. Although some of the political principles and features of Islam were incorporated into their political systems, the foundation of their political systems was not based on Islamic political thought.
On the basis of the notion of Dar-ul-Islam (Abode of Islam), in many newly-independent Islamic countries relations between the Muslims and religious minorities must have been based on the principle of Covenant of Protection, for the social life of a number of minorities in the Islamic territories entailed the application of this contract, but the Islamic countries were unconsciously pushed towards the establishment of an integrated state encompassing all Muslim citizens and religious minorities. In fact political factors were the main reasons for such a destiny of the Islamic countries. Nevertheless with regard to religious minorities, these countries chose the right path, that is, choosing national unity instead of Covenant of Protection whose ultimate objective was the very national unity.
Religious Minorities in Iran
Despite the claims of the Shah’s regime, before the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, religious minorities were alien to their independent identity, culture and ceremonies and were doomed to follow what the policymakers of the Shah had delineated for them. With the victory of the Islamic Revolution and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, since the governance method and political institutions were based on jurisprudential bases and since one of the objectives of the Islamic Revolution was restoration of people’s rights and spread of Islamic values, it was expected that the rights of the religious minorities be regulated within the framework of the Covenant of Protection. According to this covenant, the Christians, constituting the largest religious minority, instead of payment of taxes and participation in all national, civil affairs, were expected to be forced to pay tribute which would exempt them from compulsory military service, while their religious, economic and political activities on the other hand would be regulated on the basis of the Covenant of Protection. But the Constituent Assembly opted for another method in 1980, which stemmed from the political percept of Prophet of Islam, that is, a method based on jurisprudential methods, considering religious minorities as citizens and even granting some religious advantages to them.
An Assessment of the Current Status of Christians in Iran
A) The Armenian Churches:
The Armenian community was formed in the mountains of Armenia about two millennia BC. They are known as the first country to have officially recognized Christianity in 301 AD. A migrant Armenian population, who settled in Iran in several stages, are now scattered in Iran. The migration to Iran began since 16th century AD, that is, during the Ottoman wars against Iran. The Armenians migrated to Julfa from where they went to central Iran. From the very beginning the Armenian Church followed the beliefs of the Syriac church and it is one of the denominations of Monophysitism.
The Armenians do not maintain two distinct persons in Jesus Christ and argue that it is a purely divine issue and Christ’s human nature was absorbed in his divine nature. In the fifth century AD, the Armenians replaced their ancestral language, Syriac, with the Armenian language. The slogans of the Armenian Church are in concord with those of the Orthodox Church.
Of course during the missionary period in Iran, a number of Armenians converted to Protestantism and Catholicism who have currently an independent church in Iran. The Armenian Church has accepted the viewpoints of the Nicene Council (either of two church councils which met at Nicaea, the first in A.D. 325 to deal with the Arian heresy, the second in A.D. 787 to consider the question of the veneration of images), Constantinople, and Ephesus, but due to some political, religious reasons, they have not accepted the standpoints of the Chalcedonian Church and rejected the viewpoints of the Nestorians and outcome of Chalcedonian Church in a council convened in Devin in 506 AD. This church encompasses majority of Iranian religious minorities and is a follower of two great churches, that is, the Ichmiadzin in Armenia and Antalya in Lebanon. They have three great historical prelacies in Tehran, Isfahan and Tabriz. They enjoy extensive social, sports, and cultural facilities in the country.
It is pertinent here to mention that according the latest figures the total population of the Islamic Republic of Iran is about 61 million, 99.56 percent of whom are Muslims. In other words, religious minorities constitute only less than 0.5 percent of the total Iranian population. Hence the entire population of minorities in Iran is less than 300,000 people.
The Armenians constitute about 150,000 people of the Iranian religious minorities. As mentioned above, they enjoy extensive social and cultural privileges and facilities. According to the Article 19 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “The people of Iran, from any ethnic community or tribe, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language and other such factors are not a base for any privilege.” According to this article, the Iranian religious minorities, besides the place of worship, are entitled to enjoy other national facilities equal with other fellow citizens.
The Iranian Armenian community currently enjoys the following rights and privileges:
1 – Parliamentary rights: The Armenian community in Iran has two representatives in the Parliament (Islamic Consultative Assembly).
2 – Churches: Out of about 250 Iranian churches, 200 belong to the Armenian community of Iran with the strength of 120,000 people in Tehran who have 50 churches in Tehran alone.
3 – Media: The Armenians in Iran since old times have been having magazines, newspapers, weeklies, dailies, monthlies, and quarterlies at national level. The Alik magazine is 67-year old, which has its readers not only in Iran, but also in forty other countries. Thus far the Armenian community in Iran has registered 102 publications, which are published by various Armenian associations.
4 – Other Armenian facilities include the following: 50 cultural, sports and charity associations. For instance, the Ararat Sports Club in Tehran is among the greatest sports complexes of the country, which exclusively belongs to the Armenian community. The latest final soccer championship of the Armenian community was inaugurated in Tehran by President Mohammad Khatami.
There are 50 special Armenian schools exclusively for the Armenian community in which the Muslim students are not admitted. On the contrary all Iranian schools are open to all religious minorities.
The Armenian community has a number of sanitariums, exclusive cemeteries, press, and a number of national, cultural monuments. Among them mention may be made of the Qarah Church, Vank Church, and Armenian museums. Established in 1606 AD, the Vank Church has an Iranian traditional architecture and since its establishment has accommodated 32 succeeding Armenian prelates.
B) The Assyrian Churches:
The Assyrians are a subsection of the Semitic race whose descendents came to the southern Arabian Peninsula from Iraq and Mesopotamia few millennia BC. After embracing Christianity, the Assyrians established a religious denomination, which was purely nationalistic and announced it as an independent denomination. From doctrinal point of view the Eastern Assyrian Church or the Pars Church was affiliated to the Orthodox Church. It is a follower of the Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople (428-431 AD). The followers of Nasturtiums believe that Jesus Christ has both human and divine natures or terrestrial and celestial natures; for the two- or three-month-old Jesus could be called God. Despite its Orthodox history, the Nestorian community itself has Catholic and Protestant denominations. The Nestorians are about 1,200,000 million people scattered in Iraq, Iran and the United States. Their privileges and facilities in Iran include the following:
1 - Parliamentary rights: One representative in the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
2 – Churches: There are 59 Assyrian or East Assyrian churches in Orumiyeh (East Azerbaijan) alone; while there are five churches in Tehran. Thus, the 30,000 Assyrians in Iran have 65 churches, six of which belong to the Sasanid era.
3 – Educational, sports and cultural facilities: Besides being entitled to enroll in national schools – just like any other Iranian citizen – the Assyrians have their own special schools as well. The most prestigious Assyrian schools are Behnam Boys School and Mary Girls School. The Assyrians have 27 publications, 20 cultural-social centers, 12 women and engineering committees… The world leader of Assyrians stays for one or two months in Iran every year.
C) The Russian and Greek Orthodox churches:
The Russian and Greek Orthodox churches are other two churches that were established in Iran in the past because of the presence of Russian and Greek nationals in Iran and still continue functioning. The Russian Saint Nicolas Church is another church with a sitting bishop from Russia. He is the spiritual leader of several thousand Russians working and living in Iran. He is also the spiritual leader of the Russians working and living in the Persian Gulf region.
D) The Catholic Church in Iran:
Acquaintance with the Catholic Church in Iran dates back to the 16th century when the Nestorians were divided into two sects: One, the Caledonians whose bishop was appointed (1555 AD) by the Pope Julius III (Italian ecclesiastic); and the other, the Nestorians who remained loyal to the Eastern Assyrian Church. The Catholic community has a 13-member priestly council, encompassing the following three communities:
1 – Armenian Catholic Community
The history of this church goes back to four centuries ago, that is, the period of the Safavid dynasty, when the Catholic religious missionaries launched their propagation and missionary activities in Iran. Some 12,000 Armenians follow this church. The Armenian Catholic community has eight churches, four physical educational, sports complexes, six educational institutes and one cemetery.
2 - The Caledonian Assyrian Catholic Community
Although the followers of this church observe all Catholic rites and rituals, they perform their rites and rituals in Assyrian language. This church has eight churches and 13,000 followers in Iran.
3 – Latin Catholic Community
This church was established in 1630 AD by the foreigners who had come to Iran for service. Religious ceremonies are regularly held in this church on Sundays. The nationals of France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland participate in its ceremonies and rituals. According to the figures released by the Catholic Prelacy in 1991, the followers of this church are about 2,500, who have nine churches.
The Protestant Church
With the advent of British and American missionaries to Iran since 19th century, they established this denomination in Iran. The branches of this denomination are:
1 – Iran’s Presbyterian Church
The beliefs of the followers of this church are based on the teachings of Calvin. They maintain that Jesus Christ was given birth by Virgin Mary, then was crucified and buried by his enemies, but rose from amongst the dead on the third day of crucifying, ascended to the heavens on the fortieth day and will return one day. They have faith in the Resurrection, Day of Judgment and the Holy Spirit.
The Presbyterian churches in Iran have three distinct languages, each of which having their own church organizations. They are:
a)The Assyrian Presbyterian Church
b)The Armenian Presbyterian Church
c)The Persian Presbyterian Church
The above-mentioned three communities appoint six representatives each to constitute an 18-member council that is the highest body of the Presbyterian Church in Iran. There are about 5,000 followers of this church who have 14 churches in Iran.
The Anglican Church of Iran
The Anglican Church, which launched its activities in Iran in nineteenth century, believes in the true unique God, the father, son and the Holy Spirit, the birth of Jesus Christ from Virgin Mary, Crucifying of Jesus Christ and his rise from amongst the dead and his Ascent to the heavens and his return, and baptizing of the children. There are about 80 followers of this church in Iran, who have three churches in Isfahan, Tehran and Shiraz.
The Pentecost Church
The Pentecost Church was established in Iran in 1895 and from the very beginning was affiliated to the General Council of US Pentecost Church. The Pentecost Church believes in the divine speech and considers speech as a sign of baptism of the Holy Spirit. The church allows its followers to utter their personal spiritual experiences and blessings.
The followers of this church have three churches in Tehran and hold sessions in their houses as well. There are 2,000 followers of this church who have 10 bishops and 20 church rectors.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church
The Seventh Day Adventist Church was established in 1911 in Iran. It is a Protestant denomination whose followers rest on the Seventh Day. They have close cooperation with the Presbyterian Church in Iran. The followers of this church believe in the Holy Book, Ten Commandments, and early return of Jesus Christ. They prepare themselves for this great return. This preparation includes keeping aloof from wrong, preservation of soul and body, refraining from eating unclean meat, alcoholic beverages, smoking and avoidance from unhealthy remarks.
The Adventist Church in Iran has a religious council, six active and non-active churches and about 70,000 followers.
Rights and Freedoms
According to the principles of the Islamic Rights, the Islamic government guarantees the freedom of worship and religious rites and rituals, security of temples and places of worship and holy sites, dignity of religious figures, freedom of choosing one’s house, juridical independence, freedom of economic activities, and freedom in social affairs.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the practical embodiment of theoretical and canonical principles of Islam regarding the rights of the religious minorities. The religious minorities are not considered aliens in the country, rather they are among official communities of the country and according to Article 19 of the Constitution, “The Iranian people from any ethic community or tribe enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language and other such factors are not a base for any privilege.” As mentioned above, the minorities of Iran are basically the Armenians, Assyrians, and other Persian-speaking and non-Persian-speaking ethic communities and tribes who are all known as Iranian citizens and all enjoy equal rights. Besides the above-mentioned article, there are five other articles in the Constitution on the rights of Iranian minorities:
1 – Article 13: The Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian Iranians are recognized as the only religious minorities who are free to perform their religious ceremonies within the framework of law and with regard to private rights; they are free to practice their religious teachings according to their own religions.
What is understood from the above article is:
a)The Zoroastrian, Jews and Christians are Iranian citizens and nationals and are not considered as aliens.
b)The legal framework applied to all Iranian citizens is also applied to them.
c)They are free to practice their own ceremonies in accordance to their culture and customs. This freedom applies to the performance of their rituals, marriage, ethnic, tribal cultural customs, and clothes as well as observance of their norms and values.
d)They enjoy their private rights related to religious, cultural features.
e)They are free to teach their religious teachings to the followers and their children and establish their own educational institutes.
2 – Article 14: According to the Quranic verse: “God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: For God loveth those who are just,” [60: 8] the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Muslims are duty-bound to treat the non-Muslims on the basis of justice, equity and nicety and observe their rights. This right applies to those who do not hatch plots against Islam and the Islamic Republic.
According to the abovementioned article two institutions, that is, society and government are duty-bound to observe the rights of the religious minorities on the basis of good ethics and justice and violation of this will be tantamount to breach of the Constitution.
Article 15: Local, ethnic languages are allowed to be used in the press and public media and the teaching of their literature is allowed in the schools on the side of the Persian language.
Before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the Christians were not allowed to use their religious, ethnic language and literature, but after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, they could use their own language in their associations as well as religious, cultural gatherings.
Article 26: “The recognized political parties, associations, communities, guilds, Islamic associations and religious minorities are free provided that they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, Islamic criteria and Islamic Republic. No boy can be banned from attending these gatherings or forced to participate in any one of them.”