Sen's daily

March 3, 2014

Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi: “Equal Rights for the Bahais and the Jews are Against Islam”

Iran Wire, March 3

In a speech to seminary students and teachers, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, an influential hardliner in the Iranian regime, stated “Some have come forward with a plan for citizenship rights and want to give equal rights to the Bahais and the Jews and the Muslims and… We can never accept this.” There was no doubt that he was referring to the Draft Citizenship Rights Charter presented by Rouhani’s administration last November.

Yazdi’s ire was directed at the principle that all citizens are equal under the law. “All Iranian citizens, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, wealth, social class, race, etc, enjoy citizenship rights and the foreseen guarantees in rules and regulations,” declares the draft charter’s first article. The sentence does not include the term “religion,” probably intentionally, but the “etc.” leaves a lot of room for speculation. Hardliners have been quick to speculate, especially when it comes to the Bahai community, which has been harassed relentlessly since the Islamic Revolution.

“The standard is always Islam,” Yazdi told the theological school students. “Western human rights and citizenship rights, meaning equality between Muslims and Bahais, has no relation to Islam. These rights, as described by the West, utterly go against Islam, the constitution and the way of Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini]. The people of this country, who have suffered hardships and have given so many martyrs, would not accept anything that goes against Islam. Of course, even those who are not Muslims must be respected. They have rights, which Islam recognizes.”

Second-Class Citizenship

Ayatollah Yazdi says that religious inequality is acceptable. “Islam never considers a Jew and a Muslim as equals,” he said. “Even though Islam has conferred certain rights to Jews, this does not mean that they are equals in every right. Sometimes this is called ‘second-class citizenship’. They can call it whatever they want, but it does not change the reality.”

Here, Bahais are conspicuous by their absence. Whereas in pronouncements condemning “equality,” Bahais were included [if only to be excluded ~Sen], when it came to “rights” they were not mentioned – not as second-class citizens, not even as third-class citizens. Not at all.

Human rights activists and liberal commentators have been critical of the rights charter for a number of reasons, labeling it “elegant but useless” and a “hodgepodge of things,” but Yazdi sees the charter as anti-Islamic both in word and in spirit.

The spirit, of course, comes from the people who wrote the draft under orders from Rouhani. Addressing the students, Yazdi asserted that those who promote citizenship rights are wrong about Islam and wrong about the history of the Islamic Republic. When citizenship rights supporters cite Ayatollah Khomeini’s respect for democratic practices such as the right to vote, they are misconstruing his words. They believe Khomeini “was a political figure and a national hero who opposed the previous regime because it was harmful for the country and wanted to establish a system which would be more beneficial to people.” But, according to Yazdi, this is simply untrue. “People who think like this are secular and, in their view, good and evil consist of material things,” he said, adding that, for these people, “evil is material backwardness and the absence of well-being, while good is using technology and providing a good life for everybody. They believe religion is something marginal, a fantasy.”

Islam was absolutely central to Khomeini’s thinking, Yazdi said. “When he said that society was facing a great danger, he meant a great danger for Islam. This was something that was not important to many politicians.”

Are the people who want equal rights for all citizens enemies of Islam? asked one student. “They are not really enemies of Islam,” he answered, “but this is how they see the world, especially if the person is educated in England or some other place like that, because in those places they talk of human rights, citizenship rights and other rights with such reverence that gradually the student comes to consider them as the most important issue.” He added that, although he was 80 years old, it would still be possible for him to fall under the influence of Western rhetoric if he travelled to one of these countries. So it was logical to assume a “young person who has no deep understanding of Islamic principles” to be particularly vulnerable to influence.

Full report
Persian report

Contrasting views of Ayatollah Masumi Tehrani

Short link:

Older items can be found in the archive, here. Even older news is here.


  1. My understanding of Islamic Law is that Mesbahi-Yazdi’s underlying point is valid — dhimmis (non-Muslims) are treated in a way which is different from Muslims, but not the conclusion which he seems to draw from it. From this basis of different treatment he seems to be justifying the severe repression of non-Muslims as we have seen in Iran — such treatment against normal citizens is completely unacceptable in Islamic Law as interpreted by, for example, the moderate leader Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Kazem Shariatmadari.

    Comment by petussing — March 4, 2014 @ 00:19 | Reply

    • He has a valid point with regard to Islamic shariah, which does not have the concept of the equality of all, yet de facto most Muslim societies have distinguished between the law of Islam and the law and rule of the state. Mesbah-Yazdi assumes that what applies in Islamic law should also apply as the law of the state. Khomeini was more subtle, understanding that “reasons of state” make such a simple equation impracticable. He also provided an argumentation: the concept of maslahat (مصلحت ), or public good, which in essence says that the purpose of the shariah is the betterment of God’s servants, so it should not prevail over the public good. On this basis, Khomeini said that the supreme leader’s ruling would prevail even over such sanctities as the rules of the Hajj. So there is a path for arguing that in an Islamic state, the law of the state cannot equate with the shariah, even if it approximates to it. It is evident that in today’s world, the public good, including the preservation of the state, rests on the concept of citizenship and the equality of all citizens. Regimes which fail to incorporate this create a backward nation which eventually disintegrates or becomes a client and imitator of stronger states and societies.

      A more radical argument to enable equal citizenship in a Muslim state is to point out that Quran and the practice of Muhammad (the sunnah) endorses the separation of church and state. The Quran states, for example,
      Muhammad is the Messenger of God and leader of the religious community, but is not given any civil authority:

      I [Muhammad] am not over you as a warder…(6:104)
      We have not set you [Muhammad] over them as a warder, and you are not over them as a guardian. (6:107)
      We have sent you to the people as a messenger … whoever obeys the messenger has obeyed God, and as for those who turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them. (4:79-80)
      We know what they say: you do not have the power of enforcement over them. Cause them to remember, through the Quran … (50:45)
      … and many more similar verses. For more one this see my Bahai studies blog:
      Church and State in Islam
      Muhammad at Medina

      Comment by Sen — March 4, 2014 @ 01:07 | Reply

  2. Whatever the theological rhetoric or scriptural justifications the Baha’is like Jews constitute a useful “other” reference group. It seems to me that as long as they constitute part of the demonology of the West on which his speech is based there is no prospect of escape.

    Comment by gordonjameskerr — March 4, 2014 @ 06:02 | Reply

  3. 1. I think it is really important to understand the logic of these Iranian leaders. So I appreciate your analysis of “public good”.
    2. I want to know how to refer respectfully to the Prophet Muhammad, Khomeini, Yazdi, etc. What title should I preface their names?
    3. I particularly like the last sentence of first paragraph, “Regimes which fail to incorporate…”
    4. How carefully do you think the Ministry of Information screens people who are interested in visiting Iran.

    Comment by KomaGawa — March 4, 2014 @ 06:29 | Reply

    • “The Prophet Muhammad” ; Ayatollah Khomeini or Imam Khomeini (I prefer not to use Imam, as it is prone to different mis-interpretations in Sunni and Shia settings) ; Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi.

      I do not know how carefully the Ministry of Information (Intelligence) screens visitors, but in the somewhat chaotic Iranian governing system, one has to think of multiple actors. It is possible that one faction may cause problems for a visitor from a particular country, in order to make another faction lose face internationally. Any foreign visitor is a potential pawn in the internal struggles, as well as a lever for use against foreign governments. I recommend great caution.

      Comment by Sen — March 4, 2014 @ 09:13 | Reply

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