Many experts on the Middle East never thought they’d see the day when the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates would be sitting collegially with the prime minister of Israel.
Yet in Warsaw last week, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo managed to convene such a remarkable gathering for the “purpose of promoting peace in the Middle East” and to respond to the ongoing, illicit activities of Iran’s Islamist regime.
The timing couldn’t have been better. This month 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 in the years since.
When I think of the 1979 Iranian revolution I see the tragedies of the past 40 years against the backdrop of another idea of Islam best articulated by an early Islamic leader named Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn. He lived from s659 to 713 and wrote a book called “Risalt al-Huquq,” which translates as “Treatise on Rights”
Al-Husayn called on Muslims to follow these rules of good conduct in dealing with others:
1) Protect your neighbor’s interests when he is absent.
2) Show him respect when he is present.
3) Help him when he suffers an injustice.
4) Do not remain on the lookout to detect his faults; and if you happen to know any undesirable thing about him, hide it from others.
5) At the same time, try to dissuade him from improper habits, if there is any chance that he will listen to you.
6) Never leave him alone at any calamity.
7) Forgive him if he has done any wrong.
8) In short, live with him a noble life, based on the highest Islamic ethical code.
We could certainly use more of these enlightened sentiments in our modern world. Despite our education, prosperity and sophistication, many of us have found it increasingly difficult to accept our neighbors who look, think, believe or vote differently than we do.
Al-Husayn said Muslims should embrace tolerance, coexistence and acceptance of those who are different from them and hold different beliefs. He said Muslims should promote these values of understanding in their societies.
These rules of good conduct reflect a fundamental piece of theology shared by all Abrahamic faiths. Each teaches in its own way that every man, woman and child is made in the very image of God.
Yet Iran’s current theocratic leadership, while claiming to be loyal followers of Shiite Islam, rejects the rules laid out more than 1,000 years ago by al-Husayn, a revered figure who was the great grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
As a student of religion, I’ve often wondered how especially frustrated many of Iran’s Shiite citizens – whose ire for their tyrannical regime is emblazoned daily on social media – must be to see how far their nation’s leaders have departed from the teaching of al-Husayn.
The Iranian people have seen extremism hijack their historic faith and seen their government instead adopt a dangerous mix of Marxism and Islamism – both political ideologies that are only as old as the last century and that have left extraordinary suffering in their wake. These ideas are not part of Islam – they only masquerade as Islam.
The current supreme leader of Iran is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He and his and his henchmen – along with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution – have entirely rebranded Shiite Islam in our popular imagination through their unrelenting pursuit of personal political power.
The true Shiite Islam is the religion of al-Husayn – a religion marked by benevolence towards one’s neighbor. Khomeini and Khamenei have ruthlessly perverted Islam to turn into a hateful ideology that has victimized Iran’s own citizens and justified hatred against America, Israel and many Western nations.
At home, the Iranian regime has imposed a harsh code of conduct on its people that severely restricts personal freedom and dictates what they can wear, what they can say, what they can watch and read in the media, and many aspects of their daily conduct.
Women can be imprisoned refusing to wear the hijab. Gay people can be executed for their sexual orientation. People who belong religious minorities – especially Baha’is, Sufi Muslims and Christians – are relentlessly persecuted and barred from worshiping as they desire.
True to Marxism, Iran’s leaders hate the West and the freedoms that Americans and the citizens of other democracies enjoy. Ordinary Iranians do not share this hatred. Most want personal freedom, a good education, good jobs, access to a high-speed and uncensored Internet, and to live in the modern world.
The Iranian governments stages rallies where crowds are required to yell “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” Iran supports terrorists in other countries and has sent troops, supplies and aid to prolong Syria’s civil war.
Iran’s well-documented assassinations and other terrorist activities have extended to several European countries. It is awful and ironic that when the Germans and French were fighting to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, Iranian agents were simultaneously plotting to bomb a gathering of Iranian government opponents in Paris and plotting the assassination of Iranian dissidents living in Germany.
All of Iran’s activities against its own people and those in other nations have been carried out 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.
This is not a version of Islam that most Iranians support. It is un-Islamic hatred disguised in the cloak of a great world religion.
Iranians must continue to proclaim from every corner of their country their support for the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad.
The prophet himself once wrote a letter to “the Christians in Persia” that said “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.” This is the true Islam.
Yet Ayatollah Khamenei defies the Prophet Muhammad, making a mockery of his claim to be a follower of Islam.
Today the very dignity of the ancient civilization of Iran is perilously at risk, and the very name of God is shamed. Scores of Christians like me pray daily for Iranians to have the blessing of returning back to the fold of freedom and civilization.
Before the Iranian revolution, the Iranian government had good relations with the United States. While Iran did not have diplomatic relations with Israel, it quietly worked with the Jewish state and sold oil to Israel. Iranians did not have all the freedoms American enjoy, but had far more freedoms than they do today.
Let us pray that the Iranian people can once again win back their precious freedoms, and be governed by leaders who embrace the values of peace and tolerance that al-Husayn articulated so long ago.