That lone Jewish Iranian representative: the history of religious minorities in Iran
My original post about the (now pretty much debunked) report of an Islamic dress code law for minorities quoted that report as stating that the clothing designations were to apply to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians in Iran.
That got me wondering about the histories of those three minorities in Persia, now Iran. So I started by looking up the history of Jews in Persia, and discovered this article, which sheds quite a bit of light on the history of all those minority groups, including their recent representation in Iran's legislature. I have no reason to doubt the information in it, but it's best to issue a caveat that all the following information is based on that one article from something called the "Iran Chamber Society," which (at least according to its own self-description) appears to be a non-affiliated and nonpolitical group dedicated to learning about Iranian/Persian history and culture.
I'm sure books have been written on the subject, and this is only a short article, but the gist of the history is that yes indeed, these three communities have ancient and deep roots in Persia. They had all experienced an unusual amount of religious freedom for the times until the Moslem conquest of Persia in the seventh century. At that point, all members of polytheistic and pagan religions were given the choice to convert or die, but Jews and Christians, as "people of the book," were given second-class citizen dhimmi status under reigning sharia law (made to pay poll taxes, prohibited from friendship and intermarriage with Moslems, etc.). Zoroastrians were later included in this category, interestingly enough.
Putting the whole thing in context, if one compares dhimmi status to the previous pre-Moslem-conquest religious freedom in the area, it was indeed a restriction. But if one compares it to the status of Jews in Europe at the time, for example, for the most part dhimmi status seems like an advance. Application of the more stringent discriminations varied over time according to the whim and personalities of the various rulers of Persia.
There were massacres or these minority groups as well--also not unheard of in Europe, to say the least. But more recently, especially by the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, the secularization movement swept through Persia/Iran and owed some of its success to the activities of members of these minority groups. In 1907 their efforts bore fruit--except for the Bahais, who were still excluded--citizenship there was now based on nationality and not religion, and the Majlis (the legislature) was secularized and no longer solely Islamic.
Here's the part that relates, interestingly enough, directly to the story that began this whole quest for me. You may recall that one of the people denying the rumor was the sole Jewish representative to the Iranian legislature. Many--including myself--were wondering about this man: how did he get elected? Who was he?
It turns out that the 1907 law establishing the national Majlis ordered that there be representatives of each religious minority: one for each major religion. In fact, the way it worked was that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians could participate by voting in the election of their respective single representatives, but not in the selection of any other members of the legislature. It was a strictly segregated vote for a very limited representation (Jews were to vote only for the single Jew, Christians for the single Christian, and Zoroastrians for the single Zoroastrian), but it was a slight advance over what had gone before.
When the Shah came to power he furthered religious tolerance in the country and even ignored the ban on non-Shiite Moslems in government. During his regime there were not only some non-Moslems in government; even some members of the previously most reviled group, the Bahais, served. This all ended with the 1979 Islamic revolution, which restored the rule of sharia law.
At present, the old 1907 rule is in force, allowing one representative each from the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian populations of Iran. The article is mum on the topic of how they are elected; my best guess would be that the old way is followed on that, as well, and that each minority group votes only for its one representative and no others.
So that is apparently the story of how Maurice Motammed came to be the lone Jewish representative in Iran's Islamic parliament.