Empowerment and Persecution: Non-Muslim Communities in the Constitutional Period (1905-1921)
One unexamined backdrop of the Constitutional Revolution is the persecution of Jews, Babis and Baha’is during the turn of the 20th century. Many of the same forces, which became instrumental during the Constitutional Revolution, were affected by these episodes. The Iranian Constitution and especially provisions in the 1907 Supplement were major breakthroughs in guaranteeing “equal rights in civil law for all Iranians.” These provisions abandoned centuries of discriminatory treatment of non-Muslims based on an exclusivist reading of the Shari`a. Their passage was the outcome of a heated debate in and out of Majlis that included the opposition of some conservative ulama. They also came at the high cost of new persecution episodes for non-Muslims during and after the Constitutional period. This paper seeks to examine continuity and change in the experience of non-Muslims in the Constitutional period and the historical process leading to an inconsistency in the definition of Iranian citizenship. The new law denied full citizenship rights to a significant portion of Iranians who, as Baha’is, were euphemistically branded as Iran’s “unrecognized minority.” This provision had lasting consequences for the rights of the Baha’i community.
Mehrad Amanat is an independent scholar and holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Los Angeles. His most recent publication is Jewish Identities in Iran: Resistance and Conversion to Islam and the Baha’i Faith (Tauris Academic Studies, 2011).