Calling President Trump’s proposed Middle East peace plan “a vicious act of treachery,” a militant student group in Iran is threatening to take revenge by destroying the tomb of Esther and Mordecai in Hamadan.
Basij, a group associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently warned “the United States and the Zionist regime…that the first act of fulfilling their filthy desires and the slightest attack on Palestine and the holy al-Quds (Jerusalem) means that they will no longer occupy a place as Esther’s tomb…we’ll turn it into a Palestine consulate.”
The Tomb in Hamadan Is a Pilgrimage Site for Jews
For Jews, the building believed to be the tomb of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai is the most sacred site in Iran. During the festival of Purim, many Iranian Jews visit the shrine, which is topped by a 50-foot dome. After marrying the Persian king, Esther prevented the slaughter of her fellow Jews.
A U.S.-based watchdog group, the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities in Iran (ARAM), is sounding the alarm about threats to the tomb. On social media, ARAM warned that Basij members tried to raid the landmark on February 15 and said “Iranian authorities” also were calling for its destruction.
Though not all reports have been confirmed, the U.S. State Department has expressed concern. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom tweeted: “USCIRF is troubled by reported threats to the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, Iran, and emphasizes the Iranian government’s responsibility to protect religious sites.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League, tweeted: “It’s disgusting that the Iranian government would violate a sacred Jewish site to press their political agenda. With less than a month before #Purim, people of all faiths should speak out before this desecration takes place.”
ISIS militants destroyed Jonah’s tomb in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
The Hamadan Cultural Landmark Has Some Protections
Under Iranian law, Esther’s tomb is protected because of its cultural heritage. When Ali Malmir, Hamadan’s tourism director, pointed that out, a Basij leader responded by saying Palestinian rights are more valuable than Jewish holy sites.
In 2011, the tomb’s status was downgraded, and a sign marking it as a pilgrimage site was removed. That occurred after protesters at the tomb denounced Israel’s excavation plans for a Jerusalem mosque.
Despite ongoing oppression, Iran has one of the world’s fastest-growing Christian communities. Iranians are proud of their Persian heritage, and many seek other faith options because they’re frustrated with Islam.
Religious persecution remains a fact of life in Iran, however. Open Doors, in its latest “World Watch List,” ranks the country ninth-worst for persecution. It’s illegal for Christians in Iran to share their faith, preach, hold church services, and produce Bibles. Arrests and raids are common, with violators receiving lengthy prison sentences. Many Iranian Christians seek asylum elsewhere.
The International Christian Concern, a persecution watchdog group, notes that “the targeting of these soft-sites”—such as Esther’s tomb—“often mask and foreshadow deeper problems of persecution within the country.”