Separation of Religion and State
The National Council of Resistance’s response to the experience of religious fascism and barbaric despotism under the banner of Islam is summed up in the Plan on the Provisional Government’s Relations with Religion, adopted by the NCRI in November 1985.
This Plan, on the one hand, stipulates that “under no circumstance is any religion or denomination recognized as enjoying special privileges or rights,” and on the other hand, it respects “freedom of religions and faiths.”
The Plan emphasizes in Article 1 that “All forms of discrimination against the followers of various religions and faiths in the enjoyment of their individual and social rights are prohibited. No citizens shall enjoy any privileges or be subject to any deprivations with respect to being nominated for election, voting, employment, education, becoming a judge, or the exercise of any other individual or social rights, for the reason of belief or non-belief in a particular religion or faith.” In Article 3, the Plan stipulates that “Jurisdiction of judicial authorities is not based upon their religious or ideological stance, and laws not formulated within the legislative institution of the land will have no official sanction or validity.”
The NCRI Platform, drafted in 1981, underscores “equal political and social rights of all citizens” and seeks to abolish “all gender, ethnic and religious-based privileges.” Of course, the mere formation of the NCRI and the relations among its forces serve as a model for separating religion and state in practice, and for a republic based on freedom and equality.
In fact, the NCRI has managed to resolve an issue that dates back to the first Iranian parliament after the Constitutional Revolution in 1906. At the time, during debates over amendments to the Constitution, a major rift appeared between supporters of the Constitution and defenders of the rule of law and democracy on the one hand, and on the other hand, religious fundamentalists and ancestors of the current ruling mullahs, such as Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri. Support for a theocratic regime finally led to the despotic rule of the Velayat-e Faqih under the banner of religion, something that the people of Iran have been experiencing for the past 42 years with their flesh and blood.
In diametric opposition to the theocratic regime, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which is a member of the NCRI, espouses a tolerant Islam that presents the antithesis to Khomeini’s reactionary outlook and the backward ideology that has been epitomized by him and the Velayat-e Faqih regime. When a movement like the PMOI/MEK, which champions a progressive outlook, endorses the abolishment of all religious-based privileges, it lends a strong and serious backing to the NCRI Plan on the separation of religion and state, and plainly distinguishes it from the customary and unsubstantiated political rhetoric.(1)
Support for this principle could not have attained the seriousness and impact that it has had if it were not a Muslim movement’s initiative. Throughout the Middle East and Muslim countries, this serves as the only example where a Muslim resistance movement has been able to defend the principle of separation of religion and state and open the way for the establishment of democracy.
In defense of this principle, we have risen up against coercive religion and religious coercion. Can this principle be considered as creating limitations or introducing revisions in Islam’s fundamental ideas? No, to the contrary, it insists on the true spirit of Islam, which in the words of Massoud Rajavi “takes exception to any justification or legitimacy, including political legitimacy, borne out of coercion and compulsion. … We profoundly believe that Islam’s true blossoming becomes possible when no social or political discrimination, privilege, or coercion is used.”
The ballot box reigns supreme and no privilege should be granted or taken away due to belief or lack of belief in a particular religion. This principle also guarantees freedom of religion in the sense that Muslims or followers of other faiths can freely practice their religion without facing any form of inequality whatsoever.
By the separation of religion and state, do we mean that in a society liberated from dictatorship no individual or group can be active by relying on Islam? No, what we mean is that, just as a resolution adopted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran says, the ballot box reigns supreme and no privilege should be granted or taken away due to belief or lack of belief in a particular religion. This principle also guarantees freedom of religion in the sense that Muslims or followers of other faiths can freely practice their religion without facing any form of inequality whatsoever.
In a document he prepared in 633 in the city of Medina, the Prophet of Islam said: “Jews and Muslims are like one nation or people. (The only difference is that) the Jews follow their religion and the Muslims are committed to their own.”
What we are advocating is to annul and reject tyranny under the veil of religion. This is the conclusion reached from a great historical experience, which foresaw the defeat of religious dictatorship in Iran. Our goal is to overthrow the foundation of sectarianism under the guise of Shiism or Sunnism. Exploiting religion for the pursuit of power must not continue any longer.(2)
1-Excerpted from the speech to the three-day session of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, July 23-26, 2020
2-The Truth of Islam, July 2016