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The "Jadid al-Islams" of Mashhad

Jaleh Pirnazar

The Jewish community of Mashhad is believed to have been established in the 18th century. During the seige of Nader Shah Afshar (1736-1747) Jewish families from Qazvin  and Deilaman were ordered to resettle in Khurasan as part of the King's’ resettlement policies. Upon their arrival in Mashhad, the Jews found the city’s population to be hostile and religiously intolerant. Yet those families that stayed gradually settled in a secluded area immediately outside the city boundaries and established a segregated community which grew along the larger Shi`a community of Mashhad for many years.

In March 1839, following an angry mob attack on the Jewish quarters which left Jewish homes in ruins and many of its residents killed or injured, the entire Jewish community of Mashhad lost its legal status. Hence, the community in its entirety was forced to convert to Islam and its members became known as Jadid al-Islam (newly-converted Muslims). The new converts comported themselves, surreptitiously as true believers and actively participated in Islamic rituals and public displays of piety. Some of the new converts even visited the Shiite holy shrines including Mecca for which they were accorded the title of Hadji. Nevertheless, the Jews of Mashhad secretly kept their Jewish faith and identity for well over a century. They practiced Orthodox Judaism and congregated in secret underground synagogues. They swore their children to secrecy and raised them as individuals with dual religious, social and cultural identities. Under daily scrutiny of the more zealous members of the Muslim community of Mashhad, and constant fear of exposure, the community of the Jadid al-Islam thus began a collective journey in history leading a double life of rare complexity until mid 20th century  when they could once again practice Judaism openly. However a new wave of hostility in 1946 caused   the community to leave Mashhad permanently for Tehran or abroad.