International Al-Quds Day: A Political Observance of the Islamic Republic of Iran

International Al-Quds Day:
A Political Observance of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Yehudit Barsky

"As the Imam [Khomeini] said, Israel must be wiped off the map. "
-Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad at "A World without Zionism" conference preceding Al-Quds Day, October 26, 2005

"Death to America! Death to Israel!"
Slogans chanted at Al-Quds Day observance in Tehran, Iran, October 28, 2005

"Zionists should know that what we want is to slaughter them."
-Poster at Al-Quds Day demonstration in Tehran, Iran, November 2004

"The occupier Zionist regime is a cancerous gland for the whole world and the mankind [sic], and therefore all noble nations around the globe, particularly every single Muslim, asks for full annihilation of that rotten cancerous gland."
-Al-Quds Day Resolution, October 28, 2005

"If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
-Al-Quds Day speech of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of Iran's Expediency Council, December 14, 2001

Al-Quds Day or "Jerusalem Day," which is known as Yawm Al-Quds Al-`Alami in Arabic, was officially established by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in a sermon in which he called upon Muslims throughout the world to take up arms and to mobilize themselves for an international revolt against the United States and the "enemies of Islam." It is not a traditional Islamic observance by either Shi`a or Sunni Muslims, but a modern political observance created by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since the creation of the "Worldwide Day of Al Quds," the Iranian regime has been promoting observance of the day among Shi`a communities throughout the world in its continuing efforts to export its Islamic Revolution.

In Iran, Al-Quds Day is commemorated with government-organized marches throughout the country. During Khomeini's lifetime, he would deliver a major address on the theme of promoting worldwide Muslim support for the Palestinian cause against Israel. Following Khomeini's death in 1989, other leaders of the Iranian regime have delivered the Al-Quds Day address.  They include `Ali Khamene`i, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, and former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is today chairman of Iran's Expediency Council.

Prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Khomeini called for a ceremony that would demonstrate worldwide Muslim solidarity:

"I have been notifying the Muslims of the danger posed by the usurper Israel. I ask all the Muslims of the world and the Muslim governments to join together to sever the hand of this usurper and its supporters . . . and, through a ceremony demonstrating the solidarity of Muslims worldwide, announce their support for the legitimate rights of the Muslim people."

Khomeini instituted the observance of Al-Quds Day by making a public address calling for an annual observance that would demonstrate the solidarity of the Muslim world with Palestinians against Israel and what he considered to be the forces of evil?the United States and the Soviet Union. He called for the new observance to be held annually on the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and ordained that Al-Quds Day be celebrated as an event that would "behoove the world's Muslims to rid themselves of the shackles of bondage to the Great Satan [i.e., the United States] and superpowers."

In his sermon marking the first Al-Quds Day observance in 1981, Khomeini called for an international revolution of Muslims:

"O, you Muslims of the world! You oppressed masses!  Rise up and take your destiny into your hands.  How long do you intend to sit quietly while your fate is determined in Washington or Moscow?  Until when should Quds [Jerusalem] be trampled under the roots of the residue of the United States, the usurper Israel?  How long should Quds, Palestine, Lebanon and the oppressed Muslims be under the domination of criminals while you remain onlookers, while some of your treacherous rulers aid them?  How long should almost one billion Muslims and 100 million Arabs, with vast lands and endless resources continue to suffer plundering by the East and the West and oppressions and inhumane massacres by them and their residue?"

Khomeini concluded his sermon with a call to arms to his followers: "Why don't you stand against the enemies of Islam and use firearms and military might and a God-inspired power?"

Worldwide Al-Quds Day: "Islamic Revolution Is the Only Solution"

Outside of Iran, Al-Quds Day has been promoted by Iran and adopted in some Shi`a communities. The Hizballah terrorist organization, which was created by Iran in Lebanon in 1982, holds an annual military-style parade of its terrorist operatives through the streets of Beirut in honor of Al-Quds Day.

Ideological supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran in the United States have adhered to the Iranian political observance known as the Worldwide Day of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) since its introduction in 1979. Public demonstrations marking its observance have been promoted by the Iranian regime among Shi`a communities in the United States and throughout the world in its continuing efforts to export its Islamic Revolution.

From the early 1980s, mosques and Islamic centers throughout the U.S. were funded by the Iranian government-controlled Mostazafan Foundation in New York, now known as the Alavi Foundation. According to former FBI counterterrorism chief Oliver Revell, U.S. officials have concluded that the foundation is closely linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards, which are considered responsible for the establishment of the Hizballah terrorist organization in Lebanon. A number of the mosques that received funding from the foundation openly espoused support for Khomeini and the Tehran regime and have participated as cosponsors of Al-Quds Day demonstrations.

In the United States, the pro-Iran organization that has traditionally organized Al-Quds Day is the Muslim Students Association-Persian Speaking Group (MSA-PSG), which is also known as Anjoman Islami. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary Subcommittee in 1999, then FBI director Louis Freeh described Anjoman Islami as consisting of pro-Iranian students who serve as a resource to the regime in Tehran:

"There are still significant numbers of Iranian students attending United States universities and technical institutions. A significant number of these students are hard-core members of the pro-Iranian student organization known as the Anjoman Islami, which is comprised almost exclusively of fanatical, anti-American, Iranian Shi'ite Muslims. The Iranian Government relies heavily upon these students studying in the United States for low- level intelligence and technical expertise. However, the Anjoman Islami also represents a significant resource base upon which the government of Iran can draw to maintain the capability to mount operations against the United States, if it so decides."

Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s, the group coordinated demonstrations across the United States to commemorate the Ayatollah Khomeini's "Worldwide Day of Al-Quds." As was done in the Middle East, the demonstrations would take place on the last Friday of the Muslim month of Ramadan each year. The "Worldwide Day of Al-Quds" became the largest public manifestation of pro-Khomeini activity in the United States.

The 1989 demonstration cosponsors included the Council for Muslim Unity, the Islamic Student Association-Persian Speaking Group, i.e., the MSA-PSG, United Muslim Women Association [sic] Muslim Group, Detroit branch, Tawheed Association, Islamic International Development Association, United Michigan Muslim Association, Azari Students Association, and the Islamic Cultural Society (ISFS) [sic].

Over the past two decades, material distributed by the MSA-PSG overtly expressed support for the "global Islamic revolution."  One of several prominent examples was the 1989 leaflet entitled Demonstrations of the Worldwide

Day of Al-Quds, which contained resolutions declaring support for the Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution.  The leaflet called upon the organization's followers to "be involved in the Palestinian struggle."

Brothers and sisters of Islam,
We are gathering here to be involved in the Palestinian struggle.
1. We consider the Zionist regime an illegitimate entity and its
establishment in the heart of the Islamic lands a premeditated
conspiracy by a global Zionism and the arrogant powers and enemies
of Islam against [the] Muslim nation.
2. We call on the decent Jews to come out of their fatal embrace of
anti-Semitic Zionism [sic].…

The resolutions concluded with a statement that supported acts of violence, which were legitimized as "military initiatives" against "Zionist usurpers," i.e., Israel: "We endorse and support the Islamic military and political initiatives against the Zionist usurpers."

In a graphic depiction of the group's endorsement of "Islamic military initiatives," the flyer was illustrated with a picture of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem superimposed over a map of "Palestine," covered with barbed wire and prison bars in the shape of a six-pointed Star of David, symbolic of Israel. The corners of the star were depicted as having been broken and dripping with blood.

The 1992 Al-Quds Day resolutions that were distributed at demonstrations in the United States contained a statement including such slogans as: "Long Live Palestine. Down with Zionism. Long Live Islamic Revolution." Al-Quds Day demonstrations took place in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit. In Canada, demonstrations were held in Montreal and Toronto.

The sponsor of the event, the MSA-PSG, then located in Albany, California, declared in a leaflet that the observance was instituted by the Ayatollah Khomeini for the purpose of supporting the Palestinians and opposing Zionism.  The leaflet called upon the organization's followers to join in demonstrations that would be held throughout the world:

In order to establish a unified front against Zionism, Imam Khomeini has declared the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan the day of Quds, a day in which everyone is invited to proclaim international support for the Palestinian people. Join us in demonstrations held throughout the world.

Other organizations that cosponsored the demonstrations in 1992 included the Jafaria Islamic Society, the Islamic Institute of Southern California, and "the Lebanese Muslim community."

Like many other Islamic radical organizations, the Muslim Students Association-Persian Speaking Group began to use the Internet to organize its followers in the 1990s. Flyers for the demonstrations that were held throughout North America were posted in a special section on the organization's Web site.

The 1998 Worldwide Day of Quds was observed in Washington, D.C.; Dearborn, Michigan; Seattle, Washington; and Toronto and Montreal, Canada. The national flyer for the day quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini: "To liberate Quds (Jerusalem) Muslims must depend on the power of Islam. The day of Quds is a day when all Muslims must concentrate on Islam. The Muslims must keep the day of Quds alive."

Slogans that were chanted during the demonstration included: "Islamic Revolution-Is the Only Solution," "Neither East nor West-Islam Is the Best," "Quds Is a Muslim Land-Its Return We Demand," "Zionism Is Racism," and an expression of loyalty to Iran's Supreme Islamic Guide, `Ali Khamene`i: "Our Leader Khamene`i--Long Live Khamene`i."

The first three resolutions of the 1998 Worldwide Day of Quds declared:

Because of this Israeli-American translocation and its military affront to the Muslims and Christians of the world regarding the status of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the physical, political, and legal bulldozing attitude coming from all Zionist administrations, we the Muslims on the International Day of Al-Quds declare the following:

1. The Israeli-American official affront has become too transparent
to be ignored any longer by the Muslims of the world.
2. If and when the U.S. moves its embassy to Al-Quds (Jerusalem),
it shall be considered an act of way [sic] [i.e., war] by the Muslims
the world over.
3. All Arab and nominal Muslim governments that reach a working
relationship with the Israeli-Zionist occupiers of the Holy Land
shall be de facto accomplices of the bloody Israeli interest.

Organizations that cosponsored the local events included the "Washington, D.C. Quds Committee," which provided as contact information telephone numbers for Bahram Nahidian, a longtime pro-Khomeini activist, and the Manassas Mosque in Virginia. In Michigan, the organizers were listed as the "Michigan Quds Committee," and in Seattle two mosques, the Islamic Center of Portland and the Islamic Center of Seattle, were the sponsors of the event.

 Recent Developments

"On Al-Quds Day, we affirm that our choice is clear: Resistance which will regain rights and holy sites [in Jerusalem]."
-Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Al-Quds Day, 2002

"On Al-Quds Day, I reaffirm to you that Israel will be eliminated one day, God willing."
-Hizballah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah at an Al-Quds Day rally, 1999

"Come out openly, like Iran, and say you don't accept such a country as Israel on the world map. Have courage. We can make good use of our weapons, military equipment and all our forces. Say this land belongs to the Palestinians. The thieves and occupiers must leave so that its real owners can return. Don't seek to recognize Israel. Don't humiliate Islam by sitting at the negotiating table with the Zionists. A dignified death is better than a wretched and humiliating life."
-Ali Akhbar Nateq Nuri, Iran's Speaker of the Parliament on Al-Quds Day, 1999


In recent years, proponents of Al-Quds Day have been focusing their efforts on mobilizing extremist Sunni Muslims and other supporters of the Palestinian cause to participate in Al-Quds Day.  In 1999, the MSA-PSG promoted Al-Quds Day on its Web site by publishing a quotation from Iran's Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, `Ali Khamene`i, who called for advancing its commemoration not only in the Muslim world, but in Europe as well:

Iran has been the pioneer of commemorating the Quds Day, therefore, the Ummah [Islamic nation] should set a model for the Muslim nations in particular and Europe in general to follow suit.

While the UK's pro-Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission has been organizing Al-Quds Day for a number of years, other organizations that promote the extremist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Muslim Association of Britain, have participated in the event, despite differences in ideology with pro-Iranian groups. In the U.S., the Islamic Association for Palestine, an organization linked to the Hamas terror organization, also promoted and participated in the observance of Al-Quds Day.

Following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks that heightened concerns over Islamic extremist activity in Western countries, the pro-Iranian groups organizing Al-Quds Day have attempted to obfuscate the origins and meaning of the observance by altering the rhetoric, slogans, and chants used at the demonstrations to focus on Muslim and Palestinian rights and to play down any connection to the Iranian regime. These developments became apparent in recent German demonstrations that were organized on Al-Quds Day, which focused on the theme of "justice." This change in rhetoric followed additional scrutiny on the demonstrations by German police over the past few years.  

In recent years Al-Quds Day demonstrations in the U.S. have become much smaller. Several hundred demonstrators participated in the 2002 demonstration in Houston, Texas, that was organized under the name "Worldwide Movement for Justice and Peace" (WMJP). Participants chanted, "Long Live Palestine" and "Death to Israel," and the slogan chanted by American antiwar protestors, "No justice, no peace." Only dozens of supporters participated in the 2004 demonstration held in Dearborn, Michigan, and a "Rally for the Liberation of Palestine" organized by the WMJP at Houston's City Hall in 2004. The 2005 WMJP demonstration at Houston's City Hall similarly focused on Palestinian rights and called upon participants to "voice your opposition to the unjust, illegal, and inhumane occupation of the Holy Land by the usurping Zionist entity."

As a result of these developments, it appears that supporters of the Iranian regime will continue to attempt to organize Al-Quds Day observances without directly linking themselves to Iran. At the same time, they will also try to co-opt other organizations that are not Muslim to their cause. This will serve the purpose of showing that the Iranian regime has new sources of followers for the observance of Al-Quds Day. It will also demonstrate that others from the more mainstream part of society are willing to provide legitimacy to their cause.

Yehudit Barsky is director of the American Jewish Committee's Division on Middle East and International Terrorism.

Date Created: 4/18/2006 11:21:23 AM
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