(CNSNews.com) – Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei marked Christmas Day with social media messages tying Jesus into political rhetoric directed at the United States.
“If Christ were among us today, he would not spare even a single moment to fight the leaders of despotism and global arrogance,” he said on Facebook, using the Islamic Republic’s favored term for America.
“Nor would he tolerate hunger and wandering of millions of people, degenerated by the hegemonic and colonialist powers into war, corruption, and violence,” he added.
On Twitter, Khamenei tweeted another message containing a veiled dig at the U.S.: “Jesus Christ was a minister of a heavenly justice to call all oppressed on earth for emancipation from the thralldom of bullying despots.”
In a separate message he claimed that Jesus is as important to Muslims as he is to Christians: “No doubt that Jesus Christ has no less value among Muslims than he has among the pious Christians.”
Seldom does a key Christian holiday pass without some Muslim leader making such assertions. The Qur’an depicts Jesus as one of many biblical prophets, but rejects his divinity (teaching that those who believe otherwise are deluded and cursed by Allah) and denies that Jesus was crucified – two central tenets of the Christian faith.
A politically-charged Christmas greeting also came from Iran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, which expressed the hope that the people of “Prophet Jesus’ birthplace” “enjoy freedom from the abomination of the Zionist occupation and that the banner of freedom and victory is raised over Palestine.”
“In Bethlehem, more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was born; a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world,” Abbas said. “As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later, we do our best to follow his example.”
The Bible makes it clear Jesus was Jewish, and scholars generally concur.
Back in Iran, President Hasan Rouhani on his Twitter account marked the birthday of the “prophet of love and peace,” sending wishes to the pope and all those celebrating – especially Iranian Christians.
Iran is one of 11 countries where Christians face “extreme persecution,” according to Open Doors’ annual list of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Iran has featured in the watch list’s top ten every year for more than a decade.
Mohabat News, an independent Iranian Christian news agency, says that although Rouhani pledged while campaigning for election this year to improve the conditions faced by religious and ethnic minorities, the promise remains unfulfilled.
It says Rouhani “has never acknowledged nor accepted the existence of the Farsi-speaking Christian minority who now make up the largest Christian population inside Iran. These new Christian converts are facing extreme personal repression and social restrictions.”
Farsi-language churches have been shut down, and the printing and possession of Farsi Bibles remains an offense punishable by imprisonment.
Last Christmas security officials raided a meeting in a private home and arrested several people including an ordained Assemblies of God pastor, Vruir Avenessian. Almost a year later, Avenessian was convicted and sentenced earlier this month to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, Mohabat reports. It says the court decision came despite the fact the 61 year-old pastor is suffering from serious heart disease and diabetes, requiring dialysis three times a week.
Many other Christians remain behind bars in Iran. They include Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was arrested during a family visit, convicted on charges of “crimes against national security,” and sentenced last January to eight years’ imprisonment. Iran has ignored several appeals by the U.S. government to release and send him home.