By JPOST.COM STAFF
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born a Jew and converted to Islam, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday.
The report cited a photograph from 2008 that showed Ahmadinejad holding up his identity card, bearing his former last name, Sabourjian, a common Jewish name in Iran.
The Telegraph said that the name was "Jewish" for cloth weaver, and that the Iranian president's family had changed the name when they converted to Islam. "The name derives from 'weaver of the sabour,' the name for the Jewish tallit shawl in Persia," the report said.
It also cited experts speculating that Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic rhetoric may be a kind of overcompensation to conceal his heritage.
"Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith... By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections," Ali Nourizadeh, the head of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies in London, was quoted as saying.
On July 3, The Jerusalem Post reported that an Iranian blogger who claimed Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots was being detained by the authorities after he was arrested along with 150 university students a few days earlier, according to sources in Teheran. He was subsequently released from Evin Prison
Dr. Mehdi Khazali, who reportedly participated in several opposition demonstrations, was reportedly summoned to a special court convened for religious figures, detained and transferred to an unknown location.
The son of a prominent, conservative pro-Ahmadinejad ayatollah, Khazali wrote on his Web site earlier this year that the president was of partially Jewish origin, asserting that Ahmadinejad had changed his family name from Sabourjian, and calling for the origins of the Sabourjian family in the town of Aradan to be investigated.
The assertion featured in the bitter presidential election campaign, when rival reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi challenged Ahmadinejad in a live TV debate, reportedly stating: 'My full name is Mehdi Karroubi. What is your full name?'
Ahmadinejad gave his full name, according to an Al-Arabiya TV report, but left out one surname which is said to indicate Jewish ancestry.
The 'Jewish Ahmadinejad' dispute spread beyond Iran, when Bahrain's oldest newspaper, Akhbar al-Khaleej, was briefly shut down by the governing authorities in June after it published an article recycling the claim.
Khazali, director of the Hayyan Cultural Institute in Teheran, has argued that while religion occupies an essential place in political life, too much intervention of religion in political matters is dangerous for modern societies.
Sabina Amidi contributed to this report.
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