American taxpayers subsidize a Shia mosque in New York City that serves as a gathering point for Iranian diplomats and other supporters of the Islamist regime in Tehran. The Imam Ali Mosque in Queens, New York is disdained by people in the Iranian diaspora whose relatives have been imprisoned, tortured or killed by the regime, but has nevertheless become a popular gathering place for Shia families from Afghanistan, Indian, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan.
Many of these families send their children to the Razi School owned and operated by the mosque. The school received two COVID-related loans worth more than $340,000 in early 2021. Both of these loans were subsequently forgiven, resulting in a US government subsidy of the school’s work, which includes indoctrination toward support for the Islamist regime in Teheran
New York City’s Department of Early Childhood education provides further funding to the Razi School’s early childhood education and pre-kindergarten programs.
There’s no doubt the mosque and the school are instruments of the Islamist regime in Tehran. The Razi School celebrates Black History Month, and “International Day of Solidarity with Palestine,” and “stands in solidarity with Turkish and Syrian people” after the earthquake in 2023 but there is no word about Iranians who are suffering in natural disasters and killed, tortured and raped by the regime. The school and mosque do not observe any non-Muslim festivals celebrated in Iran such as Nowruz (New Year), Yalda (longest night of the year), or Mehregan (harvest). This institution is all about Shia Islamism.
The Imam Ali Mosque is not a popular place for people who fled the Islamic Republic of Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, an event celebrated with lectures at the mosque. For these dissidents and refugees, a visit to the Imam Ali Mosque would feel like a return to the dark world of the totalitarian rule of the clerics they fled years before. For non-Iranian Shi’ites, however, the mosque is a place where they can rub shoulders with diplomats who work for the Islamic Republic’s mission at the United Nations.
Given my status as a critic of the regime, I am not usually in attendance, but I did visit the mosque in Queens several years ago to witness the annual mourning ceremony where worshippers beat their chests in lamentation over Husein’s death. As I mingled with the assembled crowd, it became evident that the building served as a gathering place for officials associated with Iran’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations and the Alavi Foundation, a front organization for Tehran which supports the mosque. This funding places the mosque and the school it runs under the control of the regime in Iran. The Alavi Foundation is an Iranian non-profit whose board members and director is appointed by Mostazafan Foundation which in turn is run by Khamenei. For its part, the Alavi Foundation declares in its website that it “is proud to support Razi School in New York City.”
Attendees included the wife and son of Kamal Kharrazi, a former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. They were introduced to me by Naser Hadian, a political science professor at Tehran University whom I knew from my time as a writer in Tehran.
Other individuals present included Ahmad Sheikhzadeh, an employee of Iran’s office at the United Nations (later arrested in 2018 for violating tax laws), and Farshid Jahedi, the head of the Alavi Foundation in New York (convicted for destroying evidence of a crime and disrupting the judicial investigation process in 2010).
Prior to the mourning ceremony, one of the mosque’s employees handed out propaganda booklets published by government institutions in Iran to the crowd. Among them were translations of speeches by Iran’s leader, hardline cleric Ali Khamenei, and a book by Morteza Motahari (one of the Islamic Revolution’s ideologues assailed by “Woman, Life Freedom” protesters) about the obligatory hijab in English. It had been reported in the domestic press that the Alavi Foundation had covered the cost of these books.
Following a brief story telling of Imam Husein’s martyrdom by the mosque’s mullah, the program continued with a chest-beating sermon. Then, a professional lamenter from Iran, whom I had recognized in photos taken from the Khamenei’s office and Tehran Municipality ceremonies, was invited to perform. It was intriguing that he sang a lament in English for the ceremonial chest-beating. Although the meter and rhymes were disjointed and poor, it still had the intended effect. Officials of the Islamic Republic stood on the sidelines and tap their chests softly, while non-Iranian Shi`is ripped off their shirts and beat their chests in a display of grief.
Like I said, the ceremony was not attended by expatriate Iranians who reject political Islam, many of whom have distanced themselves from Islam altogether. Such people prefer not to involve themselves in matters that traumatize them. Shi`i Islamic centers are used to recruit followers and propagate sectarianism among non-Iranian Shi`is who are fascinated by Iran’s Shi`i power-loving government, which enforces Shi`i practices through force.
Iranian national resources, through the Alavi Foundation and the regime’s propaganda machine, are spent on centers detested by most of the Iranian diaspora in the West. The imams of these mosques are paid by propaganda organizations in Iran, such as the Islamic Propaganda Organization, the Propaganda Office of the Qom Seminary, or the Islamic Culture and Communication Organization. In some instances, these mosques are used by Tehran to spy and harass dissidents in the Iranian diaspora. For example, law enforcement officials in Denmark moved to expel the leader of the Imam Ali Mosque in Tveita for his ties to an Iranian-backed terrorist who had been convicted and sent to prison for planning terror attacks in the country.
There is no evidence that New York’s counterpart to the similarly named mosque in Tveita, Denmark is involved in terrorism, but it is reasonable to conclude that Razi School which focuses on the Shi`i education of children from Muslim families in New York is part of Tehran’s propaganda apparatus. Given its reliance on the Alavi Foundation for support, it is a place for indoctrination, injecting the ideology and lifestyle of the Iranian Shi`i clergy into the minds and behavior of Muslim children in the city. While there are hundreds of Islamic schools in the United States catering to various Islamic sects and religions, Shi`i schools have goals beyond educating people based on Islamic beliefs. They indoctrinate young children to become martyrs for the regime in Teheran.
All this raises an obvious question: Why are U.S. taxpayers supporting this mosque?
Majid Mohammadi is an Iranian-American sociologist and political analyst residing in the U.S., who contributes opinion and analysis to Persian, Arabic, and English news outlets. He has published dozens of books.