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The Butcher of Iran is dead

But until the Islamist regime is gone, the oppression of the Iranian people will continue


Ebrahim Raisi attends a political event at the border of Iran and Azerbaijan on Sunday. Associated Press/Photo by Iranian Presidency Office

The Butcher of Iran is dead
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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was killed over the weekend after his helicopter crashed in mountains near the Iran-Azerbaijan border. He was with six other passengers, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. The helicopter went down on Sunday, and after a search for over 12 hours in thick fog, the charred wreckage was found on Monday. The initial reports suggest that the helicopter was at an altitude of 8,200 feet and crashed into a mountain, which resulted in the immediate death of all passengers on board.

In response to the news of Raisi’s death, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president and declared five days of mourning. Russia’s Vladimir Putin expressed condolences over the death of a “true friend of Russia,” while China’s Xi Jinping said the Iran president's death is a “great loss.”

Raisi was the hardliner head of Iran’s government and became president in 2021, after what many considered a sham election. He was not only the second-most powerful person in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but arguably the most compelling potential successor to Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Raisi was known among many Iranians as the “Butcher of Tehran” or “Bloody Raisi” due to his reported involvement in human rights abuses and mass executions. Among his critics, Raisi was known as a man who didn’t discuss but quickly executed. In the 1980s, he was the head of a four-member committee known as the “Death Commission,” which executed religious dissidents and political prisoners in fulfillment of the Ayatollah’s fatwas (religious decrees).

In 1988, between 2,800 and 5,000 people, including teenagers and minors, were executed and most were members of opposition groups deemed heretical by the Iranian regime. Raisi’s role in the massacre of these thousands granted him the unique epithet of the “Butcher,” and he has been internationally criticized as complicit in crimes against humanity, although he always denied any wrongdoing.

Not surprisingly, many Iranians took to the streets to celebrate the death of the Butcher of Tehran. Social media videos showed Iranians setting off fireworks after the news of the helicopter crash. This is expected, as Raisi’s leadership was severely criticized following the murder of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini by morality police. Amini’s death resulted in widespread protests against the regime and a harsher crackdown against Iranians by Raisi’s government.

Was the crash a result of bad weather conditions, a technical error, or foul play by an anti-Iranian political enemy?

But a major question emerges: Will Raisi’s death end an era of evil and brutality in Iran?

Unfortunately, I don’t think so.

Iran is controlled under the strong fist of a Shiite Islamist regime. The death of Raisi reflects a change in leadership, but the theocratic Islamic regime is still very much alive. The highest authority is the untouchable religious figure, the ayatollah, who is seen as the highest Islamic Shiite authority in Iran.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has had only two ayatollahs, Khomeini who led the revolution and died in 1989, followed by Ali Khamenei. The regime survived almost two years of street protests and sadly appears to have cracked down on many attempts to topple it. As long as the religious regime controls Iran, there is no change in sight.

Another important question relates to whether the helicopter crash was deliberate. Was the crash a result of bad weather conditions, a technical error, or foul play by an anti-Iranian political enemy?

While we don’t know the reason for the crash yet, it’s clear that many people—Iranians and others—openly celebrate the death of a dictator.

Should Christians celebrate his death?

It is a normal for people to “shout for joy when the wicked die” (Proverbs 11:10), but Christians must operate as Christ followers. While we can have a sense of relief when wickedness and evil are destroyed, we are not to celebrate when wicked people die as we are certain of their eternal damnation. Our God doesn’t like to see wicked people die, but He wants them to repent and change their wicked ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23).

But today is an historic day for millions of Iranians, to whom the world needs to listen as they seek to get rid of a horrific Islamist regime. Iran was much more beautiful and better before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Since the Butcher of Tehran is dead, don’t forget he died with the blood of thousands of innocent Iranians on his hands.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.


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