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Over the weekend, the world, when it wasn’t holding a candlelight vigil hoping for the recovery of Paul Rodriguez, was captivated by the news that the modern era’s most noted Jew-hater, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was, in fact, a Jew by birth. Now it appears as if that news was, ugh, inaccurate.

The Telegraph reported over the weekend that a high resolution photo of Ahmadinejad, who has stated many times that he believes the Holocaust was a hoax, holding up his Iranian identity card in 2008 revealed that his family changed its name from Sabourjian to Ahmadinejad after he was born, renouncing Judaism and embracing Islam in the process. However, in the words of ESPN’s Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!”

Professor David Yeroshalmi, author of The Jews of Iran in the 19th century and an expert on Iranian Jewish communities, disputes the validity of this argument. “There is no such meaning for the word ‘sabour’ in any of the Persian Jewish dialects, nor does it mean Jewish prayer shawl in Persian. Also, the name Sabourjian is not a well-known Jewish name,” he stated in a recent interview. In fact, Iranian Jews use the Hebrew word “tzitzit” to describe the Jewish prayer shawl. Yeroshalmi, a scholar at Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies, also went on to dispute the article’s findings that the “-jian” ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. “This ending is in no way sufficient to judge whether someone has a Jewish background. Many Muslim surnames have the same ending,” he stated.

Upon closer inspection, a completely different interpretation of “Sabourjian” emerges. According to Robert Tait, a Guardian correspondent who travelled to Ahmadinejad’s native village in 2005, the name “derives from thread painter – sabor in Farsi – a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated”. This is confirmed by Kasra Naji, who also wrote a biography of Ahmadinejad and met his family in his native village. Carpet weaving or colouring carpet threads are not professions associated with Jews in Iran.

According to both Naji and Tait, Ahmadinejad’s father Ahmad was in fact a religious Shia, who taught the Quran before and after Ahmadinejad’s birth and their move to Tehran. So religious was Ahmad Sabourjian that he bought a house near a Hosseinieh, a religious club that he frequented during the holy month of Moharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein.

Moreover, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s mother is a Seyyede. This is a title given to women whose family are believed to be direct bloodline descendants of Prophet Muhammad.

This is really too bad. I was really hoping to learn that Ahmadinejad had also lost all of his fortune to Bernie Madoff. Oh well.

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