Buddha statues have joined Barbie dolls and characters from The Simpsons as banned items in Iran.
Officials are confiscating the statues from shops in the capital, Tehran, to stop the promotion of Buddhism, according to a report in the independent Arman daily.
The Islamic republic has long fought against items such as Barbie toys to block western influence, but this appears to be the first time authorities have shown an opposition to symbols from the east.
The newspaper quoted Saeed Jaberi Ansari, an official for the protection of Iran’s cultural heritage, as calling the Buddha statues symbols of “cultural invasion”.
He reportedly said authorities would not permit a specific belief to be promoted through such items. Ansari did not say how many Buddhas had been seized, but said the “cleansing” would continue.
Some Iranians buy Buddha statues to decorate their homes and cars. Most are made in China and come from Iranian free-trade zones in the Gulf.
“As I understand, none of the customers cared about Buddhism, they only bought it for decoration,” said Reza Sanaei, a shopkeeper who sells the statues.
A customer, Marjan Arbabi, said she personally did not like the statues. “But my parents have a set of five Buddha statues at their home simply because they think the statues are beautiful,” she said.
Under Iran’s constitution, Christian and Jewish beliefs as well as Zoroastrianism are recognised alongside Islam, the official religion. The law says that in general the rights of all non-Muslims should be observed.
Some Islamists do not support the production of any statue, as they view it as a way to promote idols. In 2010 several statues depicting prominent Iranians disappeared from Tehran’s streets and squares. Their disappearance was blamed on an unnamed group with a strict interpretation of Islam that forbids depiction of the human form in art.