A few examples of these marriage contracts from Jewish Iranian families in Mashhad in the late nineteenth century, reflect the lengths to which the Jewish community maintained a Muslim-coded external identity for the sake of their safety after the 1839 Allahdad incident. “Allahdad” refers to a riot that resulted in the killing of over thirty Iranian Jews and the kidnapping of some younger girls in the Mashhadi community, after which many Jews decided to mask their identities and continue living in Mashhad under the guise of being Muslim. The pogrom pushed Mashhadi Jews to hide their identity behind imitations of a Muslim lifestyle. The crypto-Jews, known in Hebrew as the Anusim, were specific to the Mashhadi community—other Iranian Jewish communities were able to practice their religion openly.
These marriage documents, although belonging to these families, mimicked Muslim marriage documents in both presentation and content. The documents were titled with the phrase “in the name of God, most Merciful, most Kind,” and the verse “He is the one who brings hearts together,” phrases taken from the Qur’an and presented in the documents in their original Arabic. The first line of such documents was also formulaic, praising God for the union in a ceremonial form of Arabic. The careful degree to which Jews copied the Muslim contracts demonstrates the conscious effort made towards assimilating to a public Muslim identity; only some names, such as “Ya’qub” (Arabic for Jacob) hint towards a possible Jewish background in the marriage contract.
Despite pressures to conform to an outwardly Muslim appearance, some families managed to preserve their identity in written form as well. Some marriage contracts embraced a hybrid expression of Muslim and Jewish practices.This one, for example, has two identical pages: one in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the other in Arabic and Persian. The combining of these languages and collapsing of identities in marriage documents similarly encapsulates the critical social and political pressures on the Mashhadi Jewish community. It is possible that the family had two contracts made, one for display, and one for themselves to reflect their Jewish identity.