Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Persecution of the Baha'is in Iran

Cross-posted by Gary Fouse

The seven Baha'i community leaders now on trial for their lives in Iran

Iranian Baha'i women hanged in 1983 for teaching Baha'i classes to Baha'i schoolchildren

Among the other disturbing issues going on in Iran-with their nuclear development and crackdown on protesters, one other issue has been largely lost to public attention; that is the severe persecution of the Baha'i religious minority in Iran. What kind of persecution are we talking about? We are talking about arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, rape, murder, torture, a denial of education-just about anything you can imagine.

The Baha'i faith was born some 150 years ago in Iran (then Persia)under its founder and Messenger Baha'ullah. It is a peaceful religion, which recognizes one God and places great emphasis on the brotherhood of all human beings. Baha'is are not troublemakers in Iran; on the contrary, they are model citizens, who adhere to obeying established authority. Their religion, which counts some 3 million world-wide, has spread to other parts of the world as well, including the US, which has about 100,000 adherents. Since its inception, however, the followers of the faith, some 300,000 in Iran, have been subjected to some form of persecution at various levels-not only in Iran, but also in other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt.

In 1896, subsequent to the assassination of then-Shah, the Baha'i community in Yazd was attacked by mobs, and several people were killed. In 1933, the Government of Iran banned Baha'i literature, refused to recognize Baha'i marriages, and the Baha'i national center in Tehran was demolished. Under the Islamic Republic, which began with the revolution of 1979, this persecution has worsened dramatically as a part of official government policy.

The present-day Iranian constitution recognizes only Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism (an ancient Persian religion) as legitimate religions. Such recognition is denied to Baha'ism, which the mullahs consider an apostasy of Islam. Thus, under the present Islamic regime, persecution has been the order of the day for the Baha'is, many of whom have left Iran.

In 1983, four years after Khomeini seized power in Iran, ten female Baha'i schoolteachers were arrested, tortured, prosecuted and executed by authorities for teaching religious classes to Baha'i children. The women, aged 17-57, refused to recant their faith in exchange for being spared. They walked bravely to the gallows and died for their religious belief.

In August 1983, the prosecutor-general of Iran, Hojatoleslam Hossein Musavi Tabrizi, ordered that all Baha'i organizations in the country be shut down, to which the Baha'is obeyed. It did not stop the attacks. According to a Time Magazine article dated February 20, 1984, in the ensuing months, a Baha'i farmer was lynched and a Baha'i woman was killed by a mob just after having given birth. A spokesman for the Baha'i HQS in Wilmette, Illinois told Time that "unless things change, Baha'is in Iran are going to be annihilated." Indeed, thousands lost their homes and possessions, while Baha'i facilities and cemeteries were sacked and desecrated including their holiest shrine, The House of the Bab in Shiraz.

Baha'i temple in Wilmette, Illinois

And it continues. Presently, the Iranian government continues to persecute this minority in a systematic manner. Since 1979, it is estimated that over 200 Baha'is have been killed or executed, hundreds imprisoned, and tens of thousands have lost jobs, pensions and educational opportunities. (Baha'is are precluded from attending universities). In addition, Baha'i holy places, cemeteries and shrines have been seized or desecrated by authorities. Also largely lost among the recent mass arrests of young dissidents in Iran's streets is the fact that seven leading Baha'is (two women and five men)have been imprisoned since last year and were scheduled to go on trial for their lives this month, a trial that was just postponed a couple of weeks ago.

The seven Baha'i leaders – Behrouz Tavakkoli, Saeid Rezaie, Fariba Kamalabadi, Vahid Tizfahm, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Affif Naeimi and Mahvash Sabet – have been charged with a variety of crimes, according to official Iranian news reports. They include "propaganda against the system," "insulting religious sanctifies," and "being corrupt on earth," a charge that is punishable by death. The seven prisoners have not been allowed to see a lawyer. (The nature of the charges gives you an idea of the mentality of the Iranian authorities.)

The plight of these Baha'is has been protested by various human-rights organizations and governments including Australia and Canada. The UN has passed resolutions on Iranian human rights issues specifically mentioning the Baha'is. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also taken up the issue of Baha'i persecution in Iran.

All, unfortunately, to no avail.

Why, you might ask, are the Baha'is so threatened in Iran? It is simple; since their inception, they have been considered a threat to the dominant religion-Islam. Under the Islamic Republic, this has especially been the case. The mullahs who run Iran simply will not tolerate what they consider an apostate religion that threatens Islam. Therefore, Baha'ism and its adherents must be persecuted, imprisoned, killed, raped and their assets seized or destroyed.

Part of the "Axis of Evil"? You bet.

So how will the fate of the 300,000 Baha'is in Iran play out? Despite international protests, the Iranian government seems determined to continue its mistreatment of this religious minority until they have disappeared-one way or the other. Maybe they feel they can terrorize this "apostate" group into renouncing their faith in favor of Islam. If the 1983 example of the ten courageous schoolteachers is an example, it will not work. Will the government allow these 300,000 people to emigrate? While I have recently been critical of the US resettling certain refugee groups into the US, this seems like a group worthy of refugee status, a group that would make a positive contribution to wherever they go.

Ultimately, it may take the downfall of this evil regime to save its Baha'i community. In the meantime, public exposure is necessary, which is why I am making this small contribution.


  1. It must be made clear however that Bahá'ís have never called for regime change in Iran, nor are we down on Islam. All we want to do is have the freedom to worship according to our religion and to be of service to the betterment of people of countries where we have the chance.

    This isn't political correctness. We do not undermine authority - we build for the best - you cannot confuse construction with destruction. When you think of cases where a KKK leader had a change of heart or the terrorists of 9-11 and people embraced the distinctiveness and common humanity of the "races" you must remember the pain such people inflicted on too many people. The point is not for such individuals to convert their hearts even if they still had the chance but to never develop such prejudices to make it sensible to them to treat other people as worthy of death and pain. If someone has a chance to convert from such prejudices it is never to late - God's grace is always at our finger tips. But that such people have so much sincerity to their change of heart is partly out of the depth of their grief of what they have done and cannot make up for. It would have been far better to never cause such pain. That is what the Baha'is want.

  2. Thank you for writing about the struggle of the Baha'i in your blog. I went to the House of Worship in Illinois, knowing absolutely nothing about the religion and was so taken by the beauty of its message. I applaud you for making their cause known.