By Abbas Djavadi – This is actually “no news” for today’s Iran. Iranian human rights organizations report that last Wednesday security forces raided the homes of 10 Baha’i families in Tehran, confiscated religious books, documents, and computers; and arrested six people. One of them was Ginus Sobhani, a former secretary of the Iranian Association of Human Rights’ Defenders led by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, until its office was closed two weeks ago.
The Baha’i faith is a religious community that was founded in 19th century in Iran. It is a monotheistic religion that believes in underlying unity of all religions with Baha’ullah, the founder of this faith, being the last messenger after Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. The faith is considered heresy in the Islamic Republic of Iran. While other religious minorities such as Christians and Jews are recognized as “believers in the holy books” but still discriminated against, the Baha’is are harshly persecuted, and banned from education and state employment. Most recently, nine students of the University of Kerman were expelled from college for being Baha’is. Although not legally sanctioned, admitting to be a Baha’i is often reason enough for imprisonment, mistreatment, and occasionally execution.
Diane Alaee, a representative of the Baha’i faith at the UN told Radio Farda that they were arrested for being Baha’is. In recent days, similar raids and arrests of Baha’is were reported in Iranian cities of Ga’emshahr, Semnan, and Sari. According to Mrs. Alaee, nine Baha’is were arrested last December while visiting the Iranian touristic island of Kish.
Last spring, a group of seven Baha’is (photo) from the “National and Unofficial Circle of Iranian Baha’is,” a group providing social and humanitarian aid to the co-religionists, was arrested and put in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
Nobody knows anything about the fate of all these and other Baha’is who have been arrested. Nobody, let alone other Baha’is, may seek to receive information or provide help. Inquiries from outside of Iran are ignored. Inside the country, any sign of interest in the fate of an imprisoned Baha’i would result in the arrest of the inquirer. Authorities would suspect you of also being a Baha’i or an “agent of those soft power attemps to incite a velvet revolution.” Baha’is abstain from active politics.
You feel speechless and helpless, sorry. You’d want to find them all in the prisons, talk to them, and apologize. And tell them that others, the majority Shia faithful, are also suffering. And get them out and have them live like anybody else — at least not being punished and persecuted and imprisoned and executed for — wait to see — not for political reasons, not for staging a demonstration, not for an armed rebellion, but for what they believe and for the religion they have chosen to follow.
Azerbaijan has a brilliant poet, a sharp social reformer and critic of the early 20th century: Ali Akbar Sabir (1862-1911). He was a sharp-tongued, witty poet courageously criticizing the backwardness of the clergy when their cultural influence upon the society was immensely regressive. He has greatly influenced both Azeri and Iranian thinking through his poetry directed against religious superstitions — a big fighter for enlightenment. Himself a Shia Muslim, he wrote a poem addressing the “Shirvanis” (those citizens living in today’s Baku, Azerbaijan, and its surrounding), saying that he is a faithful, a believer, a Shia, or Sunni.. But not of the kind of clerics leading the religious community:
“I confess that God is great,/And I am a man of faith, oh, people of Shirvan!/I am a Shia, but not in the ways you desire./I am a Sunni, but not like the examples you like./I am a Sufi, but not like the ones you describe./I am a lover of faith, oh, people of Shirvan!”
100 years later, here we stand, with the same feelings of Sabir, defending persecuted Baha’is, or Christians, or Jews, or Sunni Muslims, or Shia Muslims, or others. They would say you have betrayed the “true path” of the faith. And only they are entitled to determine what and how that faith must be.