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A Living Story of 174 Years of Constructive Resilience

August 2, 2017
Guest Blogger
56 min read
Baha'is advocate for peace around the world
Baha'is advocate for peace around the world
The Baha'i faith is committed to equality and universal education
The Baha'i faith is committed to equality and universal education
The Islamic Republic has run a solid campaign of discrimination against the Baha'is, and this has spread to the wider population — though public opinion is changing fast
The Islamic Republic has run a solid campaign of discrimination against the Baha'is, and this has spread to the wider population — though public opinion is changing fast
The Baha'i Star
The Baha'i Star
Baha'is have seen their shops forcibly closed, including the shop of this welder
Baha'is have seen their shops forcibly closed, including the shop of this welder

Why does "the Baha’i Question" preoccupy Iranian clerics and the Islamic government? Why are they so fearful of Baha’is that they have instituted an ongoing and massive anti-Baha’i propaganda mechanism? Nasser Sedghi looks at the long history of persecution and discrimimation against Iran's largest religious minority — and the incredible resilience that have driven Baha'is since the religion was founded in 1863. [edited by Anton Clark and Jen Cowley]


The Baha’is in Iran have been able to demonstrate an incredible constructive resilience over the last 174 years under continued and severe persecution and discrimination, as well as violation of their fundamental human rights. It may sound very odd, but strangely enough this brutal persecution has intensified over the past 38 years. Many human rights organizations, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission, religious groups, activists, and people of goodwill around the world, have expressed their deep concern about the worsening situation of the Baha’i community in Iran, the largest independent non-Muslim religious minority. However, the lack of response and inaction from the Iranian Islamic government is a growing concern for all Baha’is around the world.

One may question the severity of the situation of the Baha’is in Iran as compared to much worse situations in some other parts of the world. While there are many examples of appalling human rights abuse the world over, the systematic nature of persecution of Baha’is in Iran over the last 174 years is a combination of an ongoing orchestrated hate crime by clerics of the Islamic regime and state-sponsored persecution and discrimination. Both of these aim to eradicate the entire Baha’i community in Iran, its place of birth. It is a quiet genocide that should be stopped.

Many people will be rightly surprised to learn about “A living story of 174 years of constructive resilience” and the way Baha’is have responded to the persecution that has paralyzed their daily activities in Iran. This phenomenon – the constructive resilience of Baha’is in Iran – could act as a good case study, considering that currently it appears that extreme violence and fundamentalism are on the rise, and the majority of people around the world are helplessly watching these sad situations unfold. At the same time, there are many people of good will who are trying to find a way out of this confusing and disturbing situation.

The living story of 174 years of constructive resilience of the Baha’is in Iran is not only a rejection of the idea of “responding to violence with violence,”’ it is also more elevated than non-violent resistance, as Baha’is in Iran extend warm fellowship and cooperation to those who are willing to build ideas as part of a peaceful society. I love this statement from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it... Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. [1]

The Baha’i community in Iran, under brutal persecution, discrimination and economic repression, has initiated many unique community building projects. At the same time, the Baha’i community has extended sincere friendship to its fellow citizens in order to work and cooperate with them in formulating various society-building activities. You may ask: what really inspires Baha’is who are living under such harsh conditions to have a positive outlook in their lives? Let us reflect on some of the Baha’i Writings and teachings that inspire them and provide direction about handling such situations.

What is the source of inspiration for Baha’is in Iran?

“Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship... Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.” [2]

“Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book. This is a decree of God in this Most Great Revelation. It is divinely preserved from annulment and is invested by Him with the splendour of His confirmation. Verily He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”[3]

“Baha’is must endeavor to consort in a friendly spirit with everyone, must follow moderation in their conduct, must have respect and consideration one for another and show loving-kindness and tender regard to all the peoples of the world. They must be patient and long-suffering, that they may grow to become the divine magnets of the Abhá Kingdom and acquire the dynamic power of the hosts of the realm on high.”[4]

“We return to the phenomenal characteristics of speech. Content, volume, style, tact, wisdom, timeliness are among the critical factors in determining the effects of speech for good or evil. Consequently, the friends need ever to be conscious of the significance of this activity which so distinguishes human beings from other forms of life, and they must exercise it judiciously. Their efforts at such discipline will give birth to an etiquette of expression worthy of the approaching maturity of the human race.”[5]

Therefore, wherever Baha’is reside, society-building, avoiding any kind of violence and confrontation, and extending fellowship to everyone in order to build a peaceful society are part of their daily lives. Baha’is around the world are always seeking to find a dignified and practical way to build a better society and lovingly desire to cooperate with any like-minded people on this journey.

Why are Baha’is being persecuted in Iran?

Animosity and the spread of hatred by Shi’ite clerics against Baha’is in Iran has a long history. Since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century (1844) in Iran, followers of the Baha’i Faith have been targeted by many baseless and cruel accusations orchestrated by the clergy. Since 1979, with the establishment of an Islamic government in Iran, the persecution has intensified. Though international pressure on Iran has been increased to stop the violation of human rights against the largest independent religious minority in that country, the Iranian government and its agencies have been placing more economic pressure on Baha’is. Therefore, the persecution of Baha’is in Iran comes from all directions.

Concerning the historical context of the persecutions, Friedrich W. Affolter writes:

“Bahá’u’lláh’s writings deal with a variety of themes that challenge long-cherished doctrines of Shí‘i‐Islam. In addition to making the ‘heretic’[sic] claim of being a ‘Manifestation of God,’ he suggested that school curricula should include ‘Western Sciences,’ that the nation states (Muslim and non-Muslim) should establish a world federal government, and that men and women were equal. Bahá’u’lláh also wrote that in this time and age, priests were no longer necessary for religious guidance. Humanity, he argued, had reached an age of maturity where it was incumbent upon every individual to search for God and truth independently. These principles did not only call into question the need for a priesthood, but also the entire Shí‘i ecclesiastical structure and the vast system of endowments, benefices and fees that sustained it. No surprise then that in the following decades until the overthrow of the Qajar Dynasty in 1925, it was the Mullas who instigated attacks against the Bahá’ís in cities or villages where the clerical establishment was particularly influential”.[6]

Roy Mottahedeh gives the following explanation: At least one scholar has described Bahá’ís in Iran prior to the Islamic Republic as “political pawns”. Government toleration of Bahá’ís being in accord with secular Western ideas of freedom of worship was “a way of showing mullahs who was boss.” Correspondingly, since the Bahá’ís were a relatively small minority and most Iranians followed traditional beliefs of Apostasy in Islam, when the government was politically weak and in need of clerical support, withdrawal of government protection to “allow active persecution of the Bahá’ís,” was a “low cost pawn that could be sacrificed to the mullahs“. Thus during the heyday of secular ruler Reza Shah, Bahá’ís were protected; while in 1955, when Reza Shah’s son, Muhammad Reza, needed clerical support for the Baghdad Pact and with the 1953 Iranian coup d’état only two years past, Bahá’ís were attacked.[7]

The persecution and cruelty against Baha’is in Iran are responses to a variety of Baha’i teachings believed to be inconsistent with traditional Islamic belief — and of course they do differ from Islam.

Considering the nature and length of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran, many people, including ordinary everyday Iranian citizens, are puzzled as to why the Baha’i Question is such a big concern for clerics and the Islamic government in Iran. Why are they so fearful of Baha’is that they have instituted an ongoing and massive anti-Baha’i propaganda mechanism? Why in this age of instant and borderless communication and connectivity, in which this profound statement “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens“ is an undeniable reality, do Iranian officials and ruling clerics consider all non-Shi’ite people to be “others”? Not only are Baha’is considered to be an unclean, misguided sect, they are given much more denigrating titles by the ruling clerics. In my opinion it is inhumane to use such malicious and abusive language against a fellow citizen for no reason other than that the citizen has a different faith!

When did the persecution of Baha’is intensify in Iran?

In 1979, when the Iranian Islamic Revolution was established and fundamentalist Islamic leaders took control of the country, it was a turning point for intensive persecution against Baha’is. There was a sharp increase in the systematic campaign of state-sponsored persecution and incitement of hatred by clerics across the country.

In the early 1980s, more than 200 Baha’is, including elected members of Baha’i religious institutions, were executed, murdered or disappeared; thousands more were arrested, detained and interrogated; numerous historic and holy Baha’i places were destroyed, hundreds of Baha’i homes and properties were burned down or confiscated; hundreds of Baha’i-owned industrial and manufacturing factories were confiscated; many Baha’i cemeteries across the country were destroyed, tens of thousands of Baha’is were dismissed from government jobs; Baha’i youth were prevented from entering university or other higher education studies; and many restrictions were imposed by closing down Baha’i-owned businesses and farms. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Iranian government shifted its focus in persecuting Baha’is to social, economic and cultural restrictions, with the aim of “blocking the development and progress of the Iranian Baha’i Community.” This shift in tactics was associated with an important high-level document, known as the Baha’i Question, signed and approved by the Iranian Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, in 1991. It appears that the shift was a response to increased pressure from international communities, the United Nations, and many human rights activists because of gross human rights abuses by the government of Iran against Baha’is.

There was another important factor that forced the Iranian government to adopt a new tactic. That was the frustration and confusion of the government in dealing with Baha’is, and the way members of the Iranian Baha’i community were handling themselves. Baha’is in Iran, though they are living in an environment of hostile and discriminatory economic conditions, their youth are banned from higher education, there is no chance for them to obtain government employment, and they face the incitement of hatred against them by clerics, nevertheless through their unity of action, following a path of constructive resilience, extend genuine fellowship and respect towards all their fellow citizens. As a result, they have been able to demonstrate an exemplary way of life. Therefore, these new tactics of dealing with Baha’is are designed to eradicate the Baha’i community, and to hide human rights abuse against Baha’is from the international community and human rights organizations.

For example on October 31, 2014, less than a week after some 80 Baha’i shops were closed in Kerman Province, Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, had the temerity to say: “Baha’is enjoy all the privileges of any citizen in Iran.”[8]


Is there any legal or humanitarian ground for such persecution?

No doubt any kind of discrimination and persecution is a violation of human rights. In my opinion, there should be an equal standard of human rights for everyone in all countries around the world. Countries should not be allowed to violate human rights under the shadow of “internal affairs,” which is mere scapegoating and misrepresentation at the international level. In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, of course in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and also in the International Covenant on Social and Economic Rights, there is no justification for the discrimination to which the Baha’i community in Iran has been subjected for such a long time.

Articles 19, 20, and 30 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran broadly acknowledge the human rights and citizenship rights of all its people in the country. Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians are officially recognized in the Constitution, but in reality and practice, the adherents of these religious minorities do not enjoy freedom of activity. However, this situation most directly affects followers of the Baha’i Faith. The Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i Community of Iran, whose faith is the largest independent non-Muslim religious community. Baha’is in Iran are not protected under other articles of the Constitution, as citizens and the government fuel anti-Baha’i sentiment in the country.

Article 19 [No Discrimination, No Privileges] All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.

Article 20 [Equality before Law] All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.

Article 30 talks about education for all: The government must provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency. [9]

The report of the 71st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council dated February 1, 2017 under “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” has identified 25 points, and urges the Iranian government to eliminate, in law and practice, discrimination and other human rights violations. Three relevant points below (14, 15 and 16 out of 25 points) highlight the severity of the current human rights situation in Iran.[10]

14. Strongly urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination and other human rights violations against women and girls, including with respect to the right to freedom of movement, the right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the right to work, to take measures to ensure protection for women and girls against violence and their equal protection and access to justice, to address the worrisome incidence of child, early and forced marriage, as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to promote, support and enable women’s participation in leadership and decision-making processes and, while recognizing the high enrolment of women in all levels of education in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to lift restrictions on women’s equal access to all aspects of education and women’s equal participation in the labor market and in all aspects of economic, cultural, social and political life;

15. Calls upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination and other human rights violations against persons belonging to religious, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities, including but not limited to Arabs, Azeris, Balochis and Kurds, and their defenders; 

16. Expresses serious concern about ongoing severe limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, restrictions on the establishment of places of worship, attacks against places of worship and burial and other human rights violations, including but not limited to harassment, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of access to education and incitement to hatred that leads to violence against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, including Christians, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i Faith and their defenders in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and calls upon the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, including the seven Baha’i leaders declared by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Council to have been arbitrarily detained since 2008, and to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination, including economic restrictions, such as the closure or confiscation of businesses and properties, the cancellation of licences and denial of employment in certain public and private sectors, including government or military positions and elected office, and other human rights violations against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities;

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights which are to be universally protected. Freedom of thought, of conscience, of religion, of opinion, and of expression; the right to education and to life; and equal recognition before the law are all guarantees that make up this milestone declaration. It has been translated into more than 500 languages.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and in force since 3 January 1976. It commits its signatories to work toward the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights. Articles 18 and 19 of the ICESCR highlight the protection of freedom of thought and religion, the right to education and the right to expression and promotion of religion by people around the world. [11] In June 1975, Iran signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); it remains a signatory to this day.

The persecution of Baha’is has negatively impacted the wider Iranian community

Cruelty against Baha’is and the unfair treatment of the Baha’i Community in Iran since its inception has had an enormous negative impact on the social fabric of the wider community in that country. One aspect of this negative impact evinced by propaganda meted out by both the government and clergy against the Baha’is is evidenced by the ignorance of Iranian socalled “historians”, authors and free thinkers prior to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979. The propaganda against the Baha’is was so effective that you could hardly find an unbiased account of Baha’i history and the positive impact which Baha’i teachings had on Iran. Thousands of anti-Baha’i literature and materials were easily and freely available, and Baha’is had no opportunity to respond. They were not allowed to distribute their own Baha’i literature freely, as it was against the law. This has been a “taboo subject” for the past 174 years in Iran, until recent years, when social media, the internet, and increased public awareness have slowly changed the perception and made it much easier for those who are interested to discover the facts for themselves. But history shows that anti -Baha’i propaganda has never hindered Baha’is from their community-building activities, or from extending help and friendship to their fellow citizens.

Another example of the negative impact that Baha’i-directed persecution has had on the wider Iranian society has been the action taken by clerics to completely ban people from accessing Baha’i literature and investigating Baha’i teachings. Instead, Iranian authorities have established well-orchestrated and malicious attacks on Baha’is and their property using public platforms and official media that are under their control. Some fatwas (religious rulings) issued by high ranking clerics are quoted in this article. Clerics still think they would be in big danger: if the public were to associate with Baha’is and expose themselves to new ideas and new teachings that are compatible with the needs of today and the aspirations of people — that this would not benefit clerics. Popular tools to prevent that from happening have been segregation, issuing harsh fatwas and inciting hatred against Baha’is.

All these malicious attacks on Baha’is combine with the government’s unlawful activities against Baha’is, such as banning Baha’i students from entering university studies, closing down Baha’i businesses, prohibiting employment in government departments, as well as hundreds of other restrictions. The clerics have been successful in dividing their nation into two groups: us and others. Inciting hatred against “others” was and still is the order of the day in Iran. The severity of the persecution against Baha’is in Iran can be better understood by noting that Baha’is are targeted from two directions: discriminatory actions and the violation of human rights by the government of Iran, as well as ‒ perhaps more dangerously ‒ the incitement of hatred by Islamic clergymen. Since the inception of the Baha’i Faith, the incitement of hatred has always been a bargaining chip for clerics, and it has been very hard and unpredictable to gauge.

The clerics’ preventing the population of Iran from getting to know about the teachings of the Baha’i Faith has been, in my opinion, a lost opportunity for the rest of the country. People deserve to freely associate with their neighbors, and to build friendship and trust with each other. But Baha’is in Iran have never paid attention to such divisive tactics and the segregation between “us and others”. Contrary to what Islamic clerics in Iran have tried in the past and continue to impose through a culture of segregation and the spread of hatred and animosity, Baha’is have extended warm friendship to their neighbors; friends; and associates, and do their best to engage in society-building activities in numerous fields.

Increase in public awareness and worldwide support for Baha’is

Recently, with the rise of social media and the interconnectivity of communities, many international and Iranian human rights organizations, parliamentarians in many countries, artists and celebrities, writers and academics, fair-minded religious leaders and many people of good will in Iran and around the world have strongly condemned the unjust treatment of the Baha’i community of Iran by government authorities, as well as the incitement of hatred against Baha’is by the clergy. It is also heartening to see that support for Baha’is in Iran and around the world is rapidly increasing, as people gain more accurate information about the Baha’i Faith, compared to what anti-Baha’i elements in the past 174 years — and more intensively since 1979 — have been fabricating and propagating through government-sponsored mass media.

It is also notable that recently a number of high ranking clerics and religious leaders in Iran and other countries have extended their sincere support by defending the rights of Baha’is in Iran. In February 2009, in an open letter with the title of “We are Ashamed”, a group of more than 267 (the number has increased since then) academics, writers, artists, journalists and other activists from Iran and around the world courageously signed a letter and expressed their sadness and apologies to the Baha’is of Iran for allowing extreme discrimination and persecution against them in their own country. [12]

In defiance of the Iranian government, Ayatollah Masoumi-Tehrani recently gave an art piece to Baha’is throughout the world, and especially to the Iranian Baha’is who, in his words, “have suffered in manifold ways as a result of blind religious prejudice at the hands of some of his coreligionists.” [13]

Ayatollah Masoumi-Tehrani defends Baha’i rights, and states on his website that he wishes the artwork to be viewed “as an enduring symbol of respect for the innate dignity of human beings, for fellow-feeling and peaceful coexistence regardless of religious affiliation, denomination or belief.” In a two-page letter accompanying the verse from the Baha’i writings, Masoumi-Tehrani writes, “Although it was my heart’s wish to make an illuminated copy of the whole Kitabi-Aqdas, like the holy Koran, the Torah, the Psalms, the New Testament, and the Book of Ezra, yet regrettably my physical and financial resources did not allow it.”[14]

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Excutive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, like many other religious organisations and people of good will, condemned the religious edict against the Baha’is in Iran. He said: ”We are extremely concerned by this new fatwa against the Baha’i community. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa (religious edict) against the Baha’i community on July 31, 2013, calling on Iranians to avoid Baha’is, and labelling them a ‘deviant and misleading sect.’ ...Although the Baha’i community is the largest religious minority in Iran, numbering over 300,000, it is not officially recognized and is refused legal status. Since 1979, over 200 of its leaders have been killed or executed and thousands more imprisoned.”[15] As public awareness is growing, so is the condemnation of the Iranian government’s action.

Does the Baha’i Faith Pose any Danger to Islam or Any Other Religion?

Not at all. In fact, the Baha’i Faith has initiated a unique and respectful interfaith dialogue, which proposes that all religions are one, they originate from one source, they have been revealed progressively during the course of history, and will continue to be revealed indefinitely into the future. It is a Divine Progressive Revelation. Baha’i teachings are based on a three fundamental pillars: the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religion and the Oneness of Humanity. Defending the Divine reality of all the past great religions is an uncompromising teaching of the Baha’i Faith.

Who are the Baha’is and What are the Baha’i Teachings?

In the mid-nineteenth century (1844) in Iran, a spiritually and ideologically revolutionary movement shook the religious and government establishment, when the Bab (meaning the Gate) announced that he was the Prophet expected by Shi’ite Muslims; very soon he had thousands of followers. At the time the government was in its most corrupt state. The Bab, the forerunner of the Baha’i Faith, called on people to live a virtuous life, and prepared them for the imminent coming of a second Prophet, greater than himself, who would fulfil the expectations of all past great religions. At the time all the attention and center of discussion was based on arguments drawn from the Qur’an and the Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, in addition to individual interpretations of high ranking Mullahs, most of whom rejected the Bab’s claim. Eventually, through the combined forces of the clergy and the government, the Bab was executed in 1850.

But the Cause of the Bab never died. Baha’u’llah, the second Prophet foretold by the Bab, was also rejected by the Shi’ite clerics, and was exiled from Persia to Baghdad, where he publicly declared his Mission to the world in 1863. The Baha’i Faith, with its world embracing vision and message of peace and unity, has since spread and been established in more than 200 countries and territories. The sad part of the recent history of Iran is that, due to influential clerics and religious leaders at the time, they never allowed anyone to openly and fairly examine these new and revolutionary Teachings; that tradition continues today. You cannot judge a book by its cover; a tree must be judged by the fruit you can harvest from it. The Baha’i Faith should be judged and examined by assessing its teachings, as well as getting to know the contributions Baha’is are making towards reconciliation, education and the progress of the wider community. People’s actions and contributions towards the betterment of society are important, as contrasted with those who enter into the same old customary arguments, aiming to reject other people based on self-interpretation of worn-out ideas or traditional tales that cannot be trusted.

“The Bahá’í Faith upholds the unity of God, recognizes the unity of His Prophets, and inculcates the principle of the oneness and wholeness of the entire human race. It proclaims the necessity and the inevitability of the unification of mankind, asserts that it is gradually approaching, and claims that nothing short of the transmuting spirit of God, working through His chosen Mouthpiece in this day, can ultimately succeed in bringing it about. It, moreover, enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society. It unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights, opportunities and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorce, emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one’s government, exalts any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship, urges either the creation or the selection of an auxiliary international language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions that must establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind.”[16]

Today more than seven billion people live on our planet — and the vast majority continue to have a belief system. The World Fact book says that approximately nine out of ten of Earth’s seven billion people identify themselves as believers in one of the major world Faiths – Christians (32 percent); Muslims (23 percent); Hindus (15 percent); Buddhists (7 percent); and other (which includes Jews, Baha’is and Zoroastrians, and some indigenous beliefs — 11 percent). Another eleven percent of the world’s population describe themselves as non-religious.

The Baha’i Faith is the only religion to have grown proportionally faster in every United Nations region over the past 100 years than the general population: the Baha’i Faith was thus the fastest-growing religion between 1910 and 2010, growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region. So, since the Baha’i Faith began in 1844, how many people have become Baha’is? And how many Baha’is are alive today? The short answer is: no one really knows. This is because most countries do not keep statistics on religion or require any religious designation in their records; many people in different parts of the world and from different cultures follow the Baha’i teachings without a formal declaration of belief; and births, deaths and new believers all mean that the actual number of Baha’is worldwide constantly fluctuates. Many estimates, however, exist — the official Baha’i World News Service at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel, now estimates “there are more than 5 million Baha’is in the world.”[17]

Baha’is have had a longstanding association with the United Nations. Since 1948 the Baha’i International Community has been recognized as an international non-governmental organization (NGO) at the United Nations. The Baha’i International Community is a member of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, the World Faiths Development Dialogue, the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations, and many more. The Baha’i Faith has consultative status with the following organizations:

• United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)
 • United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
 • United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
 • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
 • World Health Organization (WHO)[18]


Education of Children and Youth a Top Priority for Baha’is:

Compulsory education of children and youth, especially girls, is a top priority for Baha’is. “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”[19]


Tireless efforts of the Baha’i Community in Iran, as early as the 1890s, resulted in the introduction of a modern education system by establishing the Tarbiyat schools. Tarbiyat Schools for boys were founded first, and by 1911 the ground-breaking Tarbiyat schools for girls had been established. Gradually these schools were established in major cities across the country.

Many highly educated Iranians, Baha’is and non-Baha’is alike, from 1900 to the 1930s, had some schooling connection with the Tarbiyat schools. Attention to education and a positive outcome was very obvious, By the mid-to-late 1970s, just prior to the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the Bahá’í community was perhaps the best-educated group in Iran, with many of its members working as doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators, and other professionals at the top levels of society.

Unfortunately, due to interference and opposition from conservative clerics in 1934, all the Tarbiyat Schools were closed by the government. Comprehensive information and historical background on the Tarbiyat schools can be found at link [20] In the Reference section. 


The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE):

After the establishment of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary government in 1979, for a period of 30 months all Iranian universities and institutions of higher education were closed; in December 1982 they were reopened. With this reopening came a cultural revolution, which intiated wide spread higher education discrimination against Baha’is. The outcome was heartbreaking, and a total violation of human rights. Baha’i youth were not admitted to university or any other institutions of higher education. This gross violation of human rights and harsh discrimination included the dismissal of all Baha’i professors, lecturers and faculty members from Iranian universities.

“In 1987, after failed attempts to persuade the government to admit qualified Bahá’í students to Iranian universities, the Bahá’í community of Iran rallied its forces and expertise and established the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE). Founded on the spirit of sacrifice and volunteerism, BIHE quickly grew to meet the pressing needs of its inherent community, and was soon able to provide its youth with a new means for access to higher education. Professors and researchers in Iran who had been discharged from their universities and colleges for no reason other than their membership of the Bahá’í faith dedicated themselves to the BIHE project that has evolved from a compensatory institution to a university with academic standards not only on par with the Iranian public university system, but also equalling the standards adopted by universities in the West.”[21]

In 1991 a high-level memorandum, known as the Baha’i Question Memorandum, signed by the Iranian Supreme Leader, outlined a series of repressive measures to be taken against Baha’is to “block” their development and progress in all major areas, including expelling Baha’i students from universities and preventing Baha’i-led economic activities. It also provides conclusive evidence that the campaign against the Baha’is is definitely directed by top government authorities. Regarding educational policy, the document clearly states that “They [Baha’i students] must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Baha’is.”

The memorandum came to light in a 1993 report by UN Special Representative Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, who said the document came as “reliable information” just as his annual report on Iran to the UN Commission on Human Rights was being completed.

After initial establishment, enormous challenges and obstacles had to be overcome for the maintenance and growth of the BIHE. Baha’i homes were used as classrooms, especially given that online courses had some limitations. A strong and coordinated network of volunteers was needed to fulfil the needs of enrolled students across the country. To meet the examination deadlines of students, on many occasions volunteers and BIHE administrators had to drive across the country to deliver the study material to the students, as postal deliveries were not reliable in the country. On the other hand, the government made several attempts to bring this unique, peaceful and vital initiative to a halt, as the government wanted to block any progress of Baha’is in Iran. In 1998, government agents arrested at least 36 people after raiding more than 500 Baha’i homes, and confiscated much of the BIHE’s equipment and records. The raids drew considerable international condemnation. Similar attacks took place in 2001, 2002 and 2006.

Another major attack on the BIHE took place on 21 May, 2011.

“The series of raids carried out on some 30 homes of Baha’is, who were offering education to young community members barred by the government from university, is the latest action in Iran’s ongoing policy to keep its largest non-Muslim religious minority on the margins of society.

“‘The Iranian authorities are clearly determined to make it impossible for the Baha’i community to educate its youth whose opportunities are blocked by the state,’ said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“‘Denying people the right to education is a denial of their right to exist as free and productive human beings – and to make a contribution to their society,’ she said. Some 16 Baha’is were arrested on, or after, Saturday 21 May. One has since been released. Eight other Baha’is were interrogated by Intelligence Ministry officers and released afterward.”[22]

“The dedication and determination of the Baha’is in Iran has not allowed any vicious attack on their unique higher education system to stop them providing a high level university education to their youth who are unjustly deprived of entering university study in the country. The overwhelming achievements and results have been remarkable and praiseworthy. An average of 1,000 students apply to BIHE very year, BIHE offers over 1050 courses ranging from Persian literature to applied chemistry. More information is available on BIHE’s website.”[23]

Affiliated Global Faculty (AGF) of the BIHE is another remarkable development that hundreds of dedicated university professors outside Iran, after witnessing that Baha’i youth have been banned from higher education, have happily accepted, to assist BIHE with online lecturing, research and consultation.

“Since 2005, the online component of BIHE has allowed a growing international body of volunteer university professors outside Iran, known as the Affiliated Global Faculty (AGF), to join efforts with their colleagues and assistants inside the country. The AGF comprises professors holding PhD degrees, who work and reside in North America, Europe, Australia, Africa, Latin America and Asia. Indeed, the diversity of the teaching staff is one of the unique and impressive features of this university.”[24]

The following is an interview conducted by BBC news on January 18, 2017 with two BIHE students in relation to their further study:

“I remember the faces of all my friends who were coming from other cities in Iran, from far away,” Mona said to BBC. “It took them maybe 16-20 hours to get to Tehran. Their faces looked so tired. It was really hard. We had one class from 08:00 to 12:00 in the east of Tehran, and the second class from 14:00 to 18:00 on the west side – it was exhausting! Sometimes we didn’t have physical teachers, we had them over Skype, who were teaching us from the U.S. and Canada.” Travel time and logistics weren’t the only obstacles. Raids on their secret classrooms and arrests of many BIHE teachers were common.

Despite this, Shirin and Mona managed to graduate within a decade from each other, with their respective degrees. However, due to BIHE’s limitations and circumstances, they could not apply to do an Master’s or Doctorate at BIHE or any other Iranian universities. Neither could they look for employment where their skills could be used.

So they fled. Seeking better opportunities, Shirin went to the UK under a domestic labor visa scheme, while Mona escaped to New York via Austria, under an international religious refugee repatriation programme. Both were pleasantly surprised that their BIHE degrees were recognized by their universities of choice in the UK and in the US.

This allowed Shirin to get a place at Birmingham University, from which she has since graduated, and Mona to be able to complete her MA in Psychology at Columbia University. “It was more than a miracle – it was beyond expectation, beyond my wildest dream,” Shirin said to the BBC. “Till today, I feel it was the best reward I received for never compromising my faith.”

“It feels amazing, I can’t believe it’s all done and I’ll even have a graduation! When I graduated from the BIHE, they arrested all my teachers, Baha’i teachers. And we never had a graduation day,” said Mona.

BIHE’s perseverance and success has received praise for its non-violent and constructive form of resistance against oppression. It was only apt that the New York Times called BIHE “an elaborate act of communal self-preservation”. And as shown by Mona and Shirin, it’s more than just elaborate, it is courageous.

There are so many other human rights activists and people of good will around the world who are actively involved in supporting the right to university education for Baha’i youth in Iran. Maziar Bahari, who is an Iranian Canadian journalist and filmmaker, and a human rights victim who was incarcerated by the Iranian government from June 1998 to October 2009, was inspired to produce and direct the film “To Light a Candle” that provides a powerful account of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. The film sheds light on the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) and the way this unique university was established.

Maziar Bahari also initiated the “Not a Crime” and wall murals campaigns around the world, highlighting the concept that education should not be a crime for Baha’i educators and students in Iran.

“This whole campaign is about agency, about giving people the ability to express themselves and to learn from each other’s experiences,” Bahari said.[25]

The restriction and discrimination against Baha’i students in higher education over the last 38 years is increasingly becoming a point of discussion among university students in Iran. They see this discriminatory action of the government as a gross violation of the human rights against a peace-loving community within Iranian society. On 2 June 2017, Iran Press Watch reported that “More than three thousand Iranian students from various universities are protesting educational restrictions imposed on Gonabadi Dervishes (another religious minority group) and Baha’is, demanding education equality for all religious and ethnic minorities”. A full report can be accessed through the following link.[26]

The Economic Apartheid and Repression of Baha’is in Iran:

Imagine you live in a country where for your whole life you have experienced ongoing discrimination and persecution. You are also in a situation in which you are not allowed to defend yourself against this unjust treatment through a fair judiciary system. On the other hand, you are so inspired by the teachings of your Faith that you want to do your best for the betterment of the society and the people, even extending warm fellowship to those who subject you to all manner of hardship and discrimination. This is the description of the daily life of Baha’is in Iran.

The economic repression of Baha’is in Iran has been a major theme of the Iranian government’s policy since 1991, when the Baha’i Question memorandum was implemented. In recent years the shift of tactic has been intensified, and is now full-blown economic apartheid and suppression. The Ministry of Intelligence, in conjunction with many other government agencies, has increased its efforts to close businesses run by Baha’is, with the aim of doing whatever they can to block the prosperity of Baha’is and forcing them to leave their own country or live in destitution.

“In direct contradiction of government claims that it does not actively target Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, IranWire has seen an updated list of banned Baha’i businesses. In an attempt to thwart Baha’i businesses, the Ministry of Intelligence has recently updated the blacklist, which was first initiated in 1991, and distributed it to the security departments of companies and contractors to prevent them from conducting business transactions with Baha’is. Reformist website Saham News published a recent blacklist in June 2015, after obtaining access to the classified documents.

“When international sanctions were lifted, countries around the world looked to Iran for investment opportunities. Now the Iranian government is aggressively trying to exclude Baha’i businesses from the potential economic benefits of the nuclear deal and last year’s agreement with the United States and five other world powers.

“In Iran, companies’ security activities come under the supervision of the Ministry of Intelligence. In 1991, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution ordered the ministry to draw up a list of Baha’i-run businesses in an effort to ‘block their path to growth and development’.

“The Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution approved the original list on February 5 and February 9, 1991, sending them off for final approval by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammad Golpayegani. The files set out a clear strategy for blocking Baha’is from making economic advances. Crucially, they also set out Khamenei’s plan to ban Baha’is from pursuing further education, a ban that is very much in place today.” [27]

This systematic campaign of economic repression against Baha’is by government authorities and its numerous agencies is only one part of this vicious campaign. The more provokingly dangerous part involves the anti-Baha’i fatwas (religious decrees) issued by high ranking clerics, giving directions to the general public with regard to their business dealings and other common social interactions with Baha’i citizens. These religious decrees attempt to paint Baha’is as “others” to create an environment in which Baha’is are isolated and hated by the rest of the community. “It is prohibited to make a deal or have association with Baha’is...,” reads part of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Makarem- Shirazi. “All members of the perverse Bahaist sect are condemned as blasphemous and ritually unclean.” pronounced Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, in one of his fatwas. These are just two examples extracted from religious/legal rulings of high ranking clerics. In all these so called “religious” decrees, clerics have tried to describe Baha’is using very outrageous and shocking titles such as: Satanists, misguided, anti-Islam, Zionist, morally corrupt, unclean, perverse sect, infidels and much more.

Many hardline clerics in different parts of the country are not satisfied with the intensified and systematic crackdown on businesses run by Baha’is. They openly use Friday prayer congregations as another platform for the incitement of hatred. The hateful messages of the clerics serve as fuel for the murder of Baha’is by people who have been influenced by the clergy. In the past 38 years of the Islamic government in Iran, there have been dozens of religiously motivated murder cases in which innocent Baha’is were killed, but no justice prevailed and legal procedures were violated. Two recent murder cases serve to highlight the point.

Source: Baha’i World News Service Aug. 27, 2013. On August 24, 2013, Mr. Ataollah Rezvani was shot in the back of his head; his body was found in his car near the railway station on the outskirts of Bandar Abbas, the city in which he resided with his family. It appears that his assailants had forced him to drive to that location. His body was discovered following a search, after he failed to return home. Mr. Rezvani was well-known as a Baha’i, and was loved and respected by the people of Bandar Abbas for his honesty and helpfulness. As a young man, he had been expelled from his engineering studies at university because he was a Baha’i. He nonetheless came to be regarded as an expert in water purification, and his work took him to other cities. Recently, owing to pressure and threats from agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, he was dismissed from his work, and had to resort to selling water purification equipment. Since his murder in 2013, Mr Rezvani’s family members have tried every possible avenue to seek justice, but nothing has been achieved; instead they have been threatened by officials for pursuing the murder case.

Source: Baha’i International Community news service. Geneva June 13, 2017 – Mr. Farhang Amiri, 63, was murdered outside his home on September 26, 2016, in the city of Yazd, in which his family had long resided. The two murderers, who are brothers, were apprehended by local shopkeepers as they tried to run away and were delivered to the police. During their subsequent interrogations and court hearings, they admitted to having killed Mr. Amiri because he was a Baha’i.

They disclosed that they had been prompted to carry out this act by their religious beliefs and statements made by clerics that Baha’is are against Islam. On June 13, 2017 the two murderers were released on bail after having confessed to killing Mr Amiri because of his faith. Most likely the Iranian judiciary system will violate their own legal procedures, and the murderers will escape any trial or charges.

Reports compiled by the Baha’i International Community reveal the systematic, vicious and appalling nature of economic pressure mounting against Baha’i business owners and operators across the country. Hundreds of Baha’i-owned businesses in Kerman, Rafsanjan, Jiroft, Karaj, Sari, Urumiyeh, Noshahr, Semnan, Yazd, Tonekabon, Tabriz, Shiraz and many other large and small places have been blacklisted and targeted for closure by placing official seals of closure on their doors and displaying a banner saying the shops had been closed because of “violation of trading rules”. These recent attempts by the Iranian government to target Baha’i businesses reflect the latest element of the Islamic Regime’s long-running campaign to suppress the economic livelihood of its Baha’i citizens.

Violation of so called “trading rules” by Baha’i business owners is a totally baseless accusation. The country’s union and business organisation’s rules allow business owners to close their businesses for any emergency or personal reasons up to 15 days in a year without obtaining any official permission. Also, there are restrictions for Baha’is operating any important business. “On April 9, 2007, the Office of Public Places issued a letter to police commanders nationwide, saying Baha’is may not be issued work permits in a wide range of industries, including hospitality and tourism, the food industry, jewelry, publishing, and businesses related to computers and the Internet. It appears that optometry has recently been added to this list”[28]

The economic repression of Baha’is has a negative impact on the livelihood of many other Iranians who have long-standing associations, family ties and business dealings with them, resulting in the denial of livelihood for hundreds of other people and putting downward pressure on the country’s economy. The Baha’i International Community has compiled many disturbing reports about irresponsible actions of the Iranian government. In late 2012 a large Baha’i owned business distributing hygiene products in Tehran was closed by the authorities; as a result 70 employees lost their jobs. The owners were told they would never be allowed to re-open their business. In May 2012, Intelligence agents raided and closed two factories in Semnan with full or partial Baha’i ownership. One manufactured vertical blinds and employed 51 staff — 36 of them were not Baha’is. The other place, a lens grinding factory, had two Baha’i and six non-Baha’i employees. There are hundreds of stories related to the economic repression of Baha’is in Iran that will touch your heart and puzzle your mind.

Article 55(c) of the United Nations Charter is to commit the UN to the promotion of “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The appalling treatment of Baha’is in their own country by the Iranian government is a gross violation of human rights; it is against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and even the country’s own constitution. Internationally, as human rights becomes more and more an issue, human rights activists are increasingly suggesting that human rights be enforced through trade agreements. There is also strong evidence that in many Western countries, the general public is in favor of including social law provisions, such as human rights clauses, in Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs), with international trade partners. In the past couple of years, with the relaxation of economic sanctions, the Iranian government is desperately seeking to partner with some Western countries to stimulate the growth of the country’s ailing economy through foreign investment. In years to come, if the Iranian government is serious about attracting and maintaining foreign investment and relationships, the authorities need to have a hard look at their appalling human rights record of discrimination against Baha’is.

Other trade law scholars have sought to expand the potential connection between international trade and human rights, by, for example, promoting the world trading system’s cornerstone principle of economic efficiency as a means to stimulate economic growth and increase resources for the pursuit of human rights. Some human rights scholars have sought to utilize the sophisticated dispute settlement mechanisms of international trade law in the service of ensuring greater respect for human rights.

In a recent statement in relation to the ninth anniversary of the imprisonment of the former seven Baha’i leaders known as the Yaran (“Friends”), the Baha’i International Community Office highlights an important point. “The representatives of the country on the international stage are no longer able to deny that these acts of discrimination are in response to matters of belief and conscience. Officials, lacking any convincing explanation for their irrational conduct and unconcerned at the damage done by their narrow policies to the name and credibility of the country, find themselves unable even to give a plausible answer to why they are so apprehensive about the existence of a dynamic Baha’i community in that land”.[29]

It is encouraging to see that attempts to link human rights with trade and ethics are increasing. “Is it Ethical to Trade with Totalitarian Iran?” This question was raised in Newsweek in its April 15, 2016 edition. Doing business in Iran raises the question of ethics. Businesses like to demonstrate that they are not only profitable but also beneficial to the community. Many feel compelled to show that they are green, gender equitable, ethnically diverse, philanthropic—and ethical. So crucial are these questions to perception and brand imaging that business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are burgeoning disciplines worth billions of dollars a year to global companies.

Doing business in Iran raises the question of ethics. Businesses like to demonstrate that they are not only profitable but also beneficial to the community. Many feel compelled to show that they are green, gender equitable, ethnically diverse, philanthropic—and ethical. So crucial are these questions to perception and brand imaging that business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are burgeoning disciplines worth billions of dollars a year to global companies.

They ask difficult questions: “Does your business harm the environment?” “Do its leaders act with integrity—always?” “Are they honest? Fair? Just?” “Do they care about the people who work for them, or who buy their products and services—all the stakeholders?”

Now they will have to add to the list, “Do your business links with Iran encourage the regime in its abuse of human rights or are they likely to empower its populace?”

Many accuse Iran of human rights abuses, even “crimes against humanity”, also identifying it as one of the world’s most corrupt societies. They accuse it of genocide, ethnic and cultural cleansing, of torture and of human rights abuses against journalists, lawyers, women and ethnic and religious minorities.[30]


Massive Development of Anti-Baha’i Propaganda Material and Activities

The scope of anti-Baha’i propaganda material created by the Iranian government and the agencies of the clerics is so vast that it would be beyond anyone’s imagination to fathom. Anti-Baha’i propaganda materials appear in many different forms, including articles, broadcasts, web pages, blogs, seminars, exhibitions, TV series and hosted TV programs, school curricula and lectures, and of course regular Friday prayer congregations in which clerics do their best to paint Baha’is as unclean, as a misguided sect, anti-government, agents of Zionism, deviant, etc. A special report compiled by the Baha’i International Community on the situation of Baha’is in Iran reveals that from January 2014 to August 2015 there were more than 7,000. anti-Baha’i articles published in Iranian media. In another earlier report dated to May 2011 the following anti-Baha’i propaganda was identified:

1. 367 articles in a wide range of print and online media
 2. 58 seminars, conferences and symposia
3. Four documentary TV series and three additional TV programmes
4. Five official exhibitions, and three radio series
5. At least two websites entirely dedicated to combating the Baha’i Faith
6. Many software data bases available online and/or as CDs
7. Several anti-Baha’i posters displayed in public places such as trains and metros.[31]

Although the Baha’i Faith is the largest non-Muslim independent religious minority in Iran, and they have demonstrated their loyalty to their country, and have contributed to the development of the country by their dedication in numerous fields, Iranian authorities at international forums nevertheless mysteriously deny the existence of the Baha’i community. On the other hand they spend and invest a large amount of capital and human resources on the propagation of slander and calumny against Baha’is. It also raises the serious question of why the authorities and the clerics spend so much resources and time to defame a law-abiding segment of their own citizenry.

Fortunately, because of the Internet the majority of Iranians, like many other people from around the world, are now better informed about the oppression inflicted upon their fellow citizens, and despite efforts by the Iranian regime to paint Baha’is as “others” and unclean, the people of Iran are increasingly voicing support for their Baha’i fellow-citizens. As highlighted, examples include a large number of Iranian university students standing up for Baha’i students banned from university studies, and business owners in Noshahr and other cities in Mazanderan writing letters to officials, objecting to the closing of Baha’i-owned businesses across the country.


How the Iranian Judiciary system Works in Relation to Baha’is

Irrespective of the political and governing establishments in different countries around the world, the judiciary system is where people hope to find justice and fairness, and seek shelter against injustice. Unfortunately for Baha’is in Iran, that is far from the reality. To be persecuted and discriminated against by the government and clerics is hard enough, but to be treated unjustly by the judiciary system that should supposedly be an independent body for reinforcing the rule of law is even more heart-breaking and disappointing.

This is how the justice system works for Baha’is: In a systematic and orchestrated pattern, agents of the Ministry of Intelligence target individual Baha’is or a group of them ‒ say a business group, educators or young students ‒ and obtain a warrant under false accusations. Commonly, Baha’is are accused of endangering national security, spying for foreign countries, acting against the government or against Islam, etc. They will then make a sweeping arrest along with confiscating their computers, books and other personal items such as photo albums ‒ in most cases to identify other people for further arrest. Initially, the accused individuals are kept in detention centers, at least for a few days, without any proper legal procedures being followed, and family members are not informed as to their whereabouts.

Such an arrest has already created turmoil for family members, who are unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones or the reason for their arrest. The system is designed to create frustration and a worrying environment for Baha’is. The next stage is the questioning, interrogation and filtering of the arrested people, in which some are released after payment of a heavy bail, which is another burden on a family’s financial situation: and some will be incarcerated.

When it comes to dealing with Baha’is in the legal system, there are many violations of legal procedures. Iranian law requires that detainees be quickly and formally charged with a crime. For Baha’is there is evidence that it can take weeks or months for this procedure to be followed. In the case of the seven Baha’i leaders who are currently serving 10-year prison sentences, it took nine months before any word of charges against them was made. Denial of legal counsel is another violation of legal procedure. Under the Iranian legal system, the accused have the right for a lawyer to be present during the investigation. This right is denied to Baha’is. The legal statues governing the operation of Iranian prisons restrict the holding of inmates in solitary confinement to not more than 20 days after their arrest. In the case of the seven Baha’i leaders, one was held for 175 days in solitary confinement, and the other six for 105 days.

The trials of Baha’is take place behind closed doors in the Revolutionary Court. Many of the legal teams who have taken it upon themselves to defend Baha’is in the Iranian court system in the past have been accused of orchestrating activities against national security, and had to flee the country or face prison sentences themselves. Therefore, it is extremely difficult for Baha’is to find a legal team to defend their legal rights. A typical closed-door trial and court procedures for accused Baha’is involves the presence of a judge, a court clerk, a representative of the Public Prosecutor, the accused person and ‒ if it is permitted ‒ a lawyer. The whole show is influenced and controlled by intelligence agents. The impartiality of the judge is questionable, as he will interfere with the public prosecutor’s role, and will threaten the defense lawyer and the accused. The charges are fabricated, so the Baha’is will deny all the accusations and try to provide a reasonable response in defending themselves. If the lawyer who is seated next to the accused tries to highlight actual legalities according to Iranian law in defending the case, they will face harsh and threatening words from the judge. The bravery of the accused Baha’i in defending themselves and rejecting the false charges will frustrate the judge: finally ‒ in a disrespectful manner ‒ the judge will question the accused. Are you a Baha’i? If the answer is yes, the judge with anger and hatred will say “That makes you guilty of all the charges!” In most of the cases prison terms are pre- determined and dictated by Intelligence agents as between one and five years. The whole trial procedure normally takes between 10 and 20 minutes.

Arrest, detention and imprisonment of Baha’is in Iran are part of an overall state-sponsored persecution in which the government and clerics desire to maintain an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the Baha’is. They keep changing their tactics and accusations when they fail to see negative impacts on the strength of the Baha’is of Iran. On October 13, 2013, following raids on 14 Baha’i homes in the city of Abadan, during questioning of the detainees, the Baha’is were told that local residents “don’t like you” and that “when you are on the streets, they might attack you and your children with knives” but in reality this was another tactic, and in fact the residents have very good relations with Baha’is.[32]

There is convincing evidence that for the past 38 years of Islamic government in Iran there have been a number of Baha’is locked up in prison at any given time. The number of Baha’i prisoners can vary, but the authorities are determined to keep the pressure on Baha’is, and so they continually come up with different tactics and strategies. The evidence is also clear that Baha’is have not committed any actual crimes, such as fraud, theft, murder, or other criminal activities that we know of. There are numerous stories narrated by inmates after their release from prison in Iran that the Baha’i prisoners were able to gain the trust and friendship of other prisoners, and how helpful they were in assisting and comforting their fellow inmates. Stories of friendly meetings between a Baha’i prisoner, Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, and Mrs. Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, created significant media coverage in May of 2016.[33]

Summary and Conclusion

The Iranian Islamic regime and the ruling clerics continue to identify and jail Baha’is for various contrived reasons and baseless accusations, to arrest individual Baha’is and demand heavy bail, to ban young Baha’is from entering university and higher education, to impose economic repression on Baha’i business owners and to cancel their business licenses, to spread, through state controlled media, false and vicious propaganda and defamatory films designed to inflame the public mind, to paint Baha’is in the public eye as “others”, to issue fatwas demanding that the public cut off any ties with the Baha’is, to project Baha’is as a foreign element, anti-Islamic and morally corrupt, to confiscate Baha’i properties without any legitimate legal ground, to dismiss Baha’is from government positions, universities and other public sectors, to destroy Baha’i cemeteries and make insurmountable barriers against Baha’i  burials, and not to give any chance to Baha’is to defend themselves via public media or otherwise. However, despite all this persecution, Baha’is have no animosity or hatred towards their oppressors.

Loyalty to the government and obedience to the law of the land wherever Baha’is live, within the frame-work of human rights and universally accepted conventions, are part of the Baha’i teachings. Baha’is in Iran never take part in any plots against the government. Baha’is have a much higher aim and aspiration: and that is to create love and fellowship, without force or violence, among the whole of humanity, with a world embracing vision of the “Oneness of Mankind”,. Baha’is have freely chosen this path of service and have grown beyond having a “victim mentality”. They have demonstrated an exemplary constructive resilience in Iran under all kinds of cruelty and persecution which they have endured for the last 174 years. It is quite obvious that Baha’is in Iran do not voluntarily seek persecution in order to gain sympathy, though the Iranian government and clerics viciously and continually air this nonsensical accusation against them. The Iranian government and clerics ‒ with all the power and glory of the state sponsored propaganda machine ‒ are nevertheless failing to convince the wider Iranian society or the international community to agree with their discriminatory and barbaric actions against the Baha’is. “The Iranian Officials lacking any convincing explanation for their irrational conduct and unconcerned at the damage done by their narrow policies to the name and credibility of the country, find themselves unable even to give a plausible answer to why they are so apprehensive about the existence of a dynamic Baha’i Community in that land.” [34]

A simple observation about what is happening around the world clearly shows that bloodshed, ongoing pockets of war, violation of human rights, and hunger for power are familiar and daily occurrences. Thankfully the majority of mainstream community members are increasingly reflecting on the current situation of the world, and want to find a solution that creates peace. Baha’is in Iran have demonstrated a new approach of Constructive Resilience for society building that needs to be carefully studied and examined. Baha’is throughout the world are always seeking to work and cooperate with like-minded people for community building projects. This year, 2017, is the bicentenary celebration of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, around the world, and it is an ideal opportunity to find out who the Baha’is are and what they have to offer. Everyone is welcome to be part of this celebration, so as to discover more about who the Baha’is are. You may visit any reputable Baha’i sites, such as, or call your Baha’i friends or a Baha’i community near you to find out more.


1. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – Peaceful Rivers, Wisdom for the Journey –
2. Baha’u’llah: Gleanings, p. 95.
3. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 221.
4. Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, par. 194.1.
5. From a letter dated 29 December 1988, written by the Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is of the United States.
6. Friedrich W. Affolter in “War Crimes, Genocide, & Crimes against Humanity” 2005.
7. Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet : Religion and Politics in Iran, One World, Oxford, 1985, 2000.
8. A special report of the Baha’i International Community – October 2015, p 31.
9. Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, 2004.
16. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. Call to the Nations, p. 12.
19. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 260. 20.
30. 447440?fb_action_ids=1578379729141630&fb_action_types=og.comments
31. pdf
34. The Universal of House of Justice. May 2017 mesage to the Baha’is of Iran.


























Soli Shahvar
July 31, 2019

An excellent and concise account of the Baha'is of Iran, both on the historical and contemporary levels. A must read, and especially for every Iranian.


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