The Plight of the Persian Baha’is

A faith that is established on the foundations of unity and a universal truth among all religions is staring persecution dead between the eyes. A faith that fosters the equality of men and women and peacefully promotes the elimination of all forms of prejudice has been condemned by a government that views its teachings as a threat to the Islamic Republic. A faith that has remained steadfast when faced with adversity and has continued to promote the oneness of mankind, despite all the afflictions and vexations suffered, is tiptoeing around the policies of a country that fails to recognize its existence.

What injustice have the members of the Baha’i Faith committed to deserve such treatment? This past year, the question was revisited in May 2008 when the Iranian government imprisoned seven members of the Baha’i Faith.

With no formal charges pressed against them and no access to a lawyer, the five men and two women found themselves in the hands of a corrupt government and legal system that has been persecuting members of the faith since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979.

News outlets from around the world have brought attention to this undeniable violation of human rights and have given the Iranian government the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind the arrests. Iran responded with informal charges that include espionage for Israel and the promotion of propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The question that remains to be answered is how a faith that recognizes a common truth in all religions can be seen as a threat.

Founded in Iran in 1844, Baha’is believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh (The Glory of God) are pertinent to this day and age. The ideas of universal education, the elimination of extremes in poverty and wealth and the establishment of a global commonwealth of nations are a few fundamental teachings of the faith that actively promotes the unification of mankind.

Recognizing the divine teachings of Islam and the beauty of emaan (faith), being acquainted with the messages of the one all-knowing and omniscient God that is brought forth in Judaism, in perfect harmony with the spiritual qualities of the human soul mentioned in the gospel of Christianity, and understanding the importance of meditation and prayer emphasized in the Buddhist writings, the Baha’i Faith promotes the unifying factors and progressive nature of the religions of the world.

In a world that allows genocide and persecutions to happen, the view of humanity has become tainted. A certain trust among people has slowly evaporated in the heat of conflicts and religious disagreements. We judge the people around us without taking the time to understand where they are coming from. Why can’t we simply recognize that we are all citizens of one world? Some may argue that this is an idealist and naive perspective of the human condition. But what is so naive about it? Is it too simple a solution that it has been overlooked?

In a letter written to Fariba Kamalabadi, one of the two women imprisoned, her daughter speaks of the pain and emotion of not being able to contact her mother. Kamalabadi explains the sorrow she experienced holding her mother’s fragile frame in her arms and her inability to show strength for her steadfast mother, who has relied on prayers and faith to get her through the tragic situation.

The persecution and unjustifiable imprisonment of the Baha’is in Iran needs to stop. Every individual is capable of contributing to the fight against the injustices in the world, but when we combine our efforts and understand that we are a single human race striving for one common goal of unity, our voices will echo one vast anthem of love and peace.

In the words of `Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the prophet and founder of the Faith, “I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship and happiness.”

Ryon Tanara is a second-year biological sciences major. He can be reached at rtanara@uci.edu.