Baha’is in Iran
August 23, 2008
There are unfortunately many human rights violations around the world. We often feel helpless in the face of such injustice; however, helplessness has never helped anyone. The first step to empowerment is information, and so I offer part of this blog as a source of information on the human rights violations that touch me more personally. In no way do I think these particular cases are more special that others; there are so many out there that I could spend my entire life blogging about them and still not manage to cover them all.
The Baha’is in Iran have been subjected to the violation of their human rights from the beginning of the inception of the Baha’i Faith in 1844. Thousands of Baha’is were killed in those first tumultuous years of the history of the Faith.
Today, the violation of the human rights of the Baha’is takes on many forms. For decades, the Iranian government has denied the young Baha’i in Iran their right to higher education. Unable to quench the spirit of these young Baha’is, many of whom try, year after year, to get into university, there are now reports of mistreatment of Baha’is students of all ages in Iran, including young children in primary school. These young people are being subjected to harsh and shameful treatment by their teachers and their peers, and is the result of a government-sponsored campaign to suppress the Baha’i community and spread misinformation about the Baha’i Faith. There are many accounts of some of these incidents, a couple of which I’d like to share with you.
The following were taken from the document: “Summary Report of Attacks Against Baha’i School Children in Iran, June 2007-January 2008″.
“At the beginning of the school year, at least fifty Baha’i students were refused enrolment for wholly unjustified reasons, such as having referred to the Faith in classes in the previous year; in some cases religious staff simply refused to enrol any student who is not a Muslim. Many families were therefore forced to enrol their children in schools much further away from their homes than the schools they could have attended if not for the discriminatory treatment of school officials.”
While I can understand that an Islamic country wouldn’t want other Faiths to be taught in the official school system, I find it hard to swallow that children aren’t allowed to receive basic education on the basis of their Faith. Wouldn’t it be enough to tell children of other Faiths to not mention them on school property? The school could focus on teaching the tenants of Islam, and parents can choose to teach the tenant of their own religions at home.
“Ten Baha’i students were expelled from schools in Vilashahr, Najafabad, and Shahinshahr in the province of Isfahan for having chosen to specify ‘Baha’i’ in the space provided for religion on forms the school authorities gave them to complete some two months after school had begun. The students and their parents, having sought legal counsel, sent letters of complaint to the relevant school officials. A few days later, the parents and their children went to one of the schools to ask that their children be allowed to return to their classes. The principal evaded this request and instead called the police. Although the police never appeared at the school, soon after this call approximately thirty Islamic Revolutionary Guards arrived in a blatant attempt to intimidate the students and their parents, followed shortly thereafter by some one hundred women from the School of Theology in Vilashahr. When the Baha’is declined to leave the schoolyard, the Guards physically assaulted a couple of them and then carried a bench, with the Baha’is still sitting on it, outside the schoolyard. Throughout, the Guards were chanting anti-Baha’i slogans.
As a result of the foregoing incident, the Baha’is contacted the office of the Ministry of Education in Isfahan province, where they were asked once again by the head of the Security Office in Isfahan to enter two strikes in the space for religion on the school registration form, which the Baha’is were not prepared to do. The head of the Security Office then explained, “We do not wish to harm anyone, and our intention in identifying religion is to know the principal belief on which the students wish to be tested.” Eventually the Baha’is suggested that ‘Islamic Studies’ be stated in the form, and the authorities accepted this. The Baha’is, who had refused to bow to pressure that they pledge not to mention their Faith at school, wrote on the form, “If we are not asked and our beliefs are not insulted, we will not volunteer our religion.” The authorities accepted, and the students were finally able to return to school. The following day, however, the school principal expelled them from school again and indicated that if they wished to continue their studies, they would have to leave the space on the forms blank, or strike it through, or write “Muslim”. Three of the Baha’is did choose to strike through the space and were able to return to school; the remaining Baha’i students have still not been permitted to return. Throughout this process, a considerable number of non-Baha’i students and teachers defended the Baha’is, some also visiting the homes of expelled students to convey sympathy.”
Personally, I am of the opinion that the suggestion of the Baha’i students, to not talk about their Faith unless they are asked or they are insulted, is a good middle ground. Although it still refuses these Baha’is of their freedom to express themselves, it helps the government of Iran in maintaining calm within an Islamic Republic.
I also think that it is important to note that most Iranians are not against Baha’is and very few of them treat Baha’is with callousness and disrespect. The same can be said about Muslims; not only are most of them sympathetic to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran, there is even a movement of Muslim students dedicated to ensuring that the Baha’i students in Iran aren’t denied an education.