Why are the Baha’is persecuted? The predominant religion of Iran is Shia Islam. According to the Quran, Muhammad was “the Seal of the Prophets.” This has been interpreted by religious leaders to mean Muhammad was the last and final prophet or messenger of God. Islam is from that perspective the last and final religion. Baha’is believe their faith’s founder, Baha’u’llah, brought another divine revelation to inspire a new era of global justice and peace. The Baha’i faith grew rapidly and was soon seen as a threat by religious authorities. A genocide of some 20,000 Baha’is took place in the 1850s.
After this time, the Baha’is gradually became more accepted into Iranian society. They established some of the first schools to include girls. Instead of a clergy, they elected individuals to serve the community for a term of service. These leaders formed the “local assembly.” The assembly helped organize community events, perform marriages, funerals and the like. Then the “National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran” was elected in 1934, and a beautiful National Baha’i Center was erected in Iran’s capital city of Tehran.
However, with the Revolution of 1979, a new wave of persecution ensued for the Baha’is of Iran. All nine members of the National Assembly were executed, the National Center was demolished, the faith declared illegal, Baha’i cemeteries bulldozed and Baha’i youth became ineligible for college enrollment unless they converted to one of the state-recognized religions. That’s when many Baha’i families fled the country and that’s when my parents welcomed one of them to our home in Washington, Ill.
The world’s religions, including Islam, have been a tremendous force for inspiring love, compassion and service. Religious faith has been at the heart of nearly every humanitarian organization and human rights movement. Sadly, however, religion has also been misused. Let us hope that as time moves on, humanity will learn to abandon the harmful beliefs and attitudes that have crept into religion. Beliefs of superiority, exclusivity and finality are very harmful to humanity. Such beliefs lead to ethnocentric and partisan modes of thinking. These beliefs, rather than inspiring universal compassion and respect, incited condemnation and persecution.
Let’s strive to move forward as one people—to soberly face the global crises of our times together. Whether you are a person of religious faith or not, practice the golden rule of kind consideration towards every person and to all life on earth. As Baha’u’llah wrote, “Let your vision be world embracing, rather than confined to your own selves.” With world embracing vision we create a new, broader frame of thinking. With unbiased beliefs we can contribute to the betterment of the world, a world that is just and safe for each and every citizen.