January 11, 2023

The Case of the Bahá’í Minority in Iran: – a 1993 review of the history of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran and the success the community has had in using the U. N. system in their defense - by Douglas Martin

The experience of the Baha'is of Iran is a classic case of the violation of human rights, produced by religious intolerance. Prior to the Islamic revolution a deep-seated prejudice against the Baha’is and their religion characterized not only Iran’s Islamic clergy and the illiterate masses, but also many among the country's educated elite and middle class. The prejudice was widespread and communicated itself to many Western observers. Michael Fischer, a generally sympathetic commentator on the revolution notes, for example, that even the exercise of routine civil functions by Baha’is was seen as proof of a “Baha’i conspiracy.”[1] Richard W. Cottam, author of Nationalism in Iran, pointed out the problem of even discussing the subject of the Baha’i Faith in a country in which the word “Bábí” has long been freely used as an epithet, along with such words as “infidel,” to describe anyone to whom the speaker is strongly opposed.[2] This prejudice is probably the most important point to grasp for an observer wishing to understand the situation of the Baha'is in modern Iran. The second point is that, in the land of the Baha’i Faith’s origin, the prejudice is, paradoxically, combined with an almost universal ignorance of the religion’s nature, teachings, and history. For over a century a curtain of silence has surrounded the subject. The Baha'i community has consistently been denied the use of any means of communication with the general public: radio, television, newspapers, films, the distribution of literature, or public lectures. The academic community in Iran has studiously ignored the existence of the worldwide Faith founded there; the subject has never been treated in any university courses or textbooks. Indeed, census figures which provided statistics on all of the other religious and ethnic minorities in Iran have consistently been omitted for the Baha'i community, the largest religious minority of all.[3] Coupled with this calculated general neglect, the public mind has been subjected, for decades, to abusive propaganda from the Shi’ah Muslim clergy, in which the role of the Baha’i community in Iran, its size, its beliefs, and its objectives have been grossly misrepresented.

Both the ignorance and the prejudice are connected with the tragic events that surrounded the beginning of the Bábí and Baha'i Faiths in nineteenth-century Persia. It may help in clarifying the events of the past decade if this background is briefly reviewed.

Historical Background

The Baha'i Faith came into existence through the teachings of two successive Founders. The first, a young Persian merchant known to history as the Báb, announced in Shiraz, in May 1844, that He was the bearer of a Revelation from God, whom the Shi'ah branch of Islam had long expected under the title “the Twelfth Imam."[4] The world stood, He said, on the threshold of an era that would witness the restructuring of all aspects of life. The challenge to humanity was to embrace these changes by undertaking a transformation of its moral and spiritual character. Central to the Báb's teaching was the announcement of the imminent appearance of yet a second Divine Messenger, one who would address all the peoples of the world.[5] During the course of widespread attacks on His followers, incited by the Muslim clergy, the Báb was executed in the city of Tabriz, in 1850. There followed throughout Persia a horrific series of massacres of followers of the new religion. These pogroms aroused the revulsion of Western diplomats and scholars, and deeply scarred the Persian psyche, inspiring an effort to justify the killing of thousands of innocent people by excoriating the victims' beliefs and intentions.