Bahá'í Faith in Iran
The Bahá'í Faith in Iran is the country's second-largest religion after Islam and the birthplace of the three central figures of the religion – The Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. The early history of the religion in Iran covers the lives of these individuals, their families and their earliest prominent followers: the Letters of the Living, the Apostles of Bahá'u'lláh and later some of the Disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Hands of the Cause. In the 19th century conversions from Judaism and Zoroastrianism are well documented - indeed such a change of status removing legal and social protections.
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. Prior to 1911 a private school for girls existed in Tehran which was opened by Iranian Bahá'í women. During the Persian Constitutional Revolution situations required the close of the school.
Although ‘Abdu'l-Bahá had instructed the Bahá'ís in Iran not to take part in open defiance of the government (and they did not participate in the street demonstrations and the taking of sanctuary in the British Legation in Tehran in the summer of 1906) during the period of the Persian Constitutional Revolution they did broadly support the Constitutionalist cause.
Tarbiyat-i Banat (Girls’ Education), established in 1911 in Tehran, was the most respected Baha’i girls’ school. Founded on the efforts of private school for girls by Bahá'ís, it was re-opened under the direction of an Iranian Bahá'í boys’ school committee and several American Bahá'í women pioneers who moved in order to support the goals of the religion. Even though it catered to the Iranian Bahá'í community, Tarbiyat attracted children from non-Bahá'í families, as the curriculum was largely secular.
The situation of the Bahá'ís improved under the Pahlavi dynasty when the government actively sought to secularize public life however there were still organizations actively persecuting the Bahá'ís in addition to there being curses children would learn decrying the Báb, a central figure of the religion, and Bahá'ís. See Hojjatieh. The founder of SAVAK, Teymur Bakhtiar, took a pick-ax to a Bahá'í building himself at the time. See Persecution during the early 20th century and during the Pahlavi Dynasty.
The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. World-wide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. However the modern history of persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran is extensive and prevented these kinds of developments in Iran:
- During the Iranian revolution and Islamic Republic
- Current situation
- Cultural genocide of the Bahá'ís of Iran
Despite the persecution, one of many Bahá'í schools in the world, the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education, "an elaborate act of communal self-preservation", was set up, though it has been systematically raided. Between 1987 and 2005 the Iranian authorities closed down the university several times as part of the pattern of suppressing the Bahá'í community. Between September 30 and October 3, 1998, and most recently again on 22 May 2011, officials from the Ministry of Intelligence entered the homes of academic staff of the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education, a university in Iran designed and managed by the Bahá'í community for Iranian Bahá'ís as a Bahá'í school for those who are excluded from access to higher education in their country, seizing books, computers and personal effects and shutting down buildings used for the school.
After a wave of arrests, Shirin Ebadi volunteered to be the lawyer for the arrested Bahá'í leadership of Iran in June 2008. By December 29 the Islamic authorities closed Ebadi's Center for Defenders of Human Rights, raiding her private office and seizing her computers and files.
Indeed, several agencies and experts and journals have published concerns about viewing the developments as a case of genocide: Roméo Dallaire, Genocide Watch, Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention, and the journals War Crimes, Genocide, & Crimes against Humanity and Journal of Genocide Research.
A summary of 2013 incidents of prison sentences, fines and punishments showed that these were more than twice as likely to apply to Bahá'ís as any other religious minority in Iran and that the total rate of such cases had gone up by 36% over 2012.
The first known survey of the religion comes from an unpublished work in 1919–1920 gathered by John Esslemont and had been intended to be part of his well-known Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era. In it, consulting various individuals, he summarizes the religion's presence in Egypt, Germany, India, Iran, Iraq, Turkestan, and the United States. It did not arrive at a total but did have some regional statistics based on some individual reports. In Iran "The Cause has not only spread in important centres, but even in remote villages and corners…. In Teheran alone there are probably 10,000 Bahais.… [The] population of Teheran [is] 750,000.… Khorassan: villages where the whole population is Bahai. Esphahan, places where 2/3 of the people are Bahais. In Azerbayjan, villages where 1/2 are Bahais."
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