La Herradura (Spain), 28 May (IPS) Barely one week after the Shi’a Muslim’s highest religious authority and one of Iran’s most courageous journalist and commentator demanded for the first time that Iranian Baha’is “should have equal civilian rights as all other citizens of the land”, fundamentalist and radical Shi’a circles staunchly opposed to the Baha’is started a vigorous campaign of denunciations and calumnies against the members of the faith that is forbidden by the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In response to a question from Radio Farda, the Persian service of the Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, about the recent arrest and executions of several Baha’is in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Hoseynali Montazeri, one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic, has said that “since the Baha’is are Iranian citizens, they pay taxes and obey the laws, they should enjoy same rights as all other Iranians, Muslims or not”.
“Because the Baha’is do not have a divine Book, this faith has not been recognized as an official religion by the Constitution”, Mr. Montazeri, a founding father of the Islamic Republic alongside Grand Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, explained told the Radio.
The triumph of the Islamic Revolution badly deteriorated the situation of the Baha’is in Iran.
It was late in 19th century that a young Iranian Shiá cleric named Seyyed Ali Mohammad, pretended that he was the Mahdi, the Shiá’s messiah, and proclaimed a new religion, off shoot of the Shi’ism, the Baha’i.
Immediately decried as “blasphemy” by all senior Iranian clerics, the Baha’i was declared outlaw and people adopting the new religion were considered as “mortad”, meaning “converted”, an act that under Islam is punishable by death.
Nationalist zealots who were fighting the yoke of Britain over their country, helped naturally by the influential ayatollahs, went further and “discovered” that the new, faked religion was “created” by the British in order to “weaken Islam and divide the Iranians, according to their old political wisdom of “divide and rule”.
Ever since, and despite the fact that some of the Baha’i leaders had been hanged and others had fled Iran, and despite very harsh treatments imposed on them in general, and despite being illegal and ostracized by most of Iranians, including the intellectuals -- probably because of their absence from the political life, activity forbidden to them by the religion in the one hand and their unabated, albeit low profile proselytism on the other --, their number continued to increase, reaching some 500.000 before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, according to unofficial estimates.
Iranian Bahaís must have same rights as other Iranians and protected by laws.
If under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi the Baha’s used to enjoy some freedoms and were less harassed, but nevertheless their religion remained outlaw, contrary to the Christians, Zoroastrians and the Jews, the three “divine” religions which are also officially recognized by the present Islamic regime.
The triumph of the Islamic Revolution badly deteriorated the situation of the Baha’is in Iran. Immediately after the proclamation of the Islamic Republic, a terror campaign was unleashed against the Bahai’s, many influential members of their community, including well-known medical doctors and civil servants had been assassinated, hundreds of them arrested.
What makes their situation worse is that their most sacred shrine is situated in Haifa, Israel, constructed for their most important leader, Bahaullah, who, after fleeing Iran to Baghdad and then to Turkey, had been exiled by the Ottomans to Palestine, then under British rule, where he died. Hence the routine accusations by the Iranian authorities that they are spies for Israel, as seen by the arrest, some years ago, of tens of them, mostly preachers and ordinary merchants, in the southern city of Shiraz, on the accusation that they were members of a large Israeli espionage network in Iran.
In an article published by the independent, pro-reform internet newspaper “RoozOnline”, based in London and edited in Paris, Mr. Ahmad Zeydabadi called on both the senior clerics and the Government to “clarify” the status of the Baha’is, warning that “if not, it would soon become another subject of confrontation between the regime and the international community”.
“One cannot consider the present generation of Baha’is as “mortad”, or converted into that religion, for the very simple reason that they are born by parents of this faith. Bahai’s, have rights equal to all other Iranians by virtue of having been born in this land, its national framework and live in it and therefore any discrimination against them on the basis of their beliefs undermines the fundamental principles of nation-statehood in modern times”.
As for the dissident Grand Ayatollah, who, because of his notorious “franc parler” and his frequent acerb criticism of the present clerical rulers, particularly the megalomaniac Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i for the “un-Islamic” way the country is ruled by them, has been placed for years under house arrest, his classes shut and himself kept incommunicado, although Baha’i religion remains forbidden, but the members of the faith must not be ostracized, deprived of the basic rights provided by the regime to all Iranians, “regardless of their religion, political adherences, ethnic, sex or social and cultural aspirations, as stipulated by the Constitution”.
“Since the Baha’is are Iranian citizens, they pay taxes and obey the laws, they should enjoy same rights as all other Iranians, Muslims or not”.
While the first salvos against Mr. Zeydabadi were shot by the radical daily Keyhan, considered as the mouthpiece of Mr. Khameneh’i, it was the semi-official Fars news agency, close to the Government of the fanatic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the hard line faction of the ruling clerical establishment that, on 26 May, revealed the launch of the “openly anti-Baha’i, popularly support” internet site in “the very near future”.
While Keyhan was accusing the “president of the outlawed, virtual Office of Consolidating Unity”, -- meaning Mr. Zeydabadi, who was recently voted as the leader of the largest and most popular pro reforms organization of Iranian students – of “defending the godless, pervert, fabricated Baha’i sects”, Fars quoted a certain “doctor Rasoul Pour-Ahmad as warning that “if one keeps silent over the dangers represented by the outlawed, nefarious Baha’i sect, our women (namous) and nation would soon be placed under Israeli boots, thanks to the Baha’is”, a reference to the old suspicions making of the Baha’is the privileged spies for the Jewish State.
“Imam Khomeini, who was the flag bearer of the fight against the Baha’is, and all other senior ayatollahs have all said and repeated that they would never, ever recognize this sect”, the agency quoted Mr. Pour-Ahmad as a warning to Mr. Montazeri, a former Heir to the Islamic Republic, who, after opposing the decision of the leader of the Islamic Revolution to confirm the mass execution of thousands of leftists, from the Islamist-Stalinist organization of the Mojahedeen Khalq to the Marxist-Leninists Fada’iyan Khalq and the Toudeh (Communist) Party in 1986, was dismissed and sent into teaching in Qom.
“That a leading and outspoken cleric like Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has taken the defence of the Bahai’s as Iranian citizens would certainly help the start of a new chapter in relation between the Muslim Iranians with the Baha’is, and eventually stop their harassments”, commented Mr. Rashid Esma’ili in the 28 May issue of RoozOnlin
According to many Iranian scholars, it is possible that in a short period, we would witness a new wave of anti-Baha’i campaign, as signaled by Fars, but since a Grand Ayatollah like Mr. Montazeri and an influential journalist such as Mr. Zeydabadi have started the difficult and highly controversial debate over the situation of the Baha’is, both senior clerics and the Government have to clarify the status of these unfortunate people in Iran, where their faith originated. BAHAIS 28508