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Archive for the ‘I am an Iranian Baha’i’ Category

“Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger.”

The Valley of Knowledge – Baháulláh (1817-1892)


Have you ever been stuck in or observed a dark and negative situation where there seemed to be no way out and yet after a while the situation itself produced a wonderful solution?


Well according to the laws of mathematics, negative multiplied by negative results in a positive number. I think this is also true in real life. We see it every day but don’t recognize it. For example we saw some countries unjustly rich and others unjustly poor, to maximize profit, the wealthy business leaders of the rich countries took their businesses to the poor countries to find the cheapest of labour. By doing so, they moved technology, skills and knowledge from rich to poor, shifting and balancing the global economy.


Another example again is the situation of women in countries where women are second class citizens. Women, not being able to benefit from equal opportunities turn to education as the only way out and by doing so become the active agents of a profound social change.


Both of these complex situations require expert analysis to help us understand what is happening and I am in no way an expert, I just simply want to illustrate a pattern in the unfoldment of a new world order being born from darkness, yet it is light, the light of maturation of humanity and transformation of our society. It is the light of true justice.


Having set the scene about the birth of light from darkness, I want to share my feelings about a wonderful phenomenon which is called BIHE.


BIHE


This educational institution which was unknown a few years ago, has recently attracted attention on a massive global scale from academics, artists , Nobel Peace Prize winners , politicians, religious groups and simply the global community , all have raised their voices in support of this institution.


BIHE stands for Baha’i Institute of Higher Education. It started in 1987 in response to the needs of the Baha’i community of Iran whose members are and have been denied education simply because they are Baha’is.


Let us imagine for one moment that our children are expelled from school and can not go to university. How would they gain any qualifications or skills? How would they find jobs to support themselves, to have a home? How would they be able to get married and to start a family? This is a cruel, calculated, long and painful way of strangling a community to death. To keep a community weak and needy.


Graduation Ceremony a day of happiness - Denied to the Baha'is of Iran




Hearing how the Baha’is are denied education, their social progress blocked, their movements are under close observation and using any small excuse, authorities arrest and fine them and confiscate their properties, I had a certain mental image of the Baha’is living in Iran. This mental image was shattered to pieces the first time that I met a BIHE student.


It was a few years ago at a Baha’i 19 Day Feast . I noticed a beautiful young lady sitting on the other side of the room. Her straight black hair fell to her shoulder. She was wearing a simple and yet smart suit making her look like one of the consultants at my work place. She was introduced as one of the BIHE students who had come out of Iran to do her Post Graduate degree. She spoke English very well but kept apologizing for making minor mistakes. She seemed very knowledgeable on any subject that she spoke about. She offered her views with confidence and yet great humility. More importantly, she radiated joy and positivity.


Later on she helped me with a youth weekend. During the short two days, I got to know her a little better. She had a fun loving character and had great love for life. However, in moments when she was in a reflective mood, looking into her eyes, you could catch a glimpse of the dark shadows of hate and injustice that had followed her and caused her pain. But then as soon as she sensed that she was being noticed, she would quickly get back to the moment.


She told the story of how she graduated from BIHE but had no certificate to show. She had got out of Iran to do her Post Graduate Degree. The Head of the Department had initially rejected her application with a speech about the prerequisites of the course i.e. degree certificate, after he had finished, she asked permission to speak. Then she had told them about the BIHE and her situation. Immediately the Head of her Department had called the admission office asking them to register her for an English entrance exam. She had been told that she would be accepted if she passes the test. She spoke calmly with great clarity and sincerity, with heart and soul. Her stories were very inspiring.


It was great to have her with us. She had a great sense of responsibility and worked very hard. Soon she graduated with very good results and left. I don’t know where she went after that but I know that she is involved in community building projects and works with women.


After this I met a few other BIHE students. All hard working, all demonstrated similar mix of seemingly contradicting qualities such as humility and confidence, determination and resignation, perseverance and detachment, sincerity, innocence and wisdom, fun loving and yet a great sense of maturity and responsibility. It was as if they were saying that we want to use every opportunity life has to offer now for we don’t know what awaits us round the corner and, we have confidence in that supreme power. I remember what my BIHE friend used to say to me when I complained. She would laugh and say dear Shiva, all will be okay, you will see.


My own experience of university and students can be summed up in a few words, sense of freedom leaving home, madness, moving noisily in the corridors to go to the next class, smokey common rooms and canteens, partying, copying assignments, trying to find out the exam questions, the gown, and finally getting the certificate followed by a well paid job which in most cases has no relation to the degree. How many times do we hear people complaining that they have a graduate at work who can’t even operate the photocopier.


BIHE - A class

Most of the classes offered by the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education have been held in private homes




For BIHE students, it is entirely a different world as they study in someone’s living room without proper equipments, with constant fear of raids and arrests, corridors stretch out from house to house and city to city as students sometimes have to travel for hours to get to a class.


Some of the BIHE staff who have been arrested for educating young Baha'is.

Many searches and 14 arrests of BIHE faculty


These young students not only study but also contribute to the functioning of BIHE. They study, teach, help with the organization and if and when they leave Iran to continue for their post graduate programs, they often need to work to somehow manage the high cost of living and a weak Iranian currency.


And yet these brilliant brave men and women are all part of a system that has been created to address a desperate need, a system that places service and the betterment of the community at its core. In this system the educators, the students and the whole community are collaborators. This flexible education system uses any means available to it, to provide a service to the community, and as it struggles, it discovers new means and methods to overcome the difficulties. BIHE can pride itself on its resilience and purposefulness, on offering this lifeline to the Iran’s Baha’i community, helping knowledge and skills to flow from one generation to another. Although BIHE has no fancy buildings nor any elaborate classrooms and it functions from day to day, its fruits can be seen in the character and achievements of its students. Its success can be measured in the level of progress that it has made in such a short time. BIHE’s programs are now recognized by no less that 60 prestigious universities across the world


As we reflect on the true meaning of education, it becomes evident that BIHE is revolutionizing our education system, it is writing the pages of the history of education. Soon the educators will look at the BIHE model as an example to follow. The stories of BIHE students and staff will be used to inspire. People will pride themselves in having their ancestors as being the early BIHE members.


Is it Divine Justice that leads all the roads to the ultimate road of progress and growth or is it the hand of darkness and nothingness that can do naught but plant the seeds of light? Today these seeds of light are the BIHE students who struggle through this course, tomorrow however we will see forests of light spreading everywhere.

“The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” -Bahá’u’lláh “

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Ascension of Baha’u’llah

The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow,  that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish.”

 Baha’u’llah

    

Bahá'u'lláh's prison cell, Acre, Israel - © Bahá’í International Community

Bahá'u'lláh's prison cell, Acre, Israel - © Bahá’í International Community

                                                                                                                                                       

 Tonight is the anniversary of the ascension of Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Baha’i faith. It was 117 years ago on such an evening when Baha’u’llah, after a brief illness left this earthly life.

 Born into a noble family, Baha’u’llah lived as a prisoner for most of his life. His life was filled with pain and suffering.  He was chained, imprisoned, and when his enemies could not extinguish the light of his cause, they banished him from land to land and yet whichever remote land Baha’u’llah was banished to, shortly after his arrival, that place was transformed to a much happier place.  

Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh near Acre, Israel - © Bahá’í International Community

Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh near Acre, Israel - © Bahá’í International Community

 It was as if the portals of the heavens opened to this world for a brief moment in time and through it Baha’u’llah appeared as a gift to humanity. How sad that the portal had to open again to take Baha’u’llah back.  Words fail to adequately describe the majesty and beauty of his cause or the depth of love and devotion of his followers for their beloved.  The sufferings of his followers in Baha’u’llah’s birth place and the beauty of the shrines on Mount Carmel are just some of the testimonies to Baha’u’llah’s majesty.

Tonight his followers throughout the world commemorate Baha’u’llah’s ascension.

 

Mansion of Bahji - © Bahá’í International Community

Mansion of Bahji - © Bahá’í International Community

 A poem inspired by a recent visit to the Baha’i gardens on Mount Carmel:

Should you visit the house of my beloved,
Walk slowly, walk slowly, beware, lest ye disturb the peace
Do not make a sound; do not utter a word, hush,
Stay in absolute silence, remain in perfect calm,
Beware, Beware, Lest ye disturb the peace,

And if your heart desires so to utter His praise
Whisper the words of love to the melody of silence
Hush, hush, beware, beware, lest ye disturb the peace

Make thyself of the essence of nothingness
Then thy feet of the essence of light
And thy heart of the essence of love
And thy spirit of the essence of joy
And thy words of the essence of pure thoughts,
earnest prayers
And silent heart beats

And then in circumambulation around Him
to the songs of sweet memories and delightful pains, whisper His praise
to the melody of silence and light, Sing His remembrance

Should you visit the house of my beloved
Walk slowly, walk slowly, beware, lest ye disturb the peace
Do not make a sound; do not utter a word, hush,
Stay in absolute silence, remain in perfect calm,
Beware, Beware, Lest ye disturb the peace,

Once upon time, this was but a desolate and barren land
Harsh and lifeless
Cold and heartless
Its air poisonous, its water bitter to taste
Frozen winters, burning summers
A land forgotten, a land to forget

And then the mercy of God prevailed
For the land was blessed by the footsteps of the beloved
The lovers of His beauty watered the rocks by their blood
His chosen company fed its earth by their love and lives

Years passed by in this way
Until at last, one by one, the heart of its rocks melted away
And the hands of wingless angels planted the seed of Heaven
And the heart of its stones, gave way to many a tender shoot
Heaven was planted in the land known as hell
Heaven bloomed
And now,
Its crimson roses, coloured by the blood of love
Scented jasmines, pansies, violas
Fill its avenues and perfume its air

Clear pure streams, flowing from top of its mountain,
Running through its avenues
Peacocks and Eagles keep watch at His Gates
Tall trees, guard its gardens

Brush dipped in light and love
Stroke by stroke
Brush dipped in sacrifice and blood
Line after line
And then dipped in nothingness and prayer
Curve after curve
And then dipped in heavenly virtues and divine attributes
Dot after dot
Nearness was painted where there was once pain of separation
On mount Carmel

And if you don’t believe what I say to you
Listen with all your heart and soul
To the cry of grinding pebbles
Beneath the feet of the passers by
And gaze into the eyes of eagles and peacocks
And stand before the bride of Carmel for a moment of perfect peace
And then the secret of its beauty
Will be written on the tablet of your heart.
And you will hear Mount Carmel rejoicing.
And you will see Mount Carmel in a sea of light
And you will know.

So should you visit the house of my beloved,
Walk slowly, walk slowly, beware, beware, lest ye disturb the peace.

 © Bahá’í International Community

© Bahá’í International Community

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“Furthermore, know ye that God has created in man the power of reason,
whereby man is enabled to investigate reality. God has not intended man to
imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind, or
the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is to investigate and
discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept.”

–`Abdu’l-Baha,  The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 291.

 

Photograph Reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community

Photograph Reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community

In this photo: Mangolian women studying together

 

A while ago I was browsing the BBC Persian website when I came across an opinion page called ‘Your Voice’.  Questions on daily topics are posted on this page and visitors are invited to share their views on the subject matter.  On that particular day the question was related to an international outcry against Afghanistan’s anti-women laws . I don’t recall the exact question but I remember some of the postings. In fact I remember how horrified I was to read some of the views.  A few people had referred to a verse in the Quran, saying that according to the Quran a woman is like a man’s land or property and the man can enter from whichever way or direction he wishes.

 

As a Baha’i, I believe in the sanctity of all the religions and therefore could not believe that prophet Muhammad’s revelation would be anything other than promotion of love, respect and nobility of mankind. After all Muhammad’s  mission was to educate the barbaric Arab tribes, and for this he suffered immensely at their hands throughout his life.

 

I went searching for the exact verse. Of course the verse is revealed in Arabic. The actual quote is no more than one line so I also found several translations of the verse on a website belonging to the  University of Southern California.  No doubt any translation reflects the translator’s understanding of the subject. Here are three translations of this verse:

 

AL-BAQARA (THE COW)  002.223

YUSUFALI translation:  Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe.

PICKTHAL translation:  Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad).

SHAKIR translation:  Your wives are a tilth for you, so go into your tilth when you like, and do good beforehand for yourselves, and be careful (of your duty) to Allah, and know that you will meet Him, and give good news to the believers.

 

I wonder how this verse is understood by different readers. What would a man who at all times is highly charged with sexual energy and concerned with bodily matters (lower part) make of this verse? Would this give him the green light to do as he pleases? How about a property developer, a land lord or one who is engaged in human trafficking? Imagine any of these people going into politics and becoming involved in policy making using these verses. It is a terrifying thought. On the other hand my farmer friends would have a totally different understanding. They have utmost love and respect for their land as they believe that God created mother earth so that all good things could grow by her and from her. Their beautiful organic farm with colourful flowers and vegetables and plants of the highest quality is a great testimony to their immense love and respect for their farm.

 

Historians tell us that at the time of Muhammad, women had no worth and the baby girls often were buried alive as daughters were not fighters and would only hold the tribes back. They also tell us that farming was a way of life and a man’s farm was his livelihood, his worth, his identity and indeed everything to him. 

 

The pure in heart read such verses in conjunction with many other verses. They give consideration to the time, the language and the circumstances of the revelation.  In a state of prayer with their hearts and souls turned to God they search for the inner realities of these revealed verses.  They believe that Muhammad elevated the station of women and his followers also should continue do the same. So they have a different understanding which promotes respect, love, understanding of changing times and the inner meanings of the revealed verse.

 

AL-E-IMRAN (THE FAMILY OF ‘IMRAN, THE HOUSE OF ‘IMRAN)003.014

YUSUFALI translation: : Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: Women and sons; Heaped-up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded (for blood and excellence); and (wealth of) cattle and well-tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world’s life; but in nearness to Allah is the best of the goals (To return to).

 

A follower questions science, politics and knowledge but he or she may not question matters pertaining to religion . This creates a perfect opportunity for those who wish to rule and control masses, as ruling in the name of religion almost guarantees obedient subjects. The rulers impose their own interpretations as they wish and anyone who questions or thinks differently is branded as infidel, antichrist or evil, and is condemned to persecution and death.

 

So when a nation or a group is ruled by a person’s understanding or misunderstanding of a religion, a small matter of interpretation causes a colossal impact on the life of all concerned, putting them at the mercy of the interpreter. One of these affected groups is the Baha’i community of Iran whose  leaders  and some of its followers are still in prison and the community continues to suffer persecution.  Let us pray for the day that humanity becomes so mature and strong that it will not allow anyone to fall under such control,  that no one will need or wish to exert power over anyone else and ‘Control’ will find its true meaning in Self Control.

 

The seven imprisoned Iranian Baha'i Leaders

The seven imprisoned Iranian Baha'i Leaders

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“Let nothing grieve thee, O Land of Ta (Teheran), for God hath chosen thee to be the source of the joy of all mankind… “

– Baha’u’llah

Shahyad Monument, Tehran - Architect: Mr Hossein Amanat

Shahyad Monument, Tehran - Architect: Mr Hossein Amanat

Once again Iran is on the news. This time it is a report about the “most active state sponsor of terrorism” . I don’t remember the last time that I heard some positive and happy news about my country. The Iran that I know and lived within its boarders for the first 18 years of my life has many interesting things to boast about.  Iran’s ancient civilisation for example or its many magnificent buildings; its beautiful seasons and some of the wonderful customs of its people; one can write volumes about Iran’s beauty and wonder and I think now is the time to speak about these things so that we can be reminded of who we are and what blessings we have.

Our geography teacher used to tell us that the outline of   Iran’s map  is shaped like a fat cat sitting down with her cheek to the west, her ears, curved neck and part of her hunched back pointing to the north.  This cat shaped country, occupies a huge area covering mountains, hills, deserts and valleys with each area having its own climate, natural habitats and its own unique beauty.  In the north for example there is the Alborz mountain range stretched from northwest to the northeast. These mountains stand tall around the southern edge of the Caspian sea , creating a barrier between the northern regions and the rest of the country. Clouds rising from the Caspian sea are often unable to cross them and end up sitting on the northern slopes, creating a wet and humid condition which contributes to a scenic and picturesque landscape.  The northern region of Iran is made up of small villages and towns situated around the Caspian Sea and on the northern slopes of the ‘Alborz’ mountains. The land is green as far as the eyes can see; covered with jungles, forests, tea plantations, rice fields, olive groves and wild plants and flowers.

 

I lived in these parts for four years. My father’s job required him to travel to the villages and towns of the region. During the holidays, we used to accompany my father in these visits. I remember sitting in the back seat of our milky colour Beetle and watching the beautiful scenery as our car made its way through the narrow winding roads of the provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran.  The roads cut through the heart of this green land, passing through green fields, forests and meadows, connecting one village to another.  Often we passed the local farmers as they were working in the fields. In a clear day the Caspian Sea would shimmer in the horizon below us or the snow white peaks of the ‘Alborz’ mountains appeared above us and sometimes as our car climbed up the mountains, we saw only the clouds beneath our car. The northern villages were famous for all kinds of citrus fruits and in particular Seville oranges and in the right season the air was filled with the perfume of their blossoms.

 

My memories of these villages are filled with images of Jasmines, Honeysuckles, orange blossoms and local women  in their beautiful traditional dresses  . We saw them as they cleaned rice grains in bulk, cooked their evening meals or prepared tasty relishes on the porch of their houses which in those days were built above the ground to protect them from humidity.  On a round wooden or clay type board and with a special smooth round stone in their hand, they crushed garlic, pomegranate, walnut, olives and lots of different herbs to make the tastiest olive relish that I have ever tasted.  

 

We also frequently visited the coastal towns of the Caspian Sea. As well as a beautiful ruby red sunrise and sunset, the Caspian Sea had one of the best Caviars in the world and its ‘Mahi Sefid’ or Kutum was one of the tastiest fishes I have ever had.

 

Citrus fruits, tea, rice, and many other produce of the highest quality were grown locally. The best fish and Caviar came from the Caspian Sea and the best meat and poultry also came from within the region.

 

After four years of living in that region we moved to Isfahan which is situated in the central Iran. The climate and the landscape gradually changes as you move across to the southern parts of the ‘Alborz’ mountains and towards the south. Here the dry climate replaces the humidity of the northern region.

 

I remember my grandparents’ house in Isfahan. One entered the house beneath a canopy of vine leaves and grapes. The tall wall on the left side of the house was covered with vine leaves. Neither of my grandparents were keen gardeners and yet in their old house with its very average garden, they had Walnut trees, delicious grapes, Peaches, Apricots, Pomegranate, Apples, Plums, Quincy apples, Nectarines and cherries  as well as colourful roses and pansies. This was a clear sign of Iran’s fertile land and nature’s kindness to us Iranians. Sadly this old house was confiscated by the authorities and my grandfather was made homeless at an advanced age. His crime was that he was a Baha’i.

 

Isfahan also had four beautiful seasons always arriving and leaving on time. Spring was marked with tender and delicate leaves and beautiful white and pink blossoms on the trees. Summer saw the trees laden with fruits. All kinds of summer fruits ( water melons, melons, cherries, grapes, peaches, apricots, nectarines and many more) ; were piled up outside the local shops and were sold very cheaply. The tall trees standing in line on both sides of the street, reaching out to each other created an umbrella of leaves protecting the cars and pedestrians from the heat of the summer.  In autumn nature laid out a carpet of yellow, brown and red leaves in the streets beneath the feet of the passers by and the trees were painted with a golden brush. In winter a blanket of snow covered the whole city. Whenever weather permitted people queued to buy delicious kebabs (skewers of meat, chicken) and corn cobs that were barbequed in the open air as people waited for them in the streets or parks.  The streets always buzzed with life. In the evenings people often came out in large groups, visiting shops and restaurants or simply walking in the beautiful parks.

 

I also remember Isfahan by its beautiful old bazaars , its famous boulevards , famous historical bridges and many other historical buildings. One such place was a mosque called ‘Masjid Shah’. The entrance of this mosque alone testifies to the greatness of God and Islam. Prophet Muhammad appeared to the Arab tribes who knew nothing except how to fight, kill and destroy. Muhammad brought them the Creative Word of God which transformed their hearts and the hearts of their children and their grandchildren. Their descendants transform the world around them by creating beauty, advancing sciences, mathematics and philosophy. This is the effect of the true Word of God; to create; to build and to love. This mosque is one such creation. As well as its beautiful architecture, its geometrical designs, its masterly craftsmanship and its beautiful blue tiles, it also uses scientific concepts in its structure. I remember as a child I used to stand inside the mosque  and clap my hands and listen to the echo of my clapping which returned back to me I think exactly seven times. There is so much to say about Isfahan. A famous Iranian poet described Isfahan in a poem saying ‘; they say Isfahan is half of the world but I have seen hundreds of worlds in Isfahan’.

 

In the west side of Iran Zagros Mountains are the largest mountain range which begin in the northwest and span to the Persian Golf. There are many towns and villages on the slopes of these mountains; usually wherever a river flows. I remember the first time that I travelled to Sanandaj , a town in that region, we were travelling by coach.  Against the majesty of the tall mountains and the vastness of the valleys, our bus seemed like an ant trying to find its way through the winding roads. I remember that for miles all I could see was naked land and tall mountains. Then from a distance a few dark green and bright yellow dots appeared. As we got closer, the green dots gradually turned into trees and the yellow dots became apricots that were laid out on the roof tops of the houses to dry naturally. On the slopes of the mountains below and above the road, the roof of every house was covered with apricots.

 

Another beautiful city in Iran was Shiraz, the city of many famous poets. Whenever I saw Shiraz, the city was filled with flowers and buzzing with excitement Shiraz is also the birth place of the Ba’b  the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Baha’i faith. Sadly the beautiful house of the Ba’b, a historical building as well as a holy place for the Baha’is was destroyed by the authorities after the Islamic revolution.

 

About 70 km northwest of Shiraz lies Persepolis the remains of what was once the Great Persian Empire, ruled by Cyrus and Darius the Great kings of Achaemenid  Empire . These kings ruled their vast empire with justice and wisdom. The Cyrus cylinder which is a document issued by Cyrus in a clay form, is considered to be the first human rights charter in the history and an evidence of his policy of religious freedom and freedom of language for the subjected nations under his rule.

The first human rights charter in history (photograph: Marco Prins and Jona Lendering)

The first human rights charter in history (photograph: Marco Prins and Jona Lendering)

 

The climate in southern Iran is hot and humid. The Persian Golf and its coastal areas are a large source of crude oil and in the waters of the Persian Golf a great variety of fish including prawns and shrimps can be found. We used to get large boxes of dried smoked shrimps which was consumed as one would consume peanuts.

 

These are some of my recollections of the pre revolution Iran. The climate change, pollution and inflation have no doubt left their mark on the country in farming and environment.

 

On reflection, one can easily see the greatness of Iran. In most parts of the country, the rich earth can produce all kinds of crops and plants .  Where the land can not be cultivated, it can be extracted for oil, natural gases, coal, iron ore, copper, gold, silver, turquoise, marble and much more. There are so many areas in this vast land which have not yet been conquered by man and their wealth remains hidden.

 

The greatness of this country is also demonstrated in the greatness of its people. These are the people who cook the tastiest foods, weave the most beautiful carpets and create beautiful crafts. These are the people who have great love for life, love receiving guests, are extremely hospitable, love outdoor activities so much that they even picnic at night.

 

These are the thinkers and academics holding very high positions in the most prestigious universities outside of Iran and are much respected. These are the actors and film makers whose fame have reached outside of Iran and finally these are people such as Shirin Ebadi; the Nobel Peace prize winner, who in the most difficult and suffocating circumstances, continues her fight for freedom and justice.

 

Iranians are truly great. Let us remember this and pray that one day soon the darkness of ignorance, hate, vain imaginings and prejudice is replaced by true faith which binds the hearts together and creates life and beauty as it once did in our past. Let us pray for freedom of thought and speech so that our true potential is manifested once again and let us live with the hope that such a day will come. It surely will..

 

 “O Thou kind Lord!  O Thou Who art generous and merciful!  We are servants of Thy threshold and are gathered beneath the sheltering shadow of Thy divine unity.  The sun of Thy mercy is shining upon all, and the clouds of Thy bounty shower upon all.  Thy gifts encompass all, Thy loving providence sustains all, Thy protection overshadows all, and the glances of Thy favor are cast upon all.  O Lord!  Grant Thine infinite bestowals, and let the light of Thy guidance shine.  Illumine the eyes, gladden the hearts with abiding joy.  Confer a new spirit upon all people and bestow upon them eternal life.  Unlock the gates of true understanding and let the light of faith shine resplendent.  Gather all people beneath the shadow of Thy bounty and cause them to unite in harmony, so that they may become as the rays of one sun, as the waves of one ocean, and as the fruit of one tree.  May they drink from the same fountain.  May they be refreshed by the same breeze.  May they receive illumination from the same source of light.  Thou art the Giver, the Merciful, the Omnipotent.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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I am an Iranian Baha’i…

 

These days the Iranian government makes the news headlines almost on a daily basis. The stories often include talks given by the President of Iran on the need for honesty, justice, mutual respect, international love, returning to human values and fighting against tyranny and discrimination. (See channel 4 alternative Christmas message, other talks can be found through a search on Google)

 

At the same time, the persecution of the Baha’is of Iran continues behind closed doors at an increased pace.  The harassment of the Baha’i community includes cruel and harsh treatment of Baha’i children at schools,

 

http://iran.bahai.us/2007/04/05/bahai-schoolchildren-in-iran/

 

Expulsion of university students on the grounds of their religion,

 

http://www.iranpresswatch.org/category/denial-of-education/

 

Attacks on Baha’i residence, destruction of Baha’i cemeteries, arresting and detaining Bahai’s in inhumane conditions without giving any explanation, and the list goes on.

 

http://www.iranpresswatch.org/2009/04/prisoners/

 

http://iran.bahai.us/

 

http://www.bahairights.org/documents/

 

http://www.bahairights.org/timeline/

 

Occasionally, the media captures a glimpse of the sufferings of the Baha’i community.  The story runs for a day or two and then disappears whilst the suffering goes on. Who can blame the media for their coverage of the situation, after all how many times can they report on ‘Another Baha’i was arrested in the village of..’.

 

Like most Iranians and Baha’is, I am glued to the news and follow the stories in the hope that one day members of my community are granted the freedom that most of us enjoy – freedom of thought, speech and belief.  That day, however, does not seem to be any time soon.  The other day, I was browsing the internet for some information, when I came across a video of an Iranian Mullah talking about the Baha’is. I have to say that due to lack of time and interest, I never watch or read these kinds of materials, and neither do I encourage others to do so.  However, on this occasion, I was curious. What this Mullah had to say was both terrifying and hilarious.  It created in me a combination of different emotions that I had never before experienced simultaneously.

 

He was inciting hatred against the Baha’is by telling his audience that the Baha’is are enemies of Islam and are out to destroy their religion. He repeatedly addressed the audience saying ‘Why are you not taking any action?’ do you not have any love for your faith?  You should not sit still but you should take the matters into your own hands’.  

 

 I was horrified listening to this speech and thinking of the consequences -then came the next part.  In an attempt to ridicule and discredit the Baha’is, he said: ‘these people have a book of only a few hundred pages, one of their teachings is to take a bath only once every ten or eleven days and cover their whole body including their head with henna’. 

 

For those who may not know, Henna is a plant extract which is used in many ways such as a natural dye for colouring hair or making patterns on a bride’s hands before an Indian wedding.  It can leave any colour from orange to deep red depending on the length of application.  So you can imagine how a person may look like if they apply henna to their whole body.  As I have a playful mind, this statement got my imagination going.  I genuinely felt sorry for anyone who might have had a fake tan ‘gone wrong’ or a rash  and happened to be in the streets when the audience were going back home.

 

I am sure that one day there will be a globally enforceable law which will hold people accountable for misrepresentation and slander. We are all free to express our opinions and views but statements that boast facts should require proof and evidence so that masses are not mislead.

 

There is no doubt that what is being said about Iran and the Baha’is raises questions in people’s mind –  questions about the country, its people,  their values and the reasons behind these persecutions.

 

It is a very strange concept for many that in the twenty first century people are being persecuted because of their beliefs, or that many Baha’is do not recant their faith to protect themselves against these persecutions.

 

For me, what I read on a daily basis  brings back many memories, some sweet and some painful, memories about our beautiful country and some of our good Muslim friends who helped and protected us, memories about the wonderful Baha’i community of Iran to which I am proud to have been part of. There are also other memories that one wishes to forget, but they don’t go anywhere.  These are the recollections of deep rooted prejudices which have been casting their dark shadows on our lives for many years.

 

I thought that through my blog and various posts, perhaps I can open a small window to the country of Iran and its Baha’i community.  I hope that people visit my blog to get a closer look.

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