Monday, March 3, 2014

The persecution of the Baha'i faith in Iran

In San Francisco, the beautiful Baha’i center lies on a nondescript block of Valencia St., right next to the freeway. Harold Stoner originally built this fine example of art deco architecture for the Independent Order of Foresters lodge in 1930. Later, the Baha'is bought the building.

Ella Goodall Cooper, one of the very earliest San Francisco Baha’is (her mother, Helen Goodall, was a contemporary of Phoebe Hearst) provided funds for a center in her will.

Inside the rooms are calm and spacious, with subtle molding and Art Deco details. It is home to San Francisco’s Baha’ i community and hosts dozens of monthly events from different religious and community groups.

Baha'i, with an affiliation of some 5 million worldwide, according to the religion's official site, is a universalistic faith. The religion draws upon the world's major faiths to promote a message of unity among all peoples.

But the story of the Baha’is in their homeland is far different. Currently there are some 300,000 Baha ‘is in Iran who are portrayed as heretics and accused of being enemy spies. The Baha'is have suffered persecution since the founding of the religion in Iran in the mid-1800s. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, repression and discrimination has intensified. The hope is that the persecution will force the Baha’is to convert to Islam.

The regime has established a set of restrictions on Baha'is that are surprisingly reminiscent of the apartheid system in South Africa and the way that Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

They cannot hold public office and are not allowed to either teach or study in the universities. Their property has been confiscated and they have been imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs.

Sattar Khoshkhoo, a Baha'i originally from Iran, recently visited the center in San Francisco and talked about his childhood and how how difficult it was to even get a basic education. He was harassed and demeaned in school as are other Baha'i children.

In order to circumvent this, the Baha’is have set up their own schools and alternate educational organizations. Even doing this puts both teacher and students at risk. Twelve of the teachers and educators are currently in jail.

 In 2003 he was able to immigrate and is now a medical student, an opportunity that he – and all other members of the Baha’i faith are denied in Iran.

While the US government has made some kind of deal with the current Iranian government over the use of nuclear energy, the situation with the Baha’is and other religious minorities remains fraught with danger.

 In 2013, the U.S. Senate formally condemned the persecution faced by Iran's Baha'i community with the passage of Resolution 75, introduced by Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin.

It is hoped that awareness and international pressure will help change the situation for the better.

If anybody has further questions, please feel free to contact the Baha'i office at: or through their website

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