A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran

May 23, 2007

In preparing for the URI Global Council meeting in Antwerp, Belgium — which I'll be attending as quasi-staff in a couple of weeks — I wanted to brush up on the recent history of the persecution of the Baha'is of Iran. I found a recent (Dec 2006) detailed report that includes facsimiles of many government documents, newspaper clippings, and other first-hand sources showing the widespread repression, produced by the independent Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Their description of the report:

This report explores how Bahá'í religious practice has effectively been criminalized inside Iran. Bahá'ís are subjected to a level of social exclusion and harassment in Iran that shocks the conscience and A Faith Denied illuminates the persistent role played by the clerical establishment in perpetuating such abuse. Community leaders have been murdered and sites of irreplaceable religious significance destroyed. The report finds rising levels of persecution since the 2005 election of President Ahmadinejad and resurgence of other conservative political figures.



What I don't understand is the nature of the terror against the bahá'ís in Iran. I have never read an explanations why the civil and religous authorities, as well as "ordinary Iranians" are acting as psychopaths as soon they hear the word "bahá'í". The phenomenon started directly 1844 after Bábs Declaration – to murder, kill, maim and persecute babis, and later on bahá'ís in the most the most cruel and studied way.

Why have most Iranians acted – and are still acting – like madmans against this special group: the bahá'ís. Where is the scientific explanation? Where are the historians explanations? I have only seen the bahá'í explanation – and this is not enough for understanding this. The bahá'í explanation is that the persecution was caused by the babi criticism of the spiritual and political corruption in Iran in the 1840:ies. But this is not enough to understand the madness going on today in Iran.

The regime is intolerant against all dissidents, but completely rabid regarding the bahá'ís. Why?

You ask an interesting question re: non-Baha'i academic exploration of the persecution of the Baha'is of Iran. I don't know how to answer that. The report cited above describes the nature of that persecution. I haven't read it all yet, so I can't say how far it goes to describe the underlying reasons.

I know that there are many good people in Iran who would not want &mdash do not — want to see the Baha'is ill-treated. So why does this treatment happen? How does it come about?

My mind stumbles upon two other cases of official government persecution of seemingly powerless religious groups, the study of which might also offer insights on the topic at hand: the German treatment of the Jews during WW II and the American treatment of Mormons during their early history. I'm sure many other examples could be cited throughout history. The three examples — Jewish, Mormon, and Baha'i — all differ markedly in many respects, including the full extent of the suffering (clearly the suffering of the Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies of the whole of human existence). Nevertheless, the extent to which ordinary people played a role, to which governments manipulated them to their own ends, on the surface offer some similarities, and therefore may offer some understanding below the surface as well.


I live in a town called Umeå (or Umea, if your computer can't read the letter "Å"). It's in north Sweden, far away from Iran but not so far from the Arctic Circle. We have a University, a University hospital and about 120.000 inhabitants. We have students and refugees from many countries.

We have a small but stable and strenuous local Bahá'í community and a Local Spiritual Assembly. On the morning the 29:th May every year we all go to the top of a mountain outside town to honour Bahá'u'lláh. It's in the middle of the night, but the sunrise is about 03.00 and we all pray, read and sing while the sun is rising.

During the years I have noticed that when I post a notice about a Bahá'í activity, or anything else concerning Bahá'í on the public notice boards in town, most of the notices are gone one hour later. First this was a mystery. Who was tearing away the notices and the brochures about Bahá'í? Soon our children discovered what was going on.

It turned out that as soon some men who seemed to be of Middle East descent discovered the Bahá'í notices they tore them away from the notice boards. And they were talking and acting in a very angry way.

For me this was (and still is) very difficult to understand. If I see a muslim notice, e.g. about Ramadan or something else, which is blocked on the notice board by other notices which have become old because the events have already occured, I use to take away the old notices to make the muslim notice visible. Actually, as a user of public notice boards I always respect other peoples notices and I use some hours every month to clear the notice board from old messages and notices with dates that have passed.

What I can't understand is the storm of fury a simple Bahá'í notice on a notice board can arouse in some individuals far away from countries from which they even can be fugitives.

Your brother in Faith

Stefan Back