[Newspaper:]  The Australian

[Date:] Thursday, 30 June 1983


Iran's intolerance takes Baha'is to the gallows

[By:] James S. Murray


Remember, the Ayatollah Khomeini?

He has not been in the news for some time and one suspects that others are pulling the strings in Iran.

But the style is the same – absolutism as complete as that of the departed Shah. Indeed, it is more far-reaching. For religious intolerance is at its heart and the victims include a constant procession to the gallows of members of the Baha'i faith. Sixteen were executed last month, of whom ten were women.

The Iranian charge d'affaires in Australia is insistent that such condemnations are acts of treason against the Islamic Republic and not out of religious anger.

But the Baha'i Public Information Service declares that they were given the option of recanting their faith and it was their refusal to do so which led to their deaths.

The Baha'i faith had a strange beginning in the Babi faith, founded in 1844 by Mírza Ali- Muhammed. He was known as the Bab – the Gate – and he declared that a greater prophet would come, bringing peace to all mankind.

In 1863 a certain Mirza Husayn Ali appeared, announcing that he was the Messenger of God the Bab had predicted He became known as Baha'u'llah – the Glory of God. The word Baha'i derives from this.

Persecution, however, was swift in Iran even then. Baha'u'llah was exiled to various cities in the Ottoman Empire, until final imprisonment was organized in Akka, and both that city and Haifa are considered holy by Baha'is as the Bab and Baha'u'llah are buried in them.

For orthodox Moslems, the Baha'i faith is a heresy, though the debt to Islam is obvious and acknowledged – Baha'i temples are architecturally akin to mosques. But the hatred Baha'is evoke in Iran is largely due to the universalist policy of the Baha'i faith.

If Islam is for the world's salvation, it is intolerable to a fundamentalist bigot of the Khomeini stamp to hear the suggestion that all faiths have validity.

Baha'is are also deeply involved in the pursuit of "human rights" and have a role in the affairs of the United Nations, both anathema to the Imam who rules Iran. Human rights is an invitation to their denial, for spiritual absolutism brooks no opposition.

It is part of the disreputable history of religion, too, that when one faith has absolute power, allied with the arm of the state, there is inquisition and punishment. And it is not hard to suspect that the Ayatollah has heard of the auto-da-fe, and cleansing of the body politic with fire.

In fairness it must also be said that discrimination against the Baha'is took place under the Shah's rule. In employment, once a Baha'i had stated his religious obedience, no job was available.


The Baha'i conviction that men and women are entirely equal is also contentious, and quite unacceptable to the fundamentalist regime now in power. But Baha'is are not only therefore accused of immorality, but also of being agents of Zionism.

Much of this last accusation is because the chief Baha'i shrines and its World Centre are in the Holy Land. Yet that is entirely fortuitous, and predates the establishment of Israel by nearly 60 years.

But religious intolerance is never logical, or even concerned about the truth.

Iran is a potent example of what happens when religion and political power are combined. If the aims of some more recent religions in harmonising the human race seem the same, the methods are often very different.

The Baha'is, however, have shown a real tolerance of religious difference and have attracted to themselves a wide variety of people throughout the world. They believe that all religions share a common, divine origin. Thus religious truth is not absolute but relative.

For Baha'is religious faith is for the "promotion of concord and unity". They also seek "a world federation of nations" – hardly an arcane ambition; yet the list of executions and martyrs in Iran since 1978 is appalling, and the methods barbaric.

Baha'is have been burned to death, assassinated, killed by mobs, tortured and hanged, stoned, and run over; married couples have died together, as have fathers and sons.

It is a disgraceful record. The Ayatollah could well remain silent out of shame or guilt. But we know his silence is due to trouble with his heart. So be it.















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