This is a question that has been raised many times, here on this site, and I thought to share my personal understanding on this subject at a time of increasing pressure on the Baha’i community of Iran, specifically because one of the charges against them is that they are expressing themselves!
As Baha’is in Iran face increasing pressures and the 7 leaders of their community along with another 20 or so others are imprisoned, many Iranians question the wisdom of this persecuted community in being vocal in expressing their views.
Some have suggested and indeed concluded that Baha’is express their views for the purpose of promoting their faith in the hope that they gain converts.In Iran, the Attorney General of the country Ayatollah Dorri Najafabaadi has characterized such expression as “damaging the foundation of people’s belief” or“تخریب پایگاههای اعتقادی مردم” and charged the Baha’is with “agitation of thought” or“تشویش افکار“amongst many other charges related to national security and espionage for Israel.He goes on to state that in the Islamic Republic people are free to have their own thoughts but that its expression is not permitted!
Again, many concerned Iranians have suggested to, and at times pleaded with, the Baha’is that they should simply keep a low profile and simply put “be quiet”, in the hope that their plight may not further deteriorate.The Baha’i community completely understands and appreciates the sincerity in these suggestions and in fact, if it was not for the many noble Iranians with understanding, compassion and empathy, the plight of the Baha’is in Iran would be far worse.This is acknowledged by the Baha’is of Iran and expressed in every forum in which the Baha’i international community speaks of the plight of their fellow believers.
Now having dispensed with the context in which the original question is posed, it is important to start at a point where we can all agree, which means that it cannot be religion but science, or so I hope!
Is it possible to have a view or perspective and not be able to express it?Let’s try again.Is it reasonable to expect to have a perspective and not express it?Scientists spend much time in research and when a discovery is made or a hypothesis is proven or disproved they publish their findings.Now, let us examine the possible reasons why they choose to express their findings, as there are many.One reason is that their findings and conclusions may influence the work of other researchers and thereby further enhance the state of knowledge and therefore progress in a particular field.Another reason may be that the findings will be challenged or confirmed by others.While other reasons exist, suffice it to say that unpublished findings serve no purpose and published findings at a minimum serve the scientist to gain confirmation if the underlying theories and hypotheses are valid.It is this last point that hopefully can serve to make a transition to another instance where more common ground can still be found.
When people exchange views, and this exchange takes place in a spirit of openness, respect and concern for the dignity of others, then it is quite likely that the participants will learn of alternative perspectives while they also shape their own views through its expression.How many times have you found yourself understanding something better after you have expressed it or explained it to someone else?The act of expression is a process by which thoughts can become organized and cohesive.Responses to these thoughts will expose its weaknesses and gaps for which the person now can further evaluate their perspective.Whether there is agreement or not, whether a change in perspective occurs or not, is really not the point.Participants can gain from this exchange and can consider themselves enriched if, again, the spirit of openness respect and concern for the dignity of others is maintained.
If you have read through to this point, you may by now guess where I may be heading with this logic, but please don’t.
The Baha’i Faith and its roots in the Babi Faith can be traced to “asking questions”.At its inception, the Babi’s challenged the 19th century brand of Islamic fundamentalism.The clerics that had a grip on the Qajar court lashed out at them leading to 20,000 deaths by many accounts.The estimated 1 million followers of the Bab had gained confirmation in their belief not by remaining silent but by rather expressing themselves.Note what I am saying here: “the followers of the Bab gained confirmation in their belief”.
The strength and conviction of the Baha’is in Iran is born out of that very same process of expression and confirmation.Had they been silent and reclusive under such harsh circumstances they would not have been the vibrant community that they are today. Expression is the animating force behind belief.Whether it is expressed in practice, such as service to humanity, or in words, such as its mention to others, belief is examined and revitalized.Just consider how Islam is perceived in the Islamic Republic when its expression is contrived and regulated.
If you have something of value, the natural impulse is to show it to others.In the same token, Baha’is express their views because they believe that it is of great value and that it should be shared.This is the essence of Baha’i expression and confirmation.
The Islamic Republic recognizes the real possibility of “change in opinions” or“تغییر اذهان” and so chooses to charge the Baha’is with “agitation of thought” or“تشویش افکار“.Its concern therefore becomes immediately evident as it recognizes the fact that expression will lead to questions, the arch enemy of fundamentalism.
So when the Baha’is of Iran engage in the expression of their faith through their deeds of service to humanity, such as serving impoverished communities in the suburbs of Shiraz, or by speak of their beliefs in the context of a discussion, they are “changing opinions” or “تغییر اذهان” against a back-drop of much baseless accusations, to which they have no forum for response.This is a threat to the regime and therefore the full force of that un-civil society is brought to bear on them.
On this site, with its primarily Iranian readership, the process is somewhat the same.The expressions made by Baha’is are primarily informational and the questions and challenges provide a venue for confirmation.Where there are attacks, as distinguished from questions and challenges, it can be traced to the very seeds of Islamic fundamentalism, fearful of its legitimacy in the face of questions.
In conclusion, a belief or an idea that is expressed will have a chance at confirmation and that which is not expressed is likely to turn into dogma.