A Living Story Of: “174 Years Of Constructive Resilience”

This research article – which is the 2nd of 5 separate parts to be published – is intended to explore the living story of a community and its members (the Baha’is in Iran) who have been able to demonstrate an incredible constructive resilience in the past 174 years under continued and severe persecution and discrimination, as well as violation of their fundamental human rights. To read Part 1, click here.

Is there any legal or humanitarian ground for the persecution of Baha’is in Iran?

No doubt any kind of discrimination and persecution is a violation of human rights. In my opinion, there should be an equal standard of human rights for everyone in all countries around the world. Countries should not be allowed to violate human rights under the shadow of “internal affairs”, which is mere scapegoating and misrepresentation at the international level. In the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, of course in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and also in the International Covenant on Social and Economic Rights, there is no justification for the discrimination to which the Baha’i community in Iran has been subjected for such a long time.

Articles 19, 20, and 30 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran broadly acknowledge the human rights and citizenship rights of all its people in the country. Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians are officially recognised in the Constitution, but in reality and practice, the adherents of these religious minorities do not enjoy freedom of activity. However, this situation most directly affects followers of the Baha’i Faith. The Constitution does not recognise the Baha’i Community of Iran, whose faith is the largest independent non-Muslim religious community. Baha’is in Iran are not protected under other articles of the Constitution, as citizens and the government fuel anti-Baha’i sentiment in the country.

Article 19 [No Discrimination, No Privileges] All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.

Article 20 [Equality before Law] All citizens of the country, both men and women, equally enjoy the protection of the law and enjoy all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, in conformity with Islamic criteria.

Article 30 talks about education for all: The government must provide all citizens with free education up to secondary school, and must expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency. [1]

The report of the 71st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council dated February 01, 2017 under “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” has identified twenty-five points, and urges the Iranian government to eliminate, in law and practice, discrimination and other human rights violations. Three relevant points below (14, 15 and 16 out of twenty-five points) highlight the severity of the current human rights situation in Iran.[2]

  1. Strongly urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination and other human rights violations against women and girls, including with respect to the right to freedom of movement, the right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the right to work, to take measures to ensure protection for women and girls against violence and their equal protection and access to justice, to address the worrisome incidence of child, early and forced marriage, as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to promote, support and enable women’s participation in leadership and decision-making processes and, while recognizing the high enrolment of women in all levels of education in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to lift restrictions on women’s equal access to all aspects of education and women’s equal participation in the labour market and in all aspects of economic, cultural, social and political life;
  2. Calls upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination and other human rights violations against persons belonging to religious, ethnic, linguistic or other minorities, including but not limited to Arabs, Azeris, Balochis and Kurds, and their defenders;
  3. Expresses serious concern about ongoing severe limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, restrictions on the establishment of places of worship, attacks against places of worship and burial and other human rights violations, including but not limited to harassment, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of access to education and incitement to hatred that leads to violence against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, including Christians, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i Faith and their defenders in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and calls upon the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, including the seven Baha’i leaders declared by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Council to have been arbitrarily detained since 2008, and to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination, including economic restrictions, such as the closure or confiscation of businesses and properties, the cancellation of licences and denial of employment in certain public and private sectors, including government or military positions and elected office, and other human rights violations against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities;

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights which are to be universally protected. Freedom of thought, of conscience, of religion, of opinion, and of expression; the right to education and to life; and equal recognition before the law are all guarantees that make up this milestone declaration. It has been translated into more than 500 languages.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and in force since 3 January 1976. It commits its signatories to work toward the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights. Articles 18 and 19 of the ICESCR highlight the protection of freedom of thought and religion, the right to education and the right to expression and promotion of religion by people around the world. [3]

In June 1975, Iran signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); it remains a signatory to this day.

The persecution of Baha’is has negatively impacted the wider Iranian community

Cruelty against Baha’is and the unfair treatment of the Baha’i Community in Iran since its inception has had an enormous negative impact on the social fabric of the wider community in that country. One aspect of this negative impact evinced by propaganda meted out by both the government and clergy against the Baha’is is evidenced by the ignorance of Iranian so-called “historians”, authors and free thinkers prior to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979. The propaganda against the Baha’is was so effective that you could hardly find an unbiased account of Baha’i history and the positive impact which Baha’i teachings had on Iran. Thousands of anti-Baha’i literature and materials were easily and freely available, and Baha’is had no opportunity to respond. They were not allowed to distribute their own Baha’i literature freely, as it was against the law. This has been a “taboo subject” for the past 174 years in Iran, until recent years, when social media, the internet, and increased public awareness have slowly changed the perception and made it much easier for those who are interested to discover the facts for themselves. But history shows that anti -Baha’i propaganda has never hindered Baha’is from their community-building activities, or from extending help and friendship to their fellow citizens.

Another example of the negative impact that Baha’i-directed persecution has had on the wider Iranian society has been the action taken by clerics to completely ban people from accessing Baha’i literature and investigating Baha’i teachings. Instead, Iranian authorities have established well-orchestrated and malicious attacks on Baha’is and their property using public platforms and official media that are under their control. Some fatwas (religious rulings) issued by high ranking clerics are quoted in this article. Clerics still think they would be in big danger: if the public were to associate with Baha’is and expose themselves to new ideas and new teachings that are compatible with the needs of today and the aspirations of people ‒ that this would not benefit clerics. Popular tools to prevent that from happening have been segregation, issuing harsh fatwas and inciting hatred against Baha’is.

All these malicious attacks on Baha’is combine with the government’s unlawful activities against Baha’is, such as banning Baha’i students from entering university studies, closing down Baha’i businesses, prohibiting employment in government departments, as well as hundreds of other restrictions. The clerics have been successful in dividing their nation into two groups: us and others. Inciting hatred against “others” was and still is the order of the day in Iran.

The severity of the persecution against Baha’is in Iran can be better understood by noting that Baha’is are targeted from two directions: discriminatory actions and the violation of human rights by the government of Iran, as well as ‒ perhaps more dangerously ‒ the incitement of hatred by Islamic clergymen. Since the inception of the Baha’i Faith, the incitement of hatred has always been a bargaining chip for clerics, and it has been very hard and unpredictable to gauge.

The clerics’ preventing the population of Iran from getting to know about the teachings of the Baha’i Faith has been, in my opinion, a lost opportunity for the rest of the country. People deserve to freely associate with their neighbors, and to build friendship and trust with each other. But Baha’is in Iran have never paid attention to such divisive tactics and the segregation between “us and others”. Contrary to what Islamic clerics in Iran have tried in the past and continue to impose through a culture of segregation and the spread of hatred and animosity, Baha’is have extended warm friendship to their neighbors; friends; and associates, and do their best to engage in society-building activities in numerous fields.

Increase in public awareness and world-wide support for Baha’is

Recently, with the rise of social media and the interconnectivity of communities, many international and Iranian human rights organizations, parliamentarians in many countries, artists and celebrities, writers and academics, fair-minded religious leaders and many people of good will in Iran and around the world have strongly condemned the unjust treatment of the Baha’i community of Iran by government authorities, as well as the incitement of hatred against Baha’is by the clergy. It is also heartening to see that support for Baha’is in Iran and around the world is rapidly increasing, as people gain more accurate information about the Baha’i Faith, compared to what anti-Baha’i elements in the past 174 years ‒ and more intensively since 1979 ‒ have been fabricating and propagating through government-sponsored mass media.

It is also notable that recently a number of high ranking clerics and religious leaders in Iran and other countries have extended their sincere support by defending the rights of Baha’is in Iran. In February 2009, in an open letter with the title of “We are Ashamed”, a group of more than 267 (the number has increased since then) academics, writers, artists, journalists and other activists from Iran and around the world courageously signed a letter and expressed their sadness and apologies to the Baha’is of Iran for allowing extreme discrimination and persecution against them in their own country. [4]

In defiance of the Iranian government, Ayatollah Masoumi-Tehrani recently gave an art piece to Baha’is throughout the world, and especially to the Iranian Baha’is who, in his words, “have suffered in manifold ways as a result of blind religious prejudice at the hands of some of his coreligionists.” [5]

Ayatollah Masoumi-Tehrani defends Baha’i rights, and states on his website that he wishes the artwork to be viewed “as an enduring symbol of respect for the innate dignity of human beings, for fellow-feeling and peaceful coexistence regardless of religious affiliation, denomination or belief.” In a two-page letter accompanying the verse from the Baha’i writings, Masoumi-Tehrani writes, “Although it was my heart’s wish to make an illuminated copy of the whole Kitabi-Aqdas, like the holy Qur’an, the Torah, the Psalms, the New Testament, and the Book of Ezra, yet regrettably my physical and financial resources did not allow it.”[6]

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Excutive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, like many other religious organisations and people of good will, condemned the religious edict against the Baha’is in Iran. He said:

”We are extremely concerned by this new fatwa against the Baha’i community. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa (religious edict) against the Baha’i community on July 31, 2013, calling on Iranians to avoid Baha’is, and labelling them a ‘deviant and misleading sect.’ …Although the Baha’i community is the largest religious minority in Iran, numbering over 300,000, it is not officially recognized and is refused legal status. Since 1979, over 200 of its leaders have been killed or executed and thousands more imprisoned.”[7]

As public awareness is growing, so is the condemnation of the Iranian government’s action.

Does the Baha’i Faith Pose any Danger to Islam or Any Other Religion?

Not at all. In fact, the Baha’i Faith has initiated a unique and respectful interfaith dialogue, which proposes that all religions are one, they originate from one source, they have been revealed progressively during the course of history, and will continue to be revealed indefinitely into the future. It is a Divine Progressive Revelation. Baha’i teachings are based on a three fundamental pillars: the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religion and the Oneness of Humanity. Defending the Divine reality of all the past great religions is an uncompromising teaching of the Baha’i Faith.

[Edited by: Anton Clark and Jen Cowley]


  1. Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, 2004.
  2. : https://medium.com/@foaad19/answering-is-not-enough-take-action-372eb8567ea3
  3. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html
  4. http://iranpresswatch.org/post/998/we-are-ashamed/
  5. http://www.yourmiddleeast.com/opinion/iranian-ayatollah-defends-bahai-rights-and-goes-headtohead-with-the-regime_23301
  6. https://iranwire.com/en/features/144
  7. http://www.cswusa.org/filerequest/2783.pdf

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