The plight of the Baha’is in Iran has rarely echoed in Parliament of India. The only time it did in Rajya Sabha, the House of Elders, was on August 27, 1981. Bhai Mahavir, MP, made a special reference to the persecution and discrimination faced by the Baha’i community in Iran. “Sir”, said Bhai Mahavir, “this community of Bahais is a small community though it is the biggest minority in Iran. They are two lakhs in strength, and today they are facing a campaign of systematic and organized extermination. And such is the situation that today they are being hounded out of their homes. Reputed surgeons, doctors, professors and teachers are being executed summarily on fictitious charges. Their children are not being allowed in schools. Their cemeteries are being desecrated”.
Bhai Mahavir himself came from a family of martyrs who perished in defence of their religion viz. Hinduism. His ancestors Bhai Mati Das and Bhati Sati Das, were executed along with their preceptor 9th Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur in Delhi in 1675 by the orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. His father Late Bhai Parmanand was a freedom fighter who suffered imprisonment in the dungeon of Andaman, and later distinguished himself as a noted leader of Hindu Mahasabha. Bhai Mahavir was thus quick to identify theological factor of Baha’i persecution. It was incidentally that the same exterminator theology that had resulted in the martyrdom of his forefathers. He thus says, ‘the extermination is such that today with the present regime in Iran, which has its own concept of a State, which want to establish, with the Ayatollahs and Mullahs dominating over there, nobody knows what they wish to do”. Bhai Mahavir wanted the House to pass a Resolution or extend moral support to the Baha’is.
Baha’is have lived through persecution: The Baha’i faith is a little over the 150 year old which arose in Iran (then called Persia) during the Shah Dynasty. Its forerunner whether Mirza Sayyid Ali Mohammed Shirazi al-B’ab (1819-1852) or its founder Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) were born in Shia Muslim families. Turning one’s back upon Islam called Irtidaad (apostasy) is an unforgivable offence. In an Islamic state it might attract death penalty equivalent to that of deserter from the army. This is not surprising since the days of Medina Verses of Koran, Islam has grown up like army camp. Within a century of the Prophet Mohammed’s death Islam conquered landmass extended from Spain to Sindh, India. It overran Persia, a land of great ancient civilization. No wonder persecution has pursued Baha’is from the earliest time. B’ab was executed and his followers who rose in protest were put down. Baha’u’llah was exiled to Mount Carmel, Israel then under Turkish Ottoman Empire (the state of Israel did not exist then) where he passed away a captivity in 1892. His son Abdu’l Baha (1844-1921) accompanied him in captivity and secured release as late as 1908, after an Uprising in Ottoman Empire. During the time of B’ab, Bahai were suspected to be a subservice power. But later on those suspicions were dispelled. Even though Baha’u’llah and his companions were exiled, other Baha’is were left unmolested under the moderate rule of the Shah. But this changed in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution imposed a theological state in Iran. The last 32 years have been full or ordeals for the Baha’is. The years under Mahmoud Ahmednejad (1905-2013) were particularly harsh. Eight Baha’i leaders, including women, were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on false charges. The persecution of Baha’is has assumed campaign for extermination. Baha’is are not covered under the religious minorities entitled to protection under Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran ratified in 1979. Thus safeguards available to Christians, Jews and Zorastrians etc are not extended to the Baha’is.
Asymmetric relationship between Islam and Baha’ism: Baha’ism has its birth in a belief typical to Shia variant of Islam- the arrival of Imam Mahdi, the divine manifestation on earth. Ba’b himself claimed to be the Mahdi. Baha’ism views all religions of the world with respect. But it claims that it has superseded all religions including Islam. That is indeed a dangerous claim to make in an Islamic state. Koran, as per itself, is the final word of Allah and Mohammed is His last Prophet. Allah cannot send any divine postscript through revelations! Thus revelations of Baha’ullah (whereby he realized unity of Godhead, unity of religions and unity of mankind) are an un-Islamic proposition. While Baha’i faith might adulate Islam hold Islam in high esteem, the reverse cannot be true. We have an analogous case in the form of Ahmediyya community in Pakistan. While Ahmediyya is a reformist movement initiated by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (1835-1908). But Ahmediyyas were later declared non-Muslim through the Second Amendment of Constitution of Pakistan. While Ahmediyyas view themselves as Muslims, the Muslims do not view Ahmediyyas as one amongst them.
A Bahai today is split between two views of Islam- official and private. His/her belief in Baha’ism teaches him that Islam is a glorious religion; his encounter with Islam prepares him/her for a different conclusion. The European Orientalists – Jews and Christians – could analyse Islam objectively and dispassionately because their religions enforced no compulsive view of Islam. It is because of those Orientalists that world came to know about Islam, which was earlier a closed book to humanity. While Baha’i religion arose amongst Muslims, it failed to swerve the demographic balance in its favour in Iran. Thus today they remain a battered minority. Its reformist and catholic message failed to change Islamic orthodoxy. Unless Iran, known for its glorious Persian civilization, reinvents itself the sufferings of Baha’is cannot be alleviated. Meanwhile the international community and international institutions must set up pressure on Iran to honour Human Rights of the Baha’is.
Priyadarshi Dutta is an independent researcher and columnist based in New Delhi. Views expressed are his personal.