Here Shabnam Golestani offers her personal and strongly held views about religious persecution of the Bahá’í community in Iran:
The benefits of life in a liberal democracy like the United Kingdom are many. But, what are these benefits and to what extent do most of us take them for granted? Such benefits may include:
- The right to freedom of thought
- The right to freedom of belief
- The right to freedom of speech
- The right to education without discrimination.
It is the last item on this list which I would like to write about. In the United Kingdom and other western countries, education is considered a fundamental human right. The right to an education is one of those listed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. So how would we, here at KEHS, feel if such a fundamental right were to be denied to any of us simply based on our religious beliefs? This is the fate being suffered by the Bahá’í community of Iran.
The Bahá’í Faith is a relatively new faith, tracing its origins back to 1844, only one hundred and sixty eight years ago. It is one of the most geographically widespread religions in the world and its essential beliefs are:
- The oneness of God: the Bahá’í believe in one God and that different names such as God, Allah, Yahweh and Brahma all refer to One Divine Being, whose nature is unknowable and inaccessible to humankind, and that we learn about God through His messengers, who teach and guide mankind.
- The oneness of religion: the belief that God has revealed Himself to humankind t different times in history through a series of divine messengers, including Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Each of these messengers has been the founder of one of the great religions and their teachings guide, educate and provide us with a basis for the advancement of society.
- The oneness of the human race: in the Bahá’í view, the body of humanity is one and indivisible, each member of the human race is born into the world as a part of the whole.
In the Bahá’í writings we are told that:
“The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”
The Bahá’í Faith originated in Iran and its founder is Bahá’u’lláh. The Iranian Bahá’í community, which is the largest religious minority in Iran as well as the oldest Bahá’í community in the world, has suffered severe persecution, both physical and intellectual, from its very earliest days.
Today, Bahá’ís in Iran are routinely denied access to higher education and employment. Children are systematically mistreated at school as a matter of official policy by their teachers and school administrators. Historically, schools run by the Bahá’í community were set up to provide education not only for the Bahá’í children and youth but also for pupils of any background. One of the most famous schools established by the Bahá’í of Iran was the “Tarbíyat School for Girls”. Eventually, these schools were closed down. The Bahá’í Faith, just like KEHS, considers the education of girls and young women of primary importance and critical to the well-being of society. Bahá’ís are taught that of a parent has two children, for example a boy and a girl, and they only have the means to educate one of them, it should be the girl that is given priority as it is the girls that will be the mothers and the first educators of the next generation.
Access to education is a basic human right. Through it, people are enabled to develop their talents and skills to be able to contribute to society. When addressing the topic of education, Bahá’u’lláh says:
“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom”
The denial of a person’s right to education is a denial of their right to exist as a free and productive human being. Without education, the individual is condemned to the prison of their own ignorance, tortured over their lack of opportunities, and, more than likely, consigned to a life of poverty, underdevelopment and oppression.
Those young Bahá’ís that manage to endure the persecution inflicted on them throughout their primary and secondary education are then refused entry to all Iranian universities and colleges no matter how good their grades may be. In the face of such blatant discrimination, the Bahá’í community in Iran has sought to set up its own institutions for higher learning. However, the Iranian authorities, although not yet entirely successful, are continually trying with all their resources to close down these institutions, including the “Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education” many of whose lecturers have been arrested and imprisoned.
It seems to me that in this country, we do not realise how fortunate we actually are to have such a good system of education. If I were denied an education, I could not help but feel oppressed and trapped and I could not see myself being of any true use to the world.
In the summer of 2011, I took part in a campaign called ‘Can you solve this?’, which aims to help raise awareness for the unfair treatments of the Bahá’ís in Iran regarding access to higher education. By clicking this link you will be able to view a video and support this cause which is very close to my heart.
Below are three other links which provide more information regarding the Bahá’ís in Iran.