Education is a crime – if you’re a Baha’i in Iran

The long-running government-sponsored persecution of Bahá’is in Iran has taken a turn for the worse in the last few years. They have added to their repertoire of human rights violations the denial of higher education to young Bahá’is, even to the most gifted.

An undated photograph of Shadan Shirazi, taken from one of the more than two dozen Persian-language websites that told of her exclusion from university after scoring highly on the national college entrance examination in her native Iran.  She ranked 113th out of all students (estimated at more than a million participants).  Photo from the Bahá'í World News Service.

An undated photograph of Shadan Shirazi, taken from one of the more than two dozen Persian-language websites that told of her exclusion from university after scoring highly on the national college entrance examination in her native Iran. She ranked 113th out of all students (estimated at more than a million participants). Photo from the Bahá’í World News Service.

One recent personal story that came to light to illustrate this waste of human talent, solely because of religious prejudice, is Shadan Shirazi who, although she ranked 113th in the country on college entrance exams, was denied entry into any college in Iran. This tale of injustice is one of numerous others throughout Iran. (Another case is briefly described here.)

As a result of Bahá’í youth being denied an education, numerous Bahá’is throughout the country formed an online university to provide them a college education. This effort, titled the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education (BIHE), set up university level courses and classes in private homes and through online programs. Unfortunately, the government of Iran discovered the Bahá’í educational program and commenced invading homes to confiscate computers, books, and other resources. The Iranian regime has arrested, imprisoned, and harassed many who were teachers and organizers of BIHE.

The Bahá’is of Toledo and Sylvania recently held a showing at the University of Toledo of a new documentary about this denial of education, To Light a Candle, made by a Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker, Maziar Bahari (who is not a Bahá’í), in an effort to inform staff and students of the university of the plight of these young people in Iran and their teachers.  The Toledo Blade published a story on March 7, 2015 about this showing and a panel discussion held afterwards.

What You Can Do To Help

Bahá’is throughout the world have been showing this documentary to academics and college students and asking them to send messages to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran requesting they end this persecution of Bahá’í youth seeking higher education. Everyone is invited to participate in pressuring the government of Iran to end this discrimination in the following ways:

  • Send a video message against this policy of education discrimination in Iran to the website:
  • Interact with the organizers of the “Education Is Not A Crime” group via Facebook and Twitter.
  • Through the above website, send a tweet to the leaders of Iran asking them to end the discrimination against Bahá’is and allowing Bahá’í students to be admitted to universities.
  • Universities and colleges in the United States are encouraged to accept credits for courses completed through the BIHE for Iranian students seeking admission into American schools.

The Larger Story of Persecution

In a recent report made to the United Nations, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, stated:

“Despite statements from high-ranking officials [in Iran] that Bahá’is are entitled to citizenship rights, they continue to face discrimination, arrest, and arbitrary detention in connection with their religion.”

“Between September and December 2014, security forces in the cities of Isfahan, Tehran, Shiraz, Hamedan, Karaj, and Semnan reportedly arrested at least 24 Bahá’is, bringing the total number of Bahá’is in detention to 100.”

The report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur and the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon concerned the treatment of several minorities in Iran. The discrimination directed at Bahá’is is of special concern (in the report and to their co-religionists outside of Iran) because it is the largest of the minority groups of Iran, with approximately 300,000 members.

Why This Persecution?

The Bahá’í Faith began in Iran in 1844 when a young man called the Báb (‘the Gate’ in English) raised his voice to proclaim that he was the Promised One to Shi’ih Islam – known as “the Mahdi” – as well as being the herald of one greater than he who would be the Messiah to all the faiths on earth. This person was Bahá’u’lláh, who declared his identity in 1863 in Baghdad where he had been exiled by the Shah (king) of Persia in 1853 in an effort to destroy the new faith and its adherents.

The huge number of these devoted followers of these new prophets incensed and frightened both the Muslim clergy and the Shah and his government ministers, who all feared losing their power, privilege, and control over the populace and the country. The government – with religious leaders urging them on – commenced first persecuting the followers of the Báb (called Bábis), then the Bahá’is. Altogether, an estimated 20,000 early followers of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh lost their lives in the religious persecutions from 1844 through the late 1890s.

Accusations of Apostasy

Bahá’is are considered by many religious leaders of Islam as being apostates because some Muslims believe that Muhammad is quoted in the Qur’an as stating that he was the “Seal of the Prophets.” The meaning of this is thought by some to be that God will never send another prophet or messenger to humanity. Therefore, to their thinking, anyone who claims to be a manifestation or messenger of God after Muhammad must be an imposter. Thus, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh making their claims that they are God’s latest manifestations means they are apostates, as are anyone who follows them.

A photograph from around 1896 showing an Iranian Bahá'í father and son (at left) in chains after being arrested with fellow Bahá'is.  Both were subsequently executed.

A photograph from around 1896 showing an Iranian Bahá’í father and son (at left) in chains after being arrested with fellow Bahá’is. Both were subsequently executed.

However, it should be noted that, in seeming cognitive dissonance with this thought that God is not sending morepProphets after Muhammad, many Shi’ih Muslims still expect the appearance of the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam, and the return of Imam Husayn. Sunni Muslims expect the return of Christ – at the same time as supposedly believing that Muhammad is the last prophet. A common explanation of this idea is that the expected redeemer prophesied as coming in the Qur’an will appear, but will not change any of the religious laws or teachings of Muhammad.

In makes no sense that a redeemer would bother to show up at all if he were not going to update God’s teachings for humanity to address modern issues and problems. At the same time, Christians expect the return of Christ. But when he comes, he, too, is expected by his followers to not actually change anything. It all appears to me to be wishful thinking by humans who do not want to be challenged by change.

Bahá’is believe that Muslims simply misunderstand what Muhammad meant by his claiming to be the “Seal of the Prophets.”  There are two types of prophets:

  1. The category of prophet such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad who were manifestations of God. Each of these divine messengers sent by God brings his own revelation to humanity and a “Book” (the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an, respectively). This type of divine luminary is referred to in the Qur’an as a “rasúl” in Arabic.  The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are both this category of prophet. Note: A “rasúl” is also a “nabí,” by definition.
  2. Another type of prophet is similar to the Jewish prophets Daniel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, etc. who served God as warners to humankind and also prophesied future events. These minor prophets are referred to as “nabí” in the Qur’an.

“Rasúl” Prophets are also “nabí” prophets. They bring a new revelation from God and also will unerringly foretell future events.  However, “nabí” prophets are not necessarily also “rasúl” prophets. It is this second type, the “nabí” in the Qur’an, of which Muhammad stated he would be the last. Muhammad did not say that he was the last “rasúl” (manifestation or prophet of God). Therefore, according to Bahá’í teachings, there would be additional prophets or messengers of God who would come after Muhammad.

“Seal of the Prophets” also means that Muhammad was the last Prophet of the Adamic Cycle which began with Adam, who was actually a prophet of God. Muhammad ended the prophetic cycle. The coming of the Báb in 1844 began the new cycle of fulfillment.

For a detailed review of the Bahá’í interpretation of “the Seal of the Prophets” and other verses and prophecies in the Qur’an, the book “Islam and the Bahá’í Faith” by Moojan Momen is recommended.

Since “apostasy” is a “total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, or cause” (according to, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh being foretold in the Qur’an (and in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments) means that they are the fulfillment of those books, not in apostasy to them. Therefore, Their faith, and its followers are not apostates.

The regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran has chosen to persecute an innocent group of peace-loving people who do not consider either Iran or Islam their enemy. It should be noted that many, many Muslims in Iran have been kind and helpful to their Bahá’í fellow citizens. But there are some Muslims who have been misled by government misinformation campaigns as to who Bahá’is are and what we believe, and have participated in discriminatory actions against Bahá’is.

The story of the persecution of the Bahá’í community in Iran has a convoluted and nuanced history. I will explain more in my next article. The lies the Iranian regime disseminate as a cover for their religious intolerance and vile activities against the Bahá’is need to be revealed to the world.

Print Friendly

6 Responses to “Education is a crime – if you’re a Baha’i in Iran”

  1. Michele Joseph

    I see that the film “To Light a Candle” can be purchased for $10.00. on the “Education
    is Not A Crime ” web-site. I’m glad I don’t have to wait until next year.
    You can also buy T-shirts & hoodies. That would be a great way to start a conversation about this,so as to increase the support.

  2. Christy Besozzi

    There are several problems with the idea that Baha’i youth in Iran should just get up and leave and go to the World Center in Haifa, Israel:

    1. The Iranian government won’t give them passports to leave the country. The youth and some others that have left have done so by being smuggled out of the country – which can be prohibitively expensive.
    2. As far as the youth going to Israel to help at the World Center, Israel does not have an embassy in Iran to which people can go to get visas to visit Israel. And, since Iran and Israel are not exactly friendly, Israel is not very likley to let people from Iran enter Israel for prolonged stays (or even short ones).
    3. The Iranian government automatically bars any Iranian citizen who visits Israel from re-entering Iran. They assume – incorrectly – that Baha’is who visit Israel on purely religious pilgrimages are actually spies for Israel.
    4. Some Iranian Baha’i youth have been able to leave Iran and get admitted to universities in other countries, but this is rare due to costs. And those who have earned some credits through the BIHE system in Iran may not be able to find colleges to accept those credits. That’s part of the “what can you do” – if you are an academic or administrator at a college.

    The persecution suffered by the Baha’is of Iran has been economically harsh in the last 30+ years. The recent intensification of economic penalites directed at Baha’is (closing of businesses and warning Muslims to not hire Baha’is or frequent their businesses) has left the financial resources of the Iranian Baha’is very depleted.

    • Michele Joseph

      Wow,Christy, this is way worse than I thought !l
      I wish I had been able to attend the film and panel discussions- I couldn’t attend for
      health reasons .
      How crazy- the Iranian government won’t let them leave- but if they do manage to get to
      Israel- then they can’t come back !
      If they hate them so much, they should let them go !
      They hate the Bahai’s intensely!
      I know an Iranian refugee , and she told me that there is propaganda that tells the people that Bahai’s have tails and eat babies !
      What is their motivation to keep them ?
      I certainly wouldn’t want people around who ate babies !
      I’m definitely going to visit the site you mentioned, I feel like I don’t know enough about this topic. Looking forward to your next article.

  3. Michele Joseph
    Here are pictures of The Bahai World Centre in Haifa- a world heritage site.
    All Bahai youth serve for a year there.
    The number of people required to maintain this place has to be gargantuan
    In addition to the U.S. and Canada, some could go there
    Bahai’s are required to go there on pilgrimage- so there is a constant stream of guests.
    Non-Bahai’s go there just to view the gardens, a wonder of the world.
    This would also provide opportunities for young people- working in hotels, restaurants, gift shops.
    I think we should get them out of there.

  4. Michele Joseph

    It saddens me to realize that the four options for action are not likely to result in any
    The lives of these young people will move on,and their promise will go unfulfilled.
    I wonder if it would be possible to get them out of there.
    Maybe individuals, groups, or entire communities could collect the funds needed to
    bring them here, or to Canada, educate them ,house them in loving Bahai communities.
    I just don’t think Iranian authorities are going to listen.
    They need to get out of there.

  5. Denis

    At any time in the history of mankind that freedoms were limited, there was always a shyster behind the scene. “The truth will set you free” is way-too liberating for those who wish to control the agenda. Although the U.S. has come along greatly in this area, there are still those who wish to control the truth. They are the monied lobbyists who often set the agenda of our Congress.

    “What is truth?”

Comments are closed.