n November 2004, the Iranian Bahá’í community addressed a letter to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, outlining the scope of the persecution they have faced for 25 years. The letter examines the persecution in light of those verses of the Qur’an and Islamic law that proscribe violence and uphold freedom of religion. It also notes that Iran signed and ratified the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and associated covenants that protect freedom of religion. It then recounts the government’s recent duplicity in offering university enrollment to Bahá’í youth but then falsely recording them as Muslims. It ends with a call for the full emancipation of the Bahá’í community. Here follow excerpts from the letter:
15 November 2004
The Esteemed Presidency of the
Islamic Republic of Iran Mr. Khatami
For more than 161 years, the Bahá’ís have been exposed, in the sacred land of Iran—the native soil of their forefathers in whose name they take pride—to a series of abuses, tortures, murders and massacres and have tolerated numerous forms of persecution, tragedy and deprivation, for no other reason than believing in God and following their Faith, the largest religious minority in Iran. Contrary to all religious, legal and moral standards, and supported by existing official documentation, they have been, individually and collectively, the subject of unwarranted discrimination and various injustices. Every time a political and social turmoil has occurred in this country, new machinations have been devised against this religious minority, and, in one way or another, their inalienable rights have been violated.
Day after day, the pressure against this wronged community became more intense and the scope of the injustice and infringement of their rights in various aspects of their lives more overt, such that their possessions, their homes, their jobs and their very existence were the target of attacks.
Bahá’ís would never commit any act contrary to the law of the land; they are well-wishers of the people and the state; they do not involve themselves with any political party; and they tenaciously uphold their Faith’s principles, which call on them to love and serve the entire human race and to bring about peace, amity and unity of religion.
From the perspective of the holy religion of Islam, people are free to choose and follow their own religion, and no one has the right to impose his religion on another. The following noble verses “Let there be no compulsion in religion…” and “To you be your Way, and to me mine” confirm this point. From the perspective of the holy religion of Islam, no one has the right to attack and violate the properties, the life and the dignity of those who live under the banner of this religion, which is to be secure and protected: “…if anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people…”
The equality, the freedom and the inalienable rights of all members of the human family, without discrimination as to race, gender, language and religion, have been unequivocally specified in all international covenants, especially in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Notwithstanding the Divine Standards and social and legal norms, to which brief reference has been made, certain decisions which have baffled humanity were made at the beginning of the [Islamic] Revolution, under authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the rubric of Cultural Revolution, the authorities of the [Ministry of] Culture and Education decided to expel Bahá’í students, some of whom were completing their last term, from universities and other institutions of higher learning in which they were studying. Others were barred from entering these institutions solely because of their adherence to the Bahá’í Faith. Then in 1369 [1990/91], the Council of Cultural Revolution, with reference to a well-planned agenda, openly deprived Bahá’í youth from higher education, thereby denying a number of the youth of this land the opportunity to realize their potential. This situation continued for some 20 years until in Ádhar of 1382 [December of 2003] “Peykesanjesh” (the publication of the Ministry of Science) officially announced that for the first time the religious affiliation of applicants would not be included in the application for the [university] national examination, and, instead, applicants would be asked to choose the subject of religious studies in which they would wish to be examined. Owing to the limitation cited in Article 13 of the Constitution, Bahá’í applicants necessarily chose Islamic studies for this examination.
Having received their entrance identification cards and subsequently taking this national examination, the success of Bahá’í youth, based on the government announcement of results in the first phase, was significant in that some 800 students were qualified to choose their fields of study, of whom hundreds ranked in the one to four digit range [a ranking scale extending to 200,000]. After receiving their test result forms, however, the Bahá’í applicants were surprised to see that their religion was specified as Islam. This duplicity astounded the Bahá’í community. Alas, the joyful news that the question about the religion of the applicants had been omitted from the national university entrance examination, which was a reflection of freedom of belief and a sign that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran was moving toward establishing the foundation of human rights and eliminating discrimination in education, was quite short-lived.
Questions continue to preoccupy the minds of the members of the Bahá’í community in Iran and throughout the world as well as free thinkers and advocates of human rights: Does such unfair decision-making, such resorting to strategies whose direction is obvious and whose aim is to create prejudice and to violate the indisputable rights of a community, conform to standards of justice and equity? Should those who seek progress be barred from acquiring knowledge and deprived of actualizing their God-given potentialities because of their religious belief?
By now, a quarter of a century has elapsed in the reign of the Islamic government. To every act of injustice, Bahá’ís have responded with magnanimity. Faced with widespread and intense persecutions and multi-faceted iniquities, the Bahá’ís have never deviated, even by a hair’s breadth, from the straight divine path, and they continue to hold fast onto the cord of patience and tolerance as dictated by their Faith and belief.
They fain would expect that, over such a long period of time, which should have been sufficient to remove suspicions and misunderstandings, the esteemed authorities would have realized that the Bahá’ís firmly believe in the oneness of God and the divine nature of all religions and prophets, as well as the realm beyond as confirmed in all the divine scriptures; they obey the laws and regulations of their country in accordance with the principles of their religion; they strive to preserve the interests of their homeland by offering cultural, social, economic and developmental assistance; and they would never refuse any service to establish human virtues and perfections which fulfil such universal visions as world peace and the oneness of humanity.
It is now hoped that [that respected authority], based on the Constitution, will take immediate action to ensure the emancipation of the Iranian Bahá’í community, reinstating their human rights and restoring the privileges of which they have been deprived.
The Iranian Bahá’í community