Faith under siege: The Baha’is of Semnan, Iran

Imagine if you lived in a world where it is government-sanctioned practice to be constantly under surveillance, to have your … Continued

Imagine if you lived in a world where it is government-sanctioned practice to be constantly under surveillance, to have your property confiscated or destroyed, your educational rights denied, your children harassed, and your livelihood taken away.

Worse yet, imagine that all of this is happening to you solely because of your religious beliefs. Sound like a distant dystopian future that is only found in novels? This is a daily reality for the Baha’is in Iran.

Since 2009, the Iranian government has made concerted and systematic efforts to impoverish and isolate the Baha’is in Iran from their fellow citizens. This has been seen most clearly in Semnan, a town roughly 130 miles east of Tehran. The few hundred Baha’is in this town have been subjugated to intense economic and social pressures including losing their jobs, having their businesses closed and homes raided, their cemeteries desecrated, and being continually harassed by Iranian officials.

On Nov. 1, three Baha’is came together to speak out for their family and friends living in Semnan at a press conference held at Human Rights Watch’s Washington D.C. office. Monir Khanjani, Siavosh Khanjani, and Dr. Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian each gave unique and varying perspectives on the recent events unfolding in Semnan.

Khanjani began by explaining that five members of the Khanjani family are currently in prison – including her uncle Jamaloddin Khanjani, who was a member of the Yaran (literally “friends”), the former ad hoc leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran. She then spoke about the attempts to dehumanize and degrade the Baha’is in this town, recalling a story of her cousin who was paralyzed in a car accident that forced her to move to her elderly parents’ home with her four children. While living there, their home was firebombed, hitting Khanjani’s cousin’s room. Khanjani noted that this incident and others like it were simply due to religious persecution. “All of this has happened just for their faith as Baha’is. There is no other crime, no other reason.”

Khanjani then discussed the anti-Baha’i propaganda that has been disseminated by the civil authorizes and clergy in Semnan in recent years. In addition to several anti-Baha’i rallies touting false statements about the nature of the Baha’i community, the authorities have made concerted efforts to impoverish the Baha’is of Semnan, including revoking business licenses, and closing down existing shops and factories. One example of such actions is the step-by-step demolition of the Khanjani family farm. This farm has been in the Khanjani family for some 200 years and at one time had 40,000 fruit trees covering 100 hectares of land. The farm produced 50 tons of fruit annually and employed over 50 Baha’is and Muslims. Unfortunately, events like this are not isolated and the lengths taken to impoverish the Baha’is harm the Iranian economy as a whole, not just the Baha’i community. Additionally, authorities have closed 17 Baha’i owned businesses since 2009, which has resulted in the loss of work for both Baha’is and Muslims.

Ghadirian, a psychiatrist who has done extensive research on resilience and coping with suffering, spoke about the psychological effects of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. Dr. Ghadirian focused on the most vulnerable group affected—infants. Currently, there are two infants imprisoned with their mothers in Semnan; at the time of their imprisonment, one infant was five month old and the other only one month. He outlined the difficulty of caring for a baby in prison as well as the effects on the infants of living in this confusing and violent environment. Ghadirian then relayed a personal story about the desecration of the graves of his mother, sister, and brother-in-law, declaring that “this is the worst type of aggression, in a way it is like killing them twice.” Sadly, this desecration of Baha’i grave sites is a frequent practice. Yet, despite the difficult conditions the Baha’is of Semnan must face, they have shown immense strength and resilience. Ghadirian believes that “you cannot break down the faith of those who believe so strongly in their religion.”

These personal stories of a community under fire solely because of their religious beliefs are unimaginable to those of us who live and practice our religious beliefs in a safe and free environment. Yet there are whole generations of Iranian Baha’is who grow up never knowing what it is too freely and openly practice their beliefs without fear of punishment. This is truly an unacceptable and unimaginable reality.

Rachel Wolfe is a fellow at the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’is of the United States. She has previously worked on gender equality, human rights, and health related issues including HIV/AIDS in Kampala, Uganda at the Office of External Affairs of the Baha’is of Uganda.

About

Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.