- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2008

Several years ago, I happened to ask my chiropractor where she was born and was surprised to hear she was from Iran.

When I asked why she had left, “We’re Bahais,” she responded.

When it comes to the persecution of faith, two groups - the Falun Gong in China and the Bahai in Iran - get some of the worst treatment in the world.

Iran is hardly hospitable to its Jews and Christians, either, but its rulers seem to go after Iran’s 300,000 Bahais, the country’s largest religious minority, with relish.

The Bahai International Community - with offices in Geneva, New York and Haifa, Israel - estimates that 200 Bahais have been killed between 1978 and 2008, with thousands more imprisoned. The one bright spot: Only one Bahai has been killed since 1998 - Zabihollah Mahrami, who died under mysterious circumstances in a Tehran prison in 2005.

Christians and Jews are at least considered “people of the Book” by the country’s Shi’ite rulers, but the Bahais have no such status.

For their temerity in believing that their 19th-century prophet and founder, Baha’u’llah, is equal to Muh ammad, these folks are considered infidels of the worst sort.

Theocracies like Iran consider Islam as the “final” religion and give no credence to any religion - such as Sikhism or the Bahai faith - founded after Islam.

Baha’u’llah was born Nov. 17, 1817, in Tehran - a hometown guy. When another man, known as “the Bab,” announced in 1844 that God would produce a new prophet, the government executed him by firing squad on July 9, 1850. From then on, members of the Bahai faith have observed that day as the “martyrdom of the Bab.”

Baha’u’llah, one of the followers of the Bab, announced himself as God’s messenger 1863, teaching that all religions come from God and that Muhammad was one of many messengers from the Almighty. He died in exile near present-day Haifa, Israel, in 1892.

It’s been rough going for his followers ever since. Bahais were banned from all public and private universities until 2004, when pressure from the United Nations led to Iran promising that it would not ask university applicants their religion.

According to Bahai World News Service, 800 of 1,000 Bahais who sat for entrance exams in June 2007 were later told that their files were “incomplete,” preventing them from enrolling.

Last month, the American Association of University Professors at its meeting in the District passed a resolution urging Iran to change.

Keeping minorities out of the country’s universities is hardly a new tactic. Russia’s communists employed the same means for decades, meaning that religious believers such as Baptists or Pentecostals were consigned permanently to low-paying unskilled jobs.

“It’s Iranian government policy to get rid of the Bahai community,” says Aaron Emmel, a spokesman for the National Spiritual Assembly of Bahais in the United States.

The Iranian government further cracked down this spring, arresting seven of the country’s Bahai leaders. All sorts of organizations condemned Iran over this, including the White House, which on June 14 called Iran’s human rights record “shameful.”

Still, Bahais continue to flee the country. Some 10,000 of them are now in the United States.

“Different minorities are protected under Iran’s constitution,” Mr. Emmel said, “but Bahais are killed with impunity.”

  • Julia Duin’s column, Stairway to Heaven, runs on Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at [email protected]
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