The surpression of peace

By KatherineGamby

The room was small and dark with the exception of a small light bulb dangling over the head of an older petite Persian woman. “Your husband has recanted his faith, do you recant yours?” asked the Persian officer. Her dark eyes reflected strength and courage as the officer loomed over her, urging her to renounce the thing that meant more to her than her very life. “If he would like to recant his faith then that is his business, but I will not,” she responded. The officer, after hours of interrogation, ordered the woman’s death by a firing squad. A group of soldiers escorted the woman outside where they shoot her like an animal. The officer, receiving a confirmation of her death, entered the interrogation room of the woman’s husband. “Your wife has been executed; will you recant your faith?” The grief-stricken man sunk down into his chair and answered, “No.”

This is the story of an Iranian couple’s recent ordeal, told to Lily Ayman, a Baha’i who escaped from Iran. Many Baha’is in Iran, formally known as Persia, go through rigorous interrogation, like this one, used by the Iranian government to terrorize members of the Baha’i religion to persuade them to renounce their faith.

Nathan Davis, manager of the bookstore at the Baha’i House of Worship, 100 Linden Ave., in Wilmette, Ill., said the Baha’i faith began almost a century–and–a–half ago and is based on the teachings and sacred writings of Baha’u’llah, who is exalted as a prophet of the current age in the

Baha’i religion.

In 1863, Baha’u’llah said his mission was to bring about spiritual rebirth and the unity of mankind, which he thought would lead to permanent world peace and to the Kingdom of

God on Earth.

Baha’u’llah was born in 1817 in what was then Persia. His father was a minister in the court of the Shah. Originally, he was called Mirza Husayn Ali, but he later called himself Baha’u’llah, meaning “Glory of God.” Similar to Buddha, in 1844, the young Baha’u’llah left his life of privilege after a merchant from Shiraz, known as the Bab, told him that he would create a world of peace. After Baha’u’llah embraced the merchant’s message, he went through a period of persecution. Baha’u’llah’s possessions were taken from him and he was imprisoned, tortured and banished. He was exiled on separate occasions to Baghdad, Constantinople, Adrianople and the prison-city of Akka, which is the Holy Land to the Baha’i.

While in exile, Baha’u’llah wrote many letters to rulers, which are now regarded as sacred writings to Baha’i followers, about reconciling differences and unification. Baha’u’llah died and was buried in 1892 in Bahji, north of Akka.

“What Baha’u’llah was really proclaiming was that the age in which we live in, the age he brought about by his revelation, is the time of the coming of age of the human race,” Davis said.“The time when human civilization will really reach its full maturity.”

The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL, is the only Baha’i temple in North America. It was dedicated in May of 1953. There are eight such temples in the world. Baha’is share the culture of the world and are not associated with any individual race or ethnicity.

“The Baha’i religion doesn’t have any one distinct cultural heritage,” Davis said. “One of the things that Baha’u’llah said was that this is not a cause meant for one land and one people only; it is meant for the whole world.”

Baha’is also believe in prayer and the service of humans to better the world around them.Children’s classes, holy day commemorations and daily prayer services are held at the House of Worship. The majority of Baha’i activities take place within sectors in a city designated by an assembly.

“Our local assembly has divided Chicago up into nine sectors and each sector has activities like devotionals … even at Macy’s … On the seventh floor. I think it’s every other Tuesday, they have study classes,” said Gwili Possey, administrative assistant for the Chicago Baha’i Center.

Throughout Chicago there are local meeting groups for those, like the elderly, who are not able to travel to the House of Worship in Wilmette. The current Chicago Baha’i Center was purchased 20 years ago but worshippers are looking to expand because of the centers extensive membership.

“In most of those sectors there is something going on every single day and towards the weekend, four of them, including this one, would have children’s classes,” Possey said.

Just like other religions, the Baha’i faith is based on three main principles. In addition to these principles, the faith also draws from all other religions from around the world because Baha’u’llah teaches that all other religions are also revelations from God.

“The main principles would be the unity of God, the idea that there is one creator, the unity of religion, meaning that Baha’u’llah said that this is the changeless face of God … and the oneness of the human race, within that is the equality of gender, race [and] ethnicity,” Davis said.

Baha’is are fulfilling their unity and peace principles through their activeness in the United Nations.

“Baha’is have an international voice through what’s called the Baha’i International Community situated in New York,” Davis said. “I think they have some level of contact with the United Nations and they also make recommendations and try to infuse Baha’i principles into world problems that the United Nations is confronting.”

Like the international Baha’is, Chicago Baha’is are doing what they can to help Iranian Baha’is through hosting an event in November to commemorate Baha’is being persecuted and killed in Iran.

“[It was] on Nov. 14 at Mandel Hall. It [was] not only the Chicago Baha’i community, but neighboring communities and it [was] to have a tribute to those in Iran who are imprisoned and who are suffering,” Possey said.

Baha’is have had a longstanding history of persecution in Iran, since the time of Baha’u’llah.

“In Iran, the Baha’is are not really recognized as a legitimate religion because Baha’u’llah came after Muhammad and brought a new religion after Islam,” Davis said. “There are some who believe that this is not possible because Muhammad is the seal of the prophets and there cannot be any religion after Islam.”

On Oct. 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed  House Resolution 175, which condemns the Iranian government for the persecution of Baha’is, according to

a government Web site.

“Baha’is are not really offered any kind of protection; they don’t have rights in Iran,” Davis said. “It’s not to say that the majority of Iranians are against Baha’is, but there has been a long history of persecution and there is a campaign to try to eliminate the Baha’i faith

in Iran.”

While there are many who have been killed in Iran, there are some who have escaped.

“I came to America to see my children who were studying here, and it was about nine months after the revolution,” said  Ayman, a Chicago Baha’i member and retired educator. “I received letters not to go back … because I am a Baha’i and I was considered a traitor.”

She said that once she and her husband left Iran, all of their belongings were confiscated by the government and her family was interrogated by the government

about their whereabouts. Friends of theirs who were Baha’is were killed once Ayman and her husband left Iran.“Many of our friends were executed,” Ayman said. “It reminds you of what was going on in Germany when Hitler was around. They are accusing Baha’is of everything they can and there is no limit to it, all of it is rubbish and it’s not true.”

She said that persecution is not limited to killing, but educational restraints have been put on Baha’is, restricting them from attending college. All Baha’is are suffering, she said.

“[Children] are persecuted in horrible ways. Just the other day we heard that a child went to drink water [with the other children] and she was pushed away by the director of the school [and told] ‘Don’t you know you’re not suppose to drink from here, you’re a Baha’i, you’re soiling the water,’” Ayman said.

Though there are terrible things that have happened to Baha’is, Aymen recalled one of her most fulfilling moments as a Baha’i.

“The first Baha’i conference that I went to once I left Iran, I saw hundreds of Baha’is attending that conference,” Ayman said. “I started weeping, it was a joyous feeling to see all of these internationals getting together and at the same time, I thought the [Iranian] government thinks they can abolish the Baha’i faith. They should come to a conference and see how international it is.”

Ayman said she wants the Baha’i faith to be recognized as a religion by the Iranian government so that the Baha’is can

become active members of Iranian society. She said she would also like to return to Iran so she can be buried there

upon her death.

“My hope for the future is that one day we will have a just government and that the Baha’i faith will be recognized as a religion and have its own right,” Ayman said. “[To return is] my most earnest wish, but I don’t think that it will happen at all.”