Translation by Iran Press Watch
By Maryam Dadgar
According to the International Qur’an News Agency, Hojjatoleslam Seyed Abolfazl Razavi Ardekani, the temporary Imam (Friday prayer leader) of Shiraz, at the commemoration of the first anniversary of the passing of Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Shirazi, which was held in Shiraz, said: “If it had not been for the Shi’ite clerics, today Iran would have been ‘afflicted’ by the Baha’i Faith.”. Let us reflect on this sentence for a while. Seriously. What if, as Mr. Razavi Ardekani suggests, Shiite clerics had not stopped the Baha’is, and Iran had been “afflicted by Baha’ism” ‒ what would our country look like today? Allow us to go back in history, consider events, and imagine this “horrible” scenario.
At the advent of the Baha’i faith in Iran, Shi’ite clerics suddenly found themselves face to face with its “harmful and horrible” teachings. For example, one of the Baha’i teachings states that religion and science are two important sources of knowledge ‒ the progress of human civilization is only possible through their coexistence. Another teaching prohibits blind imitation, and invites people to research and investigate the truth ‒ humanity has reached its collective adolescence, and each individual can independently discover the truth ‒ there is no need to submit to another individual’s commands. Another states that the teachings of individual religions are not meant to last forever, but to change relative to the times. Baha’u’llah, the founder of this religion, recommended the need for the establishment of consultation meetings, and the rule of law for Iran: “law and principals are essential for Iran, …a place must be designated and noble individuals gathered at this location for consultation to decide and implement that which will be the cause of security, blessing, wealth, and trust of the people.” About the rights of women, Baha’u’llah said that women and men are the same, and one of them is not privileged over the other ‒ therefore, they must be treated with equality in social laws. In another teaching, Baha’u’llah advised against the involvement of the clergy in political affairs: “Religion is not to be involved in political affairs, but to be involved with matters of the heart… the heads of the religions… must spread seemly conduct but not interfere in politics.” And anytime Baha’i leaders mention the interference of the clergy, to make sure that conscientious and ethical clergy are distinguished from the rest, they use attributes such as “unthoughtful clergy”, “unwise clergy”, “unfair clergy”, and “unethical clergy”.
What would you have done if you had been in the shoes of Shia clerics? A new religion has arrived, and says that “the time for freedom of opinion, agreement between science and religion, reason and faith, women’s liberation, elimination of any type of prejudice… has come.” Along with this are other teachings, such as discrediting the use of force and coercion to impose religion, abnegation of temporary marriage, prohibition of polygamy, rejecting the idea of warmongering, and praise of peace and friendship. Imagine if the Shi’ite clerics had not acted to prevent the full implementation of such teachings ‒ how inflicted with suffering our country would have been today!
Among the most critical “setbacks” that Baha’is in Iran wanted to impose on Iran was the implementation of the equality of women and men. Ayatollah Khomeini, in full awareness, realized this “trick”, and revealed it in one of his speeches: “If you gentlemen go back to the Baha’i calendar about two or three years ago, you will note that it says that equality of women and men is Abdu’l-Baha’s choice, and the Shah without understanding steps up and declares the equality of women and men. Mister, they have imposed this on you so they can claim that you are a Baha’i ‒ compulsory education for all women is Abdu’l-Baha’s vote… our country, our religion is in jeopardy!”
Ayatollah Khomeini’s concern as a religious leader was not unfounded, as the very beginning Baha’is began to establish structures for achieving the equality of women and men, not only among the Baha’is but in the entire country. Abdu’l-Baha, the eldest son of Baha’u’llah, in his book entitled “The Secret of Divine Civilization”, which includes practical methods for the social and economic development of Iran, recommended that in all cities and towns ‒ even in the small villages of Iran ‒ several schools for the education of children be established. “The people should be encouraged to educate the children in reading and writing.” If necessary, attendance in these classes may be compulsory. He prioritized the education and training of girls over boys, and indicated that if a person could only afford to send one of their children to school it would be better to send the girl.
According to these “harmful” teachings and thoughts, Baha’is began to set up special schools by the name of Tarbiat (“Edification”) schools. At one point the number of these schools reached more than sixty. The Shi’ite clergy began to protest against these schools, saying: “A bunch of atheist Babis want to change the alphabet, they want to steal the Qur’an from the children and educate them using books.” Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri bravely declared that “spreading women’s brothels and the opening of Tarbiat schools for women and elementary schools for girls… are against Islamic Law”, as though equating schools for girls with brothels. He cried out: “Are these new schools not against Islamic Law? Isn’t attending these schools tantamount to the demise of Islam? Isn’t the study of foreign languages and education in chemistry and physics a cause of the weakening and deprivation of the student’s ideology?”
At the same time, Baha’i women established the first women’s association, by the name of “Progress for Women” in every city and village in which Baha’is resided, and initiated the discussion of education and the economic progress of women, with an goal to be of more service to Iran. Several decades before this, Tahirih Qurratu’l-‘Ayn* was sentenced to death by Shi’ite scholars for the crime of insisting on women’s rights and their right to freedom, their right to speak and to full participation in life. Considering all the efforts that Tahirih exerted to realize women’s rights and equality, no one knows ‒ if the ruling Shi’ite clerics had not ordered her murder ‒ what “suffering and misery” the women of this country would be facing by now.
In view of Shi’ite scholars, another one of the unacceptable teachings of Baha’is in support of women’s rights is the abolition of temporary marriage, as well as the banning of polygamy. They also consider the right to divorce to belong to both man and woman, with no distinction between them. They even have gone so far as to deprive Baha’i men ‒ who based on old habits, might think about taking a second wife ‒ of their administrative right to vote in elections for their religious leaders, in order to reinforce the need for monogamy and protection of women’s rights. Just imagine if Baha’is had been successful in supporting women’s rights and the state of monogamy, not only for the Baha’i community but also for the entire country of Iran, what “terrible consequences” the men who wanted to have more than one wife would have to face today.
To be honest, confronting and fighting against the Baha’i teachings regarding monogamy was not an easy task for the clergy, because polygamy was the cause of many problems in many families. This is why Shi’ite clerics were forced to make up strange and false stories to make the masses fear Baha’is, including that incest is not forbidden in the Baha’i community and that they marry their own siblings and family. However, in reality Abdu’l-Baha repeatedly emphasized that the less closely related the spouses’ families, the stronger the health and strength and condition of their offspring will be.
While Shi’ite Clergymen have relentlessly tried for years to make people understand that non-Muslims are religiously “unclean”, one of the teachings of Baha’u’llah urged people, regardless of their beliefs, to “Consort with all people, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship,…with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations.” He even recommended marriages between people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. As a result, the Baha’is of Iran, who were historically primarily Shi’ite, consorted with Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, and even agnostic people as brothers. It was, once again, Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri who noticed this dangerous Baha’i undertaking, and announced the awful truth that they say “all nations of the earth should have equal rights, and Muslims and non-Muslims should intermingle with each other and intermarry.”
One of the other items that caused an all-out battle by Shi’ite clerics against Baha’is was the issue of showers in Iran. Baha’u’llah in the Book of Laws (Kitab-i Aqdas) prohibited people from using public baths and ordered the use of clean water for washing. Due to this law, the first shower was built by a Baha’i in the city of Abadeh. These showers gradually replaced public baths in towns and cities, and finally Reza Shah officially banned the use of public baths. To deal with this dilemma, Shi’ite clerics began to protest against “showers” **. They even founded a party called the Party of Public Baths, and declared public bath water alone to be considered clean and pure water, and anything other than that would be unclean and impure. Grand Ayatollahs issued religious edicts declaring that to prohibit public bath is against Islamic Law, and that it would not be possible to use tap water for ablutions before prayers. Due to this, some Muslim believers used public bath water secretly for many years; they would plan how to get to public baths in the middle of the night hidden from the eyes of the police. Just a while ago President Hassan Rouhani said that he remembers the shenanigans when they “wanted to do away with public baths and replace them with showers, and some claimed that if plumbing and showers were established, half of religion would be ruined.”
While music was declared unlawful and vulgar by clerics, Baha’u’llah not only declared music to be lawful, but actually considered it to be a ladder for the progress of the human soul. A Baha’i musician by the name of Mirza Abdollah Farahani documented Iranian traditional music (radif), and today he is remembered as the father of Iranian traditional music.
Although scholars such as Sheikh Fazlallah Nouri, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Boroujerdi, Hojjatoleslam Falsafi and many other well-known clerics have put forth relentless efforts to make sure Iran was not inflicted by the Baha’i Faith, the Baha’i Faith gradually became the most populous religious minority in Iran and through its “harmful and destructive” activities became a major force for social process in Iran. The Sehat Hospital one of the first modern hospitals in Iran, building of tombs of poets like Omar Khayyam, Saadi, Hafez and Ferdowsi, establishment of the first automated woodworking and furniture factory in Iran and the first television station in Iran was established by the Baha’is. Personalities such as Mirza Ebrahim Khan Akasbashy, the first Iranian cameraman, Sayyed Nasrallah Baghrov, founder of the first Grand Hotel, as well as the founder of the Grand Cinema, Doctor Mohammadbagher Hoshiar, father of modern education in Iran, Doctor Mostaghimi, father of anatomy and dissection, and Professor Manuchehr Hakim, who discovered a part of the digestive system which is named after him, Dr. Ehsan Yar Shater, publisher of Encyclopedia Iranica, which is an influential work introducing the culture of Iran to the world, were all Baha’is. In addition, architect Hossein Amanat, who is the designer and architect of the Azadi (Shahyad) Museum and Tower, Lilly Iman, one of the founders of the Children’s Book Council, Jinous Mahmoudi (Ne’mat), Iran’s first female meteorologist and deputy of the Meteorology Organization, and author of the first sea atlas of Iran, Ali Mohammad Khademi, first Iranian licensed commercial pilot, Engineer Nick Khasas, designer of Jamshidieh Park, and Dr. Eshraqi, the first person to introduce public health measures, were all members of the Baha’i community.
Hojjatoleslam Razavi Ardekani has every right to be proud that Shi’ite clerics have been the cause of the slowing of the implementation of Baha’i teachings in Iran. See what “dark” days Baha’is have painted for the future of Iran. Abdu’l-Baha, who repeatedly asked Baha’is to do their utmost for the progress of ruined Iran, stated: “I hope that proper means become available in Iran to cause comfort and trust for the masses, and that justice and equity prevail, and that atrocities and violence may vanish. We want the common good and prosperity of the Republic. Iran will become the center of illumination. This soil will become radiant, and this country shining bright, and this unknown place will become famous all over the world, and this deprived country will become the source of hopes and dreams, and this poor people will enjoy abundant blessings and privilege and honor.”
*For more information on Tahirih, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tahirih
** See The Baha’is of Iran: Socio-Historical Studies, edited by Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Seena Fazel. Psychology Press, 2008, p. 124.