By Bijan Masumian
Translation by Iran Press Watch
The root of the repression and murder of religious minorities in Iran can be traced back to the spread of religious hatred by Muslim extremists who consider themselves to be the “saved sect” (firqih-yi nájieh) and the rest to be “misguided sects”, as well as the indifference and silence of the majority of Iranian society in the face of the oppression of dissidents. However, narcissism and the inherent hatred coming from extremists often turns into violence only when religious leaders, by using hate-inciting and derogatory messages, begin to dehumanize dissidents and pave the way for their violent followers.
The murder of 63-year-old Farhang Amiri, a retired Baha’i resident of Yazd, on September 26 of this year by two brothers, is the most recent example of religious murder of dissidents in Iran which, in this case, seems not only to have been motivated by religious hatred, but also hopes of attaining a “paradise” whose inhabitants will apparently consist of murderers and their descendants. The two brothers who recently confessed to the murder of Farhang Amiri have stated, in writing and during their interrogations, that the victim “was Baha’i. So we killed him in order to gain entrance into paradise for ourselves and the next seven generations of our descendants.” 
Unfortunately, Iran is a country where the constitution legitimizes the creation of a hierarchy similar to a caste system for its citizens. Therefore, the very existence of some of its citizens, such as Baha’is, is not even acknowledged. Thus, the shedding of the blood of Baha’is is permitted and their lives are considered worthless. Even the graves of their dead are not immune from invasion and destruction. Hence, it is not surprising that people like Farhang Amiri and Ata’u’llah Rezvani may be murdered in cold blood, but their killers go unpunished, under the shelter of the same law that is immune to justice for Baha’is.
It may come as a shock to many Iranians that in the history of the Babi-Baha’i religions, there is not a single documented case ‒ whether in the Qajar era, during the Pahlavi dynasty, or since the Islamic Revolution ‒ where the killer or killers of Babis or Baha’is have faced justice. 
This is not the first time that Farhang Amiri’s family has been a victim of extreme religious hatred. In July 1955, seven members of Farhang Amiri’s family and relatives were attacked and brutally murdered in a heinous crime in the village of Hurmuzak in Yazd.
Alliance of the Shah and the Clergy to Eradicate Baha’is
The Hurmuzak incident took place during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi; the same Shah whose government many clerics and Shi’ite fundamentalists call, to this day, “the puppet of Baha’is.” However, even a cursory look at the published autobiography of Mohammad Reza Shah clearly shows that he was a firm believer in the Shi’ah branch of Islam and, unlike his father, tried hard to raise the social status of clerics and strengthen the foundations of Shi’ism in Iran. In his memoirs Answer to History the Shah candidly notes that, after the failed assassination attempt (shooting) on his life at the University of Tehran, some of the most prominent clerics and religious leaders in Iran, “explicitly declared that they considered my survival to be a miracle for Iran.”  In the same book, the Shah points out how certain principles of his White Revolution helped elevate the status of Shi’ism: “Within five years, the Literacy Corps were able to build 950 new mosques and repair 8,200 existing mosques. I never failed to fulfill my obligations or keep my oath to preserve and protect the Twelver Shi’ah religion and defend it against the attacks of materialists … Among other productive activities of the Pahlavi Foundation were the repairing of mosques and Tekiehs (a religious venue for holding Taʻziehs, or Shi’ah passion plays) and subsidization of their utilities expenses. A large number of seminary students, especially in Qom, also used Foundation grants to continue their religious studies, and certain publishers of religious materials also received financial support from the Pahlavi Foundation.”
The Shah’s degree of belief in Shi’ism can also be seen clearly in this speech:
I was stricken with typhoid fever, and at the height of the illness, I dreamed of Imam Ali one night … He gave me a cup containing a liquid to drink, and I did that, and my health improved… In the summer, when we were going to visit the Shrine of Emamzadeh Davood, I fell off the horse. During the fall, I saw the image of Abbas ibn Ali, who took my hand and protected me… I also saw a picture of the 12th imam in the summer palace. 
It is a bitter irony of history that eventually the same Shi’ite clerics who used the same seminary students, the mosques, tekiehs and foundations, and religious publications turned them into a vast and integrated network to bring down the Shah’s regime. To witness the height of collaboration between the Shah and the Shi’ite clergy in the repression of Baha’is, we must go back to events in 1955, 24 years before the Islamic Revolution, to events that are known as the “Falsafi Upheaval”  among the Baha’is of that period ‒ events that led to the most extensive attacks against Baha’is in the twentieth century.
The roots of these sad events should probably be sought in two factors. First: Shi’ite clerics’ fear of the speedy progress of the Iranian Baha’i community, and the possibility that the Shah’s regime would grant them official recognition as a religious minority. This fear finally forced Iranian clerics to threaten the Shah with public disgrace, by publishing an inappropriate photo of Queen Soraya, taken during her visit to the United States in 1949.  The other factor for the decision to repress the Baha’is was that the Shah’s regime was not yet entirely free of the tumult that had followed the coup against the democratically elected government of the popular Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, following Mossadegh’s attempt to nationalize the oil industry. The Shah was fully aware that he did not yet have the national support to open publicly transparent negotiations with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and several American and European companies. Therefore, he needed an event that would divert the attention of the public from the oil talks. Thus, when Shi’ite clerics approached him through Mohammad Taqi Falsafi to allow the latter to deliver daily anti-Baha’i sermons on national public radio during the month of Ramadan to provoke the religious sentiments of Muslims against Baha’is, the Shah agreed, without considering the grim consequences of this decision. Consequently, the Oil Consortium agreement was signed, and American financial aid to the regime began to pour in ‒ which, in turn, led to strengthening the reign of the young Shah. Falsafi himself narrates the events of those days in detail in his memoirs:
My religious obligations demanded that I not remain indifferent to the propaganda of this sect [Baha’is], despite their affiliation with the ruling regime. However, during the days when the issue of the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry was raised and, as I explained earlier, Prime Minister Mossadegh did not even see Baha’ism as a threat and considered them to be part of the Iranian nation, possessing the same rights as Muslims, I did not consider it timely to publicly protest against the Baha’is. However, after the Shah’s coup in 1955 and before the start of Ramadan, I asked Ayatollah [Seyyid Hossein] Borujerdi: “Would you permit me to pursue the Baha’i question in speeches at the Shah’s Mosque, which is broadcast directly on the radio?” He thought for a moment, and then said, “It would be fine to talk about that. Now that the authorities do not listen, at least the Baha’is will be crushed in the court of public opinion.” He said it would be necessary to tell the Shah beforehand, so he would not have an excuse later to obstruct or disrupt the broadcast of the speeches on the radio, as that would prove too costly for the Muslims and serve to embolden the Baha’is. Accordingly, two or three days before the holy month of Ramadan began, I called the Shah’s office and asked for an appointment. In the meeting, I told him, “Ayatollah Borujerdi favors the discussion of the Baha’i question, which has become a concern of the Muslims in my sermons on radio broadcasts. Does your Majesty also agree?” He was silent for a moment, and then said, “Go do it.” 
Ayatollah Borujerdi had a long history in persecuting Baha’is. For example, after the premeditated murder of Dr. Sulayman Berjis, a well-known Baha’i physician and a reputed philanthropist, in 1950 ‒ an incident that stemmed from a cunning plan devised by eight members of either the Islamic Propaganda Association (Anjuman-e Tablighate Islami), or the Devotees of Islam (Fada’iyan-e Islam), who stabbed Dr. Berjis 81 times. The Shah’s Judiciary, which was under intense pressure from three influential Ayatollahs of the time ‒ Borujerdi, Kashani, and Behbehani ‒ acquitted the eight criminals, despite the fact that they had confessed to the killing.  Dr. Berjis’s murder was so cruel and horrific that some newspapers called the verdict the “The Stigma of the Iranian judicial System.”  The Iran Physicians’ Association wrote an open letter to the Shah, in which they also vehemently protested this barbaric act, and remembered Sulayman Berjis as a skilled physician who had served faithfully in Kashan for many years, treated the underprivileged for free, and was well-known as a reputable individual. In protest against this gruesome murder, in the February 9, 1950 issue of the Naysan newspaper was written:
Such shameful pages of history, which contain murders of human beings under religious pretexts, can only be found during an era of barbarism and the dark medieval ages. Such operations are a disgrace to a progressive humanity living in modern times. The incitement of strife and religiously-motivated killings are used by colonialists to secure domination over colonized and semi-colonized countries.
On that same day, The People of Iran (Mellat-i Iran) newspaper also published a strongly-worded protest of this obvious crime:
In a country in which its people claim to have a three thousand year-old civilization, nobility, dignity, intelligence, humanitarianism, feelings of fellowship and altruism ‒ a country where its great religious leader [Zoroaster] invited people to fraternity and equality some 1,300 years ago, and started the greatest campaign against terror, murder, killings and plunder ‒ we can still find people who would stain their hands with the blood of an innocent man. It is indeed pathetic that they fail to show even a shred of shame for their action. 
Five years later, during the Falsafi era, his fiery speeches ‒ which were published in state newspapers and coincided with the holy month of Ramadan ‒ led to vast looting and massacre of Baha’is around the country, including in Shiraz, Neyriz, Najafabad, Manshad, Natanz, Yazd, Kashan, Birjand, Dehbid, Rasht, Karaj, Mahfuruzak, Mashhad, Hurmuzak, and other parts of the country. “In Abadeh and Ardestan, all Baha’is were driven out of their homes, and their houses were set on fire in such a way that all Baha’is, men and women alike, were forced to hide in the ditches at the foot of the mountains, in aqueducts, or under hay and straw. 
Baha’i administrative centers were also occupied by military or security forces in various cities, including Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Ahvaz and Bandar Pahlavi. The House of the Bab in Shiraz, one of the most sacred spots for Baha’is, was also seriously damaged. Attacks on Baha’is went so far that a cleric by the name of Sayyid Ahmad Safa’i, the Parliament Representative from Qazvin, with support from Ayatollah Borujerdi, submitted a bill with four anti-Baha’i articles to Parliament. These four articles denied Baha’is many of their fundamental rights as citizens. This bill was rejected by parliament due to increasing international pressure on the Iranian government, as well as the fact that the bill was in conflict with some of the principles of the Iranian constitution.
Frequent killings of Baha’is in Yazd and its surroundings
From the inception of the Baha’i Faith, Yazd and the surrounding towns and villages have witnessed the murders of many Baha’is. The most famous of these consist of three rounds of Baha’i killings in groups of seven. The first one took place in 1903, during the Qajar era, by order of the governor of Yazd ‒ Jalal al-Dawleh, a nephew of Mozaffar-al-Din Shah ‒ in which seven Baha’is were brutally executed and their sliced bodies were shown to their wives and children.  The second group consisted of Farhang Amiri’s family and relatives in the village of Hurmuzak. A short description of their slaughter is included below. The third group was tried in a “revolutionary” fashion by the government of the Islamic Republic on the fabricated charge of spying, and they were all shot to death in September 1980. Among these so-called spies was an old man of 84 or 85 by the name of Abdu’l-Vahhab Kazemi-Manshadi, who had never left the village of Manshad his whole life!
However, the slaughter of Farhang Amiri’s family and relatives in the township of Hurmuzak in 1955 was the direct result of Falsafi’s spread of hatred during the Pahlavi era, as well as the intent to extort money from Baha’is on the part of a certain neighboring village chief, and a landowner from the community of Sakhvid in the vicinity of Hurmuzak.  When repeated complaints from Baha’is to government officials fell on deaf ears, and the efforts of enemies of Baha’is in the neighboring village of Sakhvid for bribery proved futile, a mob of about 400 people marched towards Hurmuzak with trumpets, drums and religious flags, and attacked the Baha’i residents. By the time they were done, seven family members and relatives of Farhang Amiri ‒ who was only 13 months at the time ‒ were brutally murdered with sickles, axes, knives, sticks, and so on. Their homes were burned and their household items destroyed. Among the victims were Farhang Amiri’s father, his maternal and paternal uncles, and several of his paternal cousins:
Meanwhile, a group is looting and burning the rooms and the furniture inside the homes. They even burn the beehives and, from among the livestock that has not managed to escape yet, they grab two donkeys and tear their stomachs with a knife. Then they rush upstairs. As they are searching the cabinets for things to loot, they find a teenager named Amanu’llah who was hidden there by his mother. They kill him in a tragic way, and throw his body out the window. Some of the members of the mob who are gathered under the window crack the teenager’s skull open with a large rock. In the same way they find Amanu’llah’s brother, Hedayatu’llah ‒ who had been wounded in the neck ‒ in another cabinet, and they kill him as well with a few strokes. Then, they soak a quilt in kerosene, throw the quilt over him, and burn the quilt along with the body. 
Just as the brutal murder of Dr. Berjis raised the voices of a handful of groups and press officials in protest, the crimes of Falsafi’s era led to objections by at least one individual: Mr. Sulayman Anoushirvani, managing editor of the Sahar (Dawn) newspaper. In a daring article, he criticized Falsafi and his methods:
Mr. Falsafi: Islam does not need sticks, clubs, excommunication, torture, the breaking of heads, or the use of shovels and picks for the demolition of Baha’i Centers… Mr. Falsafi: today’s Iran, today’s world, today’s Muslims are different from two hundred years ago… Is the clerical establishment, with all its learned scholars, unable to defend Islam with logic and , so that it needs the signatures of illiterate people on anti-Baha’i petitions? People are asking: “Is the Baha’i sect new, or was their administrative center just built?” Have Baha’is just begun to proselytize? Why have our religious leaders not paid any attention to this issue for thirty years, and now ‒ when the country is on the verge of reform and the interests of certain corrupt parties have been put at risk ‒ you try to divert the attention of the people to such issues?
Unfortunately, in the recent history of Iran, the reasonable voice of newspapers ‒ such as Sahar, Naysan and Mellat-i-Iran ‒ have always been lost in the clamor of Shi’ite clerics and Muslim extremists.
To see more photos associated with these persecutions, refer to this page of the author’s website.
The root of the repression and murder of religious minorities in Iran can be traced back to the spread of religious hatred by Muslim extremists who considered themselves to be the “saved sect” and the rest to be “misguided sects”, as well as the indifference and silence of the majority of Iranian society in the face of the oppression of dissidents. But narcissism and internal hatred of conservative religious leaders turn into violent acts only when they use contemptuous messages that dehumanize dissidents and pave the way for criminal acts perpetrated by their extremist followers. When, at a gathering with his students, Ayatollah Borujerdi ‒ one of the world’s foremost Shi’ite clerics of the time ‒ addresses them and says: “Go kill these Baha’is! If you can kill them, kill them and be assured [that there will be no consequences],” can we expect anything but the brutal slaughter of the likes of Dr. Sulayman Berjis with 81 stabs, or brutal attacks against defenseless Baha’is across Iran? Isn’t it shameful that, after their acquittal and departure from the Ministry of Justice building in Tehran, Dr. Berjis’s killers are welcomed by a large population of Shi’ites, who triumphantly parade these murderers in the city, voicing religious chants of victory, while others distribute candies and sweets to bystanders, and still others are sacrificing cows and sheep in front of the killers, who are initially taken to the home of Ayatollah Behbehani and then to the house of Ayatollah Kashani for dinner?  And after leaving Tehran, when the killers are taken to Kashan, where, about 30 kilometers outside the city, they are yet again welcomed by a group of supporters. Years later, in 1988, on the occasion of the fortieth day of mourning for Mohammad Rasoul-Zadeh ‒ one of Dr. Berjis’s killers ‒ the state-sponsored newspaper, Kayhan, praised him as “a man of faith and action.”  Thus, it is not surprising that Ayatollah Khomeini ‒ a pupil of Ayatollah Borujerdi ‒ continued the same policy, and referred to Baha’is as “fearsome beasts”.  In some of his other writings and speeches, Khomeini also calls Jews “thieves and monsters,” who seek to dominate Muslims, and refers to Zoroastrians as “fire worshipers of an old and outdated sect.”  Long after the Islamic Revolution, hateful speech against non-Muslims continues. During a gathering called “The Martyred Commanders,” Ayatollah Jannati ‒ secretary of the powerful Guardian Council ‒ claimed, “People who have not accepted Islam are simply animals who are roaming the earth and corrupting it.” 
Many have downplayed the significance of hateful words and messages in arousing feelings of religious extremism and hatred in people, but the Baha’i experience in Iran has clearly shown that abusive words and speeches can lead to the dehumanization of non-Muslims and subsequent acts of violence. In the meantime, a broad spectrum of groups ‒ from leftists to liberal, moderate Islamists, reformists, nationalists, seculars, or a combination of them ‒ have also incited similar feelings against religious minorities, including Baha’is.  
About the devastating consequences of religious hatred, Baha’u’llah ‒ founder of the Baha’i Faith ‒ says: “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction….” 
‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah, considered ignorance to be the main reason for wrongdoing. He regarded the teaching of morals as the primary goal of religion, so that humans could be rescued from their animalistic tendencies:
The root cause of wrongdoing is ignorance, and we must therefore hold fast to the tools of perception and knowledge. Good character must be taught. Light must be spread afar, so that, in the school of humanity, all may acquire the heavenly characteristics of the spirit, and see for themselves beyond any doubt that there is no fiercer hell, no more fiery abyss, than to possess a character that is evil and unsound; no more darksome pit nor loathsome torment than to show forth qualities which deserve to be condemned. 
Zoroaster considered all religion to be summed up in the phrase, “Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.” Hence, it is not rational to try to obtain admittance to paradise by harassing and killing dissidents. Even if that was possible, who among us would be willing to live in a paradise whose inhabitants would be murderers of the likes of Dr. Sulayman Berjis, Ata’u’llah Rezvani, Farhang Amiri, and other victims of religious ignorance? Should we not leave such a “paradise” to those who have earned it by their heinous crimes?
- Baha’i bood, koshtimesh tá behesht ro baráy-e haft naslemán bekharím.
- Bijan Ma‘sumián. Bábí-Bahá’í koshí va tabʻiz dar táríkh-negárí.
- Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlaví. Pásokh be Taríkh, 1980, p. 62.
- , pp. 164–167.
- , pp. 44–46.
- or tumult.
- Tooraj Aminí. Asnád-i Baha’iyán-i Irán: Az Sál-i 1332 ta Engheláb-i Eslámí. Sweden: Nashr-i Bárán, 1393, pp. 69–70.
- Mohammad-Taqí Falsafí. Khátirát va MobáRezat-i Hujjatu’l-Islám Falsafí. Tehran, Markaz-i Asnád-i Engheláb-i Eslámi, 1376, p. 191. Parvíz Sábetí ‒ a high-ranking member of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police ‒ believed Falsafi received permission to visit the Shah through Siyyid Ahmad Emami.
- Miná Yazdání. Bahá’í-Āzárí; Pish az Koodetá va Pas az Ān.
- Sulaymán Berjís.
- Fereydun Vahman. Yeksad-o Shast Sál Mobárezeh bá A’een-i Baha’i. Enteshárát-i Asr-i Jadid, 1388, p. 267.
- For details, see Haj Muhammad Táhír Málamirí, Táríkh-i Amrí-i Yazd. Australia, Century Press, pp. 73–134.
- Asnád-i Baha’iyan, pp. 250–251.
- Yeksad-o Shast Sál Mobárezeh bá Â’een-i Baha’i, pp. 272-273. This is based on a complaint report by Mr. Manzar Amirí ‒ the sister of Hedayatu’lláh and Amanu’lláh Amirí, two of the murdered Baha’is of Hurmuzak ‒ to the governor and prosecutor-general of the province of Yazd, dated August 3, 1955. A second source for this is Muhammad Labíb’s account of the Hurmuzak murders, titled Sharhi az Vaqáye`-i Hurmuzak bá Aks-i Maghtoolín.
- GholámReza Karbáschí. Tárikh-i Shafáhí-yi Enghelábi Eslámí (Táríkh-i Howzeh-yi Qúm), Markaz-i Asnád-i Enghelábi Eslámí, 1380, pp. 161–162.
- Sohráb Niku-Sefat. Sarkoob va Koshtár-i Digar-Andishán-i Mazhabi dar Iran: Jeld-i Nokhost, az Safavieh tá Enghelábi Eslámí Entesharat-i Payam, 1338, p. 411.
- Kayhan daily newspaper. Yádi az Yek Mobáreze- Ghadimí dar Chehelomin Rooz-i Ertehálash: Rasoolzádeh: Mard-i Imán va ‘Amal. Wednesday, 18 Khordád, 1367, p. 11.
- Ayatollah Khomeiní. Sahifeh-yi Imam Khomeini (vol. 1), p. 389.
- Eliz Sanásarián. Janbeh-yi Tatbighi-yi Mas’aleh-yi Baha’iyán va Chashm-Andáz-i Taghyir dar Âyandeh. Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Seena B. Fazel, 1390, pp. 267–268.
- , p. 266.
- , p. 269.
- Bijan Ma‘sumián. “Ãqá betarsíd az inhá”: Az Babi-Baha’i harásí va Tote’eh-Pardází tá Táboo-Shekaní-yi Dokhtar-i Ãyatu’lláh.
- Baha’u’lla Lawh-i Shaykh Muhammad-Taqí Mujtahíd-i Isfahání. Lajneh-yi Âsár-i Amrí beh lisánhá-yi Arabi va Fársí. Hofheim-Langenhain: Germany, Baha’i-Verlag, 1982, p. 10.
- ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Muntakhábati az Makátíb-i Hazrat-i ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Enteshárát-i Baha’i-yi Amriká, 1979, pp. 132–133.