By Muhammad Moghimi
Peace Mark Monthly – Our Baha’i compatriots avoid any political activity, and basically, the Baha’i community in Iran has had no administration since 1983. Therefore it is impossible for them to engage in political activities or in promoting the Baha’i Faith. Because of their common belief and the friendship that exists among them, they socialize with each other, and within the bounds of law and basic rights, they take care of the “personal affairs” of their community. Obviously, mere connectedness and handling of social needs do not constitute a crime; these are part of their civil rights. Belief in the Baha’i Faith is not a crime either, and in accordance with Brandt’s Principle, the legal principle of crimes and punishments, and the jurisprudential and rational rule of “No punishment without law”, they cannot be punished for being Baha’is. Yet for years and for various excuses, the basic rights of our Baha’i compatriots have been violated. They are barred from higher education and employment in government and public agencies. Their places of business and homes are violated. Sometimes their property is confiscated and their businesses closed. And most egregious and oppressive of all, their cemeteries and the bodies of their deceased are desecrated. All these actions contradict the teachings of Islam, inasmuch as Islamic law has, under certain conditions, allowed some rights to minorities and even infidels, and there were even pacts made with them. However, this current unjust conduct is against religious and civil law as well as conscience. Baha’i citizens often face security and judicial complications, for various excuses such as “promoting the Baha’i Faith”, “organizing groups with the goal of disrupting national security”, or “membership in those groups”. Regardless of the fact that those claims must be proven, “simply being a Baha’i, or even promoting the Baha’i Faith, has not been stipulated as a crime”, and is not punishable. These same confrontations with Baha’is are, in themselves, a kind of promotion for the Baha’i Faith against the regime of the Islamic Republic. Just as many times, in the reports of human rights organizations, including at the United Nations, violations of the fundamental rights of the Baha’is in Iran have been condemned, and are considered to be prime examples of the violation of human rights.
Rights of Religious Minorities in the Constitution
Article 14 of the Iranian Constitution stipulates: “According to the noble verse ‘God forbids you not, as regards those who have not fought you in religion’s cause, nor expelled you from your habitations, that you should be kindly to them, and act justly towards them; surely God loves the just.’, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Muslims are obligated to treat non-Muslims with kindness and equity and Islamic justice, and uphold their human rights.” This Article is evidence that our country’s Constitution acknowledges the civil rights of the followers of other religions, in addition to followers of the country’s official religion. Also, according to Articles 8, 23 and 24 of the Constitution, “freedom of thought and expression” is recognized, and in accordance with Article 23 of the constitution “inquisition is prohibited, and no one can be subjected to harassment and inquiry merely for their beliefs.” According to Article 19 of the Constitution, the people of Iran, regardless of race and ethnicity, enjoy equal rights, and color, race, language and such shall not be a basis for privilege. (This Article uses the word “people”, therefore, it includes all members of the society, Muslim and non-Muslim.)
Rights of the Religious Minorities in Islam
In Islam there have always been rules governing the relationship between the Muslims and the religious minorities and even the infidels, which entitle them to rights under certain conditions. Although according to Article 13 of the country’s constitution, the only recognized religious minorities are Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian, but verse 256 of Surat al-Baqarah in the Quran says: ”No coercion is there in religion”. Some jurists believe that concerning some of the followers of other religions, and even infidels, as long as they comply with the terms of the pact (paying taxes, submission to the government and the laws, not aiding the enemies of Islam, not promoting their religion), there is no difference between them and the People of the Book (Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian), and that they should also be considered religious minorities. Therefore, considering that Baha’is pay taxes, obey the government and the laws of the Islamic Republic, defend their country against its enemies – the prisoners of war and martyred Baha’is in the Iran-Iraq war are testaments to this fact – and do not promote their religion, then according to Islamic jurisprudence they should definitely be counted among religious minorities, whose civil rights should not only be observed, but safeguarded by the government. A point in case is the September 26, 1994 inquiry, in which the leadership of the Islamic Republic deemed legal benefits for Baha’i prisoners of war to be permissible.
The Prophet of Islam treated minorities in a fraternal manner as well. For example, when the Prophet of Islam attended the funeral of one of the Jews, some of the companions expressed consternation that the Prophet had accompanied the corpse of a Jew. The Prophet said: “Was this Jew not a human being?” By posing this question, he clarifies Islam’s viewpoint regarding the equality of men. It also defines the stance of the faithful in a Muslim society.
Also, Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shia Islam, addressing Malik al-Ashtar, the governor of Egypt, said: “O Malik, make your heart the abode of mercy to the people. Treat them with abundant kindness and compassion. Do not be to them as the ferocious beast that plunders their life and livelihood, as they are either your brother in Faith, or a human being similar and equal to you.”
On the other hand, some jurists have recognized the civil rights of Baha’is. The Fatwas (religious edicts) of some Islamic theologians and jurists regarding the rights of Baha’is are summarized below:
Among contemporary jurists, great scholars such as the late Ayatollah Montazeri have said regarding religious minorities: “In the past, when the countries and governments did not have a constitution in the current form, governments would enter a special pact with the religious minorities in each country, to establish conditions guaranteeing their rights, to which both parties had to adhere. Under current conditions, however, when countries have constitutions, and the rights of all individuals are defined in each country’s constitutions, religious minorities voting for the constitution – which is the national covenant – is the same as signing the pact, and the religious minorities have effectively the same civil rights. Therefore, it is the right of religious minorities living in an Islamic country and under the protection of Islamic rule that an Islamic government should accept from them that which God had accepted, and demand from them that which they have committed to. The Holy Quran says: “So let the People of the Gospel judge according to what God has sent down therein.” Christians should be held to the standard revealed by God in the Bible. And every Muslim should treat them same as his co-religionists and remain faithful to his pacts with them, and should not subject them to oppression. The Prophet Muhammad – God bless Him and His family – said: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and harsh to a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”
Also, in response to an inquiry for a Fatwa, he said: Baha’is, since they do not have a holy book like Jews, the Christians and Zoroastrians, are not considered a religious minority in the Constitution. However, as citizens of this country, they are entitled to civil rights, and should benefit from Islamic compassion emphasized by the Quran and the leaders of the Faith.
The translated text of an inquiry to Grand Ayatollah Siyyid Hussein Sadr for a Fatwa is as follows:
Question: I am an Iraqi Baha’i living in northern Iraq. Some of the Muslims believe that associating with us is forbidden in the eyes of religious law, and avoidance of association with us is an imperative. There have also recently been Fatwas by some religious figures that state that our religion is a misled and misleading faith, and any association with Baha’is is forbidden. You are certainly aware that during the rule of the previous regime, we were much persecuted and oppressed, to the point that many properties of Baha’is were confiscated, and many were imprisoned and sentenced to death. What is your opinion on this matter?
Answer: God Almighty has exhorted us to treat all brothers and sisters in other religions and sects with justice, compassion and love. As it says in the Quran: “God forbids you not, as regards those who have not fought you in religion’s cause, nor expelled you from your habitations, that you should be kindly to them, and act justly towards them; surely God loves the just.” Therefore, not only is there no issue with cooperation and association based on humanitarian principles among Muslims and brothers who are followers of other beliefs, but observance of and adherence to the principles of justice and equality in rights and avoidance of discrimination and oppression against the followers of each of the other religions is imperative.”
The opinion of Hojjatu’l-Islam Muhammad Taqi Fadil Meybodi, a university professor, in regards to the civil rights of Baha’is is as follows:
Regarding observance of civil rights: all citizens of a county, Muslim, Baha’i, Zoroastrian, or any human being with a belief who is the citizen of a country, must be entitled to rights equal to other citizens. In the old jurisprudence, there were boundaries among religions, and the expressions “land of Islam” and “land of infidels” were used, meaning in a country were Islam was the ruling religion, only Muslims were considered to be its citizens and were entitled to rights of citizenship. For example, if Iran was a Muslim country, an Afghan Muslim in Iran was entitled to rights of citizenship, but a non-Muslim Iranian was not entitled to those same rights. In the modern world, however, religious boundaries have been removed and replaced by geographical boundaries. Therefore, all citizens of a country within its defined geographical borders, regardless of their beliefs, must be entitled to equal rights in that country. On this basis, no one can be deprived of civil rights, such as work or education, merely because of believing in the Baha’i Faith, unless in the Constitution being a Muslim is stipulated as a requirement for a certain job. For example, when the constitution specifies that the President must be a Muslim, a Baha’i or another non-Muslim cannot hold that position. But in other cases, such as the right to education, employment and the right to choose a place of residence, there should not be a difference between a Muslim and a Baha’i, a Jew, or other religious minorities. In my opinion, the issues of boundaries and civil rights are matters of custom. In the time of the Prophet, the customs were defined in one way, and in modern times they are defined differently. In the time of the Prophet, boundaries were set in one way, and now things have changed. Therefore, we must regard these matters in the light of current customs, and observe justice in guaranteeing the rights of all human beings.
The Rights of Religious Minorities in International Human Rights Documents
The principle of the equal entitlement of all individuals in a society to their human rights, as recognized in Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the United National General Assembly, which our country was an influential member in its approval), and Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Paragraph 2 of Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (approved by our country’s parliament on November 14, 1972), creates the right that religious minorities, without any discrimination, enjoy the same individual and social rights as everyone else. The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities also, in reaffirming in its preamble the goals of the United Nations regarding the human rights and freedoms of all people, without any discrimination, in Paragraph 1 of its Article 3 declares:
“States shall take measures, where required, to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.”
In conclusion, the deprivation of fundamental rights (the right to employment, the right to education, the right to ownership of private property, rights to freedom of thought and expression, etc.) of our Baha’i compatriots, who are often entrepreneurial, productive, self-made and effective citizens, regardless of leading to the annihilation of social capital, the ill-effects of which affect the entire Iranian society, and being, in effect, a prominent example of acts against the social security of the Iranian nation, will lead to the violation of their “right to life” as the origin of all human rights.