Health workers are on the front line of our defense against the coronavirus pandemic – including hundreds of Iranian Baha’i doctors and nurses. But they are not in Iran; instead, they live in countries around the world, treating their patients, where they are admired and praised by the people and governments of the countries where they live. The one country where they cannot do their work is Iran.
Many of these doctors and nurses – who studied and served in Iran – lost their jobs after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They were expelled from the universities and their public sector jobs, barred from practicing medicine, jailed and tortured, and a considerable number of them perished on the gallows or in front of firing squads.
The crime of these Baha’i doctors, nurses and other health workers was their faith in a religion that the rulers of the Islamic Republic believe is a “deviant” faith.
In a new series of articles, called “For the Love of Their Country,” IranWire tells the stories of some of these Iranian Baha’i doctors and nurses. This article is dedicated to Dr. Masih Farhangi, a cardiologist devoted to his patients who was killed at Evin Prison because of his faith after 1979.
If you know a Baha’i health worker and have a first-hand story of his or her life, let IranWire know.
On the morning of June 23, 1981, Ghamarolmolouk Seif (Farhangi) was working in her kitchen when she heard the news on the radio. The office of the Islamic Revolutionary Court had announced the execution of four Baha’is, including her husband, Masih Farhangi.
Dr. Masih Farhangi, a 69-year-old cardiologist, had been arrested at his home by the Revolutionary Guards about 17 months earlier, on February 6, 1980, and taken to Evin Prison in Tehran. He was barred from having any visitors during the first months of his detention. But for about a year he was allowed weekly visitations, like any other prisoner at Evin.
In the previous two weeks, however, all family visitations had been cancelled again. The first Mrs. Farhangi heard of her husband’s execution was on the news bulletin.
Dr. Farhangi was executed for his religious beliefs as a member of the Baha’i community. He was charged with “corruption on earth”. No evidence or documentation from a trial has ever been found.
A Baha’i Child in a Muslim Family
Masih Farhangi was born in 1913, in Shahsavar, into a family that prized knowledge and education above all things. His father, a teacher and a cleric, was from Taleghan. The family name, Farhangi, literally “of culture”, was a reference to Mr. Farhangi’s work as a teacher.
Masih completed his elementary education in Rasht. He was sent to a high school in Tehran when he was 15 years old. Masih met a Baha’i family while in Tehran and, after spending time with Baha’is and studying the faith, he chose to become a Baha’i himself. His father had also become familiar with the religion through two of his students, and he also became a Baha’i.
Masih enrolled in the medical college at Tehran University after graduating from high school, and in 1938 he graduated with honors. He went into military service and married Ghamarolmolouk Seif, who had just qualified as a midwife.
After completing his military service, Dr. Farhangi received a scholarship from the Iranian government to undertake more studies in the United Kingdom. His grandfather, however, asked him to reject the scholarship and to instead stay in Iran to help his compatriots. Dr. Farhangi agreed. He and his wife stayed in Tehran and started a joint clinic for their patients.
The Farhangis’ first child was born in 1940. The family then moved to Rasht in the north of Iran. Dr. Farhangi worked at a hospital and at his own clinic, while Mrs. Farhangi became the first woman to build a medical lab in Gilan province.
Dr. Farhangi’s office was filled with patients from the beginning as there were not many doctors in the province. A typhoid outbreak struck Gilan in 1942 and the couple were able to treat many patients.
Moving to Iraq
Masih Farhangi and his family moved to the city of Kirkuk in Iraq in 1943. Few Baha’is lived in Iraq at the time and those who were there were suffering financial and health difficulties. Religious bigotry against the Baha’is was also a difficulty. Dr. Farhangi and his family had therefore moved to Iraq to help the Baha’is there as well as other families. He soon became a well-known and popular doctor, with his popularity aided by his talent to quickly learn and speak Arabic. Most locals could not even tell that he had just moved to Iraq from Iran.
A year and a half after Dr. Farhangi and his family moved to Iraq, Iranian Baha’is living there were expelled because of pressures from Iran’s religious authorities.
Return of the “Single Prescription” Doctor to Iran
Dr. Farhangi’s family lived in Rasht for 10 years after they returned to Iran. He was nicknamed the “single prescription” doctor because he was able to diagnose diseases accurately with one attempt. His kind attitude toward his patients made him popular.
Farhang Farhangi, Dr. Farhangi’s eldest daughter, says a young man visited her in Europe recently and told her a story about her father. “When I was a small child my mother got very sick,” the young man told Farhang. “Doctors rejected her. We were told to see the ‘single prescription’ doctor. We were poor. Dr. Farhangi didn’t charge us for the visit. He even bought the medicine for my mother. He visited our house often until my mother got better. Our family will never forget his kindness.”
Next Stop: Istanbul
Dr. Farhangi’s family moved to Turkey in 1955 and lived in Istabul’s Yeşilyurt neighborhood until 1961. The couple had four children by this time. The children volunteered to work in a hospital while they were in school. Dr. Farhangi became a cardiologist and his wife, Ghamarolmolouk Seif, got her degree in clinical laboratory work. Six years later the Farhangis returned to Iran and Dr. Farhangi reopened his clinic in Rasht.
A Baha’i Trusted by Shia Clerics
Dr. Farhangi’s office was filled with patients. They came from all over the town and from the province to visit him. Some did not have to pay for their visits; the poor, clerics, the Friday prayer leader of Rasht, city officials and Baha’is were all offered complimentary treatment.
Dr. Farhangi’s wife wrote in her notes many times that her husband was helping poor clerics. Dr. Masih Farhangi was the only person trusted by the Friday imam of Rasht to enter the inner quarter of his home, where the women lived, to treat patients. Despite this, Dr. Farhangi was harassed on many occasions by religious fanatics and members of the anti-Baha’i Hojjatieh religious group.
Malaria was spreading through Gilan province in those years. Dr. Masih Farhangi was known for giving accurate diagnoses of this disease – which was challenging as its symptoms were similar to other ailments. Mrs. Farhangi, meanwhile, was foremost among her laboratory colleagues in diagnosing malaria as well, and she was chosen as the head of the Office Against Malaria. Mrs. Farhangi was the first woman in Gilan to hold this role.
Living in Tehran and Helping Other Baha’is
Masih Farhangi and his wife moved to Tehran in 1969 at the request of Baha’i community’s elected assembly. He spent most of his time travelling afterwards, visiting various cities in Iran and advising Baha’is on their problems, helping to improve their lives.
Dr. Farhangi also travelled to neighboring countries like Turkey, Iraq and India to share his experience with other Baha’is. In his trips, Dr. Farhangi organized conferences on topics such as unity, peace and the equality of men and women.
When the Islamic Republic came to power in Iran, the Baha’is were in danger. Dr. Farhangi’s daughter was living in the United Kingdom at the time. She asked her father to visit her there, and to receive treatment for his heart problem. But Dr. Farhangi chose not to go: “If I leave Iran, what’s going to happen to Baha’is living in a village or a city who can’t leave the country? I can’t leave them alone”.
Arrest and Execution
Several revolutionaries came to Dr. Farhangi’s apartment on February 6, 1980. They searched the home and took him to Evin Prison. Dr. Sheikholeslamzadeh, the prison doctor, suggested that Dr. Farhangi could treat patients while in prison and he did so.
Dr. Farhangi was the only prisoner who allowed to keep a cabinet in his prison cell in which he kept medicines. Other prisoners entrusted their medicine to Dr. Farhangi, who kept them in the locked cell, and who administered the doses for each patient on time. Dr. Farhangi also treated some of the prison guards and their families during consultations on the prison grounds.
Dr. Heshmatollah Rouhani, another Baha’i doctor who was executed later, recalled two visitors, a father and his son, who had visited his clinic for children with developmental challenges. The father had a reference letter from Dr. Farhangi – and Dr. Rouhani realized that the father was a guard in Evin.
Dr. Farhangi was often asked to abandon the Baha’i faith in order to be freed from Evin Prison. Farhang Farhangi remembers her father’s answer: “I have lived for 60 years with honesty and truth. I don’t want to turn my back on the truth to stay in this world for a few more days.”
The Revolutionary Court later announced its verdict. Dr. Masih Farhangi was accused of leading the Baha’i community and working to misguide Muslims. He was determined to have committed the crime of “corruption on earth”, a religious charge, and was shot at dusk on June 23, 1981.
Dr. Farhangi’s body was returned to his wife and son-in-law and buried in the Baha’i cemetery of Tehran. The cemetery was later overrun and destroyed by the security forces – meaning Dr. Farhangi no longer has a grave.