Recently a talk by Mrs. Malek-Afagh Davudi, the widow of the former member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran, Prof ‘Ali-Murad Davudi, who disappeared on November 11, 1979, and is presumed killed, was published online (here).
It is not the objective of Iran Press Watch to publish inspiring stories — it is our task to thoroughly document the persecution of the Baha’is of Iran and to try to explain it to the world. It is in pursuance of this second task that this editorial has come to be written.
Mrs. Davudi speaks in moving terms of her husband’s desire to sacrifice his life in order to bear witness to the greatness of the Baha’i cause. In the West, such a level of commitment to a religion normally inspires either the dismissal one might give to a fanatic, or a shudder as one worries about how many lives this person intends to take with him. Sacrifice for the sake of religion has come so far from its roots that rather than inspiring admiration, it evokes sneers or terror.
It therefore becomes our task at Iran Press Watch (IPW) to explain how it could be possible that a kind and highly rational person, such as Dr. Davudi and like many Baha’is over the course of the last 165 years, could possibly contemplate with joy the possibility of martyrdom — of sacrificing one’s life for this religion.
On one hand, sacrifice can be on any scale — the donation of a small coin can be a sacrifice; spending time with those less fortunate than oneself may be a sacrifice — what sacrifice requires of a person is that it entails giving up more than one would otherwise suppose one could “afford”. It is a uniquely personal and subjective action — a decision as to what would be a donation which exceeds one’s comfort zone.
Different personalities may have widely differing capacities for such giving of themselves. Those with the greatest capacity give everything they have — whether it is all their time, all their possessions, or their lives.
At the same time, it is important to look at the cause for which someone gives such a gift. Giving to a cause which is negative, or worthless, or giving for no reason — this may be the mark of a psychological problem — but giving to help people attain a worthwhile goal is considered to be noble. The goals of the Baha’i faith are to unite humankind, to bring about world peace, to solve the world’s problems through spiritual solutions — the most noble of goals. Anyone who donates to such a cause brings honor to himself, to his family, his community — even to his nation — even if his nation does not yet consider these goals to be useful.
Moreover, how one gives is important. A splashy gift which is intended only to bring attention to oneself is mere self-aggrandizement. A gift which purports to promote the religion of God, but which harms another soul has nothing to do with real religion — hurting others is the antithesis of true religion. A true gift of the spirit must be one which is offered humbly, with peace in one’s heart and only the goal of helping others in mind.
Dr. Davudi’s sacrifice encompassed all these criteria of the nature of true sacrifice. He had no intention to promote himself — he only and simply did what he thought was the right thing to do — he adhered to his religious beliefs, he defended his beliefs in writing and in speech, and if anyone asked him about his beliefs, he freely informed them to the best of his considerable ability. Yet Dr. Davudi lived in a time and place in which this simple, humble, peaceful way of existence was condemned by those who ruled the country in which he lived. His mere existence was a continuous irritant to the ruling clerics; his freedom in defending his faith from attack attracted their ill-will, and eventually brought about the end of his life.
What more perfect sacrifice could there be? Yet also, what more rational way of life could he have led? One is reminded of the Socratic example of a simple well-examined life, which by its existence threatens the existing stultifying order.
There should be no threat to anyone from admiring such a life — nor from admiring the way in which such a person so nobly met his death — with his eyes open and clear, an inspiration to his wife and his community, but also an inspiration to anyone who aspires to live well according to deeply-held principles of peace, non-violence, and unity.