Editor’s Note: For those interested in the original of this seminal essay, please consult the Persian page of Iran Press Watch (here).
In response to the repeated questions and enquiries of his followers as to the treatment of the Baha’is, Shaykh Morteza Ansari once said that since he had no knowledge about the Baha’is, he was in no position to express any opinion.
I suggest that the respected theologians and researchers give higher priority to the scientific investigation of different religious and non-religious beliefs, especially the Baha’i faith, while following the guidelines of Islamic principles, in order to come up with responses that are fair, logical, defendable and implementable. This is what some theologians, such as Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, have courageously started. He has openly and in writing defended the human rights and the civil rights of the Baha’is. He has forbidden the imposition of offences and transgressions on their belongings, lives and other rights. This is an important step forward within the framework of Shiite religious rulings.
Silence and indifference will not resolve problems; rather it will increase problems and will open the way for further transgressions of the civil rights of our Baha’i countrymen.
I would like to have a few words with the ruling authorities of the Islamic Republic. Thirty years have elapsed since the onset of the Islamic revolution. Still, the rulers are the dissidents and the fighters who opposed the dictatorship of the Pahlavi regime. Still, the promises made by the leader of the revolution – Khomeini- and the other revolutionists, are not forgotten. Please clarify for the public: was the establishment of Islamic Justice for the Nation of Iran with respect to human rights and access to opportunities based on discrimination, and intended only for specific segments of society?
I specifically and clearly ask: are Shiite Muslims who follow the path of the Imam, who believe in the Theological Protector (Vali-e Faqih) as the absolute, univocal ruler, and who are melted in Islamic theology the only ones entitled to all the amenities and the opportunities that the country has to offer? Are all the options and prospects only available to the saved Muslims? If the answer is “yes”, why weren’t the people informed at the start of the revolution – when all were fighting for freedom from dictatorship? Please clarify: is equality, by its true meaning or even its relative meaning granted to all, in your Islamic regime? Can you give a positive response to my question? Even if you say, “yes”, it won’t be believable. There are thousands of clear and undeniable instances that are contrary to such a claim, which would prove your claim false.
It is clear that the Iranian revolution was for the purpose of the implementation of the Constitution, providing freedom and justice for all. These two aspirations will come to fruition only if the principals of equality and equal rights which are the innate and natural rights of individuals are accessible to all and cover all aspects of the nation’s personal and social lives, without the slightest discrimination. This is a clear stand without any ambiguity and cannot be transgressed or justified otherwise.
Now, I ask: aren’t Iranian Baha’is part of the Iranian nation? Where is there any mention of their rights in the Islamic Constitution? Certainly, in response to my question you will talk about the constitutional rights of the followers of major recognized religions who have Holy Books.
I should say, first, documenting laws in the articles of the Constitution applicable to the recognized religions is wrong. These rules are openly in contradiction with the principal of complete equality and individual civil rights. The exceptions exclude a sizable number of Iranian citizens from their natural rights.
Second, the more fundamental problem is that, with respect to citizens without so-called Holy Books (Ismailia’s, Zaidiehs, Baha’is, irreligious, etc.), there are no defined civil rights entitlements in the Islamic Constitution.
Third, in some of the articles of the Constitution equality is confirmed, freedom to believe in any conviction is substantiated and inquisition into individual beliefs is forbidden. This means those other than Shiite Muslims should have religious freedom and their rights must not be contravened merely because of their convictions. It is nonsense to say individuals are free to choose their belief system, but have no right to public education, employment or to teach their religious beliefs. If there are contradictions in the articles of the Constitution, that is your predicament. Iranian citizens should not pay for your problems.
Fourth, let us forget about everything else. Baha’is and others are living in an Islamic society and under the rules of Islamic governing bodies – shouldn’t the law of Mostaman [under protection] be guaranteed for them? Shouldn’t they feel safe in an Islamic regime? Shouldn’t their belongings, lives and dignity be safeguarded? Shouldn’t they be entitled to the basic rights of living in peace, receiving education and employment? Isn’t it true that they are denied the right to enter universities? Isn’t it true that even their dead cannot rest in peace in their graves? Which religious rules and laws permit such heinous, inhumane and repulsive acts? Do you believe this treatment is to the benefit of religion – of Islam – and the followers of this religion?
One issue remains unresolved, and that is with respect to allegations against Baha’is, Sufi’s and others. As I am neither an investigator nor a judge, I refrain from expressing any opinion in this regard. Only as a Muslim and a well-wishing Iranian, I clearly see my religion and my country subject to public scrutiny. I request that you proceed with the court hearings of the Baha’is [Yaran], in a just assembly and adhering to complete and proper legal proceedings, in order to remove any trace of doubt or suspicion regarding your true motives. If this request is not adhered to, no one inside Iran or outside of Iran will believe in the legitimacy of your alleged charges. You are claiming that you have convincing, indisputable and irrefutable evidence. Why shouldn’t you welcome the proceedings in an open court, in which Baha’is are represented by their own legal counsel, in a just assembly?
This behavior has caused questions to be raised about Islam and the Islamic revolution of Iran; moreover, a number of ignorant, rigid and prejudiced individuals insist that the rules and procedures implemented in the country are as they were meant to be from the beginning, and that promises to the contrary which were made at the onset of the revolution were only intended to deceive the nation.
As far as I, a pro-revolution Muslim clergyman, who is more or less familiar with Islam and Islamic principles, can honestly testify, in the years preceding the revolution the thought that there would be discrimination in an Islamic regime in which free-thinkers, non-Muslims and even Muslims would be deprived of their lawful rights did not even cross my mind. Maybe I was naïve and did not see the obstacles in the way, but I was under the impression that the old inapplicable laws and commands would give way to renewed and revived religious rules suitable for this day and age, by adoption of the principle of Ijtehad [the Islamic legal principle of procedures for making rulings on matters not included in the Qur’an – translator].
At this time, I cannot further discuss the matter. For today’s generation, however, I will describe two incidents in order to impart a sense of my feelings and thoughts from that time [the onset of the Islamic revolution – translator].
In early 1979 [shortly before the establishment of the Islamic regime – translator], I was on a religious teaching trip in Soghad – Abadeh. One night, two young men visited me. They asked my permission for a midnight raid on the Baha’i Center of that area in order to obtain incriminating documented evidence [to be used against the Baha’is – translator] and permission to ultimately destroy that center. Hearing such a strange and unexpected request so shocked and terrified me that for several moments I was dumbfounded, unable to talk or show any reaction. Then with full force, I made all possible attempts to discourage the two zealous youth from committing such an atrocity. I reasoned with them saying, “it is not the intention of the Islamic government to persecute anyone because of his adherence to a different faith or conviction. Everyone will be free to choose his own path”.
I especially remember quoting Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, to this effect. With reasoning and even pleading and insisting, I tried to stop them from committing a heinous act. By the time they left, they seemed convinced. However, the two youth came back two days later; they had raided the Baha’i center and obtained some documents, but had refrained from demolishing the place. They gave me a bunch of papers to investigate. I strongly condemned their act. Of course, I should mention that in those bunched up papers there was nothing but a few membership receipts and some flyers about Baha’i teachings.
The next memory is from the post-revolution period. I was elected as a member of the first parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran representing electoral units of Shahsavar [now Tonekabon] and Ramsar. Two representatives of the Baha’i community came to visit; they congratulated me and presented a letter. In that letter, after expressing immense respect towards Islam and the prophet of Islam, they had requested entitlement of the Baha’is to their human and civil rights and an end to their long-lasting deprivations. They added, “Baha’is, due to their religious laws, avoid involvement in partisan politics at all times. Baha’is desire the progress of Iran and want to be citizens of Iran”. I thanked them and said, “The purpose of the revolution is to bring about freedom and justice for all Iranians, I hope everyone benefits from liberty; Baha’is are Iranians and are entitled to the same benefits”. I added, “In this path, there are cultural obstacles; time is required to remove all impediments. Be patient and don’t be in a rush to obtain your full rights. As a member of the parliament and representative of the people, I will defend the rights of the whole nation without any exceptions or discrimination”.
Alas, after a short while at the parliament, I realized that the course of affairs was such that there was no possibility for me or others like myself to defend the rights of other parliament members, let alone the rights of Baha’is and other citizens. In other words, I, as the people’s representative, could not even defend my own rights. When a member of parliament is beaten up by another member because his speech was not liked, how can he defend the rights of others?!
Today, 30 years after the start of the revolution, holding memorial services for devout Muslims like Mr. Bazargan – the first prime minister of the first government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or for Dr. Sahabi – a member of the National Religious Group, or even holding purely religious ceremonies for special religious occasions, is prohibited; you can imagine what it is like for others!
 Sheikh Morteza Ansari (~1781-1864), was a Shia jurist who was generally acknowledged as the most eminent jurist of the time. Ansari has also been called the “first effective” model or marja’ taqlid [source of emulation] of the Shia or “the first scholar universally recognized as the supreme authority in matters of Shii law. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morteza_Ansari.
 Hossein-Ali Montazeri (born in 1922), is an Iranian scholar, theologian, writer and human rights activist. He was one of the leaders of the Iranian Revolution in 1979. He is best known as the one-time designated successor to the revolution’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, but fell out with Khomeini in 1989 over government policies that Montazeri claimed infringed on freedom and denied people’s rights. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosein-Ali_Montazeri
[Posted on July 9, 2009, at: Rooz. Translation by Iran Press Watch.]