Mahmoud Sabahi, sociologist and researcher
In the future, this era will be remembered as the age of ignorance and shamelessness. What is the paradigm for this evaluation? Baha’ism! This is because the degree of the arrogance of Iranian society is inevitably measured by its perception of Baha’i standards; what it thinks of them and how it reacts to them.
When I was a young college student, one day one of my classmates furtively handed me a book, saying, “You should read this!” The book was “The Thoughts of Mirza Agha Khan Mahallati” by Fereydun Adamiyat. My classmate was not a Baha’i, but he was an intellectual young man! (Lest he be accused of proselytizing for the Baha’i Faith!). Before that, one of my high school teachers had mentioned the name of a person that I later found out to be a Baha’i: Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn. Our teacher referred to her as the first Iranian woman to shun the obligatory veil, and the terrible fate that befell her. (He was not a Baha’i either, but he was very knowledgeable, that is why he was beaten up and expelled from the school).
These were brief glimpses that introduced me to Baha’is and Baha’ism in Iran. After that, I began to delve more deeply into the subject of the Baha’i movement. Rather than put Baha’ism into the limited category of religions, I prefer to see it as the great Iranian cultural and political movement for change and progress, a movement whose expansion would threaten the vested interests of certain groups in society. That is precisely why they rigorously repressed it (and continue to do so). If that were not the case, why would every liberal movement and every attempt at social and political progress be attributed to Baha’is?
So, what is Baha’ism? Although nowadays Baha’ism has been personalized and as such is the target of oppression, in reality it is the essence of Baha’ism that is being repressed in Iranian society. This is because Baha’ism is really a form of social rather than individual behavior in society. In other words, Baha’ism represents two fundamental, but not yet achieved, requirements in Iranian society and culture:
First, communion with God without the intercession of middlemen and guardians such as the clergy and their acolytes! Let us not forget that in no other nation do the clergy exert such systematic and institutionalized influence over society’s politics and culture as they do in Iran. Therefore, it is the clergy that feels most threatened by the Baha’i phenomenon. They see Baha’ism as the invocation that could annihilate their existence. This is an undeniable fact, inasmuch as the fulfillment of Baha’i teachings would eliminate their social status and influence.
Second, elimination of the intricate veils that obstruct a clear view of the truth and, most important, elimination of the obligatory veil that still oppresses and is an affront to the women of Iran. Imagine a poet, daring and social, in every way mature and distinguished, a woman with a powerful and dignified bearing who confronted the overly austere culture of her time, and by doing so freed herself from the veil and in effect emancipated herself from male dominance. Listen to her call and her words!
“The purpose of humanity in this life is to remove all veils. God was the first to unveil Himself; He created the universe in order to reveal Himself. Thus, to unveil is a universal law. By unveiling I do not mean the forceful removal of the veil but rather self-discovery and coming out of one’s shell to discover the world, to blossom, to exercise one’s freedom and right to self-determination. It is natural that in the process of unveiling one discovers the veil itself as a way of life, similar to poets that express themselves in veiled words. Unveil yourself and express yourself in any manner you wish. Embody your womanhood.” (1)
While writing this I felt as if Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn were speaking to me – just like a lover who hears the voice of his beloved in his dreams.
1. This is not an actual quote from the writings of Tahirih, but an imaginary conversation from the author of the article.