Ebrahim Vahedian: A Physics Professor and Award-Winning Translator Expelled for His Baha’i Faith

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Source: iranwire.com

Kian Sabeti

Ebrahim Vahedian Burjeni was born in Isfahan in 1935 to a Baha’i family and completed his primary education in the same city. After finishing the eighth grade, and receiving his middle school certificate, his uncle told him: “If you want God to be happy with you, become a teacher.” Following his advice, Ebrahim continued his education by going to the Junior Teachers College that accepted a middle school certificate, where he studied for two years.

But Ebrahim was ambitious and was not content to be just a simple teacher. He wanted to go to university but a high school diploma was required for doing so. He decided to address this problem and, after graduating from Junior Teachers College, he passed the exam for the 11th grade. He was then sent to the city of Kashan to teach.

In Kashan, Ebrahim both taught and studied and succeeded in passing the exam for the 12th grade. Now he had a high school diploma and could go to university. He registered at Tehran University and started his studies in physics.

After graduating, the Bureau of Education appointed him as the principal of Khameneipour High School in a neighborhood in eastern Tehran. He served there for three years and worked from dawn to dusk. One of Vahedian’s key steps at this high school was to add classrooms. When he started as principal, it had only three classrooms and too many students for the rooms; as a result, the classes were overcrowded, and efficiency was low. Vahedian added three more classrooms – thus increasing both efficiency and discipline.

Khameneipour High School, under Ebrahim Vahedian, gradually became known in its district and more parents registered their children at the school. Enrolments at nearby high schools fell as a result – leading to jealousy and conspiracies against him among others. The education bureau eventually dismissed Vahedian him from his job as principal, because of his Baha’i faith, and sent him to teach in another high school in Tehran.

Vahedian taught at the new school for a year. Tehran University’s College of Engineering, meanwhile, was looking for two teachers, one in physics and the other one in mathematics. Vahedian applied and after passing an exam and an interview, was hired as a physics lecturer. The Ministry of Education first opposed his transfer to the university – but it relented in the end and Vahedian taught at Tehran University from 1957 to 1972.

In 1963, on a scholarship, Vahedian went to Denmark to study nuclear energy where he studied at the university for two years. His Danish colleagues suggested that he remain in Denmark to continue his studies and research work. But Dr. Riazi, the dean of College of Engineering in Tehran at the time, was against it, and Vahedian returned to Iran after receiving his master’s degree.

Vahedian later studied French language and went to France when he received a scholarship. He took his PhD in physics in France and returned to Iran.

Vahedian’s colleagues at the College of Engineering were against granting him faculty tenure. They viewed him as a physics instructor only, not an academic, and refused to recognize his French doctoral degree. He was forced to leave the college in 1971. For two years, he taught at the National University, the University of Science and Technology and Tehran Polytechnic as a freelance teacher, until 1974, when he was hired as staff by the University of Science and Technology. A year later he was appointed as the university’s faculty chair of physics and served in this position until after the 1979 Islamic Revolution – when he was fired.

His dismissal came before the so-called “Cultural Revolution” of the early 1980s and the mass expulsion of all Baha’i students and faculty members from every university in Iran.

From the first month after the Revolution, rogue groups in universities started to harass non-Muslim teachers and professors, and at the University of Science and Technology, armed individuals kidnapped a Jewish member of the faculty by the name of Nahvaraei while he was having lunch. Then they started harassing a female Baha’i professor and preventing her from attending the university. The university’s administrator asked Vahedian to absent himself from the university for a few days until things cooled down. He did so; but when he returned, he was told that he had been retired. “They wanted to expel you without salary but I managed to have you retired,” the administrator told him.

Sometime later, Vahedian and a few of his colleagues went to a restaurant. One of them was a person by the name of Majidi who had studied in France and had applied for a job from the university. Before the Revolution, Vahedian was a member of the university’s selection committee and had hired him. On that day at the restaurant, however, Majidi started insulting and ridiculing Vahedian’s religious beliefs. “In Islam, ignorance is not a sin but you are an educated person and should have enough sense not to say things about something that you know nothing about,” Vahedian told him, giving him a book about the Baha’i faith that had been published in France. Majidi copied the book and returned it. He gave the copy to the university’s administration and claimed that it proved that Vahedian was proselytizing “Bahaism” at the university. The university, disregarding Vahedian’s record and knowledge, expelled him for membership of the “deviant [Baha’i] sect”.

The authorities called such expulsions “cleansing,” at that time, and it also applied to retirees. Vahedian’s retirement was therefore not recognized and his pension was canceled.

When young Baha’is were barred from attending university, even though it may have helped them start their studies, they refused to lie about their religious faith in their applications for the nationwide university entrance exams.

Baha’i community decided that, instead of yielding to the discriminatory laws and practices of the Islamic government, they needed to find a way to provide young Baha’is with the opportunity for higher education. The result, after consulting with expelled Baha’i academics including Ebrahim Vahedian, was to create the “underground” Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) which started in 1987, at first through correspondence and then by holding classes at the homes of Baha’is. Today, hundreds of universities around the world recognize BIHE degrees and qualifications, and Baha’is study on post-graduate courses in dozens of subjects at leading universities around the world.

For years, Vahedian taught various courses to the students of BIHE, compensating for the shortage of qualified teachers. He was also a member of the BIHE’s steering committee for a decade.

Expulsion from his university role and financial difficulties led Vahedian to translate university textbooks to make a living in his later life. Several of these translations have been among the main textbooks used in Iranian universities for over 30 years, in the fields of civil engineering, mechanics, aerospace, metallurgy and industry.

The translations were also reprinted many times after his expulsion from the university, without his permission, and without any of the publishers paying him for his work as the translator. A few of the titles were reprinted again as recently as 2020.

Vahedian first became known for translating best sellers such as Engineering Mechanics: Statics, Engineering Mechanics: Dynamics, by James Lathrop Meriam, and Strength of Material by Ferdinand Beer. Road Construction Machinery by Nana Li, another important university textbook, was his last translation, and was first published in 2004.

A few years after Vahedian’s expulsion from the university, Engineering Mechanics: Dynamics was elected as engineering book of the year. Two years later, Mechanics of Materials, by Ferdinand Beer, E. Russell Johnston, Jr., et al, another translation by Vahedian, received the Islamic Republic’s Book of the Year award.

The long and fruitful life of Ebrahim Vahedian came to its end on March 16, 2016.


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