Editor’s Note: Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari (b.1950) is an Iranian cleric, researcher, journalist and reformist. He has been described as “an active supporter of the revolution” who became “an outspoken and influential critic of the current Iranian version of theocracy”. He spent seven years in prison after having been convicted in the Special Court for the Clergy for a number of charges including “insulting Islamic sanctities”. As a result of his conviction, he was de-frocked. Prior to his arrest, Eshkevari was the Director of the Ali Shariati Research Centre and contributing editor of the newspaper Iran-e Farda, which was banned in April 2000. Mr. Eshkevari has written several articles in support of human and civil rights of the Iranian Baha’i community, which Iran Press Watch will bring to the attention of its readers in translation. The present article (which appears below in translation) had the title, “Hounding the Baha’is and followers of other religious groups from historical religious and Islamic Constitution perspective” in Persian.
by Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari
Recently, a statement titled “We are Ashamed” was published, addressing the Baha’i community of Iran. About 270 writers, researchers, journalists, actors and actresses, and intellectuals residing outside Iran put their signatures on this statement. Anyone, even those least familiar with the contemporary history of Iran (from the time of the Qajar dynasty to present time), knows that this undertaking has immense importance and implications. It is a turning point for numerous reasons, especially with respect to the yearning for freedom, equality, or to sum it up,” human rights”.
The bitter reality is, from its inception as a religious phenomena, in 19th century Iran, followers of the Babi [forerunner of the Baha’is] and Baha’i religions have been continuously subjected to condemnation and persecution by the Muslim society of Iran. There have been bloody confrontations by Muslims and by governmental authorities in different parts of Iran. This coercion continues in different shapes and forms to date.
Historically speaking, there is not much room for discussion and argument as to why there has been suppression and why Baha’is have been subjected to atrocities. Since the beginning of human history, there have always been confrontations between the followers of new and old religions. It could be said that even now there exist confrontations between new and old religious groups. This trend is only a historical reality, it has nothing to do with which group is right or wrong, whether the truth lies with the followers of the new religion or with the ones attached to old belief systems and rituals. The same differences have existed between the messengers of God and the followers of different religions of their time. Also, in the internal history of all the old religions (Zoroastrians, Judaism, Christianity and Islam), there have been harsh confrontations between sects within the same religion and, to a lesser degree, between devout followers who have different viewpoints. For example, consider the relentless and bloody attacks on Protestants by Catholics, and the cruelties inflicted on Catholics by Protestants from the 16th to the 18th century, and massacres by both sides all over Europe. It is said that in the St. Barthelme Paris battle, about 30,000 Protestants were slaughtered.
The issue is that the followers of the prevailing religion label heterodox thinkers who exit their religion as heretics and apostates and ultimately consider them as enemies of God, enemies of their prophet, and enemies of their legitimate devout governing bodies. They are under the impression that, as a religious obligation and to attain God and His messenger’s salvation, it is their responsibility to protect their faith. This is the logic behind the harsh confrontation of religious rulers of different eras with the apostates of their time. It should be noted that at the beginning the issue is only religious, but later on, especially when the dissenting group completely branches out and separates from the existing religion, numerous political, economical and even personal and group egotistic factors play a crucial and decisive role in prolonging the violence.
If we look at the Baha’is of Iran from a historical perspective, their mistreatment is clearly the repetition of what has happened a thousand times throughout the history of Iran, the world, and Islam. Shortly after its growth and expansion, combined with political, social, and cultural factors, the struggles and complexities between the ruling religious groups and the Baha’is increased.
From the start of the Babi movement, over 150 years ago, we have experienced a lot of social, cultural and political changes; moreover we have initiated and put behind us two big social and political revolutions. It is surprising that in this long period, with respect to human rights and civil rights, the “Baha’i issue” has not only remained unresolved, but has become even more complicated and even more grievous in recent years. The important matter is that in the long periods of human and civil rights discussions, the rights of the followers of the Baha’i faith have been completely overlooked. There has been a silence and ambiguity as if a religion by the name of Baha’i faith did not exist in Iran and a considerable number of followers of this religion did not live alongside other citizens in our homeland.
The silence on the part of Muslims is somewhat understandable, but this intentional and unintentional silence is also noticeable among non-religious groups, such as secular humanists, democrats, freedom fighters, and irreligious leftists. In all the talks and writings of the freedom fighters and justice seekers from the pre-constitutional revolution to date, there has been almost no mention of Iranian Baha’is and their civil rights. In the Constitution not only is there no mention of them, but their role in political and social change is undermined. At that time, even being a Babi (forerunners of Baha’is) was equivalent to being guilty of being an “enemy of the people”. In the Islamic revolution of 1979, and in the Islamic Constitution, the silence is even heavier.
The main reason, or one of the main reasons for this silence is that the “Baha’i issue” has been taboo; no one has dared to approach the Baha’i faith and openly discuss it. It is surprising that in the Islamic regime, non-religious and anti-religious persons have been victims of the same taboos and oppressive atmosphere.
Because of the ongoing, wide-scale boycott and censorship, few researchers have taken the liberty to study Baha’i ideologies and to familiarize the public with Baha’i beliefs, ideas, spiritual and social laws, an accurate history of their faith and of its followers. Hardly any researchers have been free from religious and political quarrels and pre-judgments, in order that they could mention who the Baha’is are, what they offer and what role they play in shaping the contemporary history of Iran. For this reason, even today, neither the general public nor researchers have accurate information about Baha’is and their convictions. Accurate and trustworthy documentation about the Baha’is is rare or nonexistent in Iran.
On the contrary – the immense volumes of anti-Baha’i writings that are available are often worthless, void of substance, non-scientific and laden with blind religious discrimination and prejudice. The same boycott and censorship imposed upon Baha’i ideas has in general harmed the free flow of information and research findings. In any case, the emergence of the Baha’i faith in Iran at the time of the Qajar Dynasty is a part of our history. Neutral, scientific research and an overall understanding of the Baha’i faith is integral to a thorough understanding of the general, religious, and social history of our land.
Now is the time to forgo this boycott and censorship. It is mainly the responsibility of broadminded people and researchers to investigate Baha’i ideologies and to end this void and poverty of accurate information. It is the ethical and the humanitarian duty of open-minded free thinkers, democrats, freedom fighters and human rights activists, to defend and endeavor to restore the lost rights of the Baha’is. Similarly, it is their responsibility to uphold the rights of all other Iranian residents, irrespective of their religion, convictions, political and social views. The foundation of democracy and liberty is based on the equality of human beings, meaning that the innate and natural human rights of any Iranian living in any geographical part of the country is equal to the right of any other Iranian. Based on this logic no one is considered more Iranian than any other. On the surface, we have accepted this reasoning since the time of the Constitutional Revolution, but in reality, we are living in an era before the Constitutional Revolution.
It seems that in our culture, our main quandary is due to religious beliefs. There is a lot of room for argument and discussion in this area which I can’t get into at this time. I only make a suggestion to the theologians and the learned, to ponder and issue laws based on the duty to act rationally and to follow the guidelines within the framework of the general Islamic laws and wholesome religious principals. I request a response to my question: “Assume the first generation of the Baha’is were considered heretics: why, and based on what rationale, should the next generations until the day of resurrection be called heretics?” Is the religious ruling for the Baha’is any different from the ruling for Muslims converting to Christianity or Judaism? I believe it does not make any difference whether one is converting to a religion recognized by Islamic rulers (Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians) or not. When someone strays from Islam, he is exiting Islam, whether the conversion is to any religion or to no religion.
Today we are living in a world whose foundation of social interaction is based upon the equality of human beings. No citizen may be deprived of his civil rights because of his beliefs, convictions, race, religion or any other differentiating factor. At one time Sheikh Fazlollah Noori said, “in Islam the foundation is based on discrimination and not on equality”. Are our theologians upholding the same belief after the passage of a century? If that is the case, what is the meaning of the claim “Islam values human beings”, and is a “just religion”?
 Sheikh Fazlollah Noori was a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric in Iran during the late 19th and early 20th century who fought against the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and was executed for treason as a result. Today he is considered a martyr in the fight against democracy by Islamic conservatives in Iran.
[Posted on July 9, 2009, at Roozonline. Translation by Iran Press Watch.]
August 14, 2009 6:25 pm
The clergy in Iran knows perfectly that their time is over and soon they will be judged by international courts for crime against humanity. So they try to buy themselves a future by “denouncing” human rights violations. I am affraid it’s just too late. They will all be sued in fair courts with lawyers, where capital punishment is banned and where the right of defence and human rights are fully respected . If the sentence is that they are guilty then they shall spend the rest of their lives building houses and roads and librairies and hospitals and doing works of general interest for the whole nation. This will happen much sooner than anyone can imagine, just like the Berlin wall or the democratic transition in Spain or the carnation revolution in Portugal. Much sooner than expected….
August 14, 2009 6:43 pm
Carmen, I just hope that you’re right.
August 14, 2009 9:28 pm
In the Western world, right now, the only people who defend Islam are the bahais. One day very soon the only people who will defend Islam in Iran will be bahais. Nobody else. The clergy knows it perfectly and since they also know that no country in the whole world is going to accept them as asylum seekers after the end of the present dictatorship, and wherever they hide Iranians will find them, they try to show that they defend the right of the bahais as citizens in Iran, just to prepare their future retreat. Who else than bahais in Iran will be compassionate and forgiving enought to give them asylum? NOBODY. All the doors will be closed…
August 15, 2009 4:51 am
This is a courageous editorial written by a man of learning, a man of principle, a man of sterling character, a man of compassion, a man of justice, a man of true nobility, a man of conviction, a man of courage, a man of integrity, a man among men, and a man of equity, who incarnates the following principles (I won’t quote the Latin):
• Equity regards as done that which ought to be done.
• Equity will not suffer a wrong to be without a remedy.
• Equity delights in equality.
• Equity aids the vigilant.
• Equity delights to do justice.
• Equity will take jurisdiction.
• Equity follows the law.
• Between equal equities, the law will prevail.
The unnamed translator is to be greatly commended, and Iran Press Watch has done a great service in arranging for this translation.
I can hardly wait to read Part II!
If someone can safely and discreetly do so, please convey this word of appreciation to Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari.
• Christopher Buck, Ph.D., J.D.
August 15, 2009 1:27 pm
What is the UN (or any otehr Humnaitarian Organisation) doing about this unjust trial of innocent people? Is anyone in the world standing up for them? I have heard Shirin Ebadi and colleague Soltani (solicitors) have also been arrested, Ebadi is wanted by the Regime. So what is the chance these poor people will get a fair trial?
August 15, 2009 3:37 pm
Thinking of you
Photo essay: An evening in support of the Bahais of Iran
August 15, 2009 4:41 pm
According to the Baha’i World News Service, Shirin Ebadi remains outside Iran:
August 15, 2009 4:52 pm
Since the inception of our Faith, a great number of Muslim clerics have shown hostility towards it. Yet, clerics are by no means a monolithic group. Recall Shaykh Murtida Ansari, a contemporary of Baha’u’llah. Eshkevari is a contemporary case. I can’t add anything to Chris’ concise and accurate portrayal of the man. Eshkevari’s opposition to Baha’i persecutions is nothing new. When younger, he also refused to participate in anti-Baha’i atrocities in and around Najaf-Abad. While a member of Iran’s parliament in the 80s, this man was once physically assaulted by other representatives for his liberal views. He also risked death by publicly claiming that mandatory hijab was not Qur’anic but a product of ecclesiastical jurisprudence. For his views, he was secretly tried in the notorious ” Special Court for the Clergy” and condemned to 7 years of imprisonment. A diabetic, the now de-frocked Eshkevari, was even refused basic treatment in prison.. continued in part II
August 15, 2009 5:11 pm
Under the harshest circumstances when few dared to challenge the Velayate Faqih’s system, Eshkevari courageously stood up and risked his very life for his beliefs. He paid a high price but didn’t back down an inch. Thus, his character not only deserves but demands our respect. It is high time for the Baha’is worldwide to begin showing him more love and respect.
Eshkevari is by no means alone in this. Last Sunday, my son and I had the pleasure of listening to a live lecture by the now “Ayatullah” Mohsen Kadivar at the University of Texas at Austin. He too publicly and in no uncertain terms defended the human rights of the Baha’is and his strong belief in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Kadivar was also one of the earliest clerics to insist on the fact that the whole concept of Velayate Faqih was a fabrication. He too lingered 18 months in prison and refused to “ask for forgiveness” from the “Leader.”
August 15, 2009 6:20 pm
The cleric says: “The same differences have existed between the messengers of God and the followers of different religions of their time. ”
I think the cleric has got it right when he says bitter differences resulting in violence have existed between FOLLOWERS of different religions in the past. However, Baha’is do not fight back because Baha’u’llah forbade the use of violence to promote His religion.
Secondly, Baha’is know from the teachings of Baha’u’llah that, in fact, there are no differences between the Messengers of God. Jesus did not disagree with Moses, and so on. Even now, Baha’u’llah does not disagree with Muhammad. This is an article of Faith for all people who become Baha’is.
August 15, 2009 7:35 pm
However, I do applaud the cleric for a brave call to humanism, common sense and tolerance.
August 15, 2009 9:06 pm
Hojjatoleslam Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari is a great man who would have made a great Judiciary Chief in Iran. His views are the views of majority Iranians. Tolerant and in tune with the modern times.
Unfortunately for all Iranians, Aya Khamenei appointed another Iraqi born and Saddam raised Larijani to the position of Judiciary Chief insulting Iranians of all political, religeous and ethnic persuasions. In effect he’s put Iraqi Saddam’s people in charge of killing of Iranians to prolong his regime’s reign.
With Saddam’s Larijanis in charge of Majlis and Juduciary, Khamenei hopes to once and for all silence all Eshkevaris in Iran. God willing his plan will fail and the
blood bath will be confined to the inter circle of the regime.
August 15, 2009 10:37 pm
Those who believe in God characterize Him as just, merciful and loving. And yet, throughout the history of the Abrahamic faiths, the religious leaders in power when God has sent a new Messenger (from Abraham to Moses to Jesus Christ to Muhammad) have employed unjust and merciless means to “protect” God’s religion from His own Teachings. If a faith or set of teachings is from God, it will endure, as all have throughout history. If a set of teachings is from human imagination, it will fade into obscurity, as countless false religions have in the past. God has no need for His sincere followers to “protect” His religion by betraying the very Teachings of justice, love, and mercy that He has sent. “If a messenger comes to you with a message, give him a hearing. If it false you have lost nothing. If it is true, you have gained the world.”
August 16, 2009 3:08 am
Many thanks to the learned and erudite Mr. Eshkevari for his truthful and brave remarks.
I’d also like to sincerely thank Iran Press Watch for republishing the original Persian language article of Mr. Eshkevari here:
With sincere thanks,
August 16, 2009 8:19 pm
Dear Hojjatoleslam Eshkevar:
I am proud of a Muslim like you.
A member of the Baha’i Faith
August 17, 2009 3:36 am
Your courage in arising, in defense of the Cause of God in THIS Day, is commendable and demonstrative of great courage.
The Bab’s station as al-Qaim UPSETS and FRIGHTENS the small-faithed among Muslims, hence their attempts to crush out and eradicate this affront to their cherished belief that “al-Qaim WILL COME some time, in the future, certainly, but CANNOT have come already, or WE would have recognized Him!”
The Glory of God’s station as al-Mahdi UPSETS and FRIGHTENS the small-minded among Muslims, hence their attempts to crush out and murderously eradicate this affront to their ‘cherished Islamic sanctities’, namely that the al-Mahdi could NOT POSSIBLY have come, in human form, subject to Islamic oppression and 40 years of Islamic cruelty!
Baha’u’llah CANNOT BE the Glory of God, the al-Mahdi… they say… and so they judge themselves, use what little earthly power they have to heap cruelty and vilification on Muslims like Eshkevari and Baha’is….
August 17, 2009 3:40 am
As a Baha’i I feel thankful to God for the high sense of justice expressed in this article. Baha’u’llah said, “The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men.”
Let’s continue praying and working for the day when all the varied people of the world will live together in unity.
August 17, 2009 12:34 pm
Hojjatoleslam Eshkevary., There is an old saying that says” whatever comes from the heart it goes to the heart” your statements touched my heart. i wish every one (moslim and non moslim) underestand this fact that as Baha’u’lah says ” the earth is one continent and the mankind is it’s citizen” we out to love one another and live in peace with each other. whish you all the best
August 17, 2009 11:14 pm
It is very encouraging to see the esteemed muslim clergy as Mr. Eshkevary talk about the human rights and rights of Baha’i in particular with such eloquance. Most of my muslim friends don’t have any problem with me being a baha’i. I hope more and more Islamic clerics would also have a friendly attitude towards people of other faiths, particularly Bahai’s. We may see religious truth differently and not agree on certain issue, but we don’t have to hate or even loose regard for other.
August 24, 2009 3:11 pm
” I am a descendant of Adam & Eve. We all are. They were of one color. In origin,we are one. These colors developed later due to climates and regions; they have no significance whatsoever.”