I both love and fear religion, and believe religion to be one of the most beneficial and dangerous creations of humankind. Most of time I use the light of humor to shatter the darkness (social, intellectual, and spiritual) in which the roaches of religious insanity, irrationality and intolerance hide, but sometimes things just aren’t funny. This is one of those times.
On May 14th six of the seven leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community were arrested and imprisoned by Iranian authorities. The seventh leader was already in jail having been arrested this past March. A similar purging of Iranian Baha’i leadership occurred in August of 1980 with the arrest and execution of nine members of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly. Baha’is are Iran’s largest religious minority, comprising around 300,000 members (there are approximately five to six million Baha’is worldwide), and more than 200 Baha’is were killed in Iran between 1979 and 1998.
The Baha’i Faith was founded by the 19th century Persian (today’s Iran) mystic and prophet Bahá'u'lláh who emphasized the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity, and the underlying unity of the world religions. Baha’is teach that God regularly sends spiritual messengers to humanity to help us evolve spiritually. Among these messengers were Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad and, most recently, the Báb (who announced the coming of Bahá'u'lláh) and Bahá'u'lláh.
Baha’is believe that the purpose of life is to know and worship God, to act virtuously, and to promote global unity and the advancement of humankind. They believe that all people are created by God and form one human family, and that each person has a soul, fashioned at conception, that will evolve spiritually until it attains the presence of God.
Two fundamental conflicts with Islam are clear. First, Islam (like Judaism and Christianity, and unlike individual Moslems, Jews, and Christians who may disagree with the official positions of their respective mainstreams) claims that it is the one true faith, whereas Baha’is believe that all religions have an underlying core of truth.
Second, Islam holds that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is the seal of the prophets (just as Judaism holds that Moses was the greatest of the prophets and that prophecy itself ended with the prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Bible), while Baha’is believe that God continues to send prophets to humankind, and that Bahá'u'lláh is the most recent.
In a sense the Baha’i Faith is to Islam what the early Christian Church was to Judaism, and just as a believing Jew could not accept the overthrow of Torah that is central to the Church, so a believing Muslim cannot accept the overthrow of Muhammad and the Qur’an that is central to the Baha’i Faith. Rejecting a teaching and murdering its teachers, however, are two very different things, and the world cannot remain silent as the Iranian authorities inflict another round of killings on Iranian Baha’is.
What can we do about this? My only suggestion at the moment is to contact your local Baha’i center, and ask how you can help. I would also urge you to bring this to the attention of your local interfaith council and your own clergy. We may not be able to stop it, but we can at least deny the Iranians the ability to murder in silence and secrecy.