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ASU Baha'i club stands united with oppressed family across the globe

Members of the ASU Baha'i Club discuss the religious persecution their peers face in Iran

Baha'i Graphic

ASU Baha'i club stands united with oppressed family across the globe

Members of the ASU Baha'i Club discuss the religious persecution their peers face in Iran

Every week, the ASU Baha’i Club meets for an interfaith devotional to come together with other Baha’is and those of entirely different religious perspectives.

Their Iranian fellows in the faith, however, do not have the freedom to practice their religion. 

"They are our family. When they hurt, we feel it," said the Baha’i Club Faculty Adviser, Nura Mowzoon.

The Baha’i faith is the largest non-Muslim group in Iran, with over 300,000 people, according to a 2018 study conducted by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). This study claimed the Baha'is are the "most severely persecuted religious minority in Iran." The religion is not recognized by the state, and the Iranian government has denied their political, economic, cultural and religious rights.  

Baha’i is a monotheistic religion that follows the word of the prophet Baha’u’llah, who said all religions were given to humanity at the time they needed them, Mowzoon explained. Those of the Baha'i faith are open to a variety of perspectives, emphasizing the essential worth of all religions and the unity of humankind. 

"They acknowledge all religions’ beliefs and prophets and have the call to unite and serve humanity,” Mowzoon said. The religion has no sects. “A Baha’i in Arizona is going to practice the same way as a Baha’i in Baghdad.”

The difference between a Baha'i in Arizona and a Baha'i in Iran is how they are being treated.In the past 10 years, 1,000 Baha’is have been arrested for their religious beliefs. 600 shops have been closed since 2011 and over 50 Baha'i students have been expelled during the academic year since 2013, according to the USCIRF.   

The Baha'i International Community (BIC) stated, "Since 2005, there have been at least 68 documented instances of physical violence against Baha'is, ranging from simple assault to murder, all of which have gone unprosecuted."

In September 2016, Baha'i Farhang Amiri was stabbed to death by two brothers in his own front yard. The brothers later confessed to their crime, saying the murder of Amiri "would guarantee them paradise," according to the USCIRF. After their trial, the older brother was sentenced to 11 years in prison and two years' exile; the younger brother received five-and-a-half years in prison. 

If a Muslim was murdered, the convicted would receive the death penalty based on the Iranian penal code, but because the Baha'i faith is not recognized as a religion in Iran there are much lighter penalties. 

Evanna Rouhani, a sophomore studying global studies and sustainability with a minor in justice studies, is a member of the Baha'i Club. She has family living in Iran and told the story of her Uncle Amri.

Amri used to run a convenience store on the first floor of his home, and the second floor was where his family lived. Since Iranian women often face restrictions in the workforce, her uncle was the only source of income for the family. 

"One day, the Iranian government came and told him that because he was Baha’i he is not allowed to operate this business. So, they shut it down," Rouhani said. The government wouldn’t let his family enter the first floor. Amri's family had to climb up a ladder to an open window to even get into their home.  

After the store shut down, Rouhani’s uncle began working at a large industrial factory in order to earn money for his family. "The government was watching him and saw he had been going in and out of this factory. So, they came and tried to shut down the entire factory," Rouhani said.

Instead of allowing the government to shut down the factory, Amri gave himself up to the government. Rouhani said her uncle spent about six months in jail.

During his time in jail, Amri began playing music with a small band. The government eventually kicked him out of jail because "he was causing too much joy," Rouhani said. 

She said her uncle is supposed to have a trial soon to decide whether he’s going back to jail. However, Rouhani lamented, “It’s really up in the air.” The government "could tell him, 'You’re free to go,' or they could throw him in jail for the next six years or so,” Rouhani said. “No one really knows what’s going to happen.” 

Rouhani is frustrated with the situation because she cannot do a lot to help. She hopes she will be able to assist more in the future. After college, Rouhani wants to become a foreign diplomat for a country in crisis. She is specifically hoping to work in the U.S. government in order to bring light to the situation the Baha'is are going through.

In regard to responding to the oppression, Baha’i Club President and sustainability graduate student Eric Vahid said, “This is a tricky topic to talk about because the Baha’is are not supposed to engage in partisan politics, just because it is inherently disunifying.”

What they can do, said Vahid, is give government officials information on the Baha'is situation, then the officials decide what to do with it. The Iran Observer did a piece on students who tried to speak to government officials. 

In November 2017, three university students in Iran wrote to their govern officials in order to discuss their denial in university enrollment despite high standardized test scores and academic achievement. As a result, the government then sentenced these students to five years in prison on charges of "'membership in the anti-state Baha'i cult,'" and "publication of falsehoods." The government gave them maximum punishment, with no consideration toward their age, none of them over age 22, and none of them have prior criminal records. 

"The situation in Iran is one of the only things that makes me angry because of the injustice," Vahid said. The Universal House of Justice, which is the governing body of the Baha’i faith, is asking Baha’is in Iran to "respond as peacefully as possible."

In order to look at it in a positive light, Vahid said they are a "prime example" of what it means to be a Baha’i. "They are facing such strong oppression and hate, but they are responding with love and peace,” Vahid said.

The Baha’i Club provides spiritual support by praying every week, Mowzoon said.

"There is an unspoken feeling (among the club) that we have a duty that is more profound to carry out acts of service and talk about faith because our brothers and sisters can’t," Mowzoon said.

The Baha’i Club holds its interfaith devotionals every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the meditation room, which is in the basement of the Memorial Union. They also host a booth from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Monday outside of the Memorial Union.

In keeping with Baha'i teachings, all are welcome, regardless of religious preference, to attend their events.

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