Bahai News -- Baha'i faithful honor martyr, sound alarm on Iran
Baha'i faithful honor martyr, sound alarm on Iran
Wilmette temple among those citing the death of prisoner and the persecution of believers
By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 7, 2006
For more than 10 years, prisoner Dhabihu'llah Mahrami was offered opportunities to live as a free man in Iran. All he had to do was disavow his
Baha'i Faith. But every time his jailers asked him to recant, international Baha'i leaders say, the prisoner refused.
Mahrami died of
unknown causes on Dec. 15, still behind bars in Yazd, Iran. Days later, Baha'i leadership pronounced him a martyr--a hallowed title bestowed by a
religious movement that has endured persistent persecution since its birth in Iran 150 years ago.
On Saturday, the North American Baha'i
Temple will memorialize Mahrami with rituals echoed in as many as 1,100 local Baha'i assemblies across the U.S. and thousands more around the world.
At the temple in Wilmette, a prayer for families of martyrs will be chanted in Arabic and recited in English.
"The trauma of the persecution
is something very alive and very current for a large sector of the Baha'i population in this country," said Glen Fullmer, a spokesman for the North
American Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, one of seven houses of worship on five continents. "Some have experienced persecution directly. This is
something that touches them very closely."
There are about 150,000 Baha'is in the U.S., including about 3,000 in the Chicago area. More than
10,000 American Baha'is are Iranian refugees who fled after a more systematic persecution began in 1979, according to human rights groups.
Mahrami's death--condemned by the U.S. State Department--rekindles concerns that another wave of persecution is on the rise under Iranian President
Since taking office in August, his speeches have reflected radical Shiite Muslim beliefs, including a declaration that
the purpose of his presidency is to prepare the way for the return of the mahdi, a messianic figure expected to restore peace and harmony on
Scholars say that core belief in a forthcoming mahdi is at the center of the conflict in Iran between Baha'is and Shiite Muslims. It
is also at the heart of the Baha'i movement, a story that begins in 1844, when a Shiite merchant from southern Iran said he received revelations
Baha'is believe the divine messenger, known as the Bab, (pronounced "bob") correctly forecasted the imminent return of the mahdi.
The claims spurred conversions among Shiite Muslims, whose orthodox leaders lashed out at those who embraced the claims. The Bab was executed in
More than 10 years later, Baha'is believe, Baha'u'llah, a follower of the Bab in northern Iran, emerged as the savior the Bab
foretold--the savior Shiite Muslims are still waiting for.
Scholars compared the dynamic to that of Christians, who believe Jesus Christ is
the savior, and Jews, who are still awaiting the Messiah.
Though Baha'is preach nonviolence, the conflict in Iran has led to bloodshed.
Baha'u'llah died in exile and thousands of Baha'is were murdered before the end of the 19th Century.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979,
more than 200 Iranian Baha'is have been killed, the Baha'is report. Hundreds more have been jailed and thousands have faced discrimination.
"Muslim clerics in Iran say the Baha'is are obviously apostates and heretics because they believe there is another prophet who came after Muhammad,"
said Michael McMullen, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Houston and also a practicing Baha'i. "Even Jews and Christians have
some protection because Jesus and Moses are mentioned in the Koran. Baha'is fall out of that protection and legitimacy."
pointed out that the teachings of the Baha'i Faith dismiss the need for clergy, stripping Islamic clerics of their authority.
the State Department, many religious minorities in Iran have been harassed for their beliefs. Baha'is, however, are systematically denied
And their faith prohibits them from recanting.
"We are always encouraged and motivated to tell the truth," said Marjan
Dhavoudi, 46, who fled Iran eight years ago after waiting 12 years for a passport. "The absolute truth is one of the principles of our
Dhavoudi will attend Saturday's Wilmette service with a heavy heart.
Her father vanished in 1980 during an evening stroll.
Shortly after, her family lost their home and she was expelled from college for admitting she was Baha'i.
McMullen, of the University of
Houston, said martyrs hold a special significance for Baha'is. According to Baha'i scripture and writings, a new global civilization will be built
on the commitment of believers willing to die for the faith.
Dhavoudi added the motivation for martyrdom cannot spring from a desire to be
one, but a desire to serve humanity.
"We love life. But if it comes to us, the need for sacrifice, we will embrace that," she said.
"We never forget the main principle, which is in fact the love for everybody, including those who take these actions against us."
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