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Baha'i faithful honor martyr, sound alarm on Iran

January 8, 2006

BY MONIFA THOMAS Staff Reporter

All it would have taken for Dhabihu'llah Mahrami to end his decadelong imprisonment in an Iranian jail was the renunciation of his faith.

But on repeated occasions, Mahrami, a follower of the Baha'i faith, Iran's largest religious minority, refused.

His death of unknown causes last month in a government jail where he had been held on charges of abandoning Islam brought international attention to the ongoing struggle Baha'is have faced in Iran since the birth of their religion about 150 years ago.

Saturday night, about 150 people gathered at the North American Baha'i Temple in Wilmette to honor Mahrami, who was named a martyr by the religion's international leadership shortly after his death.

"The story of Dhabihu'llah Mahrami is heartbreakingly typical of the permanent uncertainty that envelopes the Iranian Baha'i community," said Glen Fullmer, a spokesman for the temple.

Fullmer said Mahrami's death, which was condemned by the U.S. government, came at a time when the persecution of religious minorities in Iran is heating up under the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was sworn in to office last August.

Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, more than 200 Iranian Baha'i followers have been killed and hundreds more imprisoned by the Iranian government, Baha'i officials estimate. Discrimination against students and workers of the Baha'i faith has also affected thousands.

The persecution, Fullmer said, stems from the belief among orthodox Muslim clerics that "any claim of having a religious revelation after Muhammad is heresy."

Baha'i is an independent, monotheistic religion that traces its origin to mid-19th century Iran. In 1844, a Shiite merchant claimed he had received revelations from God, inspiring thousands of followers to embrace what became the Baha'i faith.

A show of respect

In the United States, there are about 150,000 Baha'is, more than 10,000 of whom are Iranians who fled after the revolution.

At Saturday's memorial, prayers were chanted in Arabic before being recited in English for the families of Mahrami and other Baha'i martyrs.

Among those who spoke at the service was Marjan Dhavoudi, an Iranian who endured the mysterious disappearance of her father, the loss of her family home and her own expulsion from college after admitting she was Baha'i.

She said the martyrs gave their lives to deliver a message of adherence.

"They were thinking and serving the main principle of the Baha'i faith: love for humanity," she said. " . . . And they stayed steadfast in that idea until the last moment of their lives."

Vincent Rezaei, 17, of Evanston, whose grandfather was imprisoned in Iran for several years for being a Baha'i, came out Saturday to honor Mahrami. "He gave his life so that we can enjoy ours," Rezaei said. "I felt the least I could do is come show my respect for him."

mjthomas@suntimes.com

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