Persecution of Baháʼís

Persecution of Baháʼís occurs in various countries, especially in Iran,[1] where the Baháʼí Faith originated, and one of the largest Baháʼí populations in the world is located. The origins of the persecution stem from a variety of Baháʼí teachings which are inconsistent with traditional Islamic beliefs, including the finality of Muhammad's prophethood, and the placement of Baháʼís outside the Islamic faith.[2][3] Thus, Baháʼís are seen as apostates from Islam, and, according to some Islamists, must choose between repentance and death.[3]

Baháʼí spokespeople, as well as the United Nations, Amnesty International, the European Union, the United States, and peer-reviewed academic literature have stated that the members of the Baháʼí community in Iran have been subjected to unwarranted arrests, false imprisonment, beatings, torture, unjustified executions, confiscation and destruction of property owned by individuals and the Baháʼí community, denial of employment, denial of government benefits, denial of civil rights and liberties, and denial of access to higher education.[1]

Historical context

The Baháʼí Faith was established in 1863 by Baháʼu'lláh in Iran.[4] Eighty-nine percent of Iranians adhere to the Twelver branch of Shiʻa Islam, which holds as a core doctrine the expected advent of a messianic figure known as the Qa'im or as the Imam Mahdi.[5] The Báb claimed he was the Imam Mahdi and thus he had equal status to Muhammad with the power, which he exercised, to abrogate the final provisions of Islamic law.[6]

Baháʼu'lláh, a Bábí who claimed to be the one foretold by the Báb, claimed a similar station for himself in 1863 as a Manifestation of God and as the promised figure foretold in the sacred scriptures of the major religious traditions of the past and founded what later came to be known as the Baháʼí Faith.[7]

Concerning the historical context of the persecutions, Friedrich W. Affolter in "War Crimes, Genocide, & Crimes against Humanity" writes:

Baháʼu'lláh's writings deal with a variety of themes that challenge long-cherished doctrines of Shí'i Islam. In addition to making the 'heretic'[sic] claim of being a 'Manifestation of God,' he suggested that school curricula should include 'Western Sciences,' that the nation states (Muslim and non-Muslim) should establish a world federal government, and that men and women were equal. Baháʼu'lláh also wrote that in this time and age, priests were no longer necessary for religious guidance. Humanity, he argued, had reached an age of maturity where it was incumbent upon every individual to search for God and truth independently.

These principles did not only call into question the need for a priesthood, but also the entire Shí'i ecclesiastical structure and the vast system of endowments, benefices and fees that sustained it. No surprise then that in the following decades until the overthrow of the Qájár dynasty in 1925, it was the mullas who instigated attacks against the Baháʼís in cities or villages where the clerical establishment was particularly influential.[2]

In addition to this, the Bábí religion, the forerunner of the Baháʼí Faith had a violent history in Iran. Friedrich W. Affolter writes:

Initially, the mullas hoped to stop the Bábí movement from spreading by denouncing its followers as apostates and enemies of God. These denouncements resulted in mob attacks, public executions and torture of early Bábís. When the Bábís (in accordance with Koranic principles) organized to defend themselves, the government sent troops into a series of engagements that resulted in heavy losses on both sides. The Báb himself was imprisoned from 1846 until 1850 and eventually publicly executed. In August 1852, two deranged Bábís attempted to kill the Shah in revenge for the execution of the Báb. This resulted in an extensive pogrom during which more than 20,000 Bábís – among them 400 Shí'i mullas who had embraced the Bábí teachings – lost their lives.[2]

Others have stated that the Bábís originally armed themselves and prepared for a holy war that became defensive when they encountered state troops in several locations and that two to three thousand Bábís were killed.[8]

Baháʼu'lláh took a more conciliatory position, forbidding the use of holy war to spread his faith. Instead, he attempted to engage various governments in dialogue; however, the radical nature of his claim to prophethood did little to change the perception of the people of Iran. To this day, Baháʼís are a widely persecuted minority group in Iran and other predominantly Muslim countries, since they are seen as apostates from Islam, and supporters of the West and Israel.[9]