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A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha'is of Iran

Ayatollah Khomeini: Anti-Bahá’í activities in the 1950s and 1960s

When Ayatollah Borujerdi was being considered for the role of Marja'-e-Taqlid, Khomeini strongly supported him and played an important role in persuading him to come to the Islamic religious center of Qom.89 Khomeini later used this relationship to try to recruit Borujerdi’s support during the anti-Bahá’í campaign of 1955, but did not obtain as much success as he would have wished.90 One biographer quotes Khomeini expressing his frustration as follows:

I went every day to encourage his Holiness’s [Borujerdi’s] anti-Bahá’í activity in order to rid the administration of Bahá’ís, but by the following day he had gone cold on the issue.91

After Borujerdi died in 1961, Khomeini was accepted as Marja'-e-Taqlid by a large number of Iranian Shi’as.92 In October of 1962, the government promulgated new laws governing elections to local and provincial councils which removed the previous requirement that those elected be sworn into office on the Koran93 and abolished the requirement that candidates be Muslim and male.94 Khomeini’s response was swift:

Seeing in this a plan to permit the infiltration of public life by the Bahá'ís, Imam Khomeini telegraphed both the Shah and the prime minister of the day, warning them to desist from violating both the law of Islam and the Iranian Constitution… failing which the “Ulama” would engage in a sustained campaign of protest.95

When the government went ahead with its plans despite his intervention, Khomeini took a prominent role in the protest campaign, and joined by religious leaders elsewhere in the country, was able to force the repeal of the laws in November, just seven weeks after they had been promulgated.96 This achievement “marked his emergence on the scene as the principal voice of opposition to the Shah.”97

From the post-1955 period through the revolutionary years, Khomeini continued to speak against foreign powers, the Jews, and the Bahá’ís:

Remind the people of the danger posed by Israel and its agents. Recall and explain the catastrophes inflicted upon Islam by the Jews and the Bahá’ís.98

As Khomeini moved to further strengthen his position as the leader of the revolutionary movement, he built alliances with figures who were members of anti-Bahá’í organizations or appear to have had vehemently anti- Bahá’í viewpoints. Many of these men held powerful positions after the 1979 Revolution, notably President Seyyedd Ali Khamenei, Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Velayati and the Minister of Education and President Mohammad-Ali Raja'i.99

[89]HAMID ALGAR, A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF IMAM KHOMEINI, available at http://www.wandea.org.pl/khomeini-pdf/khomeinibiography. pdf (accessed June 28, 2006) [hereinafter ALGAR BIOGRAPHY] at 5-6 (Section 3: The Years of Spiritual and Intellectual Formation in Qom (1923-1962).
[90]Id. at 6 (Section 3: The Years of Spiritual and Intellectual Formation in Qom (1923-1962). However, Moin in LIFE OF THE AYATOLLAH, supra note 38, at 67, asserts that “Halabi [Hojjatiyeh founder] and others finally obtained a fatwa from the leading clerics, including Borujerdi, banning transactions with Bahá’ís.”
[91]Id.
[92]IALGAR BIOGRAPHY, supra note 89, at 6 (Section 4: The Years of Struggle and Exile, 1962-1978).
[93]Id.
[94]ISLAM AND REVOLUTION I, WRITINGS AND DECLARATIONS OF IMAM KHOMEINI (1941-1980) (Hamid Algar, trans.) (1981) [hereafter ISLAM AND REVOLUTION I] at 16.
[95]ALGAR BIOGRAPHY, supra note 89, at 6 (Section 4: The Years of Struggle and Exile, 1962-1978).
[96]Id.; see also ISLAM AND REVOLUTION I, supra note 94, at 16 and 161-2, n. 151 (citing S.H.R, BARRASI VA TAHLILI [STUDY AND ANALYSIS] 142-187).
[97]ALGAR BIOGRAPHY, supra note 89, at 6 (Section 4: The Years of Struggle and Exile, 1962-1978). Khomeini spoke proudly of this accomplishment, noting that: “those who are destroying the welfare of Islam and trampling on the rights of the weak- it is they whom we must force to desist from evil… If a collective protest were made… they certainly would desist. … When the ulama of Qom met and banded together on one occasion, and the provinces supported them by sending delegations and delivering speeches to show their solidarity, the regime retreated and canceled the measure we were objecting to.” ISLAM AND REVOLUTION I, supra note 94, at 118.
[98]See, e.g., THE SPIRIT OF ALLAH, supra note 38, at 132, citing to Guzidiyyih Payam-hayih Imam Khomeini [Selection of Imam Khomeini’s Messages] 81 (Tehran 1970). In another speech Khomeini stated clearly that “the Bahá’ís are not a religion but a secretive organization plotting to subvert the Islamic Republic”; see ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN, KHOMEINISM 124 (1993). See also Khatirat-i Sheikh Mustafa Rahnama [Memoirs of Sheikh Mustafa Rahnama (Descendant of Fadaiyan Islam Members) Were Published], available at http://www.mehrnews.com/fa/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=277838 (accessed October 2006) (alleging that Bahá’ís collaborated with SAVAK in attacking demonstrators on several occasions, including in Qom in March 1963.) Accusations of this type aimed at generating popular anger against Bahá’ís are presumably the reason why, when Khomeini was arrested in 1963, angry protesters responded by desecrating the Bahá’í cemetery in Tehran (see photographs of 1963 attacks on cemetery, on file with IHRDC.)
[99]Mansour Farhang, Farhang Replies, THE NATION, February 27, 1982 at 226; SANASARIAN, supra note 16, at 120; see also RUBIN, supra note 71, at 25.

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Baha'i, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Illegal Search and Seizure, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience