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

3.4. The Rise of the Hojjatiyeh

The 1950s also saw the rise of private religious societies like the Hojjatiyeh. The Hojjatiyeh, or Anjumani Khayriyyeh-yi Hujjatieh-yi Mahdaviyyat (Charitable Society of the Mahdi),71 was a fundamentalist Islamic organization, founded by a clerical student named Sheik Mahmoud Zikrzadih Tavalla'i, also known as Halabi.72 Sometimes termed the “anti-Bahá’í society,”73 the principal aim of the Hojjatiyeh society was to combat the Bahá’í faith74 and it devoted much of its energies to training cadres in the “scientific defense” of Shi’a Islam in the face of the Bahá’í theological challenge.75 The organization attracted the support of such key religious leaders as Ayatollah Borujerdi, Hojatolislam Falsafi,76 Ayatollah Mara'shi Najafi, Ayatollah Milani, Seyyed Abdullah Shirazi, and Ayatollah Baha’eddin Mahallati.77 Other alleged members of Hojjatiyeh who obtained powerful positions after the 1979 revolution were Supreme Leader Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and the Minister of Education and President Mohammad Ali Raja'i.78

In 1970 several members of Hojjatiyeh sent a letter to the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini seeking his opinion about the group’s activities. The letter opened by recapitulating the organization’s recent achievements:

It has been a few years since several religious and pious people led by Haji Aqa Sheikh Mahmud Halabi for the purpose of systematically combating the fabricated sect of Bahá’ísm, have formed structured classes where they teach useful material and introduce people to the high position of His Holiness, the Guardian of the Age [the Twelfth Imam]. The areas of activity of these classes have stretched beyond Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, and Shiraz… and now are even working in the remote villages… and have so far been able to convert around five hundred of the followers of the wayward sect of Bahá’ísm back to the straight path of Oneness (towhid) [Islam].

The authors then asked Ayatollah Khomeini:

First, what is Your Eminence’s exalted opinion about this group and their acts? Second, what are the rules for collaborating with them and strengthening them - how should one go about it? Third, can legal Islamic tax money be given to this cause if necessary? It is humbly requested that you give your exalted opinion clearly.

Khomeini responded:

The actions of these gentlemen will be appreciated and please God and also collaboration with them will please the heart of the Guardian of The Age. Furthermore, Muslims are allowed to give them [Hojjatiyeh] money from the… [Islamic legal taxes]. If necessary, it is allowable for one third of the Imam’s share to be given to them. Of course under supervision of trusted parties, [so] if Mr. Halabi is able, the money should be placed under his supervision.79

[71]See SAID AMIR ARJOMAND, THE TURBAN FOR THE CROWN: THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION IN IRAN 157 (1988) [hereinafter THE TURBAN FOR THE CROWN]; MICHAEL RUBIN, INTO THE SHADOWS: RADICAL VIGILANTES IN KHATAMI’S IRAN 13 (2001) [hereinafter RUBIN]. The organization’s name refers to Hojjat, a title of the Hidden Imam Mahdi, awaited by Shi'a Muslims, as a sign of opposition to the Bahá’ís who believe the Báb was the Hidden Imam. Hojjatiyeh is said to be affiliated and at times considered synonymous with the Anjuman-i Tablighat-i Islami (Islamic Propaganda Society); see RUBIN, at 14.
[72] Bill Samii, Bahá’ís sound the alarm on abuses in Iran, Radio Free Europe, September 13, 2004, available at http://www.rferl.org/reports/iran-report/2004/09/31-130904.asp (accessed July 10, 2006). THE TURBAN FOR THE CROWN, supra note 71, at 157 notes that Halabi was a close friend of Khomeini.
[73] In Farsi, Anjuman-i Zidd-i Baha’iyat; see RUBIN, supra note 71, at 13.
[75] Hojjatiyeh entry, ENCYCLOPEDIA IRANICA 426, available at http://www.Bahá’í.org/persecution/iran/iranica2 (accessed June 28, 2006).
[76] See Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Bahá’ís in Iran: Twenty Years of Repression, NEW SCHOOL SOCIAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, June 2000 [hereinafter Kazemzadeh]; MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 34.
[77] See http://hojatieh.persianblog.com/1382_5_hojatieh_archive.html, reproducing information originally published on Baztab website under the title Anjuman-i Hojjatiyeh, Ruyaru-i ya Himayat az Vilaya-i Faqih [Hojjatiyeh Organization: Clash with or Support of the Supreme Leadership] (August 12, 2003).
[78]Mansour Farhang, Farhang Replies, THE NATION, February 27, 1982 at 226; SANASARIAN, supra note 16, at 120.
[79] SAHIFIYYIH IMAM (COLLECTION OF KHOMEINI’S WRITINGS) (Vol. 2, October 7, 1970) at 299-300. However, Khomeini later changed his mind about Hojjatiyeh and wrote a letter expressing his disapproval of Hojjatiyeh, on the basis that it removed the focus from his agenda, establishment of an Islamic Republic. Id. at 357.


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