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

2. About the Bahá’ís

2.1. Origin and Early History

The Bahá’í faith originates from two separate but interrelated religious movements founded in 19th century Persia (modern-day Iran). The precursor to the Bahá’í faith, the Bábí faith, began in 1844 when Seyyed 'Ali Muhammad proclaimed that he was “The Báb” [the Gate], the personification of the “Hidden Imam”, a Messiah-like figure whose return has been awaited by Shi'a Muslims since the ninth century. The Báb also foretold that his appearance signaled the advent of another prophet, “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest”, whose teachings would establish unity, peace and order on earth.1

The Báb initially attracted many Iranian followers, but the embryonic faith soon met with opposition from the social elites of the time, in particular the Shi’a clergy.2 The Báb's followers actively pressed their cause, in some cases even engaging in armed clashes with government forces.3 Thousands of Bábís were imprisoned, murdered, and tortured in public at the order of religious and political authorities.4 The Báb was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.5 Repression of the Bábí faith was often a coordinated effort of the clergy and the political authorities.6 The former opposed the new faith on religious grounds, while the latter believed that the Bábís were a threat to the security of the state. This latter belief was confirmed by an assassination attempt on Nasser al-Din Shah following the Báb’s execution.7 The failed attempt on the Shah’s life provoked a renewed assault on the Bábí community.8

[1] MOOJAN MOMEN, THE BÁBÍ AND BAHÁ’Í RELIGIONS, 1844-1944: SOME COMTEMPORARY WESTERN ACCOUNTS xxi-xxii (1981) [hereinafter MOMEN, THE BÁBÍ AND BAHÁ’Í RELIGIONS]; ABBAS AMANAT, RESURRECTION AND RENEWAL 375-77 (1989) [hereinafter RESURRECTION AND RENEWAL]; DOUGLAS MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN 1844-1984 7 (Bahá’í Studies, Vol. 12/13, 1984) [hereinafter MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN].
[2] ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN, IRAN BETWEEN TWO REVOLUTIONS 17 (1982); MOMEN, THE BÁBÍ AND BAHÁ’Í RELIGIONS, supra note 1, at xxv.
[3] See MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 12; for battle accounts, see, e.g., THE DAWN BREAKERS & NABIL’S NARRATIVE OF THE EARLY DAYS OF THE BAHÁ’Í REVELATION 324-414, 465-495, 527-580 (Shoghi Effendi, trans., Bahá’í Publishing Trust 1996) [hereinafter THE DAWN BREAKERS].
[4] See RESURRECTION AND RENEWAL, supra note 1, at 401, 405; JOHN SIMPSON AND TIRA SHUBART, LIFTING THE VEIL 222 (1995) [hereinafter LIFTING THE VEIL]; see also BAHÁ’Í INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CENTER, SUMMARY REPORT OF PERSECUTION OF THE IRANIAN BAHÁ’Í COMMUNITY DURING THE PAHLAVI REGIME (1921-1979) 1 (1980) [hereinafter SUMMARY OF PERSECUTION DURING THE PAHLAVI REGIME]. JUAN R.I. COLE, MODERNITY & THE MILLENNIUM 26 (1998) describes “a vicious pogrom against real and suspected Bábís inside Iran, with much public torture of those accused, resulting in several thousand deaths,” and asserts that “the truly gruesome aspect of church-state entanglement was demonstrated in the joint efforts of officials and clergy to invent ever more ingenious ways of inflicting pain on those branded heretics.”
[5]See Letter from Sir Justin Sheil, Queen Victoria’s Envoy in Tehran, to Lord Palmerston, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (July 22, 1850), reprinted in The Báb: Accounts of His Martyrdom, WORLD ORDER, Fall 1973, 8 (1): 6-32 (on file with IHRDC); see also THE DAWN BREAKERS, supra note 3, at 510-515.
[6] See generally JUAN R.I. COLE, MODERNITY & THE MILLENNIUM 26-28 (1998); RESURRECTION AND RENEWAL, supra note 1, at 401-402. See also ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN, TORTURED CONFESSIONS: PRISONS AND PUBLIC RECANTATIONS IN MODERN IRAN 20-21 (1999) [hereinafter TORTURED CONFESSIONS] (noting that Bábí prisoners were “paraded in chains through Tehran, given a final opportunity to recant, and then portioned out for execution to various groups—to the royal family, the Qajar tribe, the clergy, the ministries, the military, the merchants, and the bazaar guilds.”)
[7] See Attempt to Kill the Shah of Persia, N.Y. TIMES, September 25, 1852, at 2, compiled in Ralph Wagner, Bábí Attempt on the Life of the Shah, 1852: Coverage in the New York Times, available at http://Bahá’í-library.com/?file=nyt_Bábi_life_shah#1 (accessed June 27, 2006) [hereinafter Wagner, Bábí Attempt on the Life of the Shah]. Sources indicate that the two Bábí youth involved acted independently of the Bábí community; see, e.g., THE DAWN BREAKERS, supra note 3, at 600.
[8]See N.Y. TIMES article dated November 16, 1852, at 6, in Wagner, Bábí Attempt on the Life of the Shah, supra note 7 (reporting that “upwards of 400 Bábís were put to death in Tehran, as accomplices in the recent attempt against the life of the Shah… The unhappy sufferers were all tortured in the most cruel manner.”) See also Janet Afary, Civil Liberties and the Making of Iran’s Constitution, in RETROSPECTIVES ON THE IRANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION, 1905-1909 (Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Duke University Press, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2005) at 41 [hereinafter Civil Liberties and the Making of Iran’s Constitution]; TORTURED CONFESSIONS, supra note 6, at 20-21 (noting that “[t]he ultimate in the spectacle of cruelty came in the Bábí executions of 1852… Some were blinded before being shot; others were stabbed repeatedly, then decapitated; yet others were beaten mercilessly before being strangled.”)

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