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

3.2. The Ramadan Riots of 1955

One of the most high-profile anti-Bahá’í propagandists, whose commentaries were widely circulated by the Iranian media in the mid-1950s, was a populist preacher named Sheikh Mohammad Taqi Falsafi, an ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.38 Falsafi enjoyed the support and encouragement of prominent religious figures.39 This is documented in a letter of encouragement from Ayatollah Seyyed Hussein Borujerdi, who in 1946 had become a Marja'-e-Taqlid, one of the country’s highest religious offices.40

In 1951 Falsafi approached Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh on behalf of Ayatollah Borujerdi in order to discuss the Bahá’ís and their activities, but was rebuffed by Mossadegh who rejected the idea that the Bahá’ís were any different than Muslim Iranians.41 However, after the 1953 coup, Falsafi approached the pro-monarchist government to once again press for action against the Bahá’ís.42

In his memoirs, Falsafi described a conversation with Ayatollah Borujerdi shortly before the beginning of Ramadan 1955 in which they discussed possible strategies for pressuring the government to act on the Bahá’ís:

My religious duty compelled me to not be indifferent about this sect and in spite of their connections to the governing body, to propagate against them in my sermons… In the year 1334 [1955], before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, I said to [Borujerdi]: “Do you agree with me following up on the Bahá’í issue in my sermons at Masjed-eh Shah, which are broadcast live on the radio?” He thought about it briefly and said: “It would be good if you do this. Now that the authorities are not listening [to our complaints], at least the Bahá’ís will be disparaged in public opinion.”43

Borujerdi suggested that Falsafi inform the Shah of his plans beforehand, to ensure that these speeches would not be too provocative for the authorities and prompt a crackdown on religious activism. Such a restriction would, he noted, be a burden on Muslims and make the Bahá’ís “even more bold.”44 Falsafi thus made an appointment with the Shah’s office, where he received permission.45 Falsafi then encouraged other members of the Shi'a clergy who were giving sermons during Ramadan to discuss the Bahá’í issue in their sermons as well, which they did.46 Falsafi went further than most, repeatedly castigating the Bahá’ís in his Ramadan broadcasts.47

By the tenth day of Ramadan Minister of Interior Amir Asadollah Alam was sufficiently alarmed by the violence that he contacted Falsafi to voice his concerns that Falsafi’s sermons were disrupting the security of the nation. Alam wrote in his memoir:

Falsafi managed to fool both the Shah and the military authorities and start a campaign against the Bahá’ís that dragged the country to the edge of disaster. It was Ramadan. [Falsafi’s] noon sermons were broadcast throughout the nation via radio and caused violence and terror in many locations. People killed a few Bahá’ís here and there. Falsafi justified these acts by saying that they increased the Shah’s prestige. I had no choice but to order him, in my own rash way, to refrain from giving further speeches until order was reestablished. 48

Falsafi was not so easily deterred and as a result, a week or so later, the Shah sent the Head of the Police Force, General Alavi Moghaddam, and Brigadier General Teymur Bakhtiar to order Falsafi to stop referring to the Bahá’ís in his sermons as it was creating a security concern. Falsafi bluntly refused to comply with the order:

It is not possible… If you want to discontinue the radio broadcasts, do it. Arrest me if you want to. Otherwise, I must continue my speeches until the end of Ramadan… If I don’t say anything… I’ll dishonor Islam and Marjas [higher-ranking clergy] and I’ll never do that.49

[38] See MARTIN, THE PERSECUTION OF THE BAHÁ’ÍS IN IRAN, supra note 1, at 22; see also AMIR TAHERI, THE SPIRIT OF ALLAH: KHOMEINI AND THE ISLAMIC REVOLUTION 115 (Adler & Adler 1986) [hereinafter THE SPIRIT OF ALLAH]. IRAN’S SECRET POGROM, supra note 19 at 41, states that “Falsafi, [who] at his Tehran mosque, preached sermons against the ‘false religion’ daily… was able to disseminate his views more widely over the radio in an hourly space he had at his command.” See also BAQER MOIN, LIFE OF THE AYATOLLAH 66 (1999) [hereinafter LIFE OF THE AYATOLLAH] (asserting that the Shah “not only tolerated the activities of [Hojjatieh founder] Sheikh Mahmud Halabi and his fellow anti-Baha’i clergymen, but allowed the clergy’s fight against the Baha’is to be aired from the government-controlled media. In an unprecedented move in 1955, Tehran Radio broadcast a series of anti-Baha’i sermons by Mohammad Taqi Falsafi, Iran’s leading preacher.”) The abstract to Falsafi’s published memoirs acknowledges openly that Falsafi “played an important role in combat with bahaiyyat [Bahá’ís]”; see Khatirat va Mubarizat-i Hojjatolislam Mohammad Taqi Falsafi [THE MEMORIES AND CAMPAIGNS OF HOJJATOL-ISLAM MOHAMMAD TAQI FALSAFI] (Ali Davani, ed., The Center for Islamic Revolution Documents, 2003) [hereinafter FALSAFI MEMOIRS].
[39] See, e.g., Didari Az Ayatollah Borujerdi az Abbas Furutan [Report by Abbas Furutan on his visit with authorities in Qom], ASHUFTIH, NO. 19, 7-10, 22/2/1334 (May 13, 1955) (referring to Falsafi as a representative of Ayatollah Borujerdi in Tehran and in the Shah’s court, and stating that Sheikh Ahmad Khademi, Seyyed Mustafa Khansari, and Taleqani met with Furutan and discussed their support for Falsafi and his actions.)
[40] See AKHAVI, supra note 17, at 77-78; see also Namih-yih Hazrat-i Ayatollah ul'uzma Borujerdi [Letter from Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi: the letter was recited by Hojjatolislam Falsafi during sermon at Sultani Mosque], PUST-I TEHRAN, No. 581, 18/2/1334 (May 9, 1955) (on file with IHRDC). Falsafi’s memoirs state that his anti-Bahá’í sermons in 1955 “were done with the previous agreement of Ayatollah Borujerdi and had his complete support.” FALSAFI MEMOIRS, supra note 38, at 202, n.1.
[41] Id. at 138-139, and 200 (complaining that Mossadegh “didn’t see Bahá’ís as a threat and generally considered them part of the nation of Iran, [entitled to] the same rights as the Muslims.”)
[42] Id. at 200.
[43] Id.
[44] Id.
[45] Id. Falsafi relates that he stated to the Shah: “Ayatollah Borujirdi has agreed that the issue of the Bahá’ís’ influence, which has been worrying Muslims, will be discussed in the Ramadan sermons broadcast on the radio. Does His Royal Highness agree?” The Shah reportedly replied, after a pause, “Go and tell.” Id.
[46] Id.
[47] Id. at 201-202.
[48] Id. (citing Guftugu Ha-i Man ba Shah, Khatirat-i Mahramaniyyih Asadollah 'Alam [My Conversations with the Shah, the Secret Memoirs of Asadollah 'Alam] (Abdulreza Hushang Mahdavi, Tehran, Tarh-i Naw Publications, 3d ed.) 66-67 (1992 [1371]).
[49] Id. at 205-207.

 

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