Award-winning school project focuses on rights for Bahá’ís

Riaz Mowzoon-Mogharrabi poses with his National History Day exhibit focusing on the oppression of Bahá'ís in Iran, which won Arizona state honors. Photo courtesy of May Mowzoon

By Riaz Mowzoon-Mogharrabi

I am a Bahá’í junior youth in Arizona. Through local Feasts and junior youth groups, I learned about my responsibility to help eliminate racism and injustice through conversations at firesides, deepenings, or explaining our history at lunch. But making people aware is possible through academics as well.

In sixth grade I entered an exhibit on the persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran in the 2014 National History Day (NHD) competition. This year’s theme was “Rights and Responsibilities.”

It all began when I overheard my mother and teacher talking about my father’s refugee status, which I wrote about in a pen portrait — an informal description. My teacher was intrigued by my father’s escape from religious persecution in Iran. She exclaimed excitedly that my father’s struggle with rights and responsibilities stood as the best NHD topic for me.

I got to work reading and analyzing many articles put out by the Bahá’í International Community regarding the situation of the Bahá’ís — including sanctioned violent attacks — as well as Michael Karlberg’s article “Constructive Resilience: The Bahá’í Response to Oppression.” I soon learned that numerous refugees in my own Bahá’í community were willing to be interviewed. When on pilgrimage, I had opportunities to interview several members of the Universal House of Justice. I even obtained unpublished tablets that were given to my ancestors.

Amazingly, I also accompanied the Bahá’í delegation that met with U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon in early 2014 to share with him information about the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran and to ask him to co-sponsor House Resolution 109. He seemed very impressed and interested in supporting the resolution. Unfortunately, as of December we have yet to see his name listed as a co-sponsor.

Once I took that step, the possibilities were endless.

After five months of grueling research I started constructing my exhibit. It stood covered with detailed descriptions of persecution and of the Bahá’í Faith today and quotations about why this targeted injustice must be stopped so that it never reaches the point of genocide. All my teachers and peers were supportive and hopeful that I would win.

My exhibit won first place in both the regional and state competitions; I felt fulfilled instead of proud and victorious as I initially expected, which in itself intrigued me. I did not win at the national level; the exquisite exhibits of others across the nation humbled me.

However, as my family returned to our hotel in Washington, DC, I realized I had done something extremely impactful. Every person, every parent, every judge who had walked by my exhibit had read its passages, was moved by the injustice, and perhaps outraged to enough to act. Hundreds had learned about the persecution of our Faith in Iran. All of them learned who you and I are.

I had raised awareness of the Bahá’í Faith and the plight of the Bahá’ís in Iran on a scale I never imagined. This was better than winning. Academic work is the perfect tool to bring the Faith greater recognition, even if you are a kid.

Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord. … Arise in His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and be assured of ultimate victory.” — the Báb

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