Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions and Answers

How do Baha'is think about discourse?

Wherever Baha'is live, they are charged to be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age in which they live and contributing to the advancement of justice and unity. Baha'is believe that their social purpose is to establish the oneness of humankind, which we believe to be the pivot round which all Baha'i teachings revolve.

The Baha'i approach to social change includes three general lines of action: community-building activities, social action, and participating in the discourses of society. While distinct, these three lines are mutually reinforcing.

Our Office participates in this third line at the national level.

One might ask here, what is discourse? For our purposes, we might simply say that a discourse is a set of ideas and thoughts on a given subject that are communicated among a society. For example, in the United States, there are discourses on race, economic justice, the environment, the role of media, human rights, and gender. Each of these discourses shape and are shaped by the forces of society, influencing the way a society thinks and behaves.

Our Office follows and contributes to each of these discourses from the perspective of the Baha'i teachings, which we believe are an incalculably precious contribution to humanity. These teachings include, among other principles, the idea that all forms of prejudice must be abolished, that science and religion are complementary ways of knowing, and that the extremes of wealth and poverty must be eliminated.

While Baha'is believe they will make an important contribution to social change and peace, we don't believe that we will do this work alone. The principle of the oneness of humankind suggests that this work will comprise the contributions of people from all walks of life.

As such, Baha'i participation in discourse is not concerned with convincing others to adopt a Baha'i position on a subject, nor convincing others to adopt the Baha'i Faith.

We do not set out to offer any specific solutions to the problems that face humanity. But, through our participation in discourse, we aim to share the experience of the American Baha'i community, which, for over a century, has been systematically learning to apply Baha'i teachings to all aspects of life.

Our watchwords in this regard are sincerity and humility. Naturally, then, we are also eager to hear the experience of other individuals and communities in approaching issues of common concern.

Social discourse wields a tremendous influence over how societies conceive of themselves, as well as how they approach social issues. Our Office aims to contribute to the evolution of discourse, helping humanity realize further the truth of the oneness of humankind, and all its implications.

How did you choose your Focus Areas?

Our Focus Areas represent discourses that we feel are particularly urgent and timely within American society.

They also are discourses to which our Office, based on Baha'i teachings and the experience of the national Baha'i community, believes it can make a constructive contribution.

Who guides the work of your Office?

Our Office is directly overseen by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, the elected body that oversees the administrative affairs of the American Baha'i community.

In addition, we receive regular guidance and advice from the Office of Public Discourse, an office of the Baha'i World Centre, based in Haifa, Israel.

How can we collaborate with your Office?

If you, or an organization you work with, would like to collaborate with our Office, we encourage you to reach out.

There are many ways we can work together, and we look forward to hearing from you!

Why do Baha'is care about issues such as climate change, racial justice, or economic injustice, etc.?

Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, admonished His followers, “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”

Baha'is believe that social issues are generally more than technical or scientific challenges. At their core, they are often moral or spiritual challenges, raising questions of unity and justice.

We believe that these fundamental moral and spiritual challenges raise difficult questions that must be addressed if humanity is to devise an effective and lasting solution to the problem.

Persecution of the Baha'is in Iran and Yemen

Why are Baha’is persecuted in Iran?

The main reason that Baha’is are persecuted is theological. The Baha’i Faith began in 1844, and is therefore a religion that post-dates Islam. Many Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the last source of divine guidance and that Islam is the final religion of God. Most members of the clergy in Iran therefore view the Baha’i Faith as heresy and blasphemy, and many have instigated and promoted hatred and persecution of Baha’is since the founding of the religion.

In addition, some of the social teachings of the Baha’i Faith are seen as threatening to the clerical establishment in Iran. The Baha’i Faith does not have a clergy and holds that each individual has the responsibility and the privilege to investigate spiritual truth for himself or herself. In addition, Baha’is believe strongly in the equality of women and men.

Finally, Baha’is have, in some sense, been targeted simply for being a minority. The treatment of Baha’is in Iran is an example of scapegoating, a phenomenon that has occurred in many societies over time, in which ethnic or religious minorities are targeted in times of societal difficulties and are irrationally blamed for all manner of political, economic, and social problems

Have Baha’is always been persecuted in Iran?

Yes. Baha’is have been persecuted since the Faith was founded in 1844 in Persia, now modern-day Iran.

In the first two decades of the Faith, approximately 20,000 Baha’is were killed by the forces of the Shah (king) and by mobs, instigated by the government or members of the clergy. This brutality included massacres and public executions, and many were imprisoned and tortured. Intense, state-sponsored persecution against Baha’is began to subside during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, but discrimination and unequal treatment continued.

During the time of the Pahlavi Shahs (1925 - 1979), when Iran witnessed a fairly rapid period of development, the pressure on the Baha’is lessened. However, Baha’is still experienced discrimination in employment and were often denied opportunities. They were also subject to social hostilities, such as interpersonal violence, acts of arson, and the desecration of cemeteries, which usually went unaddressed by authorities. For instance, during the 1930s, the primary and secondary schools that had been established by the Baha’i community to serve Iran’s children were shut down by the Shah. In 1942, a well-known Baha’i doctor was publicly stabbed to death because he refused to recant his faith; his killers confessed to the police but were acquitted following the intervention of prominent clergymen. In another notable incident in 1955, a prominent cleric, with the knowledge and consent of the Shah, took to the radio and incited mobs to attack Baha’i places of worship, which resulted in the destruction of the Baha’i community’s National Center in Iran.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the persecution of Baha’is has intensified significantly. The persecution is systematic, severe, and government-sponsored. In 1991, a UN special representative unearthed a confidential government memorandum, issued by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and signed by the Supreme Leader, which outlined a policy of official and pervasive government persecution against Baha’is. Several other government documents have come to light that demonstrate the implementation of this policy in various arenas, from barring Baha’is from attending universities to monitoring and collecting information on Baha’is, including schoolchildren, all the way down to the pre-school level.

More than 200 Baha’is have been killed since the revolution, the majority by execution, and thousands more have been imprisoned, many of them tortured. Baha’is are prohibited from working for the government, and private employers are pressured not to hire them. They are excluded from public universities, their marriages are not recognized, their holy places have been destroyed, and their cemeteries are desecrated. Baha’is continue to be arbitrarily detained, arrested, and imprisoned, and their homes, businesses, and persons are subject to raids and attacks. Unlike Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, Baha’is are not recognized in the Iranian Constitution and are afforded no legal protection as persons. Their blood is considered “mobah,” meaning that it can be spilled with impunity, and that there is no redress for Baha’is who are the victims of crimes committed against them by the government or by individuals.

What is the response of the Baha’i community in Iran to the persecution?

Baha’is, as a matter of principle, are law-abiding and obedient to the government of the land in which they live. Baha’is do not engage in violence, even in response to oppression, and, while Baha’is strive to be civically informed and engaged, they do not involve themselves in partisan politics. Baha’is around the world, including Baha’is in Iran, aim to be upright, loyal, and peaceful citizens that serve their communities and their societies. Baha’is who experience persecution in Iran strive to respond with patience, forbearance, and forgiveness towards those who persecute them, and to demonstrate, through their words and their actions, a just and unifying standard of behavior.

Why do Baha’is stay in Iran?

Baha’is in Iran are Iranians. They love their country, want to contribute to its development, and long for its prosperity. Of course, in the years since the 1979 Revolution, many Baha’is, facing danger to themselves and their families, have been forced to leave Iran and settle in other countries. But, in general, Baha’is in Iran wish to stay in Iran, and the vast majority of them do so. They strive to serve their neighbors and their communities, and to educate themselves and develop their skills and their capacities, so that, when the day comes when they are granted their human rights and their freedom, they will be ready to work side-by-side with their fellow citizens to contribute to the future of Iran.

What is the attitude of the Iranian people toward Baha’is?

The government of Iran, elements of the clergy, and some small percentage of the Iranian population are hostile towards the Baha’is and work to persecute and discriminate against them. On the whole, however, the people of Iran bear no ill will towards the Baha’is and would like to see all citizens of Iran, Baha’is included, treated with dignity and respect. In fact, a great many Iranians are extremely sympathetic towards the Baha’is and have risked their own safety to protect their Baha'i friends and neighbors, and to help them support themselves and their families.

In the years since the Islamic Revolution, the people of Iran have been subjected to virulent, false, hateful, and near-constant propaganda against Baha’is, which the government and clergy disseminate through Iran’s state-controlled media. However, the influence of this propaganda has steadily declined as Iranians citizens have gained access to the Internet and thereby to independent and credible sources of information about Baha’is. The Iranian government has continuously undermined its own credibility through its treatment of several other social groups in the country. In recent years, a number of prominent Iranians, both within and outside Iran, have publicly decried the persecution of the Baha’is and spoken out for their rights.

What are some significant contributions that the Baha’i community of Iran has made?

Some 5 million Baha’is throughout the world, from Andorra to Zimbabwe, hold a special place in their heart for Iran, as it is the birthplace of their religion. Despite the heavy persecution experienced by the Baha’is in Iran over the past 170 years, they have attempted to contribute to the betterment of their society.

Baha’is in Iran have long sought to advance the status of women. One of the earliest champions of women’s rights in Iran was Tahirih, a prominent follower of the herald of the Baha’i Faith. Tahirih was a religious scholar and poet, and was ultimately sentenced to death by the Shah for her beliefs. Before being strangled to death in 1852, she stated: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

The Baha’i community has also worked to promote education in Iran, establishing small village-level schools as early as the 1880s. It then established major primary and secondary schools in urban centers, including the well-known Tarbiyat School for Boys and the ground-breaking Tarbiyat School for Girls in Tehran in the early 1900s. These and other schools that sprang up around the country were open to all students; for instance, about half of the students in the Bahá'í schools in Tehran were not Baha’is. By 1920, about 10 percent of the estimated 28,000 primary and secondary school children in Iran were enrolled in Baha’i-run schools, according to one source. Most of the Baha’i schools were closed by government decree in the mid-1930s due to their Baha’i affiliation.

In the mid-20th century, significant Baha’i contributions to the life of Iranian society occurred in the area of the advancement of women, as illiteracy was virtually eliminated among Baha’i women with some achieving national recognition in the natural and social sciences, most notably in the fields of meteorology and child psychology. Individual Baha’is were responsible for contributions as varied as bringing to the city of Abadan the country’s first television station and the construction of Iran’s most recognizable monument, Shahyad Arch and Square, renamed after the revolution, Azadi Square (“Freedom Square”), which was designed by a Baha’i architect.

Why are Baha'is persecuted in Yemen?

For many years, the Baha'i community in Yemen, numbering in the small thousands, lived in relative peace.

However, recently, the Iranian-backed Houthi authorities in northern Yemen have been conducting a systematic campaign of persecution against the Baha'i community.

They have sentenced one Baha'i, Hamed bin Haydara, to death, and several others are incarcerated. They have also indicted a large group of Baha'is on baseless charges of apostasy and espionage. For all of them, the persecution is entirely due to their religious beliefs.

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