Colorado Springs Sun
[Photo] Sun/Mary Kelley
Family: He died for faith
By Robert Moore
For most, genocide is something to read about in the history books.
Moeen and Soheila Afnani, however, have a close knowledge of genocide. Mrs. Afnani's father, Nosrat'u'llah Sobhani, was executed in Iran last week in that government's campaign against the Baha'i faith.
After nine months in prison, Sobhani was hanged March 5 in Teheran by Revolutionary Guards for his "heretical" beliefs, his daughter said. Sobhani is among about 250 Baha'is executed in Iran since the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, Mrs. Afnani said. The executions are part of an ongoing campaign by the Khomeini regime to eradicate the Baha'i faith in Iran, the Afnanis said.
Speaking in their Cimarron Hills apartment Friday, where they live with their 2-month-old daughter, the softspoken couple tried to explain why the Khomeini government views the 300,000 Baha'is in Iran as such a threat, even though their faith forbids them from becoming involved in partisan politics or taking arms.
They explained that many tenets of Baha'i, such as equality for women, directly contradict the beliefs of the fundamentalist Moslem clergy now ruling Iran.
Perhaps most frightening to the Iranian rulers, Afnani said, is the Baha'i belief that a clergy is not necessary in religion.
He said, "We believe that you don't need clergy to get to heaven. That scares the (Islamic) priests."
Although the Baha'i have been persecuted in Iran since the religion's founding in 1844, things have grown worse under Khomeini, said Afnani, who works in Colorado Springs for Honeywell.
He said, "The (persecution) pressure has its ups and downs. The situation had grown more relaxed, but now it is very similar to the beginning of the faith in the mid-19th century" when thousands of Baha'is were executed for their beliefs.
In addition to the execution of prominent Baha'is, the Khomeini government also has outlawed all Baha'i institutions and activities, confiscated property and forbidden employing Baha'is.
"If they find an employer who hired a Baha'i, he is in serious trouble," Afnani said.
Mrs. Afnani views her father as a martyr.
Sobhani had been living in India, but returned to Iran after Khomeini overthrew the shah.
"He didn't have to go back," Mrs. Afnani said. "He went back because of his faith.
"He wanted to be in Iran with other Baha'is. He didn't want to be away while others were being persecuted."
The family was not allowed to visit Sobhani often in prison, and he was notified only two days before his execution that he had a granddaughter, Mrs. Afnani said.
Although her brothers and sis-ters no longer live in Iran, Mrs. Afnani's mother and several other relatives still live in Teheran.
"They are in the same danger as all Baha'is," Mrs. Afnani said softly. "I do not know what will happen to them."
The Afnanis, who both hold master's degrees from the University of Utah, share strong faith and believe the Baha'is will survive the latest wave of persecution.
"When you look at the history of religions, you seethe same thing," Afnani said. "The great religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all make progress despite the obstacles.
"We believe Baha'i will succeed and spread."
Indeed, the Afnanis believe the, death of Sobhani and other Baha'is can only strengthen their religion.
"The blood of martyrs waters the roots of faith," Afnani said. A public memorial service for Nosrat'u'llah Sobhani will be at 2 P.m. Saturday at the Davis Auditorium in Penrose Library.
The Baha'i believe Baha'u'llah to have been the latest of a series of past and future divine spirits that included Jesus, Mohammed, Zoroaster and the Buddha.
Other important Baha'i tenets are the unity of religion and mankind. Baha'is believe the founders of all religions to have been manifestations of God and agents of a progressive divine plan for the education of the human race.
Also, the Baha'is believe in the brotherhood of all men and devote themselves to the abolition of racial, class and religious prejudices. The great bulk of Baha'i teachings is concerned with social ethics; the faith has no priesthood and does not observe ritual forms in its worship.
Baha'i world headquarters are in Haifa, Israel.
©Copyright 1985, Colorado Springs Sun (CO, USA)