Bahais were easily the most welcoming, friendly, and genuinely sincere people I had ever met
August 21, 2003
One day, about 10 years ago I was in the local video store with my mom. I was 8-years old at the time. She really wanted to rent a movie that a friend of hers told her about. It was called "Not Without My Daughter" starring Sally Field. I am sure you are all familiar with the storyline of this movie (and the stupidity of it) so I will not recount it here.
Anyways as I was too young to really understand what this movie was about I didn't even watch the whole thing. Six years later I was once again in the video store and for some reason I got a flashback of that movie. I couldn't remember what it was called or who was in it but a gave the lady at the till a brief description and she found it for me.
I watched it 7 times in three days. I became totally obsessed with Iran. I was fascinated how a country could go from being so modern back to being so religious in the space of a few years. I was fascinated with the images of women in their billowing chadors, with the revolutionary music played over loud speakers and the power that religion (appeared) to hold over everyone.
I also become very interested in the Persian language. After making a few phone calls I found out that my city Regina in the middle of nowhere in Saskatchewan, Canada, had a Persian language school. I called and registered. My excitement grew everyday leading up to Saturday, the day the classes were held. I was excited by the prospect of seeing first hand people like from the movie, women in chadors, men dressed in robes (remember I was 13 at the time).
When I got there I was surprised to find that not one of the teachers wore any kind of covering, let alone a chador. Some of the mothers of the children in my class however did wear head scarves, when they came to pick up there children. The teachers were thrilled that a Canadian teenager would want to learn Persian.
Over the next few years I became aware of the fact that although my city was quite small by North American standards (approximately 200,000 people) it had a microcosm of many different Iranian groups. There was everything from Mojahedin, to Monarchists, to Communists, and Khomeinists.
One thing that proved to be very interesting was that despite their strong differences in opinion, they all sent the children to the same Persian school, socialized together, and attended the same Noruz celebrations.
The most interesting day that I had in Persian class revolved around an off handed comment made by one of the teachers. She had been joking with me about our class going on a field trip to Iran. I became enthusiastic about the idea of going to Iran and said "why not?". Her response changed my life: "Because we have a lot of Bahai kids in the class."
"Bahai kids," I thought to myself. What the hell were Bahai kids? I started to look up what "Bahai" was, and why these kids couldn't go to Iran although they were just as Iranian as their classmates. My initial assumption was that they were some kind of political group, or even members of some kind of terrorist group the the Mojahedin.
Then I discovered that they were just a religious minority in Iran and had no political connections. I learned about the persecution they were undergoing in Iran and found out that the majority of them were refugees not economic immigrants like many other iranians in Canada. (That is not to say that there is not a huge number of other Iranians in Canada who came here as political refugees).
Then I discovered the fact that the Bahai faith wasn't an Iranian religion, but was in fact a world religion like Christianity or Islam. Over the next several years I met more and more Bahai Iranians (my city has a disproportionate Muslim/Bahai ratio in comparison with Iran and even other cities in Canada, it is about 50/50). These people told me there stories and I became fascinated with them.
For example one man I know named Sayyid, moved to Canada in 1982 from Iran, with his wife. They had three children here. He has not seen his parents or his family for over 22 years, because he cannot return to Iran, and the Iranian government won't issue his parents passports to come here. His sister was arrested and threatened with execution, only a few years ago. This only one example of many stories I have heard from Iranian Bahais.
Why would these people put themselves through this? Why wouldn't they just "pretend" to not be Bahais so that their persecution would end? There had to be a good explanation.
Over the next year I continued to investigate the religion, and I attended a few programs at our local Bahai center. They were easily the most welcoming, friendly, and genuinely sincere people I had ever met. I was so moved by what I witnessed especially the Persian prayers chanted by the Iranians.
Just by coincidence that night the Regina Bahai community was hosting a couple Iranian Bahai men who were visiting from Tehran to see how the faith was growing in Canada. They could not speak English, but as I had taken so man years of Persian we managed to have a conversation. they were completely shocked that I was not Bahai, nor Iranian, and that I had such an interest in Iran, their language and the Bahai religion.
I was so moved by the beautiful prayers chanted in Persian by some of the Iranian women there, and by the warmth and friendliness of the people there that I declared myself to be a Bahai that night.
By that time most of the people had gone home and it was mostly older Iranian Bahais who stayed behind to visit with the guests from Iran. After I declared an elderly Iranian woman chanted a prayer for me. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, despite the fact that I did not understand a word of it.
I have been a Bahai for almost two years now, and it is the best decision I have ever made. My love for Iran and it's people has only been made stronger by my new found love for Bahaullah.
©Copyright 2003, The Iranian
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