PERSECUTION OF THE Bahá'íS OF IRAN
A crisis in the fortunes of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, of exceptional severity, extensive in its ramifications, unpredictable in its immediate consequences, directly involving the overwhelming majority of His followers in the land of His birth, and confronting with a major challenge Bahá'í communities in both hemispheres, has plunged the Bahá'í world, whilst engaged in the prosecution of a world-wide spiritual crusade, into intense sorrow and profound anxiety.
More grievous than any of the intermittent crises which have more or less acutely afflicted the Faith since the inception, over thirty years ago, of the Formative Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation, such as a seizure of the keys of the foremost Shrine of the Bahá'í world by the covenant-breakers residing in the Holy Land; the occupation of the House of Bahá'u'lláh by His traditional enemies in Baghdád; the expropriation of the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkár of the Bahá'í world in Turkistan and the virtual extinction of the Ishqabad Bahá'í Community; the disabilities suffered by the Egyptian Bahá'í Community as a result of the verdict of the Egyptian ecclesiastical court and the historic pronouncements of the highest dignitaries of Sunni Islam in Egypt; the defection of the members of `Abdu'l-Bahá's family and the machinations and eventual deviation of various recognized yet highly ambitious leaders, teachers, as well as administrators, in Persia, Egypt, Germany and the United States--more grievous than any of these, this latest manifestation of the implacable hatred, and relentless opposition, of the as yet firmly entrenched, politically influential avowed adversaries of God's infant Faith, threatens to become more uncontrollable with every passing day.
Indeed in many of its aspects this crisis bears a striking resemblance to the wave of persecutions which periodically swept the cradle of the Faith in the course of `Abdu'l-Bahá's ministry, and is tragically reminiscent of the tribulations experienced by the dawn-breakers of the Heroic Age of the Faith at the hour of its birth in that sorely tried, long-agitated land.
With dramatic suddenness, a situation, which had been slowly and secretly developing, came to a head, as the result of the ceaseless intrigue of the fanatical and determined ecclesiastical opponents of the Faith, ever ready to seize their chance, in times of confusion, and to strike mercilessly, at an opportune hour, at the very root of that Faith and of its swiftly developing, steadily consolidating administrative institutions.
The launching of the Crusade itself, with the celebrations and ceremonials which accompanied it; the repercussions of the widely reported proceedings of four successive Intercontinental Teaching Conferences, which heralded its inauguration; the public dedication of the Mother Temple of the West in Wilmette; the systematic intensification of teaching activities in the Arabian Peninsula, enshrining the Qiblih of the entire Islamic world; and, in particular, the opening to the Faith of the twin holy cities of Mecca and Medina--all these may be said to have precipitated this crisis, and alarmed the jealous exponents and guardians of an antiquated religious orthodoxy in the strongholds of both Shi'ah and Sunni Islam.
A PREMEDITATED CAMPAIGN OF PERSECUTION
This premeditated campaign was heralded by violent and repeated public denunciations of the Faith over the air, from the pulpit, and through the press, defaming its holy Founders, distorting its distinctive features, ridiculing its aims and purposes, and perverting its history. It was formally launched by the government's official pronouncement in the Majlis outlawing the Faith and banning its activities throughout the land. It was soon followed by the senseless and uncivilized demolition of the imposing dome of the Bahá'í Central Administrative Headquarters in the capital. It assumed serious proportions through the seizure and occupation of all Bahá'í administrative headquarters throughout the provinces.
This drastic action taken by the representatives of the central authorities in cities, towns and villages was the signal for the loosing of a flood of abuse, accompanied by a series of atrocities simultaneously and shamelessly perpetrated in most of the provinces, bringing in its wake desolation to Bahá'í homes, economic ruin to Bahá'í families, and staining still further the records of Shi'ah Islam in that troubled land.
In Shiráz, in the province of Fars, the cradle of the Faith, the House of the Báb, ordained by Bahá'u'lláh in His Most Holy Book as the foremost place of pilgrimage in the land of His birth, was twice desecrated, its walls severely damaged, its windows broken and its furniture partly destroyed and carried away. The neighboring house of the Báb's maternal uncle was razed to the ground. Bahá'u'lláh's ancestral home in Takur, in the province of Mazindaran, the scene of `Abdu'l-Bahá's early childhood, was occupied. Shops and farms, constituting, in most cases, the sole source of livelihood to peaceful Bahá'í families, were plundered. Crops and livestock, assets patiently acquired by often poor, but always peace-loving, law-abiding farmers, were wantonly destroyed. Bodies in various cemeteries were first disinterred and then viciously mutilated. The homes of rich and poor alike were forcibly entered and ruthlessly looted. Both adults and children were publicly set upon, reviled, beaten and ridiculed. Young women were abducted, and compelled, against their parents' wishes and their own, to marry Muslims. Boys and girls were mobbed at school, mocked and expelled. A boycott, in many cases, was imposed by butchers and bakers, who refused to sell to the adherents of the Faith the barest necessities of life. A girl in her teens was shamelessly raped, whilst an eleven-month-old baby was heartlessly trampled underfoot. Pressure was brought to bear upon the believers to recant their faith and to renounce allegiance to the Cause they had espoused.
Nor was this all. Emboldened by the general applause accorded by the populace to the savage perpetrators of these crimes, a mob of many hundreds marched upon the hamlet of Hurmuzak, to the beating of drums and the sounding of trumpets, and, armed with spades and axes, fell upon a family of seven, the oldest eighty, the youngest nineteen, and, in an orgy of unrestrained fanaticism, literally hacked them to pieces.
Following closely upon this heinous crime, the like of which has not been witnessed since the close of the Heroic Age of the Faith, an official order has been issued by the Prime Minister's office in Tihrán, placing an interdiction against the employment of any Bahá'ís in government service, and ordering the instant dismissal of all who insist on adhering to their faith.
APPEALS TO THE AUTHORITIES OF IRAN AND TO THE UNITED NATIONS
These tragic, swiftly succeeding events have stirred the Bahá'í world to its foundations. Counter measures were immediately taken, and more than a thousand appeals were addressed by national and local assemblies as well as groups in all continents of the globe to the highest authorities in Persia, including the Sháh, in the hope of stemming the tide of persecution threatening to engulf the entire Persian Bahá'í Community. Furthermore, a wide-spread campaign of publicity was initiated in expectation that its repercussions would exert a restraining influence on the perpetrators of these monstrous acts. An appeal was moreover lodged with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the Social and Economic Council, copies of which were delivered to the representatives of the member nations of the Council, to the Director of the Human Rights Division, as well as to non-governmental organizations with consultative status. More recently, President Eisenhower, who, as reported in the press, was the first to make mention of the attacks launched against the Faith, was appealed to by the American National Spiritual Assembly as well as by all groups and local assemblies throughout the United States, to intervene on behalf of the victims of these persecutions.
A WHOLLY DEDICATED, INFLEXIBLE RESOLVE
Faced with this organized and vicious onslaught on the followers, the fundamental verities, the shrines and administrative institutions of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in the land of His birth, the American Bahá'í Community cannot at this hour relax for a moment in the discharge of the multiple and sacred responsibilities it has pledged itself to fulfill under the Ten-Year Plan and must indeed display a still greater degree of consecration and a nobler spirit of self-sacrifice in the pursuit of the goals it has set itself to achieve.
A wider dispersal throughout the length and breadth of its homeland; a more strenuous effort to consolidate the superb achievements in the newly opened virgin territories in various continents and islands of the globe; a still greater exertion to expedite the translation and publication of Bahá'í literature into the European and American Indian languages assigned to it under the Plan; a more determined thrust towards the vital objectives of acquiring the site of the future Mother Temple of Sweden and of purchasing the remaining national &Haziratu'l-Quds in the goal countries of Europe, as well as in Central and South America; a concerted endeavor to establish national Bahá'í endowments in these European and Latin American countries; a ceaseless concentration of attention on the incorporation of firmly established local spiritual assemblies throughout the United States and in the goal countries of Europe, and a closer collaboration with the administrative agencies functioning in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Japan and Alaska for the forthcoming formation of the European, Latin American, Southwest African, Japanese and Alaskan national spiritual assemblies; a more intensive campaign to win over to the Faith representatives of American Indian tribes and of the Basque and Gypsy races--above all, a concerted, wholly dedicated, inflexible resolve to win the allegiance of a far greater number of adherents to the Faith it has espoused and to insure a spectacular multiplication of groups, isolated centers and local assemblies in the vast area assigned to its care--through these, more than through anything else, can the American Bahá'í Community--the recognized champion of the persecuted and the down-trodden, and the standard-bearer of the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh--offset, to a marked degree, the severe losses the Faith has sustained in the land of its birth, and bring an abiding and much needed consolation to the countless hearts that bleed, in this hour of test and trial, throughout the length and breadth of that bitterly troubled land. "SAVE THE PERSECUTED FUND"
Not only through its superlative achievements in these diversified and vital spheres of Bahá'í activity, but also through the support given by its members to the "Save the Persecuted Fund" recently established for the succor of the orphaned, the widowed and the dispossessed, and to which the entire Bahá'í world has been invited to contribute, can this stout-hearted, vigilant, self-sacrificing community which on similar past occasions has so nobly discharged its responsibilities, proclaim to an unbelieving and skeptical world, and particularly to its redoubtable, implacable adversaries, the unconquerable spirit which animates it, the inflexible resolve which spurs it on, in the hour of trial, in the service of a Faith to which it stands wholly dedicated.
THE FIRST HOUSE OF WORSHIP IN AFRICA
Over and above such meritorious accomplishments, the members of this community are called upon to demonstrate their solidarity with their sister communities in East and West, and indeed to assert their divinely conferred primacy, through assuming a leading role in providing for the erection of the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkár to be raised in the heart of the African continent--a continent which by virtue of the innumerable exploits which, throughout its length and breadth, colored and white, individuals as well as assemblies, have achieved in recent years, and which, with the sole exception of Australasia, is the only continent deprived of the blessings of such an institution, fully deserves to possess its own independent House of Worship--a House that will gather within its walls members of communities whose prowess has, in the opening years of the second epoch of the Formative Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation, eclipsed the feats performed in both the southern part of the Western Hemisphere and the European continent, and conferred such luster on the annals of our Faith.
Africa, long dormant and neglected, and now stirring in its potential spiritual strength, is, at this very hour, under the eyes of the clamorous multitudes of the adversaries of the Faith pressing for its extirpation in the land of its birth, being called upon to redress the scales so weighed down through the ferocious and ignoble acts of bloodthirsty ecclesiastical oppressors. The erection of such an institution, at such a time, through the combined efforts of the undismayed, undeflected and undefeatable upholders of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh in both the East and the West, posterity will regard as a worthy answer to the challenge flung down by its bitterest, most powerful and inveterate enemies. Let them give heed to the warnings and admonitions uttered, at an hour of similar danger, by the Founder of the Faith Himself, on the morrow of His third banishment, and addressed in clear and unmistakable language to the "Minister of the Sháh" in Constantinople: "Dost thou believe thou hast the power to frustrate His will, to hinder Him from executing His judgment, or to deter Him from exercising His sovereignty? Pretendest thou that aught in the heavens or in the earth can resist His Faith? No, by Him Who is the eternal Truth! Nothing whatsoever in the whole of creation can thwart His purpose.... Know thou, moreover, that He it is Who hath by His own behest, created all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth. How can, then, the thing that hath been created at His bidding prevail against Him?"
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
Indeed this fresh ordeal that has, in pursuance of the mysterious dispensations of Providence, afflicted the Faith, at this unexpected hour, far from dealing a fatal blow to its institutions or existence, should be regarded as a blessing in disguise, not a "calamity" but a "providence" of God, not a devastating flood but a "gentle rain" on a "green pasture," a "wick" and "oil" unto the "lamp" of His Faith, a "nurture" for His Cause, "water for that which has been planted in the hearts of men," a "crown set on the head" of His Messenger for this Day.
Whatever its outcome, this sudden commotion that has seized the Bahá'í world, that has revived the hopes and emboldened the host of the adversaries of the Faith intent on quenching its light and obliterating it from the face of the earth, has served as a trumpet call in the sounding of which the press of the world, the cries of its vociferous enemies, the public remonstrances of both men of good will and those in authority have joined, proclaiming far and wide its existence, publicizing its history, defending its verities, unveiling its truths, demonstrating the character of its institutions and advertising its aims and purposes.
Seldom, if at any time since its inception, has such a widespread publicity been accorded the infant Faith of God, now at long last emerging from an obscurity which has so long and so grievously oppressed it. Not even the dramatic execution of its Herald, nor the blood-bath which, in circumstances of fiendish cruelty followed quickly in its wake in the city of Tihrán, nor even the widely advertised travels of the Center of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant in the West, succeeded in focusing the attention of the world and in inviting the notice of those in high places as has this latest manifestation of God's inscrutable will, this marvelous demonstration of His invincible power, this latest move in His Own Major Plan, using both the mighty and lowly as pawns in His world-shaping game, for the fulfillment of His immediate purpose and the eventual establishment of His Kingdom on earth.
For though the newly launched World Spiritual Crusade, constituting at best only the Minor Plan in the execution of the Almighty's design for the redemption of mankind--has, as a result of this turmoil, paralyzing temporarily the vast majority of the organized followers of Bahá'u'lláh within His birthplace, suffered a severe setback--yet the over-all Plan of God, moving mysteriously and in contrast to the orderly and well-known processes of a clearly devised Plan, has received an impetus the force of which only posterity can adequately assess.
A Faith, which, for a quarter of a century, has, in strict accordance with the provisions of the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, been building its Administrative Order--the embryonic World Order of Bahá'u'lláh--through the laborious erection of its local and national administrative institutions; which set out, in the opening years of the second epoch of this Formative Age, through the launching of a series of national Plans as well as a World Crusade, to utilize the machinery of its institutions, created patiently and unobtrusively in the course of the first epoch of that Age, for the systematic propagation of its teachings in all the continents and chief islands of the globe--such a Faith finds itself, whilst in the midst of discharging its second and vital task, thrust into the limelight of an unprecedented publicity--a publicity which its followers never anticipated, which will involve them in fresh and inescapable responsibilities, and which will, no doubt, reinforce the tasks which they have undertaken, in recent years, to discharge.
To the intensification of such a publicity in which non-Baha'i agencies and even the avowed adversaries of the Faith are playing so active a part, the members of the American Bahá'í Community, the outstanding defenders of the Faith, blessed with a freedom so cruelly denied the vast majority of their brethren, and equipped with the means and instruments needed to make that publicity effective, must fully and decisively contribute. The echoes of the mighty trumpet blast, now so providentially sounded, awakening a multitude of the ignorant and the skeptical, both high and low, to the existence and significance of the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, must under no circumstances, and at such a propitious hour, be allowed to die out. Nay, their reverberations must be followed up by further calls designed to proclaim, in still more resounding tones, the aims and tenets of this glorious Cause, and to expose, whilst avoiding any attack on the ruling authorities, even more convincingly than before, the barbarous ferocity of the acts which have been perpetrated, as well as the odious fanaticism which has inspired such conduct.
Strenuous and urgent as is the task falling to the lot of a community already so over-burdened with a multiplicity of unavoidable obligations, the possibilities involved in the assumption of this supplementary responsibility are truly tremendous, the benefits that are destined to accrue from its proper discharge are immense, and the reward inestimably rich.
Let them remember, as they pursue diligently this sacred task, that such a publicity, following closely upon such dire tribulations, afflicting so large a number of their brethren, in so sacred a land, cannot but prove to be a prelude, however slow the process involved, to the emancipation of these same valiant sufferers from the galling fetters of an antiquated religious orthodoxy, which, great as has been its decline in the course of over a century, still wields considerable power and exercises a widespread influence in high circles as well as among the masses. Such an emancipation, which cannot be confined to Bahá'u'lláh's native land, will, in varying measure, have its repercussions in Islamic countries, or may be even preceded by a similar phenomenon in neighboring territories, hastening and adding fresh impetus to the bursting of the bonds that fetter the freedom of the followers of God's infant Faith.
WORLD RECOGNITION OF THE FAITH
Such a consummation will, in its turn, pave the way for the recognition of that Faith as an independent religion established on a basis of absolute equality with its sister religions, enjoying the unqualified protection of the civil authorities for its followers and its institutions, and fully empowered, in all matters related to personal status, to apply without any reservations the laws and ordinances ordained in the Most Holy Book.
That the members of the American Bahá'í Community--the outstanding protagonists of the Cause of God; the stout-hearted defenders of its integrity, its claims and its rights, the champion-builders of its Administrative Order; the standard-bearers of its crusading hosts; the torchbearers of its embryonic civilization; the chief succorers of the down-trodden, the needy and the fettered among its followers--that the members of such a community, may, whilst discharging, fully and unflinchingly, their specific tasks in accordance with the provisions of the Ten-Year Plan, seize the present God-sent opportunity, and hasten, through a proper discharge of this supplementary task, the consummation of such ardent hopes for so signal a victory, is a prayer constantly in my heart, and a wish which I treasure above all others.
[August 20, 1955]