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In two columns on Baha’i faith, one feels lacking

October 31, 2011

Two columns on the Baha’i faith this weekend. One, a very serious report on Iran’s unrelenting persecution of its Baha’i minority (it ran in the WSJ, which doesn’t allow non-subscribers full access but can be read in entirety here); the other, a brief overview of the faith by an Austin woman who is trying to introduce her teen daughters to the world’s religions (on the Austin American-Statesman faith page).

The latter piece, by Anne Elizabeth Wynn, combined the family’s experiences with Baha’is AND Mormons. I can see pairing the two religions in a column given that they emerged around the same time and both are often reviled by the religious groups from which they sprang (Christianity and Islam). BUT they are, of course, very, very different faiths. AND I would prefer to see them each explored separately because it would be helpful to understand them in their current cultural and political contexts (Mormon presidential candidates and the claims of some conservative Christians that Mormonism is a cult and the oppression Baha’is are facing in Iran).

It was nice to see Wynn highlight the brilliant Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon (a dear friend of mine) in her column. But given that Khotan introduced her to a fellow Baha’i who had recently moved here from Iran, the omission of any mention of persecution is disappointing. Consider the horrendous situation for Iranian Baha’is as Firuz Kazemzadeh lays it out in his WSJ column:

While many Iranian citizens are targets of repression by the current regime, the treatment of Bahais, the country’s largest non-Muslim religious community, is a special case. Unlike Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, who have certain limited rights under the Islamic Constitution, Bahais were declared unprotected infidels immediately following the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Bahais have faced persecution in Iran since their religion was founded more than a century and a half ago, but it was never as systematic as in the last 30 years. Since the Islamic Revolution, more than 200 Bahai leaders have been put to death. The regime has outlawed Bahai institutions, confiscated their properties, desecrated their cemeteries, demolished their holy places. Bahais are subject to constant state-sanctioned pressure to recant their faith.

This is a key part of the Baha’i story today. Religious literacy is so important, and I applaud Wynn for her efforts. And I also realize she’s not writing as a journalist but as a mother attempting to illuminate herself and her kids about different faiths. But these religions don’t exist in a vacuum.

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