'O SON OF JUSTICE! Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart’s desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved'.~ Bahá’u’lláh
I am saddened by the continuing persecution of Christians in Iran.
The Baha’i International Community has joined the call for the release of Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor from Rasht, Iran. Pastor Nadarkhani, who is the father of two young children, leads a network of house churches. He was found guilty of apostasy – “turning his back on Islam” – and “converting Muslims to Christianity,” and sentenced to death in September 2010. Iran’s Supreme Court recently asked for a re-examination of the case to establish whether or not he had been a practising Muslim adult before he converted to Christianity. The court ruled he was not but, nevertheless, is still guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry. The case has sparked strong condemnation from governments, organizations and religious leaders around the world.
I have just read the Human Rights Watch World Report 2011 and it paints a bleak picture of the situation in Iran.
The government denies adherents of the Baha’i faith–Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority–freedom of religion. In August the judiciary convicted seven leaders of the national Baha’i organization to 20 years each in prison; their sentences were later reduced to 10 years each. The government accused them of espionage without providing evidence and denied their lawyers’ requests to conduct a prompt and fair trial. Iranian laws continue to discriminate against religious minorities, including Sunni Muslims, in employment and education. Sunni Muslims, about 10 percent of the population, cannot construct mosques in major cities. In 2010, security forces detained several members of Iran’s largest Sufi sect, the Nematollahi Gonabadi order, and attacked their houses of worship. They similarly targeted converts to Christianity for questioning and arrest. The government restricts cultural and political activities among the country’s Azeri, Kurdish, and Arab minorities, including the organizations that focus on social issues. Sexual minorities also face a precarious situation. Law enforcement and judiciary officials discriminate, both in law and in practice, against Iran’s vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Iran’s penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex acts, some of which are punishable by death. During the past few years, a steady stream of LGBT Iranians has sought refugee status in Turkey and are awaiting resettlement in third countries.
When I first read the ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ as a young boy I must confess that I did not read them as allegory- being childishly ignorant of the author’s intent. ( According to C.S. Lewis “The whole Narnian story is about Christ..).’ Instead I enjoyed the series as simple stories of fantasy and adventure.
During a pre-release interview for the film version of ‘The Voyage Of the Dawn Treader’ Liam Neeson, who voices Aslan caused something of a stir when he said that Aslan does represent a Christ-like figure but also symbolises for him Muhammad, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.
As a Baha’i I certainly share Neeson’s sentiments. I remember when watching ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ a few years ago how taken I was by Aslan as a representation of the universal self- sacrificing spiritual teacher- reminding me of Bahá’u’lláh in chains in the Shah’s dungeon or the crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. (This is of course a recurring motif in classical religions- for example the sacrifice and rebirth of Osiris). I was also struck by the image of winter being rolled back by a spiritual spring-time – a common theme in the writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá who wrote
Just as the surface of the material world becomes dark and dreary, the soil dormant, the trees naked and bare and no beauty or freshness remain to cheer the darkness and desolation, so the winter of the spiritual cycle witnesses the death and disappearance of divine growth and extinction of the light and love of God. But again the cycle begins and a new springtime appears. In it the former springtime has returned, the world is resuscitated, illumined and attains spirituality; religion is renewed and reorganized, hearts are turned to God, the summons of God is heard and life is again bestowed upon man.
In very similar circumstances to the recent detention of Baha’is in Iran, two Christian social workers have been imprisoned in Evin prison since the 15th of July. Apparently their ‘crimes’ are ’apostasy and violations of national security’…
The independent online Persian news agency Rooz, which is critical of the regime, reported on July 15 that two Christian women, 30-year-old Marsiye Aminsadeh and 27-year-old Mariam Rostampur, had been arrested in Tehran about four months earlier. The pair are social workers who without pay, help people in trouble regardless of race or religion. The two Christians were charged with apostasy and violations of national security and are being held at the notorious Evin Prison. Interrogated on a daily basis, they are held under very harsh conditions with no access to legal or medical assistance. According to Rooz, there are currently at least 50 Christians in Iranian prisons in Tehran, Schiras, Maschad and Urumije, among others.
I am concerned to learn that according to Dr. Richard Land, a commissioner with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the state of religious freedom in Iran has “worsened” during the past year.
“In Iran, government rhetoric and actions worsened conditions for nearly all non-Shi’a religious groups, most notably for the Baha’is, as well as Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, and members of the Jewish community. The Commission has decided to designate Iran as a country of particular concern again because the situation has worsened,” said Land.
He added that the Iranian Parliament has been considering a law since September 2008, which includes a bill enshrining the death penalty for apostasy. “This proposed penal code should be rescinded,” said Land.
“The Commission urges the US government to call for the release of Muslim minorities and dissidents, including those Sufi Muslims in prison, as well as Ayatollah Boroujerdi, a senior Shi’a cleric who advocates the separation of religion and state,” he continued.
“The government of Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based on primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused,” USCIRF’s 2009 report concluded.
I am very concerned to learn from the Telegraph.co.uk that Iranian Christian Ramtin Soodman is being held in prison in Mashad, Iran having being arrested on August 21. Although like the Bahá’í prisoners he has not been formally charged, his sister Rashin fears that her bother may be executed for the ‘crime’ of apostasy as was her father Hossein Soodman in 1990. Hossein Soodman converted to Christianity at the age of 13. Rashin is especially concerned for the fate of her brother as the Iranian parliament recently passed a bill called the “Islamic Penal Code”, which codifies the death penalty for any male Iranian who leaves the Islamic faith. (Women would ‘merely’ be sentenced to life imprisonment). Depressingly the new law was passed with an overwhelming majority of 196 to 7 votes…