Iran Press Watch reports the disturbing case of Sina Haghighi who was expelled from school in Iran for Baha’i activities which took place off of campus-
The principle of the school summoned Sina on Tuesday, 2 December 2008, prior to the final exams of the first semester, and informed him that the Board of Education had contacted the school and informed them that Sina was no longer permitted to attend classes or participate in the forthcoming end-of-semester exams. When Sina inquired about the reason for this decision, the principle stated that he was unaware of the details and added, “You must ask the Information Office of the Board of Education.”
When Sina and his elders referred to the aforesaid Information Office, the person in charge stated, “Religious proselytizing is forbidden. He has engaged in proselytizing.”
When asked, “Who has he taught?” the Office responded, “He has given out pamphlets and CDs.”
And when the Baha’is said, “What do events outside of school have to do with what is taking place inside the school?” the response was, “Since it impacts students and their religious convictions, then this is a matter for the Ministry of Education.”
This ruling implies that any Baha’i child practicing their faith is denied an education in Iran.
The Associated Press reports that Samuel Huntington, a political scientist and author of “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” passed away at the age of 81 on Wednesday. Huntingdon famously said
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.
Given Huntington’s profession as a political scientist it is curious that politics and economics are dismissed as fundamental sources of conflict in favour of culture. I am not aware of any major conflict of the last few hundred years which was primarily fought over culture. It seems more accurate to say that cultural (or religious) differences often provide a fig leaf for the political or economic ambitions of the individuals involved. This being the case “The Clash of Civilizations” thesis seems unduly pessimistic about cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is part of our common humanity. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh addressed to the peoples of the world
Ye are all fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, the flowers of one garden.
We are all the flowers of the same garden and not all the flowers are the same.
Double-faced Mithraic relief. Rome, second to third century CE. Louvre Museum.
Having an interest in such matters I was intrigued to come across the phenomenon of Neo-Mithraism. Although popularly considered to be an ancient Iranian mystery religion which was exported to the Roman Empire there is debate in scholarly circles as to whether Mithraism started in Iran at all. For example Roger Beck says in the Encyclopædia Iranica that
For most of the twentieth century the major problem addressed by scholarship on both Roman Mithraism and the Iranian god Mithra was the question of continuity. Did Mithra-worship migrate from Iran to the Roman Empire in some institutional form or was Mithraism invented in the West (with a few Iranian trappings) as a new institution altogether?
Whatever it’s ultimate origins there seems be a revival of interest in Mithraism with a number of new books and journals being published recently. This includes one written by Anglo-Iranian author Payam Nabarz called ‘The Mysteries Of Mithras’. I wish the revival of Mithras good luck- though personally I favour a faith that originated in Iran more recently…
I have many muslim friends who are positive towards the Baha’i Faith. There have also been many acts of individual kindness by muslims to help the persecuted Baha’is of Iran. This is the spirit of The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights who say of their organisation-
The Muslim network for Baha’i rights is developed by a group of Muslim interfaith activists who believe in tolerance, coexistence and freedom. We created this site to promote human rights, religious freedom and respect within the Arab and Muslim world. We strongly believe that such values should apply it to all people equally regardless of their faith, cultural differences, political stance or nationality. We are making this effort not only as believers of freedom, but also for the sake of a better and more productive society, one that embraces diversity instead of stifling it by oppressing minorities.
Well done Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights!
The Associated Press has just reported that a key organizer of the 1994 Rwandan massacres has been convicted of “genocide and crimes against humanity”. The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced the former director of Rwanda’s Ministry of Defence, Theoneste Bagosora to life imprisonment for his role in the atrocities which claimed more than half a million lives. It has been a long time in coming but at least a form of justice has been seen to be done. I am reminded of the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who said
“…the community has the right of defense and of self-protection; moreover, the community has no hatred nor animosity for the murderer: it imprisons or punishes him merely for the protection and security of others. It is not for the purpose of taking vengeance upon the murderer, but for the purpose of inflicting a punishment by which the community will be protected. If the community and the inheritors of the murdered one were to forgive and return good for evil, the cruel would be continually ill-treating others, and assassinations would continually occur. Vicious people, like wolves, would destroy the sheep of God. The community has no ill-will and rancor in the infliction of punishment, and it does not desire to appease the anger of the heart; its purpose is by punishment to protect others so that no atrocious actions may be committed”.
“Some Answered Questions” US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990 reprint of pocket-size edition
It will shortly be the ‘Shab-e-Yaldā’ (or as it is also called in Persian the ‘Shab-e-Chelle’). This is the traditional Iranian celebration of the Winter Solstice and occurs each year around the 21st December. Shab-e-Yaldā can be translated into English as the ‘Night of Birth’. (‘Yaldā’ itself being considered by some scholars to be a loan word of Syriac origin). The modern ‘Shab-e-Yaldā’ is essentially a social event marked by the eating of fresh fruit such as watermelons. However the deeper spiritual meaning of the festival can be seen as that of rebirth and renewal. The writer Massoume Price describes the historical roots of the ‘Shab-e-Yaldā’ in the following way-
“In most ancient cultures, including Persia, the start of the solar year has been marked to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and the renewal of the Sun. For instance, four thousand years ago the Egyptians celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time of the year. They set the length of the festival at 12 days, to reflect the 12 divisions in their sun calendar. They decorated with greenery, using palms with 12 shoots as a symbol of the completed year, since a palm was thought to put forth a shoot each month… The Persians adopted their annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own Zoroastrian religion”.
As an incurable idealist I am happy to read Gideon Rachman at FT.com stating that “for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible”. Much of Rachman’s attention is on the difficulty of over-coming national resistance to focussing on international priorities. He writes that “the world’s most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen’s political identity remains stubbornly local”. I think the average citizen could be forgiven for this stubbornness if he or she sees world government as a kind of Globalism Mk 2. However there is another vision of world order on offer of which Shoghi Effendi said-
“Its purpose is neither to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s hearts, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world. It repudiates excessive centralization on one hand, and disclaims all attempts at uniformity on the other. Its watchword is unity in diversity…”
“The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh” by Shoghi Effendi US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1991 first pocket-size edition Pages: 206
Iran Press Watch reports that human rights activists in Iran met to discuss freedom of ideas and the rights of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic. The meeting was held at the premises of the “Organization of Iran’s Graduates” in Tehran. This meeting took place in the context of the recent legalization of the death penalty for apostates from Islam and ongoing religious oppression in Iran. The main speaker was Dr. Hashem Aghajari, a muslim scholar and professor of history at the “Tarbyat-e Moddaress” (teacher training college). Dr Aghajari said that the main purpose of the meeting was to “promote a progressive and compassionate view of Divine religions based on peaceful co-existence among all people”. I am impressed by the courage of Dr. Aghajari who was also reported as referring to the views of Ayatollah Montazeri about the civil rights of the Baha’i community in Iran. Dr. Aghajari is quoted as saying “Here we are talking about the land. Citizenry rights are not just civil rights. This means that Iran is a land that belongs to all the people of Iran. These people own the land and rule the land therefore each and everyone is a citizen of this land.”