June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Our Friend Mona is a new biography about Mona Mahmudnizhad, an Iranian teenager who was killed 35 years ago because of her beliefs, such as the universal spiritual education of children.
Mona was a remarkable young woman, known for her love of children, her dedication and devotion to the principles of the Baha’i Faith, her courage, and her sweet voice. She was arrested and eventually executed along with nine other Baha’i women in Shiraz; they were forced to watch each other hang in a final attempt to persuade them to recant their Faith. Mona, the youngest of the women at only 16 years old, asked to go last. She was killed on June 18, 1983.
Azadeh Rohanian Perry knew Mona and Our Friend Mona is a biography of this radiant lion-hearted young woman. Co-written with her husband, Mark Perry, Our Friend Mona shares poignant details of Mona’s story that you may never have read before. I remember watching Doug Cameron’s music video Mona With the Children when I was a child, and her story is etched on my heart. I am so thankful to Azadeh (or Azi, as she is affectionately known) and Mark to creating this book and for taking the time to tell us a little bit about it:
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
We live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I work as a clinic manager in the Pediatric Department at the UNC School of Dentistry. I enjoy being a children’s class teacher and accompanying youth in service to their community. I grew up in Shiraz, Iran and was in 5th grade when the Islamic Revolution came in 1979. That was a time of great difficulty for the Baha’is, and my family and friends were deeply affected. I also had the chance to be around heroes and martyrs from our time. I escaped to Pakistan in 1987 and eventually emigrated to Australia, where I lived until we got married.
I’m originally from New Hampshire, but I love it here. I teach dramatic art at UNC-Chapel Hill and work as a dramaturge with Playmakers Repertory Company there. Like Azi, I love to work with young people in our community. In my spare time, I pull weeds in our yard and occasionally write something that someone somewhere might put on a stage.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to put this book together?
Mona’s story has been so important in our lives. I was a single graduate student studying playwriting in Iowa when I started writing a play about Mona. I really struggled to tell the story the right way, and even after a year didn’t seem to be making much progress. I went on pilgrimage and met Azi there. We had this special moment where I mentioned I had written this play, and she told me she knew Mona. I had never known anyone who knew Mona, and here we are watching the sun rise over Mt Carmel together. So Mona has been with us from the beginning.
When Mark told me he wrote the play about Mona, it brought so much joy to my heart because I realized she was not forgotten. We work with a lot of youth, and we’re trying to teach them about the value of life and service, and I feel like this book about Mona can help a lot of young people. Mona was an example of a pure human being, and her life was focused on service and love, but she also had passion for education and for music… She was a very normal young person in many ways.
What really confirmed it was the number of stories that Mona’s mother and sister shared with people inside and outside Iran. There was all this unpublished material in English and in Persian we had in this big binder. So Azi translated the parts that were in Persian and I started putting it into some order.
Baha’i Blog: What’s something that you learned during the process of putting this book together?
I understood more deeply the amount of love Mona had for humanity. Her pure soul. Her love. And also how much love we have for Mona.
I learned how much Mona’s mother sacrificed to get the story out there, along with her sister Taraneh.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope people will take away from this book?
I hope people get to know Mona, so they feel closer to her and even call on her for assistance in their lives and in their service. There are other martyrs as well, and I hope they get to know them too.
I hope they’ll be inspired to persevere with patience and love in their efforts to bring humanity together—however that looks in their lives.
Baha’i Blog: I read your play, A Dress for Mona,and was very moved by it. What other projects are you currently working on?
I have a company called Drama Circle, which is a small press and an online resource at dramacircle.org. Drama Circle has published several of my plays including A New Dress for Mona (2016), The Will of Bernard Boynton (2015), plus a compilation called The Lover at the Wall. That includes On the Rooftop, a one man play about Hand of the Cause William Sears, and an ensemble play called Band of Gold. I would love to see that latter play performed for the Baha’i community, because it deals so specifically with the topic of Baha’i marriage and community—these two families are becoming one, while their marriages are all in flux. Most recently, I wrote a one-act play called Twin Lights for the 200th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s Birth.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you both so much for sharing this with us! If you’d like to purchase a copy of ‘Our Friend Mona’, you can find it here on Amazon.
If you’d like to watch Doug Cameron’s music video Mona With the Children, you can find it here. You may also be interested in Tom Francis’ cover of the song, which he sang in this Baha’i Blog Studio Session.
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.