This limitless universe is like the human body, all the members of which are connected and linked with one another with the greatest strength. How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another! In the same way, the parts of this infinite universe have their members and elements connected with one another, and influence one another spiritually and materially. – Abdu’l-Baha
Ever since small boats could sail beyond the horizon, each person who has journeyed to a new home has a unique story, with their own motivation for leaving the home of their ancestors and for starting out as a foreigner in a new land. There is sometimes a push: famine or war. There is sometimes a pull: freedom or economic stability. For Baha’is, the strongest reason for their exodus from Iran over the past fifty years is religious persecution. Continue reading
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:
Mehraeen Mavaddat-Mottahedin’s heartbreaking account of her husband’s suffering of unspeakable persecution, imprisonment and death is now being shared in English from its original in Persian, after 34 years. Flame of Tests: The Story of Farhang Mavaddat is a love story. With courage and tenderness, Mehraeen’s memoir tells the story of her husband, a fifth-generation Baha’i and a chemical engineer respected for his intelligence and upright character, who was arrested, tortured, unjustly tried, and executed simply for his love of Baha’u’llah.
It was my honour to speak with Mehraeen about her book and to learn more about her book. Continue reading
A few days ago in Los Angeles, USA, I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of an exciting new documentary film called “Changing the World One Wall at a Time”. The film is about one of the world’s largest street art campaigns held over the last year to raise awareness for the thousands of young Baha’is who are barred from higher education in Iran because of their beliefs.
The campaign was called “Education Is Not A Crime“, and it was initiated by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian Canadian journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist, who although not a Baha’i himself, feels that the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran (Iran’s largest religious minority) is emblematic of many of the problems Iran faces. Continue reading
Baha’is around the world have joined the global “Not Another Year” campaign calling for the release of the seven Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Iran for nothing more than being a Baha’i.
We decided to share just a few examples of some of the many actions taken by Baha’is globally in an effort to bring awareness to their wrongful imprisonment. Continue reading
I am so excited to let everyone know about a new upcoming documentary being directed by Flavio Azm Rassekh, a Brazilian-Iranian Filmmaker. The documentary is about Afro-Iranian musician Saeid Shanbehzadeh, and through Shanbehzadeh’s experience as an Afro-Iranian, plus his friendship with Flavio, the film not only explores the connection between Afro-Iranian and Afro-Brazilian culture, but it also describes Shanbehzadeh’s first encounters with the Baha’i community, and demonstrates how over the years, like the population of Iran, his views on the Baha’is have changed. This story is a metaphor for the Iranian people’s re-discovery of the legacy and potential impact of the Baha’i Faith, and it deals with issues of prejudice and self-reflection. Continue reading
It is impossible for me to imagine what it would feel like to be wrongfully imprisoned for nine years. Nine years is such a long time. In that time period, all of my nephews and nieces have been born, friends and family members have passed away, and loved ones have achieved major milestones like completing their educations, winning artistic prizes, and changing careers. Nine years is a long time to miss out on a life that is rightfully yours. Nine years is a long time not to be able to hold a newly-born loved one in your arms, to offer a shoulder of strength during a time of grief, or to watch a child blow out their birthday cake candles.
It is with heavy hearts that on May 14, we mark the 9th anniversary of the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of the seven Baha’i leaders of Iran (known as the Yaran, which means “the Friends”). These seven Baha’is made up the entire membership of the now-disbanded ad hoc group tending to the spiritual and social needs of the Iranian Baha’i community (in the absence of formally elected Baha’i leadership which was banned in 1983), and they were arrested and have been imprisoned since 2008 for nothing more than being Baha’is. Currently, about 90 Baha’is are also imprisoned for their beliefs.
We all can lend a voice in helping to end this injustice and to bring attention to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and those who suffer human rights violations. In observance of the ninth anniversary of the Baha’i leaders’ incarceration, the Baha’i International Community is launching a global campaign in which we can all participate. Continue reading
‘Education is Not a Crime’ is a new campaign featuring voices of support for Iran’s Baha’is from around the world.
The campaign centres around the fact that Iran’s government stops Baha’is from teaching or studying at public universities, so the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was established in 1987 as an informal university to give young Baha’is a chance to learn. Continue reading
Last week in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to attend the final screening of The Gardener, a film by multi award-winning Iranian film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
Makhmalbaf has a long list of movies and awards under his belt including films such as Kandahar and The Day I Became A Woman, and his latest film/documentary The Gardener, has been getting a lot of attention as well, especially as it was predominantly filmed in the Baha’i gardens in Haifa and Akko, Israel.
Using the beautiful Baha’i gardens in Israel as a backdrop, from the very beginning of the film Makhmalbaf and his son Maysam set out to learn more about the Baha’i Faith and ask why the Baha’is have been persecuted in the the birthplace of their faith, Iran since the Faith’s inception. Primarily however, the film is not so much about the Baha’i Faith, but more about the power of religion in general, and its role in the world both historically and in the present, and its transformative effect on humanity, and whether we need religion at all.
Using very simple cameras in order to convey a very grassroots and simple effect, Makhmalbaf also uses a lot of symbolism throughout his personal journey of discovery. As with all artistic endeavors, the effects of an artists work on the receiver is inevitably varied, but for me personally, the film struck a certain chord. Perhaps because the main character was a Baha’i volunteer working in the Baha’i gardens from Papua New Guinea (the country where I was raised), but also because it was mainly filmed in the gardens surrounding the Baha’i Holy Places in the Holy Land, (where I’ve had the fortune of spending a number of years and which I miss immensely), but most importantly for me was the fact that I really felt that Makhmalbaf was sincere in his quest to question the purpose of religion, and that he had a sincere concern for the plight of the Baha’is of Iran and the persecution they continue to face, even though he is not a Baha’i himself. Continue reading
As I sit in a comfortable chair and write this, I am well aware of the fact that I’m fortunate to live in a country where I’m able to enjoy the freedom to practice my religious beliefs as a Baha’i – and even run a blog about my faith – without the fear of being whisked away in the middle of the night by a group of armed men.
Unfortunately however, the luxury of religious freedom is not shared by Baha’is everywhere, and in Iran, the birthplace of our Faith, Baha’is (as well as other religious minorities) continue to face discrimination and persecution.
It has now been five years that seven Baha’is were imprisoned by the Iranian authorities, and they are serving a 20 year sentence. Yes, a 20 year sentence!
Five years behind bars is a long time, in fact it’s five years too many, especially, when you consider that these individuals were arrested and imprisoned simply because of their religious beliefs.
As I look at a picture of these seven imprisoned Baha’is, I wonder what they are like as individuals – mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, each with their own likes and dislikes, fears and aspirations, skills and passions, humor and personalities. There’s Fariba, a developmental psychologist and a mother of three; Jamaloddin, a once-successful factory owner who lost his business after the Islamic Revolution because of his belief in the Baha’i Faith; Afif, who ran his father-in-law’s textile factory because as a Baha’i he was unable to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor; Saeid, father of three and an agricultural engineer who was running a successful farming equipment business; Mahvash, mother of two, a teacher and school principal who was dismissed from public education for being a Baha’i; Vahid, a father, an optometrist and the owner of an optical shop; Behrouz, a former social worker who lost his government job in the early 1980s, also because he was a Baha’i. Continue reading