Seeking Brotherhood, Finding Hate.
M ajestic and magical, it rises 134 feet from a hilltop in the New Delhi suburb of Bahapur, a marble-petaled lotus dubbed by one internationally eminent civil engineer “the Taj Mahal of the 20th century”
It is the new Baha’i House of Worship, inaugurated Dec. 24, 1987, in the presence of believers from around the world. They gathered in the capital of India to pray for world peace and to remember the Baha’is in Iran, subjected to persecution, torture and death.
The architect of the building is an Iranian Baha’i, Fariburz Sahha. “The lotus is so exquisitely beautiful,” he says. “And how does it grow? It grows in a swamp and itraises its head out of slime absolutely clean and perfect. Now this is what the manifestation of God is in the world.”
The New Delhi creation is the seventh Baha’i House of Worship to be built, declares Katharine Bigelow, a spokesman for the Baha’i community in the United States. It is also the biggest and most splendid. Others are in the United States, West Germany. Panama, Australia, Western Samoa and Uganda. About 1 million Baha’is live in India—a quarter of the world total. In 1987, the United States there are about 100,000 followers, with the largest concentrations in South Carolina, California, Texas, Georgia and Illinois.
Bahaisrn arose in Iran in the 19th century and was looked on, from the beginning, with suspicion and hostility. In the eyes of Shia Muslims, the Baha’is are simply heretics and apostates. As early as 1962, Ayatollah Khomeini declared, “The independence of the state and the economy are threatened by a takeover by the Zionists, who in Iran have appeared in the guise of Baha’is,’ “ says Shaul Bakhash, author of “The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran arid the Islamic Revolution.”
Since the overthrow of the shah in 1979, (eight short years ago) the Islamic revolution has put to death more than 200 Baha’is. “In 1986 six Baha’i were killed, three officially executed, three at the hands of mobs,” says Firuz Kazemzadeh, professor of Russian history at Yale University and vice president of the National Spiritual Assembly, the top body of the Baha’is in the United States. “Some 765 are in prison, most of them in the Evin prison in Tehran and most of them periodi- cally tortured Most of those in prison are accused of committing espionage. At the very least, the Baha’is face a daily ordeal of insults, unemployment and denial of education. “There are no Baha’i enrolled in any of the universities of the Islamic Republic. and those in primary and secondary schools are often badly treated,” reports Kazemzadeh.
Of a total Baha’i population in Iran of some 350.000 before 1979, at least 30,000 have fled the country, despite the fact that Baha’is are denied passports or the right to emigrate. A spokesman tbr the Iranian delegation to the United Nations insists that there is no persecution in Iran of individuals or of groups. But, he adds, “this is not to say that the Baha’i are the most favored group in Iran, given our experience of them in the past and present century.
From a historical perspective, the current persecution of the Baha’is is not the worst The Baha’is developed among the followers of a 19th century sect known as the Babis, named after their leader, the Bab. Between 1848, when the Bah was declared a heretic, and 1852, when government-sponsored repression eased, at least3,000 of his followers were put to death. Babi and Baha’i belief both evolved from the Shia cult of the hidden imam. Shia Muslims believe that the succession to the Prophet Muhammad as leader of Islam belonged to the descendants of his daughter, Fatimah, by her marriage to his cousin, Ali. There were 12 such successors to Muhammad imams —and the 12th, the Iranian Shia maintain, disappeared about 878. He has not died but is hidden and will return as the Mahdi, the divinely guided one, to usher in an age of perfect justice.
In the early 19th century, some Iranians thought that the appearance of the Mahdi was imminent, and that somewhere there
Sorry! An error removed the balance of this article that appeared in INSIGHT Magazine, January 26, 1987, page. 60.
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