Treatment of Bahais: A Test of Human Rights in Iran

On May 14, the Iranian government arrested six prominent Bahai leaders and accused them of "endangering national security." The timing of the arrests has led some to speculate that the Iranian government is trying to link these leaders to the April explosion at a religious center in Shiraz that killed fourteen people. Considering Iran's clerical establishment believes the existence of religious minorities undermines official Shiite orthodoxy, these latest arrests are just another black mark on Iran's long and dismal record of protecting individual human rights and religious freedom.

Bahais: A Threat to Shiite Orthodoxy

{josquote}Mehdi Khalaji is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the role of politics in contemporary Shiite clericalism in Iran and Iraq.{/josquote}

Unlike Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity, Bahaism emerged after Islam and claims to supercede the Shiite faith. A centerpiece of Shiism is the belief in the Twelfth (or Hidden) Imam, a descendent of Ali who is said to reappear at the end of days. The Bahai religion originated from Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-1850), who claimed to be the gateway to the Hidden Imam and then later proceeded to declare himself the Imam. By claiming to be this important religious figure, he challenged not only the clerical establishment but also the official interpretation of the sacred texts. Although the Bahai faith explicitly asks its worshipers not to participate in political activities, Persia's leaders at that time (the Qajar kings) viewed Shirazi's claims as a challenge to the legitimacy of the state, in so far as the king was the head of a Shiite country. Later on, the Pahlavi dynasty resisted clerical pressure to make anti-Bahaism official government policy.

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