The Right to Education: The Case of the Bahá ís in Iran - PDF

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The Right to Education: The Case of the Bahá ís in Iran BY TAHIRIH TAHRIRIHA-DANESH For the Bahá ís the world over, the most familiar case of obstruction of human rights is that of the members of the community

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The Right to Education: The Case of the Bahá ís in Iran BY TAHIRIH TAHRIRIHA-DANESH For the Bahá ís the world over, the most familiar case of obstruction of human rights is that of the members of the community living in Iran, the birthplace of the Bahá í Faith. Since the inception of the Bahá í Era in 1844, the central figures and their followers have faced continuous waves of religious persecution in various forms and levels of intensity. One of the most prominent features of these sixteen decades of religious intolerance is the harassment of Bahá í students and educators. Amongst the earliest state-sponsored actions of the post-revolution government in Iran, was the expulsion of thousands of members and children of members of the Bahá í community from educational institutions. The following paper takes a brief look at this phenomenon. The Islamic Dispensation began after the first encounter of Muhammad with Archangel Gabriel. It happened on the night of the 26 th of Ramadan in 610 AD, in a cave on Mount Hirra in what is known today as Saudi Arabia. The next twenty some years of Prophet Muhammad s ministry were filled with victories, wars and sacrifice. It is believed that he passed away in 632 AD and that immediately upon his passing, the Islamic nation faced its first division into two factions of Shiite and Sunni. This was a result of disagreement over the rightful successorship of the community of the Faithful. The Sunnis began the Caliphate regime starting with Abú Bakr, the father-in-law of Muhammad. The Shiite Muslims went on under the leadership of eleven Imams following the first Imam, Alí, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet. The twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-mihdí, the five-year-old son of Imam Hasan al-askari is said to be hiding in a hole in Samarra 1 in Arabia. It is believed that though invisible, he is living and when the earth is full of cruelty he will appear and bring justice Islam was introduced to Iran in 634 AD. Since then, Shiite Islam and the Muslim clergy or ulamá have remained as integral parts of the Iranian community and culture. The thirst for the return of the twelfth Imam has dominated Muslim activities in Iran over the past centuries. Many believe that the twelfth Imam will reappear one thousand years after his disappearance in 260 A.H. (844 AD). Around the 1840 s many ulamá and their followers began their search for the promised Qá im in Iran. Among them were the renowned scholar Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá í, his student Siyyid Kázim-i-Rashtí, and finally Mullá Husayn-i- Bushru i. The Bahá ís believe that Mullá Husayn was the first man to have met the Promised Qá im, Siyyid Alí Muhammad, or the Báb, in Shiraz, Iran. The Báb revealed to Mullá Husayn that He was the bearer of a Divine Message from God. The essence of His message was that the time had come to prepare for the establishment of justice on earth. This was to be accomplished through the teachings of one who was to come after Him. The Báb described His own station as the herald to a second Divine Manifestation whom He referred to as Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest. 3 The Iranian church-state sent various individuals to investigate the claims of the Báb. The most trusted and established amongst them left all worldly possessions and positions to follow His teachings. Similar to the early days of other divinely-revealed religions, the power-seeking clergy and the government felt threatened by the increasing popularity of the new faith, gained in a short period of time. Thus, the political and religious leadership of Iran began their opposition towards the Bábís. The promised Qá im, along with Mullá Husayn and thousands of followers, were killed at the hand of their fellow countrymen who still awaited the coming of the twelfth Imam, and who were encouraged by the ulamá to consider the Báb as an impostor. 4 With the public execution of the Báb, the ulamá and the government had hoped to put an end to the Bábí movement. However, shortly after the death of the Bab, one of his young followers named Mirzá Husayn Alí-i-Núrí, a nobleman, claimed to be Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest. He later came to be known as Bahá u lláh, the Glory of God. The Bahá ís around the world believe that He is the promised one of all ages, the hallmark of whose teachings is the belief that The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race. 5 The persecution of the followers of the Bábí and later, the Bahá í community began with the beating of Mullá Alí-i-Bastámí, 6 one of the first followers of the Báb, and has continued until today. Over the years various governmental and non-governmental organizations all over the globe have condemned such crimes against the Bahá ís. After the establishment of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, the situation of the Bahá ís in Iran saw no improvement. 217 Soon after this Declaration, the Iranian Bahá ís suffered one of the most intense waves of persecution under the leadership of Ayatu llah Falsafí, and the elite in the Iranian government and army in This anti-bahá í campaign and many others are based on false accusations against the Bahá í community. These accusations accompany deep-rooted religious prejudice that is, paradoxically, combined with an almost universal ignorance of the religion s nature, teachings, and history. 8 Over the decades the clergy have encouraged all Muslims to shun the Bahá ís for they are considered as apostates and unprotected infidels 9. By creating this division they rule the mindset and beliefs of religious Iran against the Bahá ís. Historically, the clergy are the only ones with exclusive knowledge of the Scripture, as they forbade the translation of the Qur án into Persian. 10 Thus, the clergy occupied the elite position of ruling on various issues including the case of the Bahá ís. Since the inception of the Bahá í Faith, but more explicitly after the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Bahá ís have been accused of spying for various countries such as Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain and Israel. The 1979 revolution expanded this list to include charges of ties with Zionism, the Shah s regime and SAVAK, 11 thus portraying the Bahá í community as an entirely ungodly, dangerous and political sect of infidels. Therefore, Bahá ís are not mentioned in the Iranian constitution, even though they are the largest religious minority in that land. This act on the part of the government in Iran is a proof of the Islamic Republic s denial of the most basic human rights of the Iranian Bahá ís. In an official secret document, the government of Iran summarizes their policies toward the Bahá ís so that their progress and development shall be blocked. 12 This is in direct conflict with the spirit and articles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Furthermore, it demonstrates the fact that the campaign against the Bahá ís is centrally directed by the Government. 13 Some Basic Islamic and Bahá í Rights and Obligations The treatment of the Bahá í community since its early days by the Muslim clergy can give the impression that Islam validates the oppression of the Bahá ís and the tenets of the Bahá í Faith. However, as an example, the Qur án and the Aqdas, the holy books of Islam and the Bahá í Faith, have much more in common than in contradiction. Both books, much like other holy books proclaim the oneness of God, the sacredness of human nature and establish various rights for the individual. They outline a number of duties on the part of the individual and society, thus setting the framework within which principles such as equality, justice, freedom and unity are acknowledged and promoted. Among the first 218 words recorded in the Qur án, and attributed to Muhammad are: Read in the name of your Lord who createth, Created man from a clot 14 This sentence embodies the notion that human beings have both spiritual and material attributes. To satisfy the needs of both dimensions, the Qur án attributes various rights and responsibilities to the body of believers. These rights include freedom (from slavery) for all men based on the principle of equality, the right to education, the right to belief, and Jihad, the right to defend oneself and one s beliefs. On the other hand the Qur án prescribes a number of responsibilities to its followers. These are based on the fundamental belief of submission to the Will of God (Islam). These responsibilities include daily prayers, fasting, charity and pilgrimage among others. They are necessary factors in the concept of Muslim community expressed as brotherhood. Muslims were the first to organize themselves based on religion, rather than blood. 15 Religious affiliation or membership is then the point of unity for Muslims. This unity implies that by becoming a Muslim, human beings of various backgrounds attain an equal station. Also, in submission and obedience to the Will of God, lies the key to dignity: We exalt in dignity whom We please; surely your Lord is Wise, Knowing. 16 The Bahá í Writings also emphasize that God is the creator of human beings, 17 whose nature has spiritual and material attributes. 18 Bahá ís also have rights and obligations. Such rights and obligations include the right to education, the right to freedom of religion, equal gender and racial rights, the right to participate in the administrative affairs of the community, the right to prayer, fasting, economic development and welfare, and consultation as the means to resolve conflict. The fundamental difference between the Bahá í Writings and Islamic teachings is the all-inclusive definition of unity. The unity of humankind in the Bahá í sense is not a given fact based on race, or religious affiliation. It is based on the oneness of humanbeings as equal in station and yet diverse in the degree to which each endeavors to develop his or her capacities. They are seen as the fingers of one hand, the members of one body. 19 The entire body of humanity benefit from equal rights. Indeed, all humanbeings: at the time when they first become manifest in the world of the body, are equal, and each is sanctified and pure. In this world, however, they will begin to differ one from another, some achieving the highest station, some a middle one, others remaining at the lowest stage of being. Their equal status is at the beginning of their existence; the differentiation followeth their passing away What is clear in this statement is that the process of life for a human being contains a series of decisions and actions, which ultimately determine various stations of individuals, not in this life, but in the life to come. This paper is concerned with these decisions and actions in light of human rights and obligations. The above quotation implies that the span of a human lifetime is the period in which the individual has the choice to fulfill his or her rights and obligations in order to develop. The manners in which this is carried out are diverse. But the common element in this process is that of development and progress of individuals and communities. The Bahá í concept of community moves beyond the Muslim notion of brotherhood based on religious affiliation. It ultimately covers the globe, and embraces all members of the human race without any exemption based on race, religion, gender, age or class. This is reflected in one of the best-known statements of Bahá u lláh: The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. 21 The Foundation of Human Rights from a Bahá í Perspective The human rights implications of Bahá u lláh s statement are great. By defining the globe as one single country, Bahá u lláh defines the framework for civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights of humanity. One of the essential elements for both categories is the right of self-determination. 22 In other words, members of the human community have the right to freely pursue their common interests in political, economic, social, cultural and civil development. This right of self-determination is one of the most important because it is closely linked to human dignity and self-realization, which sum up all human rights. 23 Thus, Bahá u lláh defines the right of self-determination in its fullest sense. By stating that the earth is as one country and the entire body of mankind its citizens, He incorporates all (political, cultural, civil, economic, social) of the planet s resources to provide the highest (global) level possible for each individual s and each community s right to self-determination. This directly affects the self-realization of all members of the human race. Self-realization from a Bahá í perspective is based on an awareness of the source and purpose of human rights. As noted earlier, the source of human rights is the endowment of qualities, virtues and powers which God has bestowed upon mankind 24 at an equal level and at the beginning of life. The purpose of human rights is to fulfill the possibilities of this divine endowment 25 through each individual s understanding of their rights and obligations according to a system of law. Such a vision is in harmony with the very 220 purpose of life on earth to prepare the soul for life after death. 26 However, a Bahá í-inspired perspective does not exclude a prosperous and happy life on this earth. The Bahá í understanding of human nature as both material and spiritual calls for a perspective on human rights that accommodates the development of both aspects of a human being. This implies a system that is based on both material and spiritual concepts of reality. Freedom, justice and peace, three concepts called for in the first part of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, are examples that embody both material and spiritual realities. The Bahá í Writings present all three in light of the comprehensive concept of unity. All members of the human society are invited to cherish and protect that unity of spirit which is their highest mutual obligation. 27 Unity of spirit calls for a conscious awareness of human relationships. 28 Such consciousness is not only based upon the social aspects of human relationships, but also the spiritual forces that animate them. In other words, human relationships are based upon a spiritual force, that of unity. Perhaps one of the implications of the declarations and covenants on human rights that are often termed universal or international, is the need for an international or universal code of law. Such a need is the direct result of the historical setting in which the United Nations and later the Declaration on Human Rights emerged after the Nazi atrocities of World War II. 29 The Nazis promoted what was called unity through ethnic cleansing. In action, Nazism demonstrated uniformity and superiority of the Aryan race, and not the unity and oneness of the entire human race. Bahá u lláh clarifies the Bahá í view that The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race. 30 Unity is viewed as a law that embodies material and spiritual realities. In one way, it is expressed as attraction between elements. Abdu l-bahá uses the example of a flower to explain this law: The law of attraction has brought together certain elements in the form of this beautiful flower, but when that attraction is withdrawn from this centre the flower will decompose, and, as a flower, cease to exist. So it is with the great body of humanity. The wonderful Law of Attraction, Harmony and Unity, holds together this marvelous Creation. 31 Based on Abdu l-bahá s explanation, the law of unity or attraction amongst elements can apply to a human body. When this unity is extracted from the 221 human body, the force of life is removed. After this point of separation between consciousness and the body, or absence of unity between the elements of a human being, the body begins to decompose. If these remains are examined by a physician as to why they do not function, systematic deficiencies such as a beating heart, the need for blood flow and other functional organs throughout the body are identified. The physician sums up such deficiencies in one sentence, that the body lacks the force of life. In other words, the law of unity governing life in the human being is absent. A similar process applies to the body of humanity, which has suffered much through wars, crimes against humanity, genocide and other atrocities. It has now identified the need for justice, an international code of law, peace, cooperation and other conditions in which the global society can progress. Such needs require a harmonious and coordinated system to ensure proper function. Much like the organs and individual cells of a human body, various organs and individual members of society benefit from reciprocal relationships. The 1947 Bahá í statement 32 expresses these relationships, in light of the law of unity, as rights and obligations. The difference between these two types of relationships is that rights and obligations are the result of conscious acts. In reality, through signing the Declaration on Human Rights the global society calls for conscious acts that result in equal rights, freedom, justice and peace for all. A Bahá í-inspired perspective argues that equality, freedom, justice and peace are closely linked with unity. In light of unity, equality is an awareness of the inherent oneness of the station of all humanity, as creations of one God. Such equality frees humanity from all previous ties of race, religion, class, creed or gender. Accordingly, an understanding of the inherent oneness of mankind results in regarding rights and obligations as two sides of one coin. For the good of one is the good of all and the good of all is the good of one. Thus, rights and obligations become expressions of justice, as their reciprocity supports a just system. In other words, if The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men, 33 then the just distribution of rights and obligations would involve all and not only some individuals or institutions of the human community. Education and Development Following the very first words revealed to Prophet Muhammad on the dual nature of man s being, Gabriel continued to express what seems to be another human right, the right to education. Gabriel revealed: Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teacheth by the pen, teacheth man that which he knew not. 34 A Bahá í view on education is inspired by similar elements: first, the right or obligation to education, and second, the need for a holistic approach to 222 education, to satisfy both the material and the spiritual needs of humanity. Thus, education is the ideal path to development, as it encompasses both of the fundamental elements of reality. Furthermore, education helps to transform attitudes and values, a main purpose of life and as the result of interactions between the material and the spiritual. During recent decades, the sciences have confirmed the principle of the oneness of humanity. Accordingly, all education and development efforts are most effective when the aims and themes of the curriculum are based on the concept of unity and its underlying principle, the oneness of the human race. Such a foundation, the Bahá ís argue, will ease the tensions felt on a global scale in regards to the illusive contradictions between global and local, or the spiritual and material values in life. 35 Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to education. According to the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, education must facilitate the full development of the human personality and t
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