A bit of History
In 1844, a young merchant from Shiraz, Seyyed Ali Mohammad, after having a vision, proclaimed himself to be the Báb, someone whom God would have charged with preparing the way for the one who was to come. To use a simile related to Christianity, he would be, as John the Baptist was for Jesus Christ. The followers of Ali Mohammad, the Báb, defined themselves as Bahaís.
Very early on, the Báb bestowed the title Bahá’u’lláh, meaning in Persian the Glory of God, on one of his first followers, Mirza Husayn-‘Alí, a man of nobility, and his claim to be God’s messenger soon gained momentum. However, in Persia, as Iran was known until 1935, and both names coexist today, any manifestation not in accordance with the state religion was considered heretical and therefore punishable by death.
The Báb was shot in Tabriz on 9 July 1950, just six years after proclaiming the religion and four years in prison. Bahá’u’lláh himself, because of his influence, was condemned to exile by the Persians and also by the entire Ottoman Empire, to which he belonged. From country to country, permanently exiled, he ended up in the penal colony of Acre (present-day Israel), where, after 40 years of pilgrimage, he died on 29 May 1892. His tomb on the outskirts of the city is revered today and his followers pray from all over the world to his tomb.
From the beginning the Baha’is have been systematically tortured, condemned and executed in the state of Iran, and this has not changed even today.
Today, thanks to the expansion promoted by many of his followers, and especially by his son `Abdu’l-Bahá, who, until his death in Haifa on 28 November 1921, founded Baha’i faith groups in Canada, the United States and Europe, there are more than ten million members, established in 247 countries, from more than 2000 different ethnic, tribal and racial groups, although their strongest foothold is undoubtedly in India.
Murders of 10 women in Iran for their religious convictions
However, in Iran (Persia) this did not save 10 young Baha’i women from being executed by the execrable regime of the Ayatollahs on 18 June 1983. These young women are still today the symbols of all those who demonstrate every day in that territory, one of the largest on the planet, demanding some of the most basic human rights necessary for a life in peace and freedom.
At dawn on 18 July 1983, night gave way to a faint light that illuminated the slow walk of 10 young women who during the previous days had been harassed and tortured by those who watched over morality in a totalitarian regime that does not understand reason and that each time, although applied with the utmost harshness, is being more and more contested.
Taheren Arjomandi Siyavushi, Simin Saberi, Nosrat Ghufrani Yaldaie, Ezzat-Janami Eshraghi, Roya Eshraghi, Mona Mahmoudnejad, Shahin (Shirin) Dalvand, Akhtar Sabet, Zarrin Moghimi-Abyaneh and Mahshid Niroumand, had been held in one of the most infamous places in Shiraz, the Revolutionary Guards Penitentiary Centre, since the end of 1982. There they were so harshly interrogated to make them denounce fellow believers that, when they arrived at the scaffold where they were to be executed, although their heads were held high, they were no longer strong enough. Their only two crimes: being Baha’is and advocating equal education for women in a country where women have fewer rights than dogs.
Days before, some of their parents or brothers had also been killed, suspected of the same practices, but on that day, each and every one of them had to watch as their sisters in worship were hanged. Even the youngest, Mona, only 17 years old, did not give in, even kissing the hands of the executioner who put the noose around her neck.
Forty years later, they are the symbols of the outbursts that are taking place in Iran. They are joined every day by the corpses of those who are executed, whether they are lawyers, journalists, women or simply people who have tried to demonstrate for a “slightly fairer” society.
Women in Iran are second-class citizens, and not only in Iran; their rights, which are permanently violated, are not the subject of debate as they are in the West, where the gender gap is clear, but where, in a permanent democratic context, dialogue between the social strata is making it less and less visible and smaller. But in Iran this will never happen. Simply because there are some 24 laws specifically designed to oppress women.
Women in Iran can be raped, beaten and even mutilated if they are caught breaking any of the rules. And if they belong to a different religion, such as the Baha’is, they are likely to face the death penalty.
In recent months the Iranian regime has taken to the streets with all its artillery of totalitarian repression, more than 20,000 people have been arrested and at least a hundred have been officially killed, although there may be many more if other sources are consulted.
While in the West we look for gender confrontation as a populist issue, the real struggle is taking place in other societies where we do not usually look and forget. I hope that the memory of Mona and those Baha’i women will help us to rethink the gender discourse and focus it exactly where it should be, on the achievement of the most basic human rights for all women in the world who live subject to the arbitrariness of totalitarian laws and, above all, to the interests of their “masters”.