I just finished reading yet another article regarding the Bahai faith in the Iranian. It seems as if the more I read about such topics, the more I realize how closed-minded we remain. I do not practice any organized religion, yet I do respect them all for bringing peace to a majority of mankind.
Years ago, when my children asked me about my faith and wanted to know what theirs should be, I told them I believe in a supreme power, one far beyond man's understanding. And, when they wanted to know to whom I prayed, my response began with stories of the old telephone system and how people needed an operator to be connected. I told them, "I no longer feel the need to ask for help from any person, book, or place of worship. I believe God is one and believing that, I can now dial direct!"
True as it may be that back in the old days, having an operator was essential to a good connection, we have learned how some of the people in charge also managed to cause disruptions in a society. Their invasion of privacy, misinterpretation of messages, and interferences could cause serious problems.
Growing up in a primarily Muslim society, I don’t remember the first time I heard words that proclaimed Islam as the best faith, if not the only one God accepted. However, such underlying messages were always there. Educated people made their discriminatory comments in a subtler manner. “These Jews won’t seep,” they said to mean that Jewish people were careful with their money. Or, “That Khacheek is ‘unclean’ – najes – and a drunk.” A common insult aimed at our Iranian-Armenians, even though their homes were much cleaner than ours. Even the Zoroastrians, the few remaining followers of our ancestors and the only ones who did not give in to Arabs, were not immune to such bigotry. I doubt there’s any Iranian who hasn’t heard comments such as, “They worship fire,” or, “They leave their dead up on a roof for vultures to feed on.”
Still, we lived side by side with religious minorities and the law, at least in my lifetime in Iran, seemed to protect their rights. Although fanatics continued their nasty treatment of innocent people, their remarks were somewhat controlled.
Muslims believe their faith to be the ultimate and, according to Koran, Mohammad is the final prophet. So when the Bahais introduced yet another faith, and the man responsible for it happened to be from among our own society, there was outrage. Not only was the new “Unfounded” faith disrespected, the followers of this new “cult” were accused of blasphemy, a crime Islam considers punishable by death.
There are far too many horror stories, not to mention documented reports, regarding the Muslim’s crimes against the Bahais. As far as I remember, the Iranian constitution never gave them a chance and no amendments were introduced to provide their safeguard.
I remember the Bahai’s secrecy and how they had to lie and usurp as Muslims in order to be employed, get an education, or just be accepted. I remember my Bahai friends reluctantly attending Islamic studies, while students of other religious minorities were exempt. At one point, curiosity made me attend a few Bahai gatherings, an act for which I was severely punished at home. “Don’t you know their friendship is a trick? That’s how they brainwash you to become one of them!”
Only when I was removed from my closed-in society and left the glass bubble I was raised in did I realize the futility of such boundaries. Indeed, it must have been my observation of the harm caused by “operators” that made me decide to “dial direct”. In my direct connection, no one will get hurt, no one needs to know what, or whom, I believe in. In return, it neither concerns me how many others are simultaneously connected nor through which operator they do that. Appreciating the equality among God’s creations and seeing the fairness in such equality seems to have finally brought me a semblance of peace.
How sad it is to look out and realize that, despite all the progress in the modern world, we have remained the same. From time to time, I receive a ‘forward’ from a Jewish friend, a Bahai schoolmate, or an Armenian colleague, whose intend could be considered an insult to Islam. Most of the time, I delete such forwards without bothering to respond. I figure this may well be their “reverse prejudice”, a voice once hushed that now needs to scream and, in my pursuit of true peace, I refuse to regard such comments as personal.
The Bahais wish to claim having reached a universal venue of worship, a place where all religions can come together. Alas, human nature leaves no chance for such a dream to become reality, at least not as long as there are people in power, who simply wouldn’t benefit from universal peace. Be it for money, supremacy, or other personal gain, there will always be a few who enforce separation, create gaps, and even build walls. Just take a good look at what is happening to us! We migrated across the globe in search of a better life and the first thing we do is find a publication whose motto is “Nothing is sacred,” and insult one another.
Years ago, when my children were younger, they often fought over one taking what belonged to the other. Unable to solve their differences, they came to me for justice and I always gave them the same answer. “This is how wars begin,” I told them. “If you aren’t willing to share and can’t respect each other’s territory, then don’t you ever dare talk to me about peace. The way I see it, you, Lilly, are Palestine and your sister is Israel, which makes this pencil no different than the Gaza Strip!”
Needless to say my words did little to stop their bickering and, to this day, they fight from time to time. In a world filled with conflict and prejudice, the best one can hope for is to find the peace within and to recognize the right of others to the same. Maybe then, and only then, will we stop arguing about matters that remain sacred to some, even if they mean nothing to us.
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