In another brave gesture, senior cleric calls for justice

21 December 2015

Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, a senior Muslim cleric in Iran, has courageously called on his nation’s people to uphold a higher standard of justice and dignity for all of their countrymen and women.

In a recent article on his website, he has dedicated a new piece of calligraphy—a passage from the writings of Baha’u’llah—to the Baha’is who were arrested on baseless charges in November of this year. The extract chosen by Ayatollah Tehrani, taken from “The Hidden Words”, speaks to the undaunted response of the Iranian Baha’i community to ongoing and systematic persecution.

This symbolic action follows on his gift to the Baha’is of the world in April 2014 of an illuminated calligraphic rendering of a verse from the Baha’i writing that says, “Consort with all religions with amity and concord”.

His recent article (available here in Persian) expresses the hope that his act “may raise the conscience of my fellow countrymen by considering increasing their respect for human dignity and not focusing their attention on different ethnicities, languages and religions”.

He also challenges his compatriots to examine the chasm between the values espoused by their religion and the acts of oppression perpetrated in its name.

  • A calligraphic work by Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, containing the words of Baha’u’llah

Ayatollah Tehrani has also posted a statement on his Facebook page(available here in English) in which he calls upon “progressive people of Iran to advance the topic of civil rights for all Iranians, irrespective of religion, sex, race, and ethnicity.

“National identity and not religious differences should be regarded as the unifying agency for all citizen of that country. Aggrandizing differences instead of accentuating similarities results in nothing but oppression and corruption,” the statement continues.

Ayatollah Tehrani’s voice is raised together with the voices of a growing number of Iranian intellectuals and artists, both within and outside Iran, who are promoting a culture of justice and coexistence and speaking out on behalf of Baha’is and other groups facing oppression in Iran. See ‘other stories’ below.

Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani Supports Baha’i Rights

Source: Abdolhamid Masoumi Tehran

Translation by Iran Press Watch

1375870_10152100839796588_5724737263081862639_nOver the last week, in appreciation of Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani’s efforts and follow-up in support of upholding citizens’ civil rights, a number of Baha’i families whose loved ones are in prison gathered to present a symbolic work of art to the parents of Navid Aghdasi, Yavar Haghighat, Nava Majzoub, and the wife and children of Shahram Najaf-Toumraie, as comfort against the pain and suffering caused by the recent arrests of their loved ones.

A while back, an inscription of a passage from “The Hidden Words” by Bahaullah, written in Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani’s calligraphy, was dedicated to Baha’is in Iran who have recently been arrested: Sahaba Farnoush; Navid Aghdasi; Parvin Nickayin; Kayvan Nickayin; Arshia Rouhani; Matin Janmiyan; Zarin Aghabani; Yeganeh Agahi; Negar Bagheri; Nava Majzoub; Yavar Haghighat; Helia Moshtagh; Naghmeh Zabihiyan; Farzaneh Daneshgari; Sanaz Eshaghi; Nika Pakzadan; and Shahram Najaf Toumraie. We hope that these loved ones and other fellow citizens who are imprisoned on the basis of ideology or political charges, will soon be released and returned to the bosom of their families, so we can once again benefit in the development of our country from their talents and knowledge.

Dedication by Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani in 2014 of a gilded and illuminated inscription of a verse from the Baha’i scripture The Most Holy Book, as a sign of sympathy and empathy with Baha’is, was a gesture which was followed by a massive wave of global support, and drove the issue of religious coexistence in communities to take on a new and different context. This event captured the attention of religious scholars and civil rights’ activists around the world, because for the very first time the voice of a senior Shiite scholar who, resorting to the basic principle of “humanity”, was heard calling for full respect and recognition of the human rights of people of other faiths and religions.


The introduction of equal rights for followers of all religions and faiths, specifically upholding the civil rights of the Baha’is, is of course not recent for Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani. According to available documents, he has raised these issues since 2005, when he encountered strong opposition by some of the grand ayatollahs of the time, triggering some trouble and opposition. He responded to opposition and trouble makers in a statement, saying: “Are you called Muslims?! Then, as I have repeatedly said, I repudiate this way of being a Muslim. I will again repeat my beliefs here: You, the Jew, the Christian, the Muslim, the Zoroastrian, the Buddhist, the Baha’i, the atheist, I love you and value your life. Let these words weight heavy on the minds of those who are closed minded.”

Scientific and experiential studies that have continuously been carried out by Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani over the past eighteen years in various areas related to religious minorities have laid the grounds for the separation of the theoretical foundations of basic human rights from religious beliefs and views. Based on what he has repeatedly emphasized, “Rights that are granted by a religious decree can also be dismantled by a religious decree.” It is important for people to be aware of their rights, demand their rights and work to protect their rights.

The sympathy and empathy demonstrated by a handful of activists in favor of the Iranian Baha’i community have had an unprecedented impact on the formation of a new dialogue in the field of civil rights in Iran. It is time that the civil rights of all Iranians, regardless of their beliefs and affiliations, religion, gender, race, and ethnicity, be decided only on the basis of their nationality and no other agenda, by the leaders of the nation. Insisting on useless religious confines which highlight the differences rather than the fundamental commonalities will never serve any outcome other than what we witness today, with all its resulting oppression and corruption. If the interests of a nation are to be gained on the basis of religious differences, the lords of power and riches, relying on religious disputes, will be able to easily exert their personal factional and political interests above the sanctity of the lives, property and honor of the people, and place their own personal peace of mind ahead of that of the people, even at the price of poverty, apathy, despair and agony for the entire nation.

Finally, in the absence of these thoughtless community leaders’ desires, when you free your conscience from prejudice and religious self-interest, and conduct human relations on the basis of our Iranian national identity, assuredly at a minimum cost, the possibility of forming a rational order, based on human dignity and basic human rights, grounded on placing priority on the spirit of the civil law, will be at hand.

The office of Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani,
13 December, 2015

Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani’s Gift to Newly Arrested Bahai’s in Tehran

BY · DECEMBER 7, 2015


Translation By Iran Press Watch

In November 2015  Ayatollah Masoumi Tehrani1 presented as a gift to the newly arrested Bahá’ís in Tehran a piece of his calligraphy work from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith, which states:

O SON OF MAN! Ponder and reflect. Is it thy wish to die upon thy bed, or to shed thy life-blood on the dust, a martyr in My path, and so become the manifestation of My command and the revealer of My light in the highest paradise? Judge thou aright, O servant!

 The following excerpt is taken from his official website:

“As confrontational actions of security forces against our Baha’i compatriots need to be meditated upon, I, with utmost humility, have penned a piece from the Baha’i book “Hidden Words” in the form of calligraphy. This move may raise the conscience of my fellow countrymen by considering increasing their respect for human dignity and not focusing their attention on different ethnicities, languages and religions. This piece of calligraphy is offered to Sahba Farnoush, Navid Aqdasi, Parviz Nikaeen, Keyvan Nikaeen, Arshia Rouhani, Mateen Janamian, Zareen Aqabani, Yeganeh Agahi, Negar Bagheri, Nava Majzoob, Yavar Haghighat, Helia Moshtaq, Naghmeh Zabihian, Franeh Daneshgari, Sanaz Eshanqi, Nika Pakzadan and Sharan Tamrie Najaf, who have recently been arrested and have no legal protection. I emphatically and seriously demand that the authorities stop these atrocities.

If human value is connected to religion and belief, surely we Muslims stand at the lowest level, due to our actions which have clearly been manifested in recent times.”




Persecuted in Iran, Baha’is are worse off in Iraq

NEW DELHI: While the rising tide of arrests of Baha’is in Iran and destruction of their cemetery in Shiraz continues to grab headlines, the community — best known in India for their magnificent lotus-shaped marble temple here that is visited by thousands every day — is facing no less threat to its physical safety in neighbouring Iraq, one of the places of origins of the religion.

Spread in small numbers in and around Baghdad, the Baha’is continue to face social exclusion even after the fall of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, whose Baath Party banned the religion in 1970.

“One Baha’i woman we interviewed said that after she was freed from the prison of Saddam Hussein’s regime, she felt that she had moved from a small prison to a societal one, harsher and more violent from the former,” Ali Mamouri, Middle East expert and commentator on religion, told IANS in an email interview from Baghdad when asked if the religious minority is better off in Iraq than in Iran.

The Lotus Temple in New Delhi. (Getty Images photo)

Shedding light on the plight of this small religious minority, Mamouri added that the fear of persecution is so strong at present that most Baha’is are “still hiding, living in fear of declaring their social identity and preferring not to practise their religion in public”.

M Merchant, programme officer at Baha’i office of public affairs, said that in Iran, their population has shrunk to a mere three lakh out of a total of nearly six million the world over.

“India, where over two million people of the community live, is home to the largest Baha’i population while in Iraq no official record of their demographic statistics is available,” Merchant told IANS.

The Baha’i faith is the youngest of the world’s independent religions. Its founder, Baha-ullah(1817-1892), is regarded by Baha’is as the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. The Baha’i faith considers itself independent of Islam.

A Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Illinois, United States. (Getty Images photo)

“The religious matrix of the Baha’i faith was Islam. Much as Christianity was born out of the messianic expectations of Judaism, the religion that was to become the B aha’i faith arose from eschatological tensions within Islam. In the same way, however, the Baha’i faith is entirely independent of its parent religion,” says the website for information resource of Baha’i international community.

Iraq is historically very important to the Baha’i faith since Baha’u’llah spent 10 years there and declared his religious call. The community, however, has shrunk to a miniscule size today due to continued violence against the faith.

The Baath regime in 1970 deprived the Baha’is of their property and forbade them from listing their religion in civil records. This was followed by the execution of many of the community’s political and religious followers.

Nilo Hejabian is an Iranian Baha’i who has resettled in Portland, Oregon, United States, has been imprisoned for her religion and accused of being a spy in her native country. (March 13, 2009, Getty Images file photo)

“The continued harassment compelled Baha’is to either completely close themselves off or emigrate from Iraq. There are no official statistics of Baha’is in Iraq and their current stregth remains unknown as the adherents are too scared to reveal their identities,” Mamouri said.

Nilakshi Rajkhowa, director, Baha’i office of public affairs here, said that recent fatwas issued by Muslim religious scholars stressing the importance of accommodating diverse beliefs have not been of much use.

“Even the house of the prophet (Baha’u’llah) in Baghdad which used to be a piligrim house has been taken over and occupied by the government,” Rajkhowa told IANS.

Shrine of the Bab which is the second holy place for Baha’i worshippers and its terraced gardens are seen on Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel. (Getty Images photo)

In the Middle East, Africa and Europe, Muslim religious figures have condemned attacks on the Baha’is, in particular in Iran, and called for peaceful coexistence. Notable among them is Iranian Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi Tehrani who denounced intolerance against the community.

“But the situation of Baha’is has not changed. Baha’is have neither got official recognition nor have they regained their confiscated property,” Mamouri pointed out.

Members of the Baha’i religion demonstrate in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach on June 19, 2011 asking Iranian authorities to release seven Baha’i prisoners accused of spying for Israel and sentenced to 20 years in jail. (Getty Images file photo)

As the militants from ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) capture swathes of land in Iraq, wreaking havoc on non-Muslims and those they call apostates, like the Yazidis, their disposition towards Baha’is is not immediately known.

“Baha’is don’t exist in the area under control of IS (Islamic State). They are mostly in Erbil, Suleimaniah and Baghdad,” Mamouri said.

The Islamic State jihadists have been destroying ancient shrines and places of worship of Shias and other faiths, like the one above, in the areas they control in Iraq.


A closer look at religious coexistence through recent events

8 September 2014

When a member of Iran’s ecclesiastical class gifted a calligraphic presentation of the words of Baha’u’llah to the Baha’is of the world in April 2014, the act was unprecedented and stood in sharp contrast against a backdrop of 170 years of uninterrupted religious persecution.

While the gift that Ayatollah Hamid Masoumi Tehrani made to the Baha’i community is, in and of itself, highly noteworthy, for Baha’is it is the motivation that lies at its heart that merits public commendation and attention. The fact that he has in the past made similar overtures to Christians points to a deep longing to promote coexistence in his native land. Yet he is not alone; multitudes in Iran and throughout the world yearn for peace and harmony; most acknowledge that they themselves do not know how this can be achieved.

An understanding of the historical circumstances preceding the occasion of this senior cleric’s gift provides a point of reference in the recent wave of comments and responses from religious leaders around the world about peaceful coexistence.

  • An illuminated calligraphic work by Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, containing the words of Baha’u’llah. The quotation reads: Consort with all religions… »

Historical context

Since 1844 when the Baha’i Faith was founded, its adherents have suffered, under successive governments, an endless wave of persecutions. More than 20,000 adherents have been killed for their religious beliefs, and thousands upon thousands have endured unjust imprisonment. Executions, murders, torture, and violent assaults have been among the more overt forms of persecution.

But persecution of Baha’is in Iran has taken other forms as well: widespread confiscation of properties, administrative centers, and Holy Places; desecration of some of the community’s most holy sites as well as cemeteries; vandalization of homes, including acts of arson; harassment of Baha’i children in their classrooms; dissemination of gross misrepresentations of the Baha’i teachings and history in educational materials studied in schools; exclusion of youth from higher education; random cessation of business licenses; closures of shops; and the list runs on.

To this day, Baha’is are regularly portrayed as religious heretics, as being associated with immorality and the occult in religious sermons and through state-sponsored media. At the same time, they are also regularly accused of being spies for various governments. And religious leaders have repeatedly incited populations to violence against the community with virtual impunity.

Since 1979, more than 200 Iranian Baha’is have been killed and hundreds more have been tortured and incarcerated.

And in the years since the revolution, how many of the perpetrators of these heinous
crimes have been brought to justice? The answer is none.

Showing no signs of improvement, the persecution of Baha’is in Iran is a policy of that country’s government. But it is the religious leadership in Iran that has been largely to blame for fomenting in the population prejudice and hatred directed toward the Baha’i community. Indeed, a memorandum of the Iranian government leaked in 1993, indicating that progress of Baha’is in Iranian society should be effectively “blocked”, bore the signature of the country’s highest ranking religious figure, Ali Khamenei. And more recently, he issued a fatwa in which the people of Iran were told to avoid all dealings with Baha’is.

It is against this backdrop of blind religious prejudice fueled by the ecclesiastical leaders that Ayatollah Tehrani became the first cleric of his rank in post-revolutionary Iran to highlight a central Baha’i belief drawn from the most sacred text of the Faith and the right of the community to practice its religion in the country of its origin.

The months that have followed have revealed how his gesture has resonated with a deep-seated yearning in people of goodwill everywhere, including leaders from a wide range of religions and denominations, as well as academics, journalists, and human rights advocates both in Iran and around the world.

A month after the calligraphic work was gifted, a number of prominent human rights leaders in Iran – for the first time collectively – voiced their public support for the Baha’is and their seven imprisoned former leaders, on the sixth anniversary of their incarceration. Ayatollah Tehrani was present at that meeting, where he stated, “Perspectives have to change… and I think now is an opportune moment for this.”

Beyond the boundaries of Iran, Ayatollah Tehrani’s initiative has also inspired positive reactions by certain high-ranking officials in the Muslim world, giving further impetus to the conversation regarding religious coexistence taking shape in their countries.

These outcomes have touched the Baha’i community not because of any particular changes for their circumstances within Iran, as recent reports indicate that persecution of the Baha’i community has actually intensified in recent months, but rather because they relate to one of the most cherished aspirations of the Baha’is from the earliest days of the existence of their religion.

Over 100 years ago, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah and head of the Baha’i Faith after His passing, stopped for one year in Egypt prior to His historic journey to the West, the theme of religious unity featured often in his interactions with prominent individuals and the media.

As His journey continued in Europe and North America, He reiterated in many public addresses that, just as mankind is one, religions are likewise one, and that while in outward form religions are many, their reality is one, just as the “days are many, but the sun is one”.

More recently, in its letter to the world’s religious leaders in 2002, the Universal House of Justice identified religious prejudice as an increasingly dangerous force in the world.

“With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable,” It wrote. “The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation.”

The path ahead

History has demonstrated that even the smallest act can have far-reaching consequences. Notwithstanding that the incident perhaps most frequently cited in this regard – the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as having ignited World War I – is a negative one, it is equally true that a single instance of altruism can spark a rise in consciousness that ultimately propels the advancement of a community; a society; a nation; the world.

Those who seek solutions to the havoc being wrought across the Middle East at this very hour readily acknowledge that sectarian prejudice and fanaticism lie at the heart of the intractable problems that beset the people of that region. The action taken by Ayatollah Tehrani, one act of many by people and groups motivated by a yearning for peace, unveils a parallel unfolding process in contrast to the horrors that religious extremism is inflicting on the world, one that offers the hope of constructive change and the possibility that in such an action can be gleaned a seed which, if tended, may yet become a tree that will in turn propagate a forest.


Letter from various religious communities in the Netherlands to Ayatollah Masoumi-Tehrani

To Ayatollah Masoumi-Tehrani

Tehran, Iran

The Hague | International City of Peace and Justice | 29 July 2014

Your honour, dear co-worker for mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence among all peoples, On July 2nd of this year we, 14 representatives of various religious communities in the Netherlands, gathered at the National Centre of the Dutch Bahá’í community in the Hague, to read together your recent statement in which you explained why you made an illuminated calligraphy of a verse from the Kitáb -i-Aqdas of Bahá’u’lláh. You have called this beautiful work of art “an enduring symbol of respect for the innate dignity of human beings, for fellow-feeling and peaceful coexistence regardless of religious affiliation, denomination or belief” and we accept it as such. In fact, it was your courageous act that brought us together to explore, in perfect harmony, the question of religious co-existence. Based on relevant quotations from the diverse traditions brought by the participants, we considered the work which has yet to be done in the Netherlands and asked ourselves how to rise up to eradicate notions of religious superiority. We reflected upon our personal influence within our own communities regarding peaceful religious co-existence.

We wish to wholeheartedly support your efforts, by working for the eradication of notions of religious intolerance in our country and to take practical initiatives to eliminate conflict from our society and foster instead love and fellowship, solidarity and altruism. We firmly believe that this is the mission called for by our respective religious scriptures and traditions, our prophets and saints.

In this, we were especially moved by your in invitation to “let us be human first before we are Muslim, Jew, Zoroastrian, Christian, Bahá’í, Buddhist, irreligious, or atheist”, and we wish to respond affirmatively to your call to “contemplate our pattern of thought, wash away the dross that is the tendency to think in stereotypes about one another, and to extend the hand of love and assistance toward that which is human in each one of us”. We are aware that much patient and persistent work remains to be done, that we should especially accompany the youth of our communities and society at large in their endeavour to serve society, to overcome prejudice and not fall into the trap of self-superiority.

We stand ready to work together in this mighty and glorious enterprise – the building of a collective conscience – in which we feel united with you and the many other people of goodwill in Iran and beyond. We recognize that your letters were written as acts of great courage. May your work be a blessing for you and for all people who support this work of peace.

With respect, gratitude and our warmest greetings,


Ds. Ineke Bakker                               Director STEK (City & Church)

Ms. Margriet Quarles                      Secretary Christian Unity, The Hague

Mr. Jan Soullie                                  The Hague Community of Churches

Varamitra                                           Buddhist

Mr. Gursev Singh                             Sikh Community

Mr. Baljit Singh                                 Sikh Community

Pandit Surindere Tewari               Sanathan Dharm

Dr. Martijn Rep                                 National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the Netherlands

Rabbi Albert Ringer                        Reform Jewish Congregation of Rotterdam

Ms. Mieke v.d. Besselaar                Sufi Movement

Ms. Urmilla Sewnath                        Arya Samaj

Mr. Peter Verburg                             The Hague Community of Churches

Mr. Jornt de Jong                               Bahá’í Community Netherlands

Ms. Marga Martens                            Bahá’í Community Netherlands

Across battlelines of faith in Mideast, acts of harmony

The Monitor’s View

By the Monitor’s Editorial Board JULY 24, 2014

  • AP Photo
    View Caption

Keeping harmony between religious groups in the Middle East has never been easy. But with the region now witnessing two wars largely over faith differences, it is worth noting a few individuals bridging this divide with understanding and compassion.

First, in Iraq. The militant Sunni group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has taken over cities and proceeded to kill or expel thousands of religious minorities. Christians have been ordered to convert to Islam; if they don’t, the militants say, “there is nothing to give them but the sword.” Shiites, especially imams who refuse to hand over their mosques, have been summarily executed. The group, which now calls itself Islamic State, threatens to take the rest of Iraq, which is largely Shiite.

To counter this threat, the most respected grand ayatollah on the Shiite side of Islam, Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa last month to all Iraqis – of any faith – to resist Islamic State. He said Sunnis are not only like family to Shiites but the “same as ourselves.”

He has also worked behind the scenes to reform the elected government inBaghdad to make it more inclusive, pluralist, and democratic. He seeks to keep Iraq whole and under secular rule.

In past provocations of violence by Iraqi Sunnis, Mr. Sistani has called for a peaceful response by Shiites. He has kept close ties with Sunni scholars. And he practices what is called “quietism,” or avoiding the kind of clerical rule over government followed by ayatollahs inIran. Instead, he regards the role of Muslim religious figures as mainly providing spiritual and moral guidance.

Next, to the Palestinian territories.

The missile war begun by the radical Islamic group Hamas in Gaza against Israel has been driven largely by the group’s goal to raise “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” It regards the 1948 creation of Israel as a disaster to both Islam and the Palestinians while it also denies the Holocaust.

Israel has had to respond by force to the rocket attacks. And many Palestinians sympathize with Hamas’s “resistance.” Yet in defiance of these hardened lines between Judaism and radical Islam, one Palestinian scholar in Jerusalem has tried to break each side’s sense of victimhood and tendency to demonize the other.

Mohammed Dajani Daoudi took a group of his Palestinian students at Al-Quds University to Auschwitz this spring to understand the Holocaust and its role in the Zionist project to create Israel. Since 2007, this former Palestinian militant has fostered interfaith understanding and peaceful coexistence by helping Jews and Palestinians see each other as fellow human beings shaped by different histories.

For organizing the trip, Mr. Dajani was forced to resign from the university last month under pressure from Palestinian faculty and students. Now he works mainly as the leader of a group he founded called Wasatia, or moderation in Arabic.

In Iran, too, a prominent person also recently stood up for religious tolerance.

Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani

Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani

A senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, gave a gift a few months ago to the Baha’i religious minority. It was an act of generosity that sent shock waves among the ruling clerics, who have long suppressed that faith.

The gift, drawn by Mr. Tehrani, was an illuminated work of calligraphy of a passage in the holy book of the Baha’i. He said the work is “a reminder of the importance of valuing human beings, of peaceful coexistence, of cooperation and mutual support, and of avoidance of hatred, enmity and blind religious prejudice.”

All these gestures of interfaith understanding may not seem like much during conflict and brutal suppression. Yet they help create the conditions for a change in thinking, in part because they are so startlingly unthinkable. In the land of origin for the world’s major religions, they remind followers of each faith’s promise of harmony.

[Editori’s note: An earlier version of this editorial mispelled the name for Baha’i.]