Iranian Baha'i writes an open letter to The Universal House of Justice

To the Universal House of Justice,

Having carefully studied the message of the beloved House about the Baha’i teachings, issued to the attention of one of the Friends of Iran by the Secretariat on Jan 19, 2015: I would like to respectfully acknowledge the House with the following:

Though I was not the addressee of that message, I found the answers to some of my concerns. Yet some of the Friends' questions still remain. I write this letter with the hope that those Divine Trustees, through their kindness and patience, may respond with a clear and simple message, one without any ambiguity nor any references to any previous messages. The questions are as following:

As far as I am aware, before the difficulties began for the Friends of Iran, including the imprisonments, that exalted House acknowledged it has personally undertaken the responsibility of conducting and leading all teaching activities in Iran; and with the assistance of the Appointed Boards, tried to develop and establish Devotional meetings, study circles, and other core activities, according to the goals of the 5-year plan, so as to accelerate the process of the “Entry by Troops”.

Sending qualified youth to Turkey, Malaysia, the Emirates and India to receive training regarding Teaching Techniques, and getting experiences about the SED activities has been one of the most important activities of the Auxiliary Boards in Iran, an activity that still continues today.

Therefore, the claim that currently teaching the Faith in Iran is not “organized”, and is being carried out according to an individual’s personal initiative, is far from the truth. Even such personal initiatives, because they are wrought with inexperience, are characteristically excessive and without requisite wisdom. Thus the Iranian authorities assume it is directed by the Baha’i administration itself. This will, in turn, put more pressure on and increase the persecution against the defenseless Friends of Iran.

As you are well aware, religious states are particularly sensitive to the teaching activities of minority groups. But since obedience to the state is a clear and unalterable principle of the Baha’i Cause, teaching the Faith in Iran, individually or through organized programs, if done without the consent and permission of the ruling government, flies in the face of those Baha’i principles. As such, these activities, cannot be confirmed by the House.

The recommendations of the Guardian of the Cause, for freedom of belief, personal conscience, keeping the faith, and resisting efforts to change the Faith , are clear. Our religion cannot be taught in such a way that would be opposed and prohibited by the government, and that would disregard the relevant social context. This is done at the risk of increased conflict with the authorities and governments.

We should note that the teaching of the Faith, while important, is less of a priority than preserving the Holy Cause itself. If teaching endangers the foundations of the Faith, or becomes a reason for the persecution of the Friends, it should, at least temporarily, be suspended.

The highly respected House, due to its absence from Iran, and a lack of direct connection with the community, does not possess enough information about the Baha’i community of Iran (while some even incorrectly claiming that it does not actually care that the foundations and principles of the Baha’i Cause are endangered in Iran). So certain vitally important decisions must be made, accounting for the general conditions the community faces in Iran, and the attitudes of both the state and the people of this country.

In “9 Years in Akko” the Master is asked about teaching in such conditions:
Is it not true that the Exalted Beauty—may I be sacrificed for His Friends—had ordered that the Faith be practiced wisely? It means that we should act having considered the requirements of the day. Each day, presents a certain requirement. For example, once teaching was confirmed, it was seriously insisted on. But today, teaching is not confirmed, whereas the stability of the souls is necessary. Then he pointed to a building and said “the Covenant-Breakers destroyed the foundations of this building. It is not wise to make another flow on it. Wisdom requires us to prevent others from destroying this building. Very soon, we will witness the fortification of this building. Then I will order teaching to resume. For the time being the deepening of souls is a priority…”

Currently the very existence of the Baha’i Faith is in danger in Iran. Most of the Baha’is have left the country, and others are planning to leave. The Yaran and many other Friends have received relatively long prison sentences. Some international steps taken by the UHJ against the Iranian government, and some very unwise public statements and interviews by some of our wealthy yet careless Friends, all of whom, it must be stated, reside abroad, have given the necessary pretense to the enemies of the Cause. These enemies of the Cause introduce Baha’is as treacherous and insufficiently Iranian (indeed anti-Iranian), and present us as having enmity towards Islam. This has caused many to perceive Baha’is within Iran as a fifth column that solely serves certain foreign interests, who cause tension and upheaval, and cannot bear the peace and progress of the Iranian nation. Under such tragic conditions, what would it even mean to mobilize the Friends to teach, to speak out against the Iranian government, and the beliefs of the majority of the Iranian people?

If the teaching of the Baha’i Faith is an essential duty of each and every Baha’i faithful, then why did the Blessed Beauty instruct Abdul-Baha’ to fast for an entire month in Akko prison just like the Muslims? Abdul-Baha and his friends followed this order in the prison of the tyrannical Ottoman Empire until 1909. He fasted—without eating at dawn or sunset for so long that his holy body had become frail and weak.

Why did Baha'u'llah give such an order? Was the behavior of Abdul-Baha simply a propaganda tool, or was it somehow an attempt at teaching of the Faith? Or rather was it a means for protecting the community itself? From this incident, one of many, we can conclude that at times, it is more important to protect the foundation of the Cause of God and the Friends than to practice the prayers, to teach, or any other such activities.

The Trustees of Baha'u'llah in the Holy Land have the right to be angry, and object to the acts of the Iranian government, and consider it entirely cruel, biased, despotic, and unjustifiable, and to consider it an enemy of the Baha’i Cause. But, as far as I know, Baha’is within Iran are not allowed to oppose such a government and give statements against it. On the contrary, the Friends are instructed to obey these very governments, without any protest or anger, even if they are despotic, unaccountable, and unlawful. Obedience to only those just and lawful governments is an incontrovertible and uncontroversial. It wouldn’t require any special decree nor increased efforts, like the obedience to unjust governments do.

Here I will enumerate some relevant passages from the scriptures:

Baha'u'llah has stated:
“No one is permitted to commit any action that is contrary to the view and policy of the Heads of the country.”

Abdul-Baha has also stated: “Anyway, according to the clear wording of the Blessed Beauty, may I be sacrificed for His friends, none may do, a single or general action, without the acceptance and permission of the government. And if anyone commits slightest action without the consent and permission of the state, has actually opposed the Blessed Cause, and no pretense will be accepted from him. This is the Divine instruction, and not the play of the children. So no one is authorized to evaluate the case with his own reason, and act upon it.”

The Beloved Guardian stated:
“The essential and main principle that should be attended is the obedience to the governing state, in the country that we reside. When an authoritarian government comes to power, we should not oppose it, on the grounds that we do not like it…

We should be obedient in all respects, unless a breach of a spiritual principle – like the neglect of the Divine Cause- is at issue.”

The above 3 examples, from the holy words themselves, indicate clearly the principle of non-involvement in politics and obedience to the ruling government. Unless, of course, that infallible Center issues a new directive, and declares the previous holy words and scriptures null and void.

When the Iranian government does not tolerate the teaching of the Cause, and in fact opposes it, as it tries to stop all such activities through various political and social pressures, why should we insist on these activities? Why should we invite non-Baha’is to our devotional meetings and study circles, considering how much it provokes the anger of the authorities and the fanatics from among the larger Iranian population, all of which primarily results in more difficulties for the members of the Baha’i Community?

The message dated January 15, 2015, states that, if ordered by government officials to legally bind themselves to stop their teaching activities, you permit the Friends to acquiesce and sign any papers in this regard.

If by this message you mean that the Friends should give a commitment and honor that commitment, then this results in a necessary contradiction. Because in another part of that same message, you have warned the Friends to not abandon any religious rule that will cause the Baha’i Faith to be uprooted. Now, if by this permission you really intend for the Friends to render empty promises in order to avoid, temporarily, the authorities and to later continue in their teaching activities, this would be a direct condoning of deceit and dishonesty, and would be contrary to the holy scriptures and the sacred Baha’i teachings.

If this permission is given in order to reduce the restrictions on the Friends, and allow them the possibility of studying in Iranian high schools and universities, then why do you not try to solve the problems at a more fundamental level, and help to put an end to any and all future arrests, imprisonment, or prosecution? Moreover, we must be aware that such agreements don’t just involve the signing of a document; rather they necessarily result in further undesired consequences, including certain duties and responsibilities that must be promised and fulfilled.

I remember a few years ago the respected governing body let Baha’is present themselves as Muslims when applying to Iranian universities. This was in order to allow Baha’i youth to receive higher education in Iran. Yet, at the time of this permission, some of the Friends opposed it, seeing it as a denial of their faith. There is an essential question here which must be asked: Which of the two choices, denying the Baha’i youth of their religious identity or ceasing public teaching of the Faith, is more destructive and harmful?

In the next part of the message, the prohibition of teaching in the holy land is repeated, a prohibition decreed by the statement of Baha'u'llah, who said: “The Baha’is residing in the Holy Land should abstain from any teaching in Israel.”

The prohibition of teaching the Baha’i Faith in Israel is not only compulsory for the Baha’i residents of Israel, but also according to the message of the House, DD 23.6.1995, no teaching is permitted to any of the citizens of Israel – whether or not they reside in Israel. In a part of this message we read:
The House of Justice has not asked the friends to avoid contact with Israelis. When you discover that a person you are in contact with via IRC is an Israeli, you should feel free to maintain friendly contact, but you should not teach the Faith to him…in keeping with a policy that has been strictly followed since the days of Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’ís do not teach the Faith in Israel. Likewise, the Faith is not taught to Israelis abroad if they intend to return to Israel.”

Here, the issue isn’t the prohibition of teaching the Faith in Israel or to an Israeli. Yet we see that there is such a prohibition for the Friends in Israel, who suffer no pressures nor persecution. Why do we disregard this wisdom in the lands of Iran, which is the epicenter of such persecution?

Now, if teaching the Faith began in Israel, despite the state’s lack of willingness or consent, in so far as it is run according to the religious laws and sensibilities of its citizens (just as it is in Iran) it seems to me that the respected members of the House would be subject to similar pressures and persecution as the friends in Iran are, or would even be obliged to leave that country.

As a humble member of the Baha’i Community, I propose that all teaching be stopped for 2 to 3 years in Iran. Since the administration here is not active — with the Yaran actually being imprisoned and absent from the community, there is a current state of hostility towards the faith, we must commit to this suspension so as to rescue the Friends from these various pressures and to put an end to the claims of the authorities. If that hiatus was successful in decreasing the persecution against Baha’is, then it should be continued in a more systematic manner and for a longer period. But if we witness no changes in the behavior of the Iranian authorities, then we can revert to the force of public opinion once again.

One final point I would like to humbly make is a reminder about the special status and significance of Iran, the sacred cradle of the Cause of God. The Universal House of Justice, as the highest governing Body of the great Baha’i Community, is responsible for solving the problems of the Friends in Iran, consolidating their civil rights, re-organizing the national Baha’i administration, and taking the necessary steps to free Baha’is from prison and secure their trampled rights. I believe the only way to achieve the above goals in the short term, is to have sincere dialogue with the Iranian authorities, and to cultivate good diplomatic relations with them. No progress will be made, nor any goals achieved if we are in constant contention with a strong state like Iran. Eventually, even these current pressures and prosecutions could become more severe and systematic, if the current intransigence is kept.

On the other hand, having hope solely in the words and actions of foreign political actors and international bodies is decidedly not sufficient. Even if we attain any measure of success in the short-term, any such progress may be reversed and even serve to harm us in the long term, such as through further “legal” restrictions placed on the community.

It is very clear that in the beginning, any negotiation and discussion with the Iranian government will be very difficult, or even seem impossible. But the valuable experiences of the House, who could utilize either qualified Iranian or non-Iranian advisers, and a sincere good-will may help the success of these discussions. However, if the UHJ does not begin this initiative today, and waits for some more desirable time in the future, it may see that it has waited too long for any of its desired results to be attained.

I sincerely hope that the respected House finds these comments and suggestions useful and applicable. If, for any reason, they were deemed inappropriate, I request your abounding forgiveness, and pray for your guidance.

I apologize for the length of this message, and humbly request your prayers when visiting the holy shrines.

With the Warmest Baha’i Greetings,
Kaveh Kholousi

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