An Ayatollah’s Daughter Prompts a Debate on Religious Persecution in Iran

AbN NEWS — A house visit by a daughter of a prominent ayatollah to a female leader of the

persecuted Bahai religious minority touched off a debate this week in Iran about the harsh

treatment of a group deemed pagans and impure by the country’s dominant clerics.

The issue was raised last week when the Iranian news media reported that Faezeh Hashemi, 54, a

daughter of the former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had sat down for tea

with Fariba Kamalabadi, 52, a Bahai leader.

Ms. Kamalabadi, was on temporary leave from a 20-year prison sentence imposed on her and six

other Bahai leaders for spying for Israel. The United States State Department has condemned

their imprisonment and called for their release along with other “prisoners of conscience.”

An official with Iran’s conservative judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, called the meeting

“obscene and despicable,” and told reporters on Wednesday that he was planning to take Ms.

Hashemi to court.

Ms. Hashemi and Ms. Kamalabadi became acquainted in 2013, when they shared a prison cell

after Ms. Hashemi was given a six-month sentence for “spreading propaganda against the

system.”

Before then, “I had no information about these people,” Ms. Hashemi said of the Bahais. “But with

the Islamic Republic imprisoning me, I became familiar with them, and this opened another

window in my life.”

Ms. Hashemi, one of Iran’s most prominent activists, is often shielded from punishment by her

powerful family connections. Once an outspoken lawmaker, she started Iran’s first newspaper for

women in 2000 and was the first female member of the establishment to publicly ride a bicycle,

long deemed religiously unfit for women.

Meeting a member of the Bahai faith, however, was one provocation too many. Even her father

criticized her for having tea with a member of the Bahais, whom he called “heretics,” the

semiofficial Fars News Agency reported on Monday. “She has committed a wrong deed and

should be ashamed of herself,” he said.

Other clerics were outraged, saying that meeting with Ms. Kamalabadi, a psychologist, was

“criminal.” One expert in religious ethics, Mahdi Tabataei, demanded an “apology to the nation”

from Ms. Hashemi.

The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, said that Ms. Hashemi faced prosecution

on national security grounds. “Socializing with them, especially relatives of senior clerics and

high-ranking officials, is damaging the norms,” he said on Tuesday, the semiofficial Tasnim News

Agency reported.

But Ms. Hashemi told Euronews that she was “not sorry at all.” Discrimination in name of religion

and the oppression of the Bahais are wrong, she said. “We are oppressive in Iran not only toward

these but toward many,” she said to the agency. “We should correct our behavior.”

Some people, even among the clergy, have risen to her defense. “They met in prison, of course

they can be friends,” said Fazel Meybodi, a reformist cleric from the Shiite holy city of Qum.

Noting that not all Islamic scholars agree that the Bahais are spiritually impure, he added: “These

are just two humans meeting. What is the problem?”

In contrast to Iranian Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, tolerated minorities who even have

representatives in Parliament, the Bahais have been persecuted in Iran ever since the 1979

Islamic Revolution. Their belief in another prophet after Muhammad is anathema to Shiite Muslim

clerics, who consider Muhammad the final messenger of God.

There are about 300,000 Bahais worldwide. Their headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, another reason

Iranians distrust them. “The leader of their cult is Zionism,” the head of Iran’s paramilitary Basij

organization, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, said on Monday. “Supporting them means

being a lackey of the Zionists.”

Because they are considered impure, Bahais are not allowed to pursue higher education or to

become civil servants. However, with the rising influence of the urban middle class, dogmatic

religious edicts of the sort used to marginalize the Bahais have come under pressure.

“It is not clear why Bahais in Iran do not have the right to work or an education, and should be

imprisoned,” Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran University professor and outspoken activist told a news

website on Tuesday. “Did Prophet Muhammad order to imprison anyone who is not a Muslim yet

or a nonbeliever?

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