By Maryam Safajoo, The Boston Herald
Saturday, 9 April 2016
I grew up in the city of Karaj, just outside of Tehran. My family are Baha’i. We are followers of Baha’u’llah, who taught that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
The Baha’is are Iran’s largest religious minority. We have been persecuted throughout the faith’s 170-year history, but this persecution took on new intensity after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
In 1982, my mother and a number of other Baha’i women were arrested for simply being Baha’i. Eleven of these women were executed. My mother spent nearly two years in prison. She had no idea why she was spared and her friends were killed.
My father was studying chemistry at the time. He was kicked out of the university. To survive, he and his three brothers created a doll-making business.
The Iranian Baha’is are a close-knit community. We are bound together by the faith, but also by necessity. We are not allowed to publish books or have schools. We are under constant pressure to denounce our faith. We are subject to harassment by the police, denial of licenses and permits, expulsion from schools and other government-run institutions, and we face the constant danger of arrest.
In 2009, at about 6 a.m., government agents entered our home. They took away many things including all the Baha’i books, CDs, computers and laptops. They also took my father, who spent about one month in prison. He was charged with what Baha’is are commonly charged with — endangering the safety and security of the country.
On March 8 of this year, the same thing happened to my 20-year-old sister, Rouhie Safajoo. Eight Iranian agents burst into my family’shome and took her. She spent nearly three weeks in Evin prison in Tehran and is now out on bail awaiting her trial and sentencing.
Like my brother Anis, who was kicked out of the public university, Rouhie has been getting a higher education at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education, an informal network of classes, teachers, students, and online learning. But in Iran, Baha’is don’t have a right to higher education. Students who attend and professors who teach are subject to arrest.
For many Baha’is, this is their only path to higher education. For reasons none of us know, however, a very small number of Baha’i are allowed into public universities. I was one of those extremely few people and I can tell you that that path was a difficult one.
Once, in my mandatory class on Islamic thought, the teacher explained that the Baha’i faith was not a real religion. I could not help myself and said that I am Baha’i and could explain who we are and what we believe.
About a week later the principal called me to his office and said that he wanted to give me “fatherly advice.” He told me he was afraid he was going to be pressured to kick me out of the university and encouraged that if asked I should deny my religion.
Otherwise, he explained, “you won’t get an education or a job.” He was a kind man and I believe he was really trying to advise me, but I could never have denied my faith.
Since marrying my American Baha’i husband, I have been away from my country and my family. My husband and I would return to Iran, if we could.I miss my family terribly and want so much to be near to them. Unfortunately, this is not possible. One day I know I will return home to live, but for now I find strength in my faith and my family.
Maryam Safajoo is a student at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston. She continues to fight for her sister’s freedom. This article was adapted from her remarksat the AJC Boston Diplomats Seder last Sunday.