In an effort to enlighten the Winthrop community on the persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran, the department of philosophy and religion studies spearheaded a presentation entitled Education Under Fire Monday evening. The presentation included a discussion of the faith by Carey Murphy who has been a Bahá’í since 1970 and the viewing of a film entitled Education Under Fire.
The Bahai faith is the second most widespread religion on earth, according to Murphy. Founded by Bahá’ulláh who was a Persian nobleman, this independent religion is centered around the idea that all of the main religions came from the same sources and their is only one god and one humankind.
“We believe that everybody has been guided by god,” Murphy said. “There is one book of religion. What we see as different is because it is from a different time and place.”
Since the early 1980s, the Iranian government denied the right of higher education to any member of the Bahá’í faith, according to a letter written to the supreme leader, president and high officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran by members of the academy, members of the faith, civic, religious and human rights communities. In return, they created the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) which represents the only access to university level education for individuals in Iran.
The film “Education Under Fire” explained that Bahá’í children did not have the same social life as other children and they were often afraid of being “kicked out of school” at any given time. They could not even drink water from the the same fountains that the Muslim children had access to.
Bahá’ís are not recognized in the Iranian constitution and have no rights whatsoever. They could not work for the government or hold state jobs and many are arrested and executed. The only way they were allowed higher education is if they denied their religion.
Students who participated in BIHE took a six hour drive every six months to go to school, according to the film. During their three-day stay, they had to find other Bahá’í students to live with. Originally, the institute only offered two majors –math and science. As time went on, the number of different courses grew.
“It is one of the most extraordinary education experiences in the world,” said a former Bahá’í student in the film.
Vida Yousefian is a member of the Bahá’í faith and came to South Carolina from Iran in 2005. She was a student of BIHE and is continuing her education at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. She stated to the audience who gathered for the Education Under Fire presentation that she went through everything that was stated in the documentary.
“That’s my story,” Yousefian said.
Yousefian explained that it was against the Iranian government’s will that she came to the United States. She has an aunt and uncle who lives in West Columbia that opened their home to her along with the Bahá’í community of Columbia.
“I haven’t been back to Iran and I don’t plan on going back,” she said.
When she lived in Iran, people were not allowed to speak of the Iranian economy or they would “put you in jail and later kill you,” Yousefian said.
“People don’t know if their houses are tapped or not and I’m sure many of them are,” she said.
Currently, Yousefian has a cousin in an Iranian prison who was arrested for working with the BIHE. She said he is currently still in prison living in poor conditions with poor health.
Bahá’ís are not the only people of Iran who are often arrested frequently. Journalists are also prone to arrests.
Yousefian said that it is the international community’s responsibility to tell the Iranian government “We know you’re lying.”
“Human rights is a part of the United Nations,” Murphy said. “If you’re not going to adhere to that, then get out of the United Nations.”