Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A dark corner of Iranian civil society and political culture

Most Muslims believe that all the people "of the book" are on the right track toward following the last prophet, Muhammad. Most of them are not tolerant of people of all of the books, the Bahai, who do not believe that Muhammad was the last prophet. Though the movement was begun in Persia (Iran), the Bahai are still persecuted in the country of its origin.

Studying at the Bahai secret university
The largest non-Muslim minority in Iran, the Bahais, are persecuted in many ways - one being that they are forbidden from attending university. Some study in secret, but for those who want to do a postgraduate degree the only solution is to leave their country and study abroad…

Since the creation of the Bahai faith in the mid-19th Century, the Iranian Shia establishment has called them "a deviant sect", principally because they reject the Muslim belief that Mohammed was the last prophet.

On official websites they are described as apostates, and as "unclean".

But it is when a student has finished school that the problems really begin.

Bahai… could not enter university. [The] only option was to secretly attend the Bahais' own clandestine university - the Bahai Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), set up in the mid-1980s by Bahai teachers and students who had been thrown out of Iranian universities after the revolution…

Lectures took place in improvised classrooms in private homes all around Tehran. It [takes] six years to complete [the] course, and it was then that [students] hit an impenetrable wall. There was no scope to do an MA or a PhD, and there was no scope for employment…

Soon afterwards, a wave of crackdowns on the Bahai intelligentsia began, with raids on clandestine classrooms and the arrest of many BIHE teachers…

The US is home to one of the largest Bahai populations in the world, their presence dating back at least to 1912, when Abdul Baha, the son of the faith's founder, Baha'u'llah, spent 11 months in the country, promoting the religion.

The BIHE degrees are accepted by most US universities… and many BIHE volunteers are based in the US.

"Students and instructors in Iran can end up in jail just for being students and instructors. So they are not only doing something that is hard for them to do, but dangerous to do," says Prof Thane Terril, a convert to the Bahai faith who now runs online teacher training courses for post-graduate students…

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