LA Study Class Newsletter [#20]

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My Notes:

This newsletter has a general introduction to the Persian Baha’i community of Tehran, which at its time was the largest congregation of Baha’is. The community that is being described below is sadly not there anymore. As a result of the 1979 revolution, the Baha’is were literally scattered to the four winds. At least those who were lucky enough to get out. Those who stayed and are still there have endured great hardships. Only within the past few years have the Baha’is seen a slight thaw and been able to live in some semblance of tranquility. My heart goes out to them because they are living in perhaps the most corrupt, decadent and morally bankrupt society on the face of the earth.

I also wanted to make an observation about Persian Baha’i women. In the words of the Baha’i reporting below, they were not at the forefront of the feminism movement any more. In fact, from what I’ve personally seen, Persian women (those who are born in, grow up and live in Iran) are even more chauvinistic than the males. Perhaps it is due to living in such close proximity to Muslims and their male centered culture. Or perhaps it is something else. But whenever I see it, I am truly baffled. I mean, I always expected to see such women fighting even harder for rights and equality but instead I see them perpetuating pretty much the same culture they were brought up in.

Also worth pointing out is the rather shrewd manner in which the Baha’is at that time skirted the intent of an Iranian law – which was to prevent them from publishing – and only respected the letter of that law. Doing so, as you can guess, allowed them to publish with total freedom.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70′s class . . .

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“World’s First Tow-Away
Erogenous Zone.”
November, 1977 – Study Class Report- Vol. II, No. 15

American Baha’is frequently regard Persian Baha’is with something amount to near awe. It is commonly assumed in the American Baha’i Community that Persian Baha’is are more “spiritually developed” than their American counterparts. Peggy Caton, a UCLA graduate student who recently spent three years in Iran working on her doctoral dissertation, reported to our study class on conditions in modern Iran and the character of the Baha’i community there. Here is a summary of what she said:

ORGANIZATION: In Tehran, there are an estimated 50,000 adult Baha’is, although the figures vary, and some reports put the number closer to 80,000. In terms of Baha’i administration, the city is divided into 11 districts, each with its own Baha’i Center. In district 4, where Ms. Caton lived, there were 13 separate Feasts. A central Feast committee drew up the same agenda for each Feast in the city, specifying the devotions to be read and even choosing topics for consultation. The listed topics for consultation could be supplemented with other issues at local Feasts.

Although infants were seldom brought to the Feast, children age 5 and younger did attend and invariably remained quiet, sometimes perching as long as two hours on chairs without showing signs of restlessness. “Food is very important over there,” Ms. Caton reported, reeling off a list of seeds, fruits, candies and other delicacies that invariably formed a part of Feast. “At Feast, it was always a contest to see who would have the best refreshments,” she recalled, saying heaping platters of food of all kinds were commonplace until one of the Feast committees cracked down, ending a practice of one-upsmanship among those hosting the Feasts.

Iran remains an overwhelmingly Muslim nation and the influence of Islam can be seen in the Persian Baha’i Community. For example, on Baha’i Holy Days such as the Martyrdom of the Bab or the Ascencion of Baha’u’llah, many Baha’is will not play music during the day – a holdover from Islamic culture which considers music taboo on such solemn occasions. Often Baha’i women, again following Islamic custom, wear only black garments during the observances.

There is a wide variety of Baha’i cultural and social activities offered in the Tehran community. Special meetings for all ages and interest groups are common, especially on Thursday nights, (Thursday night in Iran is the equivalent of Saturday night in America. In Islamic nations, Friday is the sabbath day, as Sunday is in Christian culture.) Often, meetings are held to hear reports from travel teachers to the nation’s provincial areas.

Baha’i childhood education is stressed in the Tehran community. Baha’i children, beginning at age 6, are regularly enrolled in a “Lessons in Character” couse which parallels their regular schooling and proceeds, grade by grade, until the children are 18. This special schooling emphasizes rote study of the Baha’i scriptures.

One other area of intense activity is in the realm of archival material. Ms. Caton reported that the archives of the Tehran Baha’i Community include many of the Writings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah which have yet to be collated, translated or made available to the community at large.

The dedication lavished on securing archival material and historic objects was illustrated by one story Ms. Caton told. It happened that one of the swords of Mulla Husayn (which is now on display in the International Archives Building in Haifa, Israel) formerly was owned by a family of rich and powerful Muslims. Every year, during an Islamic observance of the Martyrdom of the Imam Husayn, the sword was carried on a pillow in the procession, as visible proof of the triumph of Islam over Baha’i.

The Baha’is were determined to obtain possession of the sword because of its significance to the early history of the Babi Faith. As it happened with the passage of time, members of the family that owned the sword began dying off one by one. A certain Baha’i was assigned the task of authenticating the weapon and somehow obtaining it. He became friendly with the owner of the sword and, after years of effort, was permitted to examine the blade. After verifying that it did belong to Mulla Husayn, he began a series of long, complex negotiations with the owner. In the end, the Baha’is got the sword, but only after years of intense, personal effort.

PERSECUTIONS: The general status of the Baha’i Faith in Iran has improved since the last century, when the heads of Babis were sometimes exchanged as gifts. Even so, “any Baha’i who goes into the provinces has got his life on the line,” Ms. Caton said. There has been a recent revival of persecutions in Iran which corresponds to an increase in Baha’i activities in the provincial areas. For example, earlier this year, Ruhu’llah Taymuri-Muqudam, 37, a Baha’i pioneer who spent 20 years in Fazil Abad, a remote village, was stabbed and hacked to death by an assassin hired by Muslim fanatics in the area. His sister and mother were seriously injured in the assault.

The Baha’i Community also faces what it perceives as another persistent danger – the secret penetration into the ranks of the believers by members of a fanatical Islamic group known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Members of this group like to enroll in the Faith or worm their way into firesides and disrupt the proceedings with hostile questions. Another favorite trick of Brotherhood members is to discover the location of firesides, stake them out and, after the meetings end, threaten any non-Baha’is who have attended the gatherings. Baha’is who drive to Feasts and other celebrations at well-known Baha’i Centers are careful to park their cars a few blocks away. It is common for the tires of cars parked outside or near Baha’i Centers to be slashed. The harassment by the Muslim Brotherhood has led the Baha’is to take elaborate enrollment precautions to prevent outbursts and disruptions.

Enemies of the Faith often spread the rumor that Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi is influenced by the Baha’is – if he is not a Baha’i himself. In general, the Baha’is have a reputation for supporting the Shah and his government. The revolutionary underground, which occasionally unleashes terrorist attacks in the capital, considers the Baha’is to be “shah lovers” and hardcore reactionaries who would be fair game for persecution in a revolutionary takeover of the government.

But despite being the object of contempt from the Muslims and splinter group revolutionaries, rumors that Baha’is live a prevarious existence surrounded by hatred are exaggerated, Ms. Caton reported. She noted that successful teaching trips are routinely undertaken to reach the country’s ethnic minorities, the Kurds, Turkemens, Lors, and those who live in Iran’s semi-isolated mountain regions. These groups have not been infected by the virus of anti-Baha’i propaganda and are quite receptive to the message of Baha’u’llah, she said.

There is also an active Baha’i publishing trust in Tehran which operates in relative safety, due to a quirk in Irani law. The Baha’i Faith is forbidden to publish materials, but publication is legally defined as “typesetting.” However, throught the use of offset and mimeograph techniques, this provision is circumvented and Baha’i material can be distributed.

SOCIAL MORES: Baha’is no longer represent the progressive element in the feminist movement in Iran. Baha’i women’s classes stress a home-and-motherhood role for females, usually offering topics which relating to cooking or child raising. Iran also suffers from a class stratification problem and this lack of communication and interaction among the upper, middle and lower classes is reflected, to some extent, in the Baha’i community. Wealthier Baha’is tend to be more influenced by European or American customs. Sometimes thsi influence produces a climate in which the richer Baha’is have little or nothing to do with their poorer co-religionists. The Western trend to secularization has resulted in the children from all classes of Baha’i families, especially the wealthy, often drifting away from the Faith.

NEXT CLASS: The next study class will be held on Sunday, November 27, at 2 pm at the home of Anthony Lee [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows]. Mr. Vahid Rafati will be speaking on “The Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha in the American National Archives.” Mr. Rafati has read over 1,600 tablets of Abdu’l-Baha in the original Persian and Arabic during work in the American archives. He will summarize his findings in this class. We may also be able to convince him to give another class on the concept of infallibility in the Baha’i Faith. He has written a paper in Persian on this subject for publication.

THIRD ANNUAL MEETING OF CANADIAN ASSOCIATION: The third annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Studies on the Baha’i Faith will be held in Surrey, BC. The meeting, held at Rosemary Heights, 3690 152nd St. (near the Vancouver Airport), begins Friday afternoon December 30, and continues through Sunday afternoon January 1, 1978. The program will include submitted papers, invited presentation, and art show “The Spiritual Quest of the Artist.” For more information on the program write the Canadian Association for Studies on the Baha’i Faith, c/o the Baha’i National Centre, 7200 Leslie Street, Thornhill, Ontario, L3T 2A1. A registration form appears below and can be mailed with $5.00 registration fee to Jame Goldstone [Ed. personal home address follows].

AGE OF MIRACLES DEPT.: The survival of the LSA of Hermosa Beach, California, is assured. Recovering from a bleak low of five adults at the end of summer, we’re now up to 10 adults and a few youth as well. For those among you who might have said prayers for us, we offer our gratitude. For those of you who surveyed the dismal situation and predicted, “You’ll never get this community off the ground.” we have this message: “Nyaah! Nyaah! Nyaah!”
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[Ed. registration form follows]

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Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.