Celebrating a Forbidden Faith: Bahá'í

March 6, 2009

Author: Jaweed Kaleem

Source: The Miami Herald


Zeinab Salmanzadeh graduated from high school with stellar grades, but the university near her hometown in southwestern Iran repeatedly rejected her application. The only way she could continue her education was to study secretly with part-time tutors.

The sole reason: her religion.

Now a Kendall resident and a business administration student at Miami Dade College, she freely practices her Bahá'í faith and fears for fellow believers back home who have been jailed, accused of espionage and heresy against Islam.

Salmanzadeh, 33, is one of about 600 Bahá'ís in South Florida. The monotheistic faith emphasizes the ''oneness of humanity'' and follows the teachings of prophets including Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Báha'u'lláh, who founded the religion in mid-19th century Persia, as Iran was then known.

''The government just doesn't see you as somebody who has different beliefs,'' Salmanzadeh said at a Bahá'í gathering last week. ``It's been getting worse.''

She was one of about 70 people who came together at Jean Samimy's Coral Gables home to pray and speak out about oppression of the religious minority. Many were Bahá'ís born into the faith in Iran but others were converts from Christianity with Caribbean and Latin American roots.

In the past year, seven Iranian Bahá'í leaders have been jailed in Tehran. Hundreds more have been imprisoned and killed since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, which clamped down on religious minorities. The country's 300,000 Bahá'ís are routinely denied jobs, pensions, business opportunities and higher education, according to the Bahá'í International Community.

''Its impossible to live as a Bahá'í in Iran,'' said Samimy, 70, a gynecologist who studied in France and moved to the United States in the 1970s. ``We hope to stop the execution of these Bahá'ís in jail.''