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A petition to Reza Shah

Posted by Sen on March 30, 2010

Reza Shah's Mausoleum

The following petition was sent to Reza Shah (1878 – 1944; father of Mohammed Reza Shah) by the NSA of the Bahais of North America back in 1926. I’m posting it here to make it accessible to search engines, and because its impressive argumentation is relevant to the current persecutions in Iran, and refutes recent claims that the Bahais of Iran were privileged ( ! ) under the Pahlavi kings. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The petition was published in the Bahai World Volume 2, from page 287.

An Appeal Addressed to His Imperial Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi
by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada

Reza Shah Pahlavi, His Imperial Majesty,
Imperial Palace, Tihran, Persia.

Your Majesty:
Moved by the cruel persecutions being inflicted upon the Baha’is of Persia, we address this petition to the supreme authority of that land, confident that when all the facts are assembled, the conditions realized and the consequences understood, your Majesty will straightway initiate whatever measures are necessary to terminate this long and frightful chapter of unmerited woe.

Recent Cases of Murder and Pillage
The latest example of the extreme suffering endured by Persian Baha’is, brought to our attention through sources of unquestionable accuracy, was in the outbreak of public violence which took place in the town of Jahrum on April 7th last. On that day eight Baha’is were tortured and slain under circumstances of unbelievable brutality. The names of these innocent victims are: Siyyid Husayn Ruhani, Ostad ‘Abbas, Muhammad Kazim, Muhammad Hassan, Muhammad Shafi, Mashhadi ‘Abbas, Ostad Muhammad Hassan and Muhammad Riza. In addition to those murdered outright, many others were severely wounded, and some twenty homes overrun and looted or burned to ground. Among the atrocious acts committed in the same town we must record also the slaughter of Baha’i women in the most shameful manner and the cutting into pieces of the body of a Baha’i child by the pitiless criminal’s knife.

The survivors of such fanatical outbreaks are perhaps more deeply to be pitied even than those who suffered martyrdom by fire and sword. Against them are closed all doors of mercy, of justice, even of the most elemental human association in any form. The civil authorities deny them the rights and privileges of the law of the land and all protection of local and provincial courts; the chiefs of Islam pronounce association with them a violation of the principles of the religion of Muhammad; they are prevented from having access to shops which supply the daily necessities of existence; their homes, their property and their persons are abandoned to the will of the insane mob or of the worst criminal element in the community. Such are the conditions existing today in the town of Maraghih, in the province of Adhirbayjan, of your realm.

To recount the sufferings of the Persian Baha’is in detail, hundreds of pages would be required. Sufficient for the moment, to state that twenty of these unfortunate people have been slain within the past few weeks, while three were murdered during the previous year, with fanatical outbreaks more particularly in the towns of Qamsar and Faran and the provinces of Fars, Yazd and Khurasan. The anti-Baha’i incidents preceding the assassination of Vice-Consul Major Robert W. Imbrie in the streets of Tihran are becoming well known to the American people, through the extensive newspaper publicity following that unhappy but significant case.

If the slightest doubt should arise as to the number or grave character of these anti-Baha’i outrages in Persia, we are prepared to file the complete record with any suitable authority your Majesty may care to name. The essence of the matter is this: at this very hour, under your Majesty’s rule, just as has been the case for more than eighty years under preceding sovereigns, the life of a Baha’i in Persia is bereft of all those sanctions and guarantees which are written into the law of every civilized nation, and adhered to as a moral code even by peoples who have not developed to the state of formal law. The Persian Baha’is at any moment are subject to such shameful violence as hunters would not inflict upon beasts of prey.

The astonishing record of the martyrdoms undergone by the Bab and His followers, and by those who later acknowledged the spiritual leadership of Baha’u’llah, is extant in the libraries of America and Europe in the works of well-known scholars such as the late Professor Browne of Cambridge University, the late Baron Rosen of Petrograd, and Comte de Gobineau of France. The leading humanitarians and independent thinkers of the West are cognizant of the fact that in Persia during the past eighty years there has occurred the most heroic expression of the religious spirit which has glorified humanity for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years. Animated by invincible faith, more than twenty thousand men, women and children have during that period of time voluntarily yielded up their lives to promote the Cause of Baha’u’llah.

Religious Freedom Guaranteed
If from local and provincial authorities, and from the religious leaders as well, the general justification has been attempted that the Baha’is individually and collective are dangerous to the public welfare and their extermination a service to the people and state, we must be permitted to ask by what authority has their case been tried? Under what condition has it been established beyond the right of appeal, that a Baha’i as such is synonymous with a vital menace to Persia – nay, apparently, a menace to mankind? For every species of criminal, no matter how vile, the law assigns methods of trial and degrees of punishment. When did the supreme court of Persia, despite the fact that religious freedom is guaranteed by the Persian Constitution, make an exception in the case of the Baha’is?

We know full well that according to the universal standards of morality, the Persian Baha’is are not merely the peers, they are indisputably the superiors, of their fellow countrymen. The Persian Baha’is are truthful and industrious. They are progressive and public spirited. They value highly the benefits of scientific and industrial as well as cultural and religious education. They recognize the equality of men and women. They are bound by the explicit text of their religion to be loyal to the head of their national government and to take part in no movements of sedition. Since the individual Baha’i cannot be condemned according to the prevailing moral or civil standard, and the Baha’is collectively cannot be proven ever to have arisen against the government, it must be that those responsible for their persecution assert that the Baha’i Faith itself, independent of the lives and actions of its adherents, contains some dreadful taint, some mysterious evil, the stamping out of which is required by Divine law!

Should this species of vindication be put forward – this condoning of theft, arson, pillage, torture and murder on the part of the officials and clergy as though sanctioned by the Will of God – then we assert that either no effort has been made by its enemies to understand the principles of the Faith, or those who occupy the seats of religious authority in Persia can no longer discriminate between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.

Baha’i Principles and Doctrines
The principles and doctrines of the Baha’i Cause are not subject to changing interpretation according to individual caprice or the self-interest of any special group. These teachings are to be found in the writings of Baha’u’llah, together with the interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – and exist in no other source. For the sake of brevity, ‘Abdu’l-Baha summarized the essential objects and teachings of the Faith as follows: [See Appendix One at the conclusion of this letter]
Brief though it be, the foregoing statement of the principles and doctrines of the Baha’i Faith is quite sufficient to reveal its comprehensive character, its noble purpose and its pure spirit. What conscientious minister or priest of any religion; what statesman of any country; what responsible man of affairs; what scientist or thinker, could assert that loyalty to such teachings threatens the true welfare of any person or group? By what logic can these principles be claimed a form of heresy to any Divine law or treason to any just government?
Nevertheless, the Persians themselves, save only the Persian Baha’is, still ignore the greatness that came into their midst, repudiate the principles of true progress and civilization so lovingly offered them, and even decide that the followers of this Faith, irrespective of their personal morality and civic virtue, are deserving of the most implacable hate, the most relentless hostility, the most inhuman death!

Outline of Baha’i History …

Conditions Indicate Anarchy
We have referred to the long period of time over which these dire persecutions have been spread. We have indicated also that the original antagonism for the Babis and their successor, the Baha’is, emanated not from the mass of the people but from the chiefs of religion and state. Without their deliberate provocation and example, the people would never have become inflamed with the insane spirit of fanaticism and bloodshed. But once this dreadful example was set, the people throughout the land were quick to learn that one could rob, insult, strike, torture and slay a Baha’i with impunity – nay, even with the approval of those in local positions of power. Therefore, by all too logical steps, conditions in Persia have come to the point where, if public agitation is wanted for purpose, or ambitious leaders desire to divert attention from an issue, all that is necessary is for them to raise a hue and cry against the Baha’is, and behind the smoke of violence the agitators can work unseen. The condition is one of moral and civic anarchy, and if prolonged must seep higher and higher into the structure of the central government until at last the supreme executive, to maintain himself, must become little better than a bandit chief. A patriot like your Majesty, who understands the basis of national order and stability, has surely viewed this problem of local government as one of supreme concern for the progress, for the very existence of the Persian state.

Very humbly, and as true friends of Persia, we suggest that the question of the Baha’is of your realm has become a vital issue no longer to be postponed or entrusted to prejudiced or incompetent hands. For the cruel treatment being inflicted upon this innocent people is becoming the cause of absolute anarchy and disregard of law. Not until your loyal Baha’i subjects receive full justice and protection will these negative forces be successfully resisted, which will otherwise lead to the total disintegration of civilized customs, manners and forms. When the supreme authority of Persia today reverses the example its predecessors set over seventy years ago, and protects the Baha’is resolutely instead of condoning their persecution, then at last can the process of anarchy and disintegration be checked, and the national government, the sole hope of any people, be placed on foundations able to endure.

It may well be that the case of the Persian Baha’is had become a vital issue in another direction as well.

Menace to Persia’s Economic Development
Aware of the explicit statements made by ‘Abdu’l-Baha concerning the future of the relations between East and West, the Baha’is of the United States and Canada have long watched with the greatest interest the signs of an increasing intimacy between North America and Persia. We have felt keenly the need for cordial association and mutual spirit of cooperation between these two lands and peoples, in order to offset by an example of international justice and true morality the grievous effects of that previous contact of East and West so frequently founded on national or sectional greed. Is it not evident that Persia would benefit by direct financial cooperation from this country – enterprises of a non-political character intended to develop the natural resources of that economically undeveloped land? But the consummation of any plan of financial cooperation between our people and Persian is impossible until real stability had been effected in Persia itself, and those processes of justice and security have been realized which are absolutely necessary as guarantees that large economic developments can succeed. We have direct knowledge of one important enterprise recently abandoned by American interests for lack of these guarantees.

But such considerations are entirely secondary to our essential purpose, of requesting protection and justice for the Persian Baha’is on purely spiritual grounds. No other purpose could have induced us to take this unusual step of addressing a petition directly to a chief of state. It is because all the circumstances are extraordinary, and the issues supremely important, that we felt compelled to disregard ordinary custom and place this petition directly in your Majesty’s hands. The news of your accession to the throne gave us great hope that Persia had now been blessed with a ruler not only firm but imbued with modern standards and ideals. We feel certain that your Majesty will appreciate the gravity of the case and determine to uphold the full responsibility of your exalted position as the founder of a new dynasty by hastening to suppress conditions of terror long crying to Divine Justice for amends.

Baha’i Literature Confiscated
We express the hope that your Majesty will also decide that no useful end can any longer be served by the confiscation of Baha’i magazines, literature and correspondence sent to Persian from this country, or by the banning of photographs of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. It is such imperial regulations which serve indirectly to justify the atrocities committed by your subjects upon the Baha’is.

We await your Majesty’s assurance that our respectful appeal has achieved its aim. Our love for these oppressed Baha’i brothers and sisters makes it imperative that we continue our efforts to rescue them from their sea of calamity, until assured that henceforth they shall be protected by the full power of the Imperial Government, and just restitution made them for losses already sustained.

We transmit this petition in behalf of the Baha’i Spiritual Assemblies of the United States and Canada as follows…

National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada.

By Horace Holley, Secretary.
Green Acre, Eliot, Maine
July 16, 1926.

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