The Baha'is are among the most persecuted religious minorities in the world.
In Iran, where the religion was founded, universities refuse to admit Baha'i students, Baha'i cemeteries have been destroyed and the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has confiscated properties from Baha'i families. Baha'is have also been discriminated against in Yemen and in Egypt.
On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i faith, the question remains: What is the reason for their persecution?
Baha'u'llah, whose name means “Glory of God” in Arabic, was born in Tehran in 1817. Baha'u'llah’s father was a minister in Iran’s government, which supported Shi'i Islam as the state religion. As a member of Iran’s nobility, Baha'u'llah was offered a government position. Instead, he joined a new religious movement, started by a young Iranian, known as the Bab.
The Babi movement called for revolutionary social changes and championed women’s rights. Quite controversially, the Bab claimed that his teachings were a revelation from God and predicted that a new prophetic figure, or manifestation of God, would soon appear.
In 1850, the Bab was charged by Shi'i religious officials with heresy and was put to death by firing squad. Subsequent public protests and mob violence claimed the lives of thousands of his followers.
In Acre in northern Israel, a former prison city of the Ottoman Empire, the barracks where Bahá’u’lláh was imprisoned starting in 1868. Bahá’í World News Service © Bahá'í International Community
As part of its crackdown on the followers of the Bab, the Iranian government incarcerated Baha'u'llah. He was kept in an underground prison in Tehran, which Baha'u'llah describes in his writings as filthy, dark and “foul beyond comparison.”
The government released Baha'u'llah in 1853, and exiled him to Baghdad, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It was during this exile that he publicly announced the establishment of the Baha'i faith. Indeed Baha'u'llah claimed to be the manifestation of God that the Bab had foretold and gained a large following.