August 17, 2019 | 84° F

Support University students of Baha’i faith


As a practicing member of the Baha’i faith, I spend 19 days in March fasting from sunrise to sunset. Baha’i, which lasts during the daylight hours, is when people of the faith between 15 and 70 years old refrain from eating and drinking. The fast is symbolic: It stands as a reminder of spirituality in favor of materialism and aims to humble us.

During midterms, I’ve been asked how I can concentrate while my stomach’s grumbling. I hardly see the fast as an obstacle to my studies. Rather, it reminds me of my steadfast faith and how lucky I am to be able to practice my religion while still receiving an education, because this freedom that I enjoy is not universal. Today, Baha’is in Iran are afforded no legal rights. They are victims of a systematic persecution at the hands of a government that denies their existence as legitimate believers of a legitimate faith.

The Baha’i faith emerged as an independent faith in the mid-1800s in Iran, but has since spread to virtually every country in the world. There are about 7 million Baha’is, and it is the world’s second-most geographically diverse religion after Christianity. Baha’is believe in the oneness of humanity. We stand for universal education, the equality of men and women, world peace and the elimination of all prejudice. Most importantly, we are commanded by our scriptures to engage in some kind of profession, art, trade or craft. We believe that humans are blessed with the gifts of intelligence, creativity and empathy. With these qualities, we have the ability to achieve this great peace.

It’s hard to see how any of these beliefs could be criminal.

Perhaps worst of all, Baha’is are barred from higher education in Iran. Forbidden from attending university, they are prevented from becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers or anything else. Without an education or a degree, they can never earn high salaries. The forbidding of a university education for Baha’is is a systematic persecution, designed to drive the country’s largest religious minority into abject poverty.

Baha’is attempted to appease their situation by creating an underground university called the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. Taught by Baha’i professors who had been fired from their jobs, as well as other scholars, graduates of the clandestine BIHE were able to have their degrees recognized and accepted by multiple universities in the world. But in May 2011, Iranian authorities arrested many people involved with the BIHE under charges such as “conspiracy against national security by establishing the illegal Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.”

A university education is hardly even about training for jobs and money. It’s about deepening and enlightenment. It’s about being human. We’re endowed with intelligence and creativity. It’s human to want to exercise our intelligence and creativity in whatever manner we choose — literature, law, art, science, medicine, etc. Who has the right to prevent anyone from being human?

I think about the person I’ve become in my four years of college. Shakespeare has become my best friend. I write much more wisely, with tact and sensitivity. I’ve been a First-Year Interest Group Seminar instructor and work as a tutor at the Plangere Writing Center on the College Avenue campus. I’ve made dozens upon dozens of wonderful friends and have become acquainted with wonderful professors. I’ve studied abroad and traveled, which taught me more about myself than any class could ever offer.

So, imagine me — a good student, a writer, a friend, a tutor, a teacher, a loyal customer to the coffee shop on campus and dedicated English major — being expelled from the University for believing in the notion that all religions come from the same God, that men and women are inherently equal, that world peace is possible and that human beings are truly good at heart.

You would do something about it, wouldn’t you?

Please join us then, for a viewing of the documentary “Education Under Fire” and a conversation today, Wednesday, March 7 at Trayes Hall in the Douglass Campus Center. Our cause is not political, and it is not religious. Rather, we hope for it to be a gathering of University students, simply standing up for the rights of other people who just want to be students too.

Nadia Kardan is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English with a minor in religion.

By Nadia Kardan

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