Today, 9 July, the worldwide Baha'i community commemorates one of the most important events on its calendar, the martyrdom of the Báb, the tragic and glorious end in Tabriz of the earthly life of the prophet and forerunner of the Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892).
The Baha'i faith is a monotheistic religion that emerged in Persia in the 19th century, preaching peace and spiritual unity among all people, but his followers have endured violence and persecution, especially in Iran, where they are deemed spies of Israel and the United States.
The religion begins in Shi'a Persia with the Báb, prophet and forerunner. The founder of the faith is Baha'u'llah, a Persian nobleman who suffered imprisonment and exile for 40 years as a result of his preaching.
According to Baha'i beliefs, the Baha'u'llah is the last but not the definitive prophet of God, a title applied to the great witnesses of faith such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, and the Báb.
The Bab, prophet and precursor, is disliked by the Shia clergy in today's Iran. He was martyred in 1850. A similar fate has been reserved for many of his followers, even today, victims of targeted persecution and attacks, particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
According to Baha'i tradition, the Báb’s mortal remains were taken to Mount Carmel (Haifa, today’s Israel) by will of the Baha'u'llah, after they were concealed for decades in various secret places to prevent their destruction by his enemies.
The faith has three fundamental principles: the unity of God, source of all creation; the unity of religions, which derive their spiritual origin from a common root and the same God; and the unity of humanity for everyone is created equal with racial and cultural diversity seen as gifts worthy of appreciation.
The relativity and progressive nature of the religion explain humanity’s relationship (historical and dynamic) with the divinity, in an attempt to reconcile monotheistic faiths with the pre-Abrahamic and polytheistic religions.
The Baha'i faith today has about seven million members in more than 200 countries around the world. In some places, such as Iran, they are subject to harsh persecution like int the early years of its history.
According to the Bahá'í World News Service (BWNS), who has reported extensively on the violence against the community, Iranian authorities have escalated their attacks in recent weeks.
About 77 people have been targeted across the country with arrests reported in various provinces: Fars, South Khorasan, Mazandaran, Isfahan, Alborz, Kerman, Kermanshah and Yazd.
People have been arrested, tried, and convicted on “baseless charges, and for no other reason than a deep-seated antagonism to the Baha’i Faith and its teachings which emphasize truthfulness, equality of men and women, safeguarding the rights of all people, and the harmony of science and religion,” BWNS reported.
At the same time, official state media have pursued a defamatory campaign against the community based on disinformation and targeted attacks on radio, TV, newspapers and social media.
“The recent incidents have placed great pressures on so many families,” said Ms Bani Dugal, the main representative of the Baha’i International Community, “[s]ubjecting them to the constant threat of imprisonment”. And “all this [is happening] during a health crisis (COVID-19), at an alarmingly escalated rate without any justification whatsoever, [which] is extremely cruel and outrageous.”
Despite the persecution, Baha'is are very active in interfaith dialogue and in promoting peace. One of their representatives has always been present at the meetings for peace organised by the community of Sant'Egidio in Assisi from the time of Saint John Paul II up to Benedict XVI.
Baha'is are also closely linked to education as the "central value" of existence and to the State of Israel, because both the Báb and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the "servant of Baha", are buried in Haifa, Israel, home to the Shrine of the Báb. Surrounded by a huge garden, the UNESCO heritage site (since 2008) is a destination for many pilgrims every year.
In spite of the paucity of rituals and the common use of the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Qurʼān, Baha'is observe a 19-day, sunrise-to-sunset fast (which corresponds to a month in the Baha'i calendar), starting on 2 March