Jewish Journal

Persian-born Bahai faith finds safe haven in Israel

by Karmel Melamed

November 25, 2007 | 7:59 pm

A follower of the Bahai faith in an AP article I recently came across said “I love Israeli people for the fact that they are very united. Israel wouldn’t be a possibility if the Jewish people weren’t united. We’re grateful to Israelis. We wouldn’t be here without them”. I found this man’s comments and the fact that Israel has enabled those of the Bahai faith to maintain their world center in Hafia, quite ironic considering the religion’s long history of missionary work that converted thousands of Jews in Iran to their faith more than 100 years ago. Founded less than 170 years ago, the Bahai faith believes that Persian-born prophet Bahuallah, who died in Israel, brought a message of unity, equality and world federation to save mankind from the plagues of the modern world.

According to Dr. Habib Levy’s book “Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran”, since people of the Bahai faith were persecuted themselves, they had to be careful in proselytizing among the Muslim majority living in Iran at the time. Since there was no such danger from proselytizing among the Jews in Iran, this made Jews a prime target for the new Bahai religion to target. Unfortunately at that time, the Jews of Iran who lived in certain urban areas were exposed to a steady stream of persecutions and pogroms which did not give them much time to explore their Jewish heritage. Likewise many Jews in Iran at that time did not know how to read Hebrew and were ignorant about their traditions while living in extreme poverty. Those Bahai proselytizers offered the Jews of Iran both money and social support, two major factors that lead many Iranian Jews to abandon their ancestor’s faith. Unfortunately when one member of a Jewish family converted to the Bahai faith many times others in the family would follow suit. Ultimately this very intense proselytizing by the Bahais, devastated the already dwindling number of Jews in Iran who had for centuries been forced to convert to Islam by the Muslim majority or face death.

Today there are a substantial number of Iranian Bahais who can trace their Jewish roots and also many Iranian Jews who have distant relatives that are Bahais. Iranian Bahais and Jews typically have good relations nowadays, the Iranian Jewish community is still cautious about their social interactions with Bahais because the Bahai faith requires continuous proselytizing. For this same reason, the Israeli government has allowed followers of the Bahai faith to maintain their center in Israel, but prohibited them from proselytizing in the country. It is a well known fact that Bahais who still live in Iran today as religious minorities have no rights unlike Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians. The current Iranian government not only persecutes Bahais, but readily executes those of the faith who it discovers have been proselytizing in the country.

No doubt the State of Israel has proven that unlike people of many other faiths and countries, the Jewish people are tolerant of other religions and are willing to co-exist with them. How many Roman Catholic or Islamic countries would allow the Bahais to have a center in their country if the Bahais had similar success in converting substantial numbers of Muslims and Christians in their countries? Not very many!

The shrine to the Bab, the Bahai terraced gardens and classical-style World Center in Haifa.

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Karmel Melamed is an internationally-published freelance journalist based in Southern California.

Since 2000, Melamed has specialized in covering the growing influential...

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