Here’s a news item you may have missed: Iran is holding seven leaders of the Bahai faith prisoner. They were arrested back in 2008, convicted of espionage, insulting “religious sanctities” and propaganda against the state. The Bahais are about 300,000 strong in Iran, with thousands of others in Iraq and Pakistan. They are persecuted everywhere in the Muslim world, denied work, denied entrance to universities, viewed with suspicion and hatred, and, in a word–dehumanized.
The spying and propaganda charges come from the fear that Israel is using the Bahai community in Iran for its own purposes. Who knows if this is true in some cases. But the main reason they’re treated badly is the “sanctity” question. The Bahais believe their founders were prophets, here to continue the work begun by Mohammed and Jesus. But for Muslims, Mohammed was the final prophet. To announce that you, too, have a direct line to God–well, that’s a big problem.
It’s extremely depressing to go online and try to find out what exactly people have against the Bahais. There are Christians taking them to task for claiming their teachings come from God, and there are Muslims who try to justify their scorn for these people who they see as shills for the Jewish state…delusional, unclean apostates! Lock them up! Get them out of our country!
Just to remind you: we went through this in our history too. The early Quakers were persecuted in England and America, Roger Williams,John Wheelwright, and Thomas Hooker were driven out of Puritan Boston to found Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The Puritans in Boston had the same problem with these gentlemen that the Ayatollahs have with the Bahais: they dare to suggest that they have their beliefs from God directly. God spoke to their leaders, told them how to live their lives, gave them a moral code. This is blasphemy to the Muslim world as it was to the Puritans.
Why was it blasphemy?
Because God had already spoken to their leaders giving them their marching orders on how to live their lives. Their point of departure is, that we can’t know everything about God, but we can know that He dictated those holy books that are the source of our moral codes, and we can know that our interpretation of those holy books is the only correct one.
This is all metaphysics, that fancy word that refers to what we know of reality beyond what our senses can tell us–what we believe without evidence. In other words, some very tricky stuff to deal with. Metaphysical arguments are heavy lifting. I fall back on Voltaire who said it all in Micromegas. When he had those two superior beings from outer space visit Earth they brought with them a book with everything known about metaphysics written in it. When the earthling philosophers eagerly opened the book, it was blank.
People take that blank book and write in their own accounts, passed on from their parents and their parents’ parents, and it becomes Gospel. How much better the world would be if we sidestepped the questions of provenance, the “how do you know that?” and focused on the guidelines to living, the moral code, the “how do we get along?” The Bahais, the Mormons, the Quakers, all have a deep respect for the human being. They all put a premium on world peace. The sacred is found in compassion, in the seven universal sacraments, not in unanswerable arguments about who God whispered what to when.