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Baha'i Martyrs In Iran

Among the religious extremes of Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran, was the execution last year of about 150 members of the Baha'i faith. That people should be put to death simply because they adhered to their religious convictions is one tragic result of the tyranny imposed by Iran's supposedly theocratic government. Those Iranians who sacrificed their lives rather than renounce their beliefs certainly confirmed the sincerity of their convictions.

The martyrdoms were widely publicized and stirred protest in many parts of the world. Over 1200 members of the Baha'i faith from different parts of Great Britain attended a special meeting in London on the 24th September, 1983 to pay tribute to the martyrs. Many who attended this memorial were close relatives of the executed Iranians. The ceremony was organized by the Baha'i National Assembly of the United Kingdom, and the programme included prayers, readings, and extracts from the last letters of the condemned Iranian Baha'is. While a Scottish piper played a lament, each of the 1200 participants filed past a monument, and placed at its base a white rose in tribute to the Baha'is who had chosen to die rather than give up their faith. Our hearts go out in sympathy to all families whose loved ones perished in this ruthless persecution.

Many causes have been furthered by martyrdoms among their followers. In the development of Christianity it has been well said that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church". It was Paul who testified, "When the blood of Stephen Thy witness was shed, I also was standing by. . . and keeping the garments of them that slew him". The remarkable way in which Stephen died may well have been used by the Lord the Spirit as one of the goads against which the once proud Pharisee found it so hard to kick!

The problem has so often been, of course, that admiration of martyrs may influence people to embrace their cause without careful enough examination of the ideals for which their lives were sacrificed. Persecution of Baha'is in Iran has aroused much interest in the Baha'i faith. Surely, people reason, a religion whose adherents can endure such things must have a great deal to offer!

What then is offered by the Baha'i faith? Its great appeal lies in a widely tolerant attitude to all peoples and to all their religions. It seeks to bring together people of all faiths under one umbrella. It tries to draw from the different religious faiths those teachings which promote a sense of brotherhood among all mankind. So racial, class and religious prejudices are discouraged, and there is great emphasis on social ethics.

The Baha'is claim that all the world's great religious teachers have received light from God, and something may be learned from each. By putting together the contributions each has made, we shall arrive at the best understanding of what God has revealed to mankind. They group the Lord Jesus with such religious teachers as Mohammed, Zoroaster and the Buddha, and see in them a series of divine manifestations. Further special manifestations of God are claimed through the founders of the Baha'i faith, notably an Iranian known as "Bahullah" (glory of God). In 1867 he publicly proclaimed himself as "him whom God should manifest". At first the Baha'i faith was virtually confined to Iran, but it was introduced to the wider world in the 1890's, and by 1920 its main base was in the United States.

Towards the end of the first century the apostle John wrote: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world". Through succeeding centuries it has been Satan's strategy to multiply alternatives to the Christian faith. False apostles have fashioned themselves "into apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing, therefore, if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:13-15). In a similar way such religions as the Baha'i faith give the Lord Jesus a place in their scheme of things. But their estimation of Him falls far short of the divine requirement "that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father" (John 5:23). To equate Jesus with such religious leaders as Mohammed reduces Him from His unique place as Emmanuel, God with us, to a merely human plane. To disregard His atoning sacrifice, and urge sinful mankind to attain merit by religious devotion and social betterment, is against the whole spirit of the gospel of Christ. As Paul wrote about his Jewish brethren: "They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:2, 3).

How tragically such religious zeal, divorced from the true knowledge of God, still abounds in our modern world!