Prominent UK Imam “proud” to endorse gift from Iranian Ayatollah to Baha’is

Ibrahim-MograSheikh Ibrahim Mogra has said he gleaned “hope and optimism” from Iranian Ayatollah Tehrani’s stand for coexistence with the Baha’i community in Iran, who are heavily persecuted.

Earlier this month, Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, a prominent Iranian cleric and scholar, took a stand for coexistence with Iran’s Baha’i minority by presenting a gift of his calligraphy of the writings of Baha’u’llah – the Founder of the Baha’i Faith – to the Baha’is of the world.

“[Ayatollah Tehrani] has reminded us that Islam is a religion of peace that recognises diversity of every kind as part of God’s design for his creation. And it all came in the form of a gift – one which I am proud to endorse,” said Sheikh Ibrahim.

“I am proud, as a Muslim and as an imam, to celebrate this enlightened gift, which has such immense spiritual significance. The faiths of the world should be united in promoting coexistence to advance human civilisation.”

Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra is assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain and serves as an imam in Leicester. His is ardent defender of the values of tolerance and coexistence, and is at the forefront of deepening interfaith relations in the UK.

Click here to read his article in full (Guardian online).

Parliamentary seminar: Do not ignore human rights in Iran

At a seminar last week in Parliament, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, said that Baha’is in Iran are “completely denied” the rights due to them under international law, and that those who commit human rights violations in Iran enjoy impunity for their actions.

Left to right: Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Baroness Berridge, Kat Eghdamian, Paul Goggins MP

Left to right: Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Baroness Berridge, Kat Eghdamian, Paul Goggins MP

The seminar, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom and chaired by Baroness Berridge, coincides with increased global attention after the recent election of President Hassan Rouhani on a reformist platform.

“At best,” said Dr Shaheed, “Baha’is are third class citizens, who do not benefit from the constitutional and legal protections afforded to either Shi’a Muslim citizens or the recognised constitutional religious minorities (Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism). “Sending a religious minority into court is to effectively deny them access to justice,” he said.

“The way to show intent of real change in Iran,” said Dr Shaheed, “is to release the [seven Baha’i leaders] in Iran”.

Members of the Baha’i Faith in Iran are frequently denied access to employment and business licences; Baha’i schoolchildren are harassed at schools; university students are expelled or denied entry; and Baha’is are regularly arrested interrogated and their homes raided for practicing their faith.

In August this year, a Baha’i – Ataollah Rezvani – was murdered in a religiously motivated attack in Iran, and the Iranian authorities have taken no steps to arrest the perpetrators of this crime. This May also marked the fifth anniversary of the incarceration of seven former leaders of the Baha’i community in Iran who are each serving 20-year prison sentences. “The way to show intent of real change in Iran,” said Dr Shaheed, “is to release the [seven Baha’i leaders] in Iran”.

Kat Eghdamian, a member of the Baha’i community who was born in Iran and whose family fled to New Zealand after the 1979 revolution, said that “Baha’is face persecution from their cradle to their graves. The lack of constitutional and legal protection is due to a perceived threat that simply does not exist. Baha’is wish only to serve their communities.”

Referring to a policy memorandum written in 1991 and signed by the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei, which forms the basis of the government’s treatment of the Baha’is, Ms Eghdamian said that “repealing the memorandum is indication of a real intention to reform in Iran.”

His Grace Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church of the UK

His Grace Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church of the UK

His Grace Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, who highlighted the persecution of Christians in Egypt, said that constitutional protection of minorities is the “safeguard of communities” and is needed in places where religious minorities are threatened with persecution.

Bishop Angaelos added that in Egypt the problem is not Muslims, but Islamic extremists. “Radicalisation brings a narrowing of perspective that only makes provision for a very small proportion of the population. It perpetrates a view that Muslims are threatened by minorities. This is a view of a very short sighted minority.”

This view was echoed by Dr Shaheed, who said that, “there is no way the Baha’is threaten the government.

“As religious people, we need to stand together to show that religion is not a problem, but a solution,” said Bishop Angaelos. “Religious groups are the voice of reason, of peace and reconciliation.”

Dr Shaheed said that human rights in Iran should not be overlooked in Iran, and that since August this year when President Rouhani was elected, Iran’s human rights record has worsened.

Bahá’í community co-sponsors dialogue on religious freedom

Canada’s newly-appointed ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, met with Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s former Minister for National Harmony and the chair of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, for a public discussion on the freedom of religion and belief at Canada House on 4 July. The discussion was co- sponsored by Canada House and the UK Bahá’í community.

Dr Bhatti is the brother of the late Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minority Affairs in Pakistan until his assassination in 2011.

The discussion was attended by a wide range of human rights activists, clerics, members of the Pakistani diaspora, civil servants, and journalists. Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner, restated Canada’s commitment to the work of freedom of religion and belief around the world – and welcomed the collaboration with the Bahá’í community and other groups.

Ambassador Bennett and Dr Bhatti discussed several questions on the freedom of religion: the need to balance this essential right with others; the wisdom of removing theology from any consideration of the freedom of religion; the universality of this and other human rights; the ways in which international partners can, despite cultural and contextual differences, find common ground to pursue the freedom of religion and belief agenda.

Questions from the floor, and further reflections from the two distinguished guests, centered on the long-standing issue of the blasphemy law in Pakistan; the central importance of education in dealing with infringements on freedom of belief; and the crucial interplay between the freedom of religion and belief, and the freedom of expression.