A protest in Brazil on behalf of Baha’i prisoners in Iran. (Ana Carolina Fernandes/AFP/Getty Images)

By Track Persia

February 28, 2019

The regime in Iran considers Iranians who do not belong to the majority Shi’i Muslim sect including non-Shi’i Muslims, such as Sunnis, and non-Muslims such as Zoroastrians, Jews, and Armenian as well as Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.

Nevertheless, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are considered the only recognized religious minorities in Iran. The members of these minorities are understood as people of the book (ahl-e ketab) or the (dhimmis) who are treated as guests in the Islamic lands. To some extent, they can exercise their religious ceremonies within the limits of Shi’i Sharia law in the Islamic Republic, such as those relative to their personal status, religious education, ceremonies and rituals. These minorities are seen to have been allocated an appropriate place, at least as far as the religious system of the Islamic Republic in Iran is concerned and compared to the status of the non-recognised minorities, such as Baha’is, Sunni Muslims and the Arabs.

In the view of the founder of the Islamic Republic and late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, members of the religious minorities in Iran have obligations towards the Shi’i Muslim majority in Iran and the Iranian state. Khomeini did not allow the “koffar” (unbelievers) to campaign for their “misguided religions”, disperse their “false” holy books or attempt to convert Muslims to their “absurd” faiths. Those who are convicted of breaching these interdictions outside the limits of Iran’s  Islamic Shari’ah law, will to be punished by the state.

The theocratic regime in Iran divides the Iranian population into minority and majority, firstly according to their faiths and secondly according to their ethnicities.  The regime claims that the only recognised minorities can have the privilege of electing their representatives in Iran’s parliament,  so as they can exercise influence on the state policy towards their status and wellbeing.

In the article 14, the Iranian constitution focuses on the treatment of the recognised minorities with justice. However, there is no mention of respecting their human rights, simply because these rights are seen as directly related to justice rooted in the Sharia law of the Islamic Republic.

One of the most persecuted minority is the members of Baha’i faith. They are accused by the Islamic Republic’s regime of being the believers of a  “fake creed” and could, therefore, only be considered foreigners in Iran.

Consequently, the Baha’is are not recognised as a religious minority in Iran, consequently, their claim to belong to a religious faith is usually denied. Therefore, they are excluded from all parts of socio-political life and their being perceived as aliens who only pretend to be part of the Iranian nation.

Additionally, the Baha’is are depicted as conspirers against the Iranian nation and they are “organised espionage ring” affiliated with foreign political movement such as “British colonialism” and “Israeli imperialism” whose aim is to indirectly rule over Iran and destroy Shi‘ism.

Moreover, Baha’is are considered unbelievers in Islam and even atheists, despite they are believed to be converted from Judaism and Zoroastrianism during the nineteenth century, thus they have never apostatized.

Majority Iranian Shi’i clerics take negative position on the Baha’i faith. Since the success of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, the Shi’i clerics have been anti-Baha’ism and advocates trying to prove Baha’ism is “misguided” and “unruly”. For example, the prominent conservative cleric Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi has clearly repudiated any attempt at recognising the Baha’is as equal citizens.

These radical views on the Baha’sim are also shared by clerics who are viewed they are less conservatives. Not long before his death, the high-ranking Shi’i cleric and formerly designated as Khomeini’s successor Ayatollah Montazeri (d.2009) described Baha’ism as “unruly faith” and stated that its members should be treated according to Islamic Sharia and the Shi’i teachings such as those included in the book of Nahj al-Balagha ascribed to Imam Ali b. Abi Talib.

Under Khomeini, many Baha’is were executed and many more were persecuted and harassed in daily life. the Iranian diplomats at the United Nations of the newly-established Islamic Republic officially declared that the Baha’i faith was a “foreign-affiliated political movement” established through the then tsarist Russia and Great Britain as a means to ensure their colonial interests and long-term objectives in Iran”. This “political movement” disguised as a religion in order to obliterate “Islam as the established faith and unifying base of the Iranian people”.[i]

In the hope that the case of the persecution of Baha’is would be forgotten and due to a pressure practised by the United Nations and world powers, the government of Khatami in the 1990s modified Iran’s policy towards the Baha’is. Ayatollah Khamenei recognised the Baha’is as Iranian citizens., however, their faith was still not recognised.

In reality, the Baha’is could still be regarded as traitors given conversion from Shi‘ism to another religion is considered to be “national apostasy” in the Islamic Republic of Iran.



[i] Anja Pistor-Hatam, Non-understanding and Minority Formation in Iran, Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, 2017, VOL. 55, NO. 1, 87–98

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.