Our Beacon Forum

Heretics in Islam - Bahais
By:TIME Jun 06 1955
Date: Friday, 10 July 2009, 12:08 pm

Monday, Jun. 06, 1955

Heretics in Islam

Fiercely mustachioed General Nader Batmanghelich, chief of staff of the Iranian army, raised a pickax one day last week and brought it down hard on one of the highest domes in Teheran. This ceremonial blow dramatized the Iranian government's outlawing of the Bahai religion in the land where it was born and began the conversion of Bahai national headquarters into a secular building. All over the world, from the lakeside gentility of Chicago to Israel's port city of Haifa, Bahai voices rose in protest.

One Up on Christianity. To the Shiite Moslems of Iran, Bahaism is a heretical splinter group. The controversy centers around their belief in the second coming of the Imam, a descendent of Mohammed's son-in-law AH, who will inaugurate a new and glorious era in history after a period of wars, eclipses and catastrophes. But the Bahais believe that the Imam already has come—heralded by one Mirza Ali Mohammed, who proclaimed himself Bab (Gate) and stirred up enough theological ruction to get himself executed by the government in 1850. He was followed by Mirza Hussein Ali, a wealthy cabinet minister's son, who took the name Baha'u'llah, and in 1863 proclaimed himself "Him Whom God Shall Manifest," calling upon his fellow sectarians in the Middle East to recognize him as their leader. Baha'u'llah's son carried the new teaching to the West and the faith now has some 6,000 followers in the U.S. Center of U.S. Bahaism is Wilmette, Ill., a suburb of Chicago where the strange tracery of the U.S.'s only Bahai temple drew more than 100,000 tourists last year.

Bahais think of their religion as an advance on all others because it encompasses them. They see all great religions and their founders as essentially one. They concentrate their own efforts not on individual salvation but on the achievement of universal peace. "We are one up on Christianity," says white-haired Leroy loas (pronounced Iowaas), a retired Chicago railroad manager, who serves as secretary general of the international council at Haifa. "Christ never mentioned universal peace in his teachings." Peace-striving Bahais plug for internationalism (the U.N.) and against treaty arrangements "based on force" (NATO). The sect's current head, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, is in his fifties, lives in Haifa with his Canadian-born wife, and presides over a spiritual constituency of some 200,000 Bahais in Europe and Britain, about 1,500,000 in Iran.

Silent Surrender. Famed Bahais are said to have included Queen Marie of Rumania, Actress Carole Lombard, Philanthropist Edith Rockefeller McCormick and President Wilson's daughter, Margaret, who, Bahais believe, gave her father twelve of his Fourteen Points straight from the writings of Baha'u'llah. U.S Bahais talk mysteriously of an anonymous fellow religionist high in the State Department, but it is possible that he himself does not know about it. "Anybody who believes in the universal faith is a Bahai, says Insurance Man Ellsworth Blackwell of the U.S. national assembly. "We consider some people Bahais who may neve have heard of it."

In Iran, Bahai proselytizing has been a lot more real than in the State Department. Orthodox Moslems have long resented the inroads made by Bahaism among young intellectuals and government leaders—even including some Army generals, such as General Abdulkarim Ayadi, the Shah's own physician. Thi month's suppression of Bahai in Iran came after a steady campaign of anti-Bahai polemics by Moslem leaders during the month-long fast of Ramadan, tradtionally a time for political preaching in Islam. The Moslems forced the government to take over Bahai headquarter with troops, are hoping to close Bahai schools, have introduced a bill to forbid Bahai members to hold government jobs. Said one Bahai leader: "We are not authorized by the Bahai's noble creed to fight or retaliate. The only thing we can do is to pull out gradually and leave the birthplace of our sect."