In many Muslim-majority countries, the history of the Baha’i community dates back to over a century. Sadly, their history has been marred with intolerance, discrimination and abuse. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recently released its Annual Report, and below is a round-up on the status of the Baha’i minority in several Muslim-majority countries.

Iran

Numbering between 300,000 and 350,000, the Baha’i religious group is Iran’s largest religious minority, and also its most persecuted. The Iranian Constitution does not recognize the Baha’i Faith and all Baha’i institutions were forcibly closed. Baha’is are barred from teaching and practising their faith.

The difficulties begin from childhood, where children identifying as Baha’is are prevented from enrolling in schools. The Ministry of Justice states that Baha’i children should preferably be enrolled in schools with strong religious ideologies, and students have been faced with conversion attempts.

To enroll in universities, students must identify with a religion other than theirs, an action that goes against Baha’i tenets. The Ministry of Justice states that once a student is known to be affiliated with the Baha’i Faith, s/he must be expelled.

Baha’is in Iran are oppressed in every walk of life, from denial of property rights, to exclusion from the social pension system, discrimination in employment, closing down of businesses and barring from governmental positions.

Baha’i properties have been confiscated and destroyed, graveyards desecrated and according to the law, Baha’i blood can be spilled with impunity.

Iranian media intensified propaganda campaigns against the Baha’is and in November 2007, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps published a report in which the Faith was listed as a threat to the regime.

Iran is listed as a Country of Particular Concern.

We encourage you to read the full report on Iran. Click here to view our coverage of the status of Baha’is in Iran

Egypt

Estimates place the number of Baha’is in Egypt at 2,000 but the Faith is not recognized by the government. The Faith was stripped of its recognition in the year 1960, and since then, all Baha’i institutions and community activities have been banned. A lower court held that the Constitution’s freedom of religion clause did not apply to Baha’is.

The Egyptian government asserts that only three religions can be listed under the religion field in national identification papers, but after Baha’i citizens took the case to court, it was ruled on 29 January 2008 that dashes or other marks can be used instead, stating that allowing Baha’is to register their faith in official documents would conflict with public order. While it was a welcomed step, the Court added that the purpose was to protect members of the three “revealed religions” from Baha’i infiltration.

Lack of official documentation not only prevents Baha’is from enrolling in schools, opening businesses and so on, but also subjects Baha’is to the risk of imprisonment. Egypt is listed as a Watch List country

To read our coverage of the status of Baha’is in Egypt, click here

• Afghanistan

There are more than 400 Baha’is in Afghanistan, 300 of whom reside in Kabul. In 2007, the General Directorate of Fatwas and Accounts declared that the Baha’i Faith is distinct from Islam, and a blasphemy. Followers of the faith were declared infidels, and Muslims who convert to the Faith apostates.

The ruling raised questions on how second-generation Baha’is would be treated, as was exemplified by the arrest on 9 April 2007 of a Baha’i citizen, after his religious beliefs were exposed to authorities by his wife. The man spent 31 days in prison, and was released after concerns were raised by the international community.

Afghanistan is listed as a Watch List country.

• Bahrain

Baha’is constitute approximately 1% of Bahrain’s population, and the community faces no governmental interference in their worship and gatherings. In fact, the Baha’i community organized a cultural conference in October 2007 to teach about their faith, and the government authorized the publication of a book on the Baha’i community in Bahrain.

However, due to the lack of official recognition of the Faith, Baha’i marriages are not recognized.

• Brunei

The Baha’i Faith is one of many religions that are banned by the government. Despite the ban, official statistics point to the presence of 72 Baha’is in the country.

The government prohibits the usage of private homes as places of worship, but there are reports of religious observances being conducted without governmental interference.

• Indonesia

The Baha’i community reported a membership of thousands, although the figures are deemed as unreliable. The Baha’i Faith is not one of the six religions recognized by the Indonesian state, and adherents face difficulties in registering marriages and births.

Indonesia is listed as a Watch List country.

• Iraq

According to the Baha’i leadership, Iraq is home to less than 2,000 Baha’is, spread throughout the country. Although a 1970 law led to the prohibition of the Baha’i Faith, an April 2007 decision cancelled a 1975 ruling prohibiting the issuance of national identity cards to Baha’is.

However, only six or seven Baha’is have been able to obtain national identity cards indicating their religion; those whose records were changed to “Muslim” after 1975 were unable to correct the documents.

• Jordan

Jordan’s Baha’i community numbers at approximately 1,000. Jordan does not recognize the Baha’i Faith, and its adherents are listed in governmental records as Muslims or a space/dash is listed under the religion field. Baha’i marriages are not recognized, and thus Baha’i children are incapable of getting birth certificates.

The Baha’i community is not allowed to register schools or places of worship, and despite the presence of two registered Baha’i cemeteries, a third one continues to be registered in the name of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments.

• Kuwait

Kuwait’s Baha’i community numbers at 400, and as the Kuwaiti government views the Baha’i Faith as not being sanctioned by the Qur’an, the community cannot construct places of worship, but Baha’is can practise their faith privately without governmental interference.

Lebanon

Lebanon is home to a small Baha’i community, but the Faith is not recognized officially. As a result of its unrecognized status, Baha’is cannot hold certain governmental positions as they are not allocated seats. Further, unrecognized groups cannot legally marry, divorce or inherit property.

• Morocco

Morocco’s Baha’i community numbers between 350-400 and although many avoid disclosing their religious affiliation, that does not prevent them from actively participating in society and some hold governmental positions.

• Pakistan

There are approximately 30,000 Baha’is in Pakistan, but district governments consistently refused to grant the community permission to construct places of worhsip, citing the need to maintain public order.

Pakistan is listed as a Country of Particular Concern.

• Qatar

According to estimates, there are 500 Baha’is of Iranian origin in Qatar. As in other countries, the Baha’i Faith is not recognized and there are no designated places of worship for the Faith

• Tunisia

There are reportedly 200 Baha’is in Tunisia, and their presence in the country dates to a century. The government regards the Faith as a heretical offshoot of Islam, but adherents can practise their faith in private.

Baha’is are allowed to hold meetings and 3 Local Spiritual Assemblies have been elected since 2004.

• Turkey

Estimates place the number of Baha’is in Turkey at 10,000, and like other religious groups, they face societal mistrust and suspicion. Baha’is cannot state their religious affiliation in identity cards as the Baha’i Faith is not listed as one of the options.

Although a 2006 ruling permitted citizens to leave the religion field blank or change it by a written application, the government continues to restrict applicants’ choice of religion.

• United Arab Emirates

The United Arab emirates does not recognize the Baha’i faith as an independent religion, and adherents to the faith are listed in official documents as Muslims. This decision affects Baha’i children, as the Ministry of Education requires all children identified in passports as Muslims to study Islamic Studies in school.

The country’s premier Internet Service Provider, Etisalat, blocks access to several websites on the Baha’i Faith.

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi donated land for a Baha’i cemetery.