On Faith recently featured an article by Remz Pokorny, a Baha’i senior at Brandeis University. In the article, Remz spoke of the different views on faith his parents espoused, and how they had contributed to shaping his identity.

Forced to leave her homeland Iraq due to the persecution Baha’is were facing, Remz’s mother took an emotional approach to teaching him about the Baha’i Faith.

Let’s start at the beginning: My mother is a refugee from Iraq, driven from the land of her birth by religious persecution. My father is from an upper-middle class family in Kansas, and as a young child, he moved to Washington state.

My parents met at a Baha’i fireside–an informal gathering where a spiritual topic is presented and discussed–in Concord, New Hampshire; my father was working as a staff writer for the Boston Globe, and my mother had just recently immigrated to this country. Had they not been involved with the Baha’i community, they would not have dated or decided to get married, bringing me and my brother into the world.

From the outset, my identity was ambiguous, almost indefinable. But from the cradle, my mother acquainted me with her native tongue, Arabic. She taught me the story of her persecution as a Baha’i in Iraq, which is an unfortunate narrative for many Baha’is in the Islamic world. Her father and mother were imprisoned for 6 years during the 1970s.

“Ahli chanow bel sijin min ani chinit jahala,” my mother always reminded me. “My parents were in prison when I was a child.”

When other people heard my mom say that her parents were in prison, the question was often the same, “My goodness, why?”

I’m sure their first thought may have been that my grandparents were lowlifes or career criminals. But instead, my mother’s response would shock them.

“They were imprisoned because they were Baha’is,” she would say. “Because they were Baha’is.”

From a young age, my mother instilled in me a sense of Baha’i pride. She loved to talk about her family and their contribution to the Baha’i narrative. One of her aunts was given the title “Knight of Baha’u'llah” for her role in starting the Baha’i community of Cyprus. My mother spoke of the 1960s as a heroic era for the Baha’is of Iraq. Her father, who, despite the fact that he was going blind, would fearlessly defend the Faith against Iraqi government agents who made a habit of dropping in at the Baha’i National Center in Baghdad and harassing whomever they would encounter.

My grandfather was a member of the national governing body of the Baha’is of Iraq, so he was usually one of the first people they would want to speak to. Pointing to the stacks of Baha’i scripture in the national archive they would say, “We’re taking these books.”

My grandfather’s response would be, “Just take a minute and read them first, and then tell me if there is any harm in having them around.”

The agents eventually confiscated the entire library of Baha’i books but were nevertheless impressed at my grandfather’s audacity in defending his faith.

My mother’s approach in raising me as a Baha’i was primarily emotional. The stories she told me and the prayers she would teach me were an important part of my upbringing, sparking emotion and a deep connection to the narrative of my faith, which is still persecuted in Iran, the land of its birth.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

In 1970, a law was passed in Iraq that prohibited the Baha’i Faith, followed shortly by a ruling in 1975 that prohibited issuing national identity cards to the country’s Baha’i population.

However, there is little information available on the current status of Baha’is in Iraq. We contacted Remz in hopes of gaining a clearer insight into the current situation in Iraq, and he kindly responded with the following:

On behalf of my mom, I was asked to convey the following to you. When she talks to her relatives in Iraq, she gets the general sense that they live their lives normally as other Iraqis do. They quietly practice their religion, free from harassment and at the present time they face no persecution, from the government or their fellow Iraqis. They are cautious about giving too many details beyond that, since it is still the Middle East after all and the conditions are not ideal by any means.