Our intiative has made its first media appearance on BBC Persian (Farsi)

Translation: Formation of a Muslim Group in Defense of the Rights of Baha’is

Na’im Sobhani
BBC-Persian, Washington

For the first time on the internet, a group of Muslim youth has established a site called “the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights.” This site closely monitors the conditions of Baha’is in Egypt and Iran.

That a group of Muslims—made up social activists and liberal students from Arab countries—has exposed the plight of Baha’is is seen as a significant development by human rights advocates.

“The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights” is not based in any specific country, nor does it have an office or staff.

This internet group has made known its goal of attaining civil rights and basic freedoms for Baha’is in the Islamic and Arab worlds.

On their website, they closely follow and discuss all the latest news on the Baha’is in the Islamic world.

The founder of this internet project is Esra’a Shafei, young woman from Bahrain.

Esra’a states that she is a believing Muslim and has no connection with Baha’is. However, as a Muslim, she believes it is necessary to respect the rights of this religious minority.

This Bahraini student added that she has purposefully named the group “Islamic” to attract the attention of Muslims.

However, this step has stirred a great deal of debate. According to Esra’a, “They ask me why I am doing this? Why are you working against your own religious identity? They even accuse me of being a traitor and a Zionist. 70 percent of the reactions I have thus far received have been of this nature.”
Esra’a, who is only 20 years old, adds that such reactions will not dissuade her. She states that she closely follows the condition of Baha’is in Iran and Egypt.

It is believed that there are some 500 Baha’is in Egypt.

In the 1960s, their religion was declared illegal by order of Jamal Abdul-Nasser, the former president of Egypt. Until this day, Baha’is are considered “apostates” in Egypt.

The Iranian constitution also refuses to officially recognize the Baha’i religion—one of the largest non-Muslim minorities in this country. The Baha’is of this country face extensive limits on work and education.

The founder of “the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights” believes that most people in the Arab world know very little about the Baha’is: “When I talk to my friends about the Baha’i faith, they tell me that it is a satanic religion. I ask them to provide me with one of the principles of this religion, but they have no answer. Some think that the Baha’is are a sect of Shi’i Islam which is also a mistake. They don’t know anything about it, but they are nonetheless suspicious of its followers.”

This Bahraini youth is convinced that the most successful societies in the world today are those which—notwithstanding the diversity of religions and ethnic groups within them—are able to preserve their unity and respect the rights of their minorities.

John Wall, a professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University in Washington DC, agrees with this view. But he believes that in an age of globalization, one can’t affix the label of religious minority to any one religion: “In this day and age, everyone is considered a minority. Even Christians, who constitute the largest religion in the world, are a minority in certain countries. Muslims are the majority in the Middle East, but are considered a religious minority in Europe. Sunni Muslims, for instance, face difficulties in attaining permission to establish mosques.”

Mr. Wall provided a positive assessment of the fact that a Muslim group has for the first time taken up the problem of Baha’i rights. According to him, the efforts of individuals such as Esra’a, a Bahraini student, can help in promoting human rights and inter-faith dialogue in the Middle East.