[Aimone Sharif | Contributing Writer]
On the 23rd of March, the documentary “To Light a Candle” by Maziar Bahari was shown at the University of Hertfordshire. Education is a gift the Western world takes for granted, but in the Middle East, education is rare and sometimes the desire to learn is considered a crime.
This documentary shows the persecutions and the difficulties faced by the Baha’is when trying to get an education in Iran. In the Muslim dominant country, the Baha’is are the largest minority (300,000 members), closely followed by Christians and Jews. The Baha’i faith is a monotheist religion that does not believe that the Prophet Mohammed was the last prophet; because of their difference in theology, Baha’is are seen as second class citizens and “traitors” in Iran. Due to various inequalities, Baha’is are forced to migrate out of their own country.
“To Light a Candle” follows the story of an Iranian Baha’i family who was persecuted and yet persevered to attain and deliver education. The father of the family, Rahim Rahimian, was arrested on account of being a Baha’i. He was sent to prison and tortured; a year later he was executed. Rahimian’s two sons, Keyvan and Kamran now play a big role in the Baha’i community in advocating education for all.
The history of the Baha’i
The documentary proposes a historical aspect of the Baha’is faith in Iran, showing the struggles and the pain that they face. Baha’i leaders have been captured twice, 200 Baha’i figures and leaders were murdered in 1989, all of which led to a contested right for Baha’i to be part of the society, including education. It was forbidden for a Baha’i to attend a normal Iranian school, however Baha’is were eventually able to have their own school and therefore able to teach the youth and give them a chance to reach higher education. In 1979, after the Iranian Revolution, Iranian Universities decided to expel Baha’i students no matter how good they were; depriving them of education once again.
The Baha’is did not lose courage. In 1987 the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) was founded, bringing Baha’i pupils together to learn and still be able to progress. Very quickly the University gained popularity – notably in Europe and America – giving the Baha’i students a chance to be taught by big university lecturers that are not Baha’i themselves but still believe in education. Education is something that everyone should have the opportunity to attain, but the BIHE lecturers and pupils still have to be extremely careful as they could face imprisonment.
The BIHE diploma is not recognised as an official diploma but can be used to enter other universities around the world. Young students travel to different locations all the time and have to learn by corresponding in hope of getting accepted to university.
Both Keyvan and Kamran have had opportunities to get an education in America thanks to BIHE. Kamran graduated at the University of Ottawa with a master’s degree in educational counselling in 2003. He was summoned to court in 2011 and sentenced to four years imprisonment at Gohardasht prison. Keyvan is a BIHE graduate in psychology and had been involved in private practice as a counsellor; he is also a psychology instructor at BIHE. He was arrested in 2012 and was summoned to begin his five year imprisonment sentence.
The Rahimian brothers represent both courage and dignity and are suffering for their country. Is it fair for people to be denied education? Is it fair that professors are jailed for the only reason of teaching?
Education is Not a Crime Campaign
Naysan Saberian, a graduate from the University explains how his ancestors were killed because of their faith and is grateful to be in an environment where everyone has access to education. He says:
“This is not only a matter of access to education but a human rights issue too.”
Saleem Vaillancourt, a journalist working alongside Maziar explains: “Education is freedom of mind; it is acquiring the power to learn about the world and make our own choices as individuals.”
He continues on, saying that the difficulty of the campaign lays in needing to transcend limitations and turn it into a universal campaign.
The campaign gained support of notable public figures, such as American actor, director, producer and screenwriter Mark Ruffalo, actor Rainn Wilson and British Comedian, Omid Djalili. Mark Ruffalo’s Youtube video advocating education was published on Facebook and reached 100,000 views last month.
To help raise awareness and stop education from being denied to Baha’is and any other minority in any country, please follow the campaign “Education is Not a Crime” on Facebook, #educationisnotacrime on Twitter and read more about the campaign at educationisnotacrime.me
Now is a stressful time with assignments to give in and exams coming up at full speed, but remember to be grateful that we are able to study freely.