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I know – it sounds like a bad joke, but it’s sadly true.
Last week the Islamic Republic of Iran allowed its Revolutionary Guards to desecrate and dig up the Baha’i cemetery in Shiraz where the Baha’is buried Mona.
You might remember Mona Mahmudnizhad, if you were around and paying attention in 1983. She was a bright, radiant teenage girl who did very well in school, volunteered to teach children’s classes and helped out at an orphanage. When they hanged her she was seventeen.
The world reacted in outrage. Condemnations came from every quarter. All civilized nations spoke out against the death sentences. Artists wrote books and sung songs in Mona’s honor.
Sent to the gallows with nine other Baha’i women, they all went to their deaths by the noose rather than recant their faith. They broke no law, except the Iranian government’s appalling apostasy accusation–the terrible crime of belonging to a progressive religion that promotes world peace, racial unity, the equality of men and women and the essential oneness of all faiths.
Three of those brave souls were married women — Mrs. Nusrat Yalda’i, Mrs. Tahirih Siyavushi, and Mrs. ‘Izzat Janami Ishraqi. The other seven were teenagers and young single women in their 20’s: Roya Ishraqi, (‘Izzat Israqi’s daughter), Zarrin Muqimi, Shirin Dalvand, Akhtar Sabit, Simin Saberi, Mahshid Nirumand, and Mona Mahmudnizhad.
Imagine that moment in the courtroom, if you can: the judge says, “If you reject your faith, we will let you go. If you don’t, you will hang.”
All ten women refused to say the words that would save their lives.
That level of courage, for most of us, exceeds the bounds of our imaginations. I think of those ten women often, and marvel at the bravery and steadfastness of their collective refusal to bow to the ultimate coercion. They gave their lives for their beliefs, stood up to the men who dishonored them, and told a fundamentalist state that no, they would not submit to its bigotry and hatred. They challenged Iran’s mechanism of fanatical extermination, and they prevailed.
How? In death, those ten women will never be forgotten. Ponder this for a while. Their tormentors, their persecutors, the judge who pronounced their unholy sentences, the brutal politicians and so-called clergymen who failed to intervene, the hangman who put the rope around their necks – who will ever remember them? When they go to their graves, as all of us must, their lives forever tarnished by their injustice and cruelty, the world will completely and utterly forget them. The dust of their bones will sift down into the dirt beneath their coffins as we continue to honor their victims’ characters and courage.
When Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls recently, I thought again of Mona and the Baha’i women who died with her. And I wondered – what’s so threatening about educated girls?
It seems that a girl with a book scares some people more than just about anything.
Malala Yousefzai, the fifteen-year-old Afghan girl who the Taliban shot in the head for advocating universal education, has given the world an excellent example of this girl-averse cowardice. Mona and her compatriots showed that the Iranian government, which publicly beats women for failing to “cover themselves,” has the same fear of empowered, educated modern females. The Boko Haram terrorists, kidnapping hundreds of Christian schoolgirls and forcing them to convert to their brand of fundamentalist Islam – a barbaric act which all civilized Muslims abhor and reject – obviously share that same terror of a girl with a book. Apparently, the Taliban and Boko Haram and the fundamentalist Iranian mullas know that educated girls represent the end of their power and privilege.
Whatever you do, though, don’t mistake this fear for a strictly Islamic fundamentalist problem. All over the world, literalists of many stripes busily deny girls an education. Lots of “traditional” societies in Hindu and Buddhist and Jewish and Christian and even some non-religious cultures do exactly the same thing–repress and hold back and attempt to tightly control their female populations, denying girls any education and keeping them from attaining their potential.
From a Baha’i perspective, nothing could be more reprehensible and backwards:
According to the spirit of this age, women must advance and fulfill their mission in all departments of life, becoming equal to men. They must be on the same level as men and enjoy equal rights. This is my earnest prayer and it is one of the fundamental principles of Baha’u’llah. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 147.
In fact, Baha’is believe that the world cannot achieve peace without granting all women full equality:
The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world’s population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge. – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, p. 6-9
If you’re interested in achieving equality, promoting peace and stopping oppression all over the world, educate a girl.