Turmoil in Iran poses "grave danger to the property and lives" of Bahais who live in that country, where the religion was founded, an American official of the faith says.
The Bahai faith has roots in Islam, just as Christianity does in Judism. Baha'u'llah, the founder, was exiled from his native Iran in 1853, but the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who embrace the Bahai faith constitute the lrgest religious minority there.
Glenford Mitchell of Wilmette, III., secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Bahals conferred by telephone with a Bahai official in Teheran and then said the toll of Bahai homes burned or looted in December upheavals in the city of Shiraz had reached 234.
In a telephone interview, Mitchell said "systematic persecution" of Bahai members since last September has been at its greatest peak since an outbreak in May 1955.
The current anti-Bahai sentiment has been most severe in the Shiraz area, he said. Burning and looting of Bahai-owned homes or businesses also has been reported by Bahais in other Iranian cities. In several cities, some Bahais were driven to mosques in efforts to make them recant their beliefs, Mitchell said.
Other religious minorities in Iran -- Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians -- are recognized in the constitution as legitimate religions, although their members sometimes suffer during periods of Moslem religious turmoil.
But because the Moslem majority in Iran regards the Bahai faith as a heretical sect of Islam, Bahais receive no legal recognition for their religion.
Claiming the essential unity of all religions, the Bahai faith considers Baha'u'llah to have been the most recent of God's prophets, who include Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed. Bahai has a world center in Haifa, Israel.
Bahai claims members in 340 countries, including the United States, where an estimated 100,000 persons belong to local "spiritual assemblies."