No one is keeping a more anxious watch on developments in Irans these days than Victor de Araujo, who is the representative of the International Baha'i community to the United Nations here.
The baha'i faith, which de araujo represents and which originated in Iran, has had several bloody conflicts with the dominant Moslem forces there in its more than a century of existence. With the control of Iran now moving toward the more traditional Moslem religious leaders again, de Araujo is particularly anxious about the future.
Baha'is form the largest religious minority in Iran" de Araujo pointed out, but have no legal status in the overwhelmingly Moslem state. While reports reaching de Araujo at his office here across from the U.N. building are confused, the Baha'is in Iran already have suffered during the turmoil there.
Since the revolution began in Iran last winter, according to de Araujo, about 500 Baha'i homes in that country have been burned; 1k adherents of the faith have wounded and two killed; the publishing house and Baha'i center in Tehran have been padlocked; a Baha'i-run clinic in Isfahan was dynamitted: orchards belonging to Baha'i farmers have been seized; and holy places of the religion have been seized or desecrated.
Baha'i communities have been terrorized, indiviuals and families beaten and, de Araujo charged, in some instances driven to Islamic mosques and forced to repent their faith.
The bitter antagonism of Moslems to the Baha'i faith has deep theological roots. It is an antagonism, de Araujo maintains, that also has been exploited for political purposes.
"The founders of the Baha'i faith were (Moslem) reformers within Iran," he explained. "Like Christianity came out of Judaism, the Baha'i faith came out of Islam."
The Baha'i faith began in the mid-19th century. In 1844 a young Persian merchant who came to be known as the Bab disputed Islam's traditional view of the prophet Mohammed as the ultimate manifestation of God to man. The Bab taught that a new prophet would appear to bring a new law and a new era in the history of mankind.
This challenge to the traditional Islamic view of Mohammed was viewed as heresy by Moslems of that day and the Bab was imprisoned and finally executed in 1850.
There followed an era of religious persecution in which, according to Baha'i tradition, about 20,000 disciples of the Bab were killed others forced into exile.
Thirteen years later, one of these wxiles, who had fled to Baghdad, proclaimed himself to be the prophet whom the Bab had foretold. For the nest 40 years this prophet, who became known as Baha'u'llah, produced the body of writings that Baha'is acknowlege as their scriptures.
Though he continued in exile, his followers in Iran, who became known as Baha'is remained faithful to his teaching. Despite harsh measures by Moslem leaders to wipe out this "heresy," their numbers slowly increased and the faith spread elsewhere.
Today the Baha'i believers, though relatively few in number, are scattered throughout the world. "Today 110 national administrative bodies of Baha'is throughout the world are recognizes[by secular government] and are able to hold property," de Araujo said.
"Traditionally in Islamic countries the Baha'is have had difficulty," he continued. "Yet in Pakistan they are recognized and entitled to hold property.And in Lebanon and Jordan there is more freedom to move about than in Iran."
In Iran Baha'is "were turned into the scapegoats of Islamic society," de Araujo said.
While Baha'is today view their religion as a separate faith, orthodox Moslems still see its as a Moslem heresy that in Iran is accorded no rights, de Araujo said.
"Wherever there are nine or more Baha'is, an administrative body is elected to take care of the affairs of the community," he explained. Baha'is may go abroad to spread their faith "not as missionaries but as pioneers-they get a job and try to become integrated in the life and culture of the country."
A key tenet of Baha'is belief is the unity of all nations and races and an acceptance of the divine origin of all great religions including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Baha2 have no clergy, and "each Baha'is a teacher," de Araujo said. He denied that Baha'is are aggressively evangelistic though "we do share our faith in the unity of all mankind, but we do not force our convictions on anybody."
According to de Araujo, the bloody history of Baha'is in their native Iran was modified somewhat under the Shah because "the Shah tried to hold the mullahs [Moslem religious leaders] back."
De Araujo vehemently denied charges leveled by some Iranian revolutionaries that Baha'is were politically active in support of the Shah.
"It would be a violation of their religious beliefs to join a national party," he asserted. "There are basic principles involved. Baha'is have the obligation to be loyal to the [national] government wherever they live and obey its law," he said.
"But because of the Baha'is beliefs in the organic oneness of the whole human race they must never be involved in any political organization of any state, short of the whole world. Any organization short of the oneness of the whole world would be dividive" and contrary to their goal of ultimate world unity, he said.
De Araujo estimated the number of Baha'is in Iran today at "between 300,000 and 500,000 [but] because of the persecution, a lot have not come directly" to declare their allegiance to the faith.
A basic of the Bahai faith is edcation, said De Araujo. "There are almost no illiterate Baha'is, beggary is forbidden." As a result he said they have worked themselves up into the ranks of Iranian professions and the economic middle class where they are more visible and, de Araujo feels, more vulnerable to attack.
De Araujo feels that the future security and well being of Baha'is in Iran hinges on there being some legal recognition as a religious faith separate from Islam. "That is why we are very concerned about what might come about with this new constitution" to be drafted by the new revolutionary government, he said