Baha'is in Iran, Our Story is One

#OurStoryIsOne: Zarrin Moghimi-Abyaneh, 29 years old

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Despite knowing the end of each of these stories—or perhaps because of it—I have been really enjoying writing these posts.  I had read about these women before; however, writing takes a whole other level of understanding, and also, there is a lot more information about them available nowadays, including gorgeous pictures.  A special thanks to the team behind the Archives of Bahá’í Persecution in Iran; what an amazing resource you all have created!

One of the women I hadn’t known much about is Zarrin Moghimi-Abyaney (and for the rest of the posts in this project, click here).  She was born in the village of Abyaneh in Isfahan Province, but the family moved to Tehran shortly after Zarrin’s birth.  She was the third and youngest child of Hossein Moghimi and Ummehani Salehi. Her father came from a Bahá’í family; her mother converted to the Bahá’í faith a few years after they were married, before Zarrin was born.

Zarrin had a pure and innocent heart, and she was enamored by the Baha’i Faith. From around the age of 5, Zarrin would recite clearly and with emotion portions of the Bahá’í writings and poems about the Bahá’í Faith. At 15 years old, Zarrin began teaching Baha’i classes and would read with great emotion the stories of those who had been killed for their belief in the Bahá’í faith.

Zarrin studied English literature at Tehran University where she received her bachelor’s degree at 21. She moved back to Abyaneh after graduating. Though she was still young when her family left the village, she loved her birthplace and wanted a chance to return there and to serve its people. But she was refused a job in the village because she was a Bahá’í faith and so rejoined her family.

By then, her family was now living in Shiraz.  The Bahá’í community had asked her father, Hossein Moghimi, to Shiraz to repair the home of the Báb, a central figure of the Bahá’í Faith, as he was one of the best-known stucco masters in Iran. An example of his work can be seen in Marmar Palace in Tehran which is now an art museum. Zarrin was hired by the Shiraz Petrochemical Company as a translator and treasurer. She lived with her parents. Her brother and sister had left Iran to study abroad.

Most people in the neighborhood were poor. Zarrin treated them with kindness and tenderness. When her father suggested they buy a car for her, she refused, saying: “I want to be like other young people in the neighborhood. I don’t want them to feel that we are apart and that I have something more.”

With the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Baha’is were subjected to harassment and persecution by the government. The Moghimi family was no exception. Bahá’í religious sites, including the home of the Báb, were seized. Arrests and executions of Baha’is started in Shiraz as well. The situation alarmed relatives of Baha’is who lived outside Iran. Zarrin was dismissed from her job because she was a Bahá’í.  Simin, Zarrin’s sister, called from abroad and advised her to leave the country. “Don’t say this,” Zarrin replied. “Much needs to be done but time is short and there is not enough manpower. Whatever happens to other Baha’is will happen to me as well. My life is not more valuable that their lives. I will never leave this country.”

Before Zarrin was arrested, she spent her time teaching Bahá’í children’s classes, giving comfort to the families of imprisoned or executed Bahá’ís, and helping others who had lost their homes or been displaced, either because of the Iran-Iraq war, or because their homes had been destroyed or confiscated because they were Bahá’ís.

In a coordinated and simultaneous operation on the evening of 23 October 1981, forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) raided a large number f of Baha’i homes in Shiraz and arrested 38 people. Without presenting any search warrants, the IRGC officers entered these homes and, after conducting searches and confiscating religious books and pictures and prayer tapes, they insulted and ridiculed the detained Baha’is and took them to the IRGC detention center in Shiraz.

Hossein Moghimi, his wife Ummehani Salehi and their daughter Zarrin were arrested when she was only 28 years old. The agents had warrants only for the arrest of Hossein and Zarrin; but Zarrin’s mother insisted that she could not be separated from her family, so she was also arrested.

The interrogators wanted to force the Baha’is to recant their faith and to convert to Islam, as well as get more information about the Baha’i believers and the activities of the community. They tried insulting, humiliating, ridiculing, and beating the prisoners. The prisoners were forbidden to pray; they were forced to pray silently at night, when other prisoners were asleep.

Zarrin was well-versed in both the Baha’i Faith and Islam and, as a result, her interrogations lasted a long time, as she would counter the efforts by interrogators to convince her to recant her faith with insights born out of profound knowledge and deep study of and sincere love for both religions. Throughout the series of interrogations and trials, Zarrin testified with infinite strength and courage; the judges became intimidated. Her cellmates later remembered that once, when her interrogator had failed to win an argument, they brought in a few people from outside the prison to try to prove her wrong.

Zarrin was transferred to Adelabad prison, where she was charged with the “crime” of being a Baha’i. The questioning at Adelabad was not as violent as at it was at detention center; but Baha’is were still pressured to renounce their faith and convert to Islam. Assistant prosecutors told the detainees that they would be released if they repented; otherwise, they should expect the death sentence. But none of these threats and promises had any effect on Zarrin and her cellmates.

Zarrin’s mother was released in January. She was allowed to visit her daughter and her husband, once a week, separately and from behind a glass partition.

Trials for the Baha’is began after their hearings. The defendants were each tried in just a few minutes, without a lawyer, and at the end of the trial session, the judge told the defendants that had two options: Islam or death.

On 23 February 1983, the prosecutor met with all the Baha’i prisoners, men and women, and gave them an ultimatum. He said that they had been sentenced to death and that the decisions had been upheld by the Supreme Judiciary Council, but that he had not yet signed them. He told them that if anybody converted to Islam they would be released; otherwise, the death sentence would be carried out.

Zarrin and her father met in prison just one time, just after the prosecutor’s ultimatum. He later recounted: “I embraced Zarrin, and then she put her hands on my shoulders, and said: ‘Stand firm, father! Stand firm so that I can be proud of you’.”

By the order of the prosecutor, each Baha’i had to repent four times. If they refused, they were executed or. Zarrin was the second prisoner from the women’s ward who was taken to repent. On 13 June 1983, she was summoned four times, each time half an hour apart, to repent; each time Zarrin wrote, “I am a Bahá’í.” The fourth time that Zarrin left the room, she asked the chief warden: “Where should I go for execution?” The warden replied: “It is not so simple. We must ask Tehran for confirmation. For the moment, go back to your cell.” This has got to be my favorite part of this story; I feel like Zarrin, perhaps, was wondering when the judge would realise how serious she was about her beliefs and finally treat her like the Bahá’í she was.

Five days later, on Saturday 18 June, an hour after weekly visits, Zarrin Moghimi and nine other Bahá’í women were driven in a minibus to the site of their execution, where they were hanged in front of each other. The prosecutor did not allow any of them to write a will, and the guards buried their bodies without the presence of their families and without religious rites.

The Moghimi family’s home was later also confiscated and Zarrin’s mother was driven out. Zarrin’s father, Hossein Moghimi, was released from Adelabad Prison in the late summer of 1984 after 22 months in prison. What he must have gone through in the year after his daughter’s execution is anyone’s guess. Was he hoping he would follow suit so that he could see his daughter in the next world? Or was he hoping for release so that he could share the story of her courage and steadfastness with the world? Either way, it’s a horrible thing, for a parent to lose a child; it’s unnatural, and my heart goes out to all the parents of these ten women—and of all the young women and men currently being killed in Iran for standing up for their beliefs in justice and equality.

Find my entire #OurStoryisOne project here. For more information, visit the official #OurStoryisOne website, here, or follow on Instagram.

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