Baha'is in Iran, Our Story is One

#OurStoryIsOne: Mona Mahmoudnejad, 17 years old (Part 1)

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The most well-known name in the 10 women executed in June 1983, that I will cover in my #OurStoryisOne series, is that of Mona Mahmoudnejad.  I mean, there is something particularly poignant and disturbing about a 17-year-old being hung because of the strength of her Faith.  How was she such a threat, you know?  Just like with the schoolgirls who are currently being poisoned in Iran, there is an underlying level of incredulity that the potential of these young women is understood but, instead of being channelled into improving their lives and the lives of others, they are diminished, belittled, killed.

Mona was born in 1965 in Yemen; her family returned to Iran when she was 4 years old.  The family was known to be humble and sensitive, with Mona displaying these character traits early on, and growing to become know, when she was a teenager, as the “Angel of Shiraz”.  She also had a beautiful singing voice, and a genuine love for those around her—especially younger children, who would often flock to her when she arrived at school, so eager were they to spend time with her.

In the early 1980s, Bahá’í children were often expelled from school, as early as in elementary school.  In Shiraz, where Mona lived, a number of Bahá’í children had been expelled; Mona expected to be expelled soon, but she looked forward to it, knowing that she would be able to spend all her efforts on building community following principles from her beloved Faith.

During Mona’s second year of high school, in the fall of 1981, she enrolled in a course on religious literature.  Up to that point, like most Bahá’ís in Iran, her freedom to mention her Faith had always been strictly curtailed and was limited to brief and private responses to the questions of fellow students about the symbol on the stone in the ring she wore.  But then, the literature teacher assigned the students a paper on the topic: “The fruit of Islam is freedom of conscience and liberty, whoever has a taste for it is benefitted.”  And oh boy, what a paper Mona turned in!  She poured out her frustrations at being silenced in this paper.  Its frank openness caused a furor at the school.  The principal, who was considered a fanatical Muslim, called Mona to his office and warned her that she no longer had the right to mention the Baha’i Faith while on school grounds, a prohibition which Mona obeyed.  I can’t imagine how horribly difficult it must have been, not being able to talk with her friends about the thing that means the most to her.

By the time Mona became a teenager, she was well known in Shiraz, both inside and outside the Bahá’í community.  She was noted for her academic excellence, entering advanced Bahá’í classes with students who were often much older and excelling in them.  When she turned 15, Mona began teaching Bahá’í children’s classes, which included the study of the great religions, developing spiritual qualities, encouraging the children to put their talents and education to the service of their fellow man and especially learning to appreciate the oneness and diversity of the human family.  She began walking to school instead of riding a bus to save enough pocket money to buy colored crayons, booklets and pencils, which she would give out as prizes to her Bahá’í children’s class students.

I’m going to leave this story here for now; in the next post, I will talk about Mona’s imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and death by hanging.

At seventeen.

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