Baha'is in Iran, Our Story is One

#OurStoryIsOne: Simin Saberi, 24 years old

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Allow me to go on a little tangent here before delving into the story of Simin Saberi, part of my ongoing #OurStoryIsOne project.  As I was looking up the various documents about her on the Archives of Bahá’í Persecution in Iran, I came across an article about Seyyed Zia MirEmadi.  As I understand it, its in his position as Public Court Prosecutor of Shiraz, to which he was appointed on 6 April 1983, that he ordered the arrest of Bahá’ís by the dozen, severely tortured them to leave their faith and convert to Islam, and, none recanted, ordered their execution.  These Bahá’ís, of course, include the ten women who are at the heart of the #OurStoryIsOne campaign.

As I read some of the things that this man believes, I am very acutely aware of the similarities between his narrative and the narrative I hear the most on social about certain oppressed groups.  The speed with which content is created seems to have created a space where opinions must be made immediately and forcefully, creating conditions in which an otherwise level-headed population can be whipped into a frenzy, much like the people of Shiraz were 40 years ago by people like MirEmadi.

And the end result: We lose people like Mona, Roya, and Simin, shining lights that were determined to contribute to the betterment of people in Shiraz and with decades of life before them.  I mean, they would be 57, 63, and 64 years-old today, potentially mothers and even grandmothers, maybe still living in Shiraz and building a vibrant community.  So let’s slow down and let our rational selves take over a little more, and stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

Tangent over; back to Simin, who was described as a kind and loving person.  She was born on 2 March 1959 to Hossein and Tavoos Pompusian; he had been a Muslim and she had been Jeqish before accepting the Bahá’í Faith, before meeting and marrying.  Simin’s father had actually been a widower when he married her mother and had two sons and four daughters by his first marriage; Simin was the youngest of the five children born of the new union.

Simin graduated from high school in Shiraz; she then studied typewriting and acquired other secretarial skills.  She was employed by an agricultural corporation but was fired, after the Islamic Revolution, because she was a Bahá’í.  But she made good use of her lightened schedule.  With her friends, she used to visit the “Darolmajanin” (mental hospital) to see the children and help cleaning and bathing the girls.  She also helped her mother with tailoring.  She was also a member of the Bahá’í Education Committee in Shiráz, responsible for the continuing education of Bahá’ís about their Faith and its Writings.

In the middle of the night of 16 December 1978, many Bahá’í homes were set on fire in Shiraz.  A small crowd gathered near the wall of Simin’s family’s house and started throwing stones inside, breaking all the windows.  Power was cut by the attackers.  The family fled from the house without shoes or proper clothes and went to Tehran for a month.  When they returned to Shiraz, they learned that their house had been confiscated.  Although Simin was injured by broken glass, she remained cheerful throughout the incident.

Simin was arrested at her home in Shiraz

On 24 October 1982, Simin returned home after a regular day to find that the Revolutionary Guards were waiting to arrest her.  At the same time, the house was attacked by regular citizens; the family’s books and photos were dumped in four sacks.  Simin was taken, in her brother’s car, to the Sepah Detention Centre before being transferred to Adelabad prison.

The charges against Simin as well as the prosecution proceedings appear not to have been published, but evidence points clearly that the main reason for her arrest and trial was because she was a Bahá’í.  Simin faced sixteen charges, ranging from being Bahá’í to her participation in organizing Bahá’í community activities, to being unmarried and refusing to recant.

Yes, being unmarried was one of the charges.  I don’t even know where to go with that one, quite honestly.  But anyhow.  Simin was held, with two other people, in a tiny prison cell measuring 1.5m by 2m.  I love so much the fact that during her interrogations, which were often brutal, she would constantly try to refute the accusations and correct the misinformation of her interrogators.  She was so strong and resilient, not yielding to sorrow, but even comforting and encouraging the other Bahá’ís imprisoned with her.

A Bahá’í who was imprisoned with her has written: “Simin was radiant, courageous and swift-thinking (…), and she had a happy and smiling face.  Even in prison she did not stop smiling.  She was a symbol of absolute detachment, a true lover of the spiritual path and aflame with a desire to serve…”

Simin always pleaded with her family to recognize that she was content with the will of God and prayed that they would be able to reconcile themselves with this separation.  Simin’s mother shared that, when she went to visit her daughter in prison for the last time, Simin told her: “Mother, be content with God’s Will.”  And then, Simin asked her three times: “Are you content and satisfied?”  It’s amazing to me that Simin was so concerned for her mother; that’s true love, right there.

Simin has been described as one of the most fearless of the group of women who were executed together; I wanted to find anecdotes that explained this statement but haven’t found anything yet.  I did read though that Simin and her fellow inmates practiced, while in prison, a prayer they could recite before their execution, so that already gives a hint as to the source of that fearlessness.

What an incredibly strong woman who could have contributed so much to the betterment of Shiraz.  But instead, at the age of 24, she was executed by hanging on 18 June 1983, in Chowgan Square in Shiraz, together with nine other Baha’i women.  Her body was not returned to her family; and was possibly buried in the Bahá’í cemetery in Shiraz by authorities, with no regard for the burial customs of the Bahá’í Faith.  I like to think of Simin cheerfully waving this last insult off before looking for opportunities to help someone in the next world.

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

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