Members of the Bahá’í faith who have faced discrimination in Iran have started a movement to raise awareness about the injustices they face in their home country.
The Bahá’í Club of N.C. State invited guests for a screening of Education Under Fire, a 30-minute documentary about discrimination, at 7 p.m. in Witherspoon Student Center on Saturday Night. About 10 people attended the event.
Hossain Roushangar, president of the Bahá’í Club and graduate student in chemistry, said he wanted to bring awareness about the prohibition of education toward those of the Bahá’í faith in Iran.
Roushangar encouraged attendees to go online to educationunderfire.com to sign a letter to Congress in hopes of raising awareness of the issue.
“We’re not trying to preach religion, but we are sharing a story of people that are not getting the privilege of education based on their religion.” Roushangar said.
According to educationunderfire.com, Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees education as inalienable right of every human being. The event addressed the unequal rights, persecutions, interrogations, and imprisonment that the Bahá’í face in Iran.
In response to being denied the right to an education, the members of the Bahá’í faith have built their own universities. The Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education was secretly started in 1978 with the help of professors from different backgrounds and elite universities around the world.
When BIHE was first started, assignments, exams, grades, and booklets were mailed by professors to students so the Iranian government wouldn’t find out about the underground school, according to the documentary. It could take up to two months for one assignment to be completed because students would mail professors for questions and understanding.
As time progressed, some BIHE students would go to class at different professors’ homes in Iran. The school days would last from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the documentary.
Students would have to leave the professors’ homes two at a time every five minutes because of the risk of getting caught. According to the documentary, science and math were the two degrees of study provided by the Institute.
Sub groups were later developed and a music department was added. According to the documentary, about 3,000 students out of 300,000 Bahá’ís in Iran were a part of BIHE.
The university was shut down in May 2011. In October 2011, professors involved with BIHE from Iran were jailed and imprisoned for four to five years, according to the documentary.
The director of the school was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“Youth of my age should have the same opportunities as me,” Adele Agbaw, a student at Elon University said. “Iran isn’t benefitting from this.”
Michael Hills, a non-degree seeking student at N.C State, said four to five professors from Wake County and two to three professors from Chapel Hill volunteer to teach students in BIHE online.
The professors come from academic areas such as computer science, theatre arts, and engineering. Students from BIHE have attempted to transfer credits to U.S. based universities for better education opportunities but only a few of U.S. universities such as Indiana University accepts them.
The Iranian government strictly believes in the Islamic faith and does not allow freedom of speech, according to Roushangar. The government and religion is one entity in Iran which leaves no room for separation between government and religion.
“It’s a violation of our faith,” said Eric Johnson, an N.C. State alumnus and Bahá’í spiritual assembly chairman who serves in Raleigh, said.
According to the documentary, Iran is sensitive to international pressure, and members of the government believe that their public appearance is important.
Roushangar said members of the Bahá’í faith are heavily discriminated against because they choose to believe in something different from the widely-practiced Islamic faith. The Bahá’í are not recognized in the Iranian Constitution, and they legally don’t have a right to choose their religion compared to countries like the U.S. where people do have that liberty.
“It shows how lucky we are.” Roushangar said. “You can be Buddhist, you can be Christian, you can be Muslim and still get your education.”
The Bahá’í faith is the second-most widespread faith with 5 million followers surpassing every religion but Christianity in Iran, according to bahai.org. The Bahá’í faith was started more than 150 years ago based on unity and right and wrong.
Bahá’ís also view humanity as one big family, and they want to bring peace by serving their country and practicing their faith. Roushangar said N.C. State believes in education, diversity, and unity and the Bahá’í club is following that momentum.
Education Under Fire was filmed in nine cities with almost a dozen BIHE students or teachers whose family members were imprisoned or persecuted for being involved, according to educationunderfire.com
The institute is currently privately funded and run online.
The Bahá’í club has not been established at N.C. State and members hope to do more events to raise awareness about this issue in Iran, Roushangar said.