I have long admired the writing style of Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. Her prose is so masterful that I often read a passage or two and then put the book down, the same way you would put down your fork in order to relish a morsel of truly flavourful food. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani is the internationally bestselling author of The Saddlebag – A Fable for Doubters and Seekers, Paper – The Dreams of a Scribe, Four on an Island, When We Grow Up, Response, Asking Questions: A Challenge to Fundamentalism, and most recently, The Woman Who Read Too Much: A Novel which is a work of creative nonfiction about the life of Tahirih.
In these early days of the Faith where we explore what it means to be a Baha’i artist, Bahiyyih has inspired me with a vision of literary excellence and I am truly honoured to ask her about her recent publication.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! To begin, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself, your work as a writer, and about your latest book ‘The Woman Who Read Too Much’?
I’m a member of an ancient tribe, a venerable race whom some now say is bordering on extinction. There are still many of us around, although like other anthropological groups whose belief system runs counter to that of the majority, we tend to be invisible. High finance ignores us. Politics barely knows of our existence anymore, although at one time it was afraid of us. We are scattered across the five continents and come from different backgrounds, different cultures and generations, but we all share one common faith, one universal cause. We call ourselves Readers. Continue reading →
The Baha’i Faith is a global religion. It is acknowledged today as one of the most wide-spread religions – present in over 200 countries and territories, with its central texts translated into over 800 languages and its adherents hailing from diverse traditions and cultures. This is something that many of us Baha’is are proud of and see as a testament to our diversity and universal worldview.
However, wherever you may encounter the Baha’i Faith, sooner or later you’re bound to encounter Baha’is from a Persian background. They will vary in their relative “Persian-ness”. Some will be second or third generation immigrants with a strong cultural foundation in their new country, such as my husband who is more Australian than he is Persian. Others will be much more culturally Persian and might tarofwith you every chance they get. You’ll also find people like me, who are a good old mix of a lot of different things. (I am one quarter Persian, although most people wouldn’t know it, and often assume my last name is taken from my husband.) There are also those who have no ethnic links to Persia or Iran, but may have Persian names after early heroes of the Faith’s history, like Vahid or Tahirih.
So what is the relationship between the Baha’i Faith and Persian culture?
Education Under Fire is a new documentary, co-presented by Amnesty International, that profiles the persecution of the Baha’is of Iran, and looks at the struggles and resilience of the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education. The Education Under Fire campaign led to the creation of a powerful letter co-authored by Nobel Peace Prize laureates José Manuel Ramos-Horta and Desmond Tutu, which calls for the Iranian government to respect education opportunities and the human rights of Iran’s estimated 300,000 Baha’is, the nations largest religious minority.
For our readers in the United States, the documentary debuts tomorrow (October 28) at Columbia University, and will then be screened at campuses and Amnesty International events around the US.
Iran’s attack on Bahá’í educators has also struck a strong chord with me for a number of reasons.
The BIHE is an online university and it was established in 1987 for Bahá’ís in Iran. Bahá’ís in Iran have repeatedly been denied access to a higher education ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. A leaked confidential Iran memo in 2006 (from Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology) exposes a government-level policy to deny Bahá’í students university education.
I’m a Bahá’í, and I’ve had the opportunity to go to university, graduate, and now specialise in adult education – but hey, I don’t live in Iran. To be honest, I never thought going to university was such a big deal. I just saw it as a natural continuation from my schooling years. My only source of stress during my university years was waiting to see if my marks were good enough to get into the course of my choice, as well as some of the last minute study cramming I used to do for my exams. In fact, my years at university were some of the best years of my life, so far! This is why I find it confusing and unthinkable that Bahá’í students in Iran are repeatedly denied the opportunity to pursue a further education, and even be arrested for trying! Continue reading →