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    Posted January 27, 2013 by
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
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    A Rough Path to Education - The cost of being a Bahá'í student in the Islamic Republic of Iran


    "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."  - Baha'u'llah

    Like any other day, on September 29, 1998, I entered the lab in downtown Tehran at 8:00 A.M. to remove the agar plates from the incubators and measure the zones of inhibition around the crude extract I had so meticulously prepared and refined from the pear tree leaves. I had established the antibacterial activity of the leaves on various bacteria that most commonly cause urinary tract infection in Iran and had drawn closer to the day for which most research scientists long: presenting convincing and conclusive data. The very project that was about to come to fruition before my eyes was my senior honors thesis at the BIHE, Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education.

    I was so involved in gathering the data and interpreting the results that I was completely oblivious to my surroundings. At that moment, my little world hardly extended beyond the edges of my bench, my pencil, ruler, plates, and the dilution tubes. This excitement, however, was soon to come to a halt. Suddenly, I found myself in the midst of five armed men with cameras and cellular phones. They rushed into the lab with no prior notice. In their hands they held a government warrant for confiscation of lab materials and equipment, and in their eyes I could read their determination and lack of willingness to discuss. Before I could regain my composure, I found myself being interrogated while videotaped and being asked questions about the details of my work. The authorities further insisted that I write the names and addresses of all professors with whom I worked. In no time, I found myself in a room which was nothing but a warehouse of broken test tubes, pipettes, and agar plates.

    The government crackdown on the BIHE was a concerted effort headed by the Iranian Supreme Spiritual Leader to stifle the intellectual growth of the Bahá’í Community in Iran. To the Bahá’ís of Iran, however, this action came as no surprise. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the Bahá’í Community has been subjected to severe and systematic government-led persecution. Many members of this largest religious minority in Iran were executed on grounds of religious heresy and their properties confiscated. The Bahá’í temples were demolished, the students were banned from attending Iranian universities, and all Bahá’ís who held positions in the public sector were denied jobs. My own mother, a practicing pediatrician, was dismissed from the hospital on grounds of being “unclean” to touch or treat the Muslim children. It was in such hostile environment that BIHE emerged within the Bahá’í Community in 1987. Little did the Iranian government know that their crackdown on BIHE sent ripples in the international media across the globe and was even condemned by the President of the United States. In no time, BIHE was up and running again with the support and sacrifice of the Baha’is, lending their homes and basements to the students to be able to hold classes and conduct research. Such was the state of affairs when I defended my thesis, in an inconspicuous residential house in Northern Tehran before a jury of five professors in the spring of 1999.

    Though born in the United States, where my mother was a pediatric resident at the time, I was raised in Tehran, Iran. My family returned to Iran in 1976, nearly three years before the Islamic revolution and the onset of the persecution of our community. Compulsory education is among the principles of the Baha'i Faith and is especially indicated for girls as future mothers and the first teachers of the next generation. Under the government law in Iran, high school was effectively the dead-end in education and hence the Bahá’í youth had no chance to further their education until the founding of the BIHE. Being a Baha'i girl and raised in such an environment of deprivation, I always contemplated on what career path I would choose had all the doors been open before me. I believe that the imposed deprivation of education nourished my zeal and interest in furthering my education and taught me to value, and not take for granted, what I had available to me. It taught me to fly without wings.

    In October 1999 I left Iran, my beloved homeland, and came to the US to experience the ‘American dream’. I started the process of applying to different universities with the dream of obtaining a doctorate degree in my field of study. This also involved defending the BIHE credits as BIHE was not considered an ‘accredited’ academic institute based on the ‘database’ to which the US universities referred. I, ultimately, received admissions to three universities which along with the efforts of all other BIHE graduates outside of Iran as well as the BIHE administration, paved the way for BIHE to gain international recognition and gradually appear in the list of accredited colleges. Studying in the US was an amazing experience for me, it was liberating, it was rewarding and I owe it to the foundation that BIHE provided me during my undergraduate years. I received my Ph.D. degree in 2006 and was among the first BIHE graduates who had done so.

    I wish that everyone could experience what it is like to have the freedom to study in his or her field of interest and to achieve his or her dreams of higher education in a peaceful atmosphere, as it was truly meant to be and because it is a human right.

    I see a very bright future for the BIHE. It has stood firm and survived all the hardships and difficulties that are still ongoing, with many of its educators currently behind bars. The fact that such an institute came into existence with very limited resources and has expanded to be an organization with numerous success stories for its graduates is proof that the BIHE will continue to operate. This is truly a miracle, which would not have been possible without the support and sacrifice of the Bahá'í community and others. I hope and wish for a just future, not only for the Bahá'ís, but for everyone around the world to have equal access to opportunities to grow and realize their dreams, regardless of their background, whether racial, religious or otherwise, as we truly are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.

    Shahrzad Missaghi

    January 26, 2013

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