Immigrant’s story: Bahá’í faith

By Kaori Inui

The sun was setting behind his 15-year-old shoulders once again. He is just rushing home on his bicycle from his friend’s place, and that Iranian town looks exactly the same as he’s used to seeing. But he knew something was wrong; no one talked to him on his way home.

“I had this very bad feeling,” Mehrdad Bastan remembered.

“When I got home, my whole family was sitting in the car, trying to run away.”

For a while, he just stood by his bicycle, trying to grasp what was happening.

Quickly his brother came out of the car and threw his bicycle in the house. In the next second, they were fleeing from the town.

The family was uprooted by a mob that wasn’t happy with the family’s religion: Bahá’í.

Bastan’s house had been looted in the last month, and finally it was time for them to leave.

“I was terrified that they were going to kill us. It was very scary. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to my neighbours or friends,” he said.

He and his family haven’t gone back there ever since they were uprooted 30 years ago.

“It’s been such a long time. I have put that behind me,” Bastan said.

In Iran, non-Muslim people, especially Bahá’ís, get persecuted on daily basis.

The Bahá’í faith started in Iran in 1844. It stemmed from Islam, but it is established as a completely different religion now and has followers across the world. Bahá’ís believe in the unity of all human beings as one race, and unity of religion.

In Iran, where the religion originated, the Bahá’í faith is prohibited strictly under Sharia, body of Islamic religious laws.

Being born Bahá’í, Bastan experienced discrimination often when he was at school and in his neighbourhood.

He talked to his friends about his faith at school, and was expelled three times. Bastan says he was one of the good students when it came to reciting their obligatory prayer, which was part of the school curriculum, but the marks he got were horrible.

“I was never allowed to become a better student than they are,” he said.

“When you’re not a Muslim in Iran, you have no rights. Even for Bahá’ís who worked for the government and started collecting pension, the pension [is] stopped … Those kinds of persecutions were always there. The past 20 years has been really bad. I guess in Muslim religion, they believe they are the last of the religions.”

After Bastan’s family was uprooted, they quietly moved to a new neighbourhood, and to another one, where they haven’t revealed their religion in public until today.

Even though there was no immediate danger to their lives, his mother decided one family member needed to survive and keep the family name going.

So she decided that Bastan would be the one to leave the country alone.

Within the same year he left his hometown, he left his home country as well.

His destination was India, Bahá’ís are accepted as refugees.

“It was lonely and scary. When you’re 15 and go to a county where you don’t know the language, their customs, where you’re going to live, or what you’re going to do, it [is] very scary.”

He recalls his life in India, and says it was full of hardships.

“It was difficult to work in India being a foreigner, so we didn’t have a job, or money coming from Iran.”

No one in his family could send him money, because of restrictions for non-Muslims.

He lived in India in poverty for three years, and when he was 18, he married to Farzaneh, who was also a refugee from Iran and Bahá’í herself.

Soon after, the young couple found out Canada was trying to sponsor some Iranian Bahá’ís in India and other parts of the world and bring them over to Canada, so that they can work and make a living.

Within a year, Bastan and his wife relocated to Fredericton.

“We came to this community, and every day they would help us find a job and look for apartments. We just loved it and we stayed here.”

He started working as an assistant at the Harvey Studios in downtown Fredericton, and learned photo-taking skills gradually.

Twenty-six years after moving to Fredericton, Bastan still works here, and is now a professional photographer, and a store manager.

Bastan has gone through tremendous amount of discrimination and poverty, but he has seen lots of hope too.

Moving to Canada made his life better, and he wishes the whole world would be like that.

“Bahá’ís believe in no borders. We believe the whole world as one country. It’s all part of the God-given land where we live. The freedom of being here is appreciated. The son of the father of the Bahá’í faith came to Canada in 1912, and mentioned North America being a democracy that has to be an example for the world to follow.”

His and his wife’s families still live in Iran, and Bastan says they are now known to be Bahá’í.

He says people in general don’t care about the religion, and people even like his family very much. But since they never know what will happen if the government finds out, they keep really a low profile now.

“People usually have good views of the Bahá’ís. People of Iran are very friendly, but it’s just the government [that] sometimes isn’t very friendly.”

Bastan knows Bahá’ís are persecuted in Iran everyday, so he keeps praying for them, and that’s the only thing he can do now.

“I am never angry. In the Bahá’í faith, we’re taught never to seek revenge or talk bad about the government. We’ve always been obedient to the government. Hopefully it will get better some day.”

Bastan’s family celebrated New Year’s last Friday. The first day of spring is the first day of their year.

Ironically, Bahá’ís and Iranian Muslims celebrate the New Year at the same time.

“It’s a double New Year for us, being Bahá’í, and being Iranian.”

On the New Year’s Eve, he and his family celebrated Bahá’í New Year, and the next day they went to the Iranian New Year’s party.

His New Year’s wish was for peace.

“I wish for peace on Earth, and unity of mankind, because I’d like to see everyone united.”

about bahá’í

Bahá’í faith doesn’t have priests or monks, followers independently seek truth.

The international centre for the faith is in Haifa, Israel

There are 50 Bahá’ís in Fredericton

There are 50 million Bahá’ís worldwide

Bahá’í is the second most popular religion in the world.

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