As I read the account of the recent funeral for Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani, the wife of Jamaloddin Khanjani’s of over fifty years, my admiration for this family grew significantly. Ashraf Sobhani Khanjani, the lionhearted matriarch of the Khanjani family witnessed the execution of her beloved brother, Youssef Sobhani, at the hands of the Islamic Republic authorities on June 27, 1980, in the aftermath of Iran’s 1979 revolution. Youssef’s charges were all based on his membership in the Bahá’í religion. During the same time period, members of Iran’s National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís were also summarily arrested, kidnapped or executed after ill-conducted trials with no due process. Absent at At Ashraf’s funeral was her husband, Jamaloddin, since he is serving a ten-year sentence as a member of the Bahá’í community and was not granted leave to bid farewell to his spouse of over fifty years. Conspicuously present at the funeral were plain clothed agents of the Islamic Republic who had no reservations about photographing and videotaping Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani as she laid there in peace. The crowd, undeterred by the presence of the agents, chanted the Baha’i prayer for the dead in unison and shed tears in grief.
The Bahá’ís do not have an institution of clergy. No “paradigm of emulation” as the Shi’ites have, no Imam at the mosque, no priest or reverend, and no rabbi. The Bahá’ís have an administrative order comprised of elected bodies, such as Assemblies, local or national, that provide guidance to the community on matters such as marriages, divorces, births and deaths and are comprised of ordinary Bahá’ís. They also provide inspiration and rally the community to provide service for the greater society in line with their teachings. In the early 1980s, once it became apparent in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution that any elected Bahá’í Assembly was the target of rampant persecution and execution of its membership at the hands of the Islamic authorities, the International governing body for the Bahá’ís known as the House of Justice asked that the Bahá’ís of Iran suspend their administrative bodies until further notice. Instead, to manage the affairs of the Bahá’í community of Iran, the House of Justice appointed three individuals as the “Yárán,” literally “companions,” and one of the three appointed individuals was Jamaloddin Khanjani, who served in this capacity and saw the group grow from 3 to 7 over the next three decades. Mr. Khanjani was arrested nearly three years ago as a “Baha’i leader” and was given a ten-year sentence, which is yet to be communicated to him in writing. He has spent the last three years in Evin and Gohardasht prisons in Iran in the severest and direst of circumstances.
Put yourself in the shoes of the late Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani and walk in them for a mile to understand what has befallen her family and how she has been a constant source of perseverance and resolve. Any fair-minded observer would think that after losing a brother to execution at the hands the Islamic government and the appointing of her husband to the group of Yárán, which itself caused the family much anguish and harassment over the next three decades with multiple summons to the Ministry of Intelligence and prison visits, she would have caved in and demanded that her family “cool it”, so to speak, and decrease their Bahá’í activities, so as to not be in spotlight or constantly on the radar of the authorities, with her home functioning as a “crime scene” frequented by intelligence agents. Rather, she raised her children as active members of the Bahá’í religion and they went on to have children of their own, all of whom, despite seeing the “disadvantages” of membership in the Bahá’í community such as their parents’ and grandfather’s frequent summons and visits to the Iranian Revolutionary Courts and deprivation of jobs and education, chose to be active members of the Bahá’í community and have provided service to Iran, the country they hold sacred, as outstanding citizens.
Navid Khanjani, the great nephew of Ashraf and Jamaloddin, was a founding member of the Society Against Educational Discrimination in Iran. He promoted this human rights issue and extensively published on this topic to raise awareness about various students, who due to religious, political, or ethnic affiliations have been banned from Iranian universities. As a Bahá’í and a human rights activist, Navid received one of the the heftiest sentences of any human rights activist in Iran: 12 years in prison. Leva Khanjani, a grand daughter to this family, and a Bahá’í student deprived of education herself received a two-year sentence. Alaoddin Khanjani, the son of Ashraf and Jamaloddin, has recently been released on bail for his membership in the Bahá’í community.
In summary, over three generations of Khanjanis have so far received a cumulative 32 years in prison by the Islamic Republic. They continue to be stalwart adherents of their Bahá’í Faith; they raise their children to become productive members of Iranian society as Bahá’ís; and they serve the greater Iranian community in furthering the cause of human rights, freedom of expression, and fighting injustice, even from their prison cells. The tale of the Khanjani family is a testament to how the Islamic Republic’s heavy-handed treatment of the Bahá’í community has failed to deliver their intended consequence: the obliteration of the Bahá’í community of Iran. Instead, the community has thrived and has become a distinct voice of perseverance in civil discourse in Iran. I salute the soul of the late Mrs. Khanjani and the two generations she helped raise, hope for an Iran with many mothers like Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani who put the interests of their sacred homeland abover their own, and look forward to a day when dialogue and understanding will replace tyranny and injustice in Iran.