In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, 43 prominent professors and lecturers in the fields of theology and religious studies demanded the reversal of a ban imposed on Iran’s Baha’i institute for Higher Education and the release of 11 of its members of staff from prison.
The suppression of the institute represents just the latest in a series of assaults on Iran’s 300,000 Baha’is by the country’s Islamic government, hundreds of whom have been detained and even tortured in recent years.
The institute was itself the product of persecution, founded in 1987 after Baha’is were shut out of all forms of tertiary education under an edict by Iran’s ayatollahs.
The letter condemns in particular recent attacks by the Iranian authorities on an informal educational initiative of the Baha’i community – known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) – in which Baha’i professors, debarred by the Iranian government from practicing their professions, voluntarily offer their services to teach young community members who are banned from higher education.
Seven Baha’is associated with BIHE recently made their first court appearances after being imprisoned for four months. They were detained after a series of raids on 22 May, in which 39 homes associated with BIHE were targeted. The Institute’s activities have since been declared “illegal.”
“As philosophers, theologians, and scholars of religion, living throughout the world, we are raising our voices in protest against the recent attack by Iranian authorities on the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education,” the open letter states.
“To acquire knowledge and learning is the sacred and legal right of all; indeed, the state is obliged to provide it. In Iran, the government has done the opposite…”
“Attacks such as these, against the rights of citizens to organize and be educated in freedom, can no longer be tolerated. We call upon the Iranian government not only to cease its persecution of Baha’is, but to provide, and promote, education for all.”
Among the most celebrated academics backing the call is Dr. Charles Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, Canada. He signed the letter, he said, out of his deep sense of “conviction that there ought to be ‘no compulsion’ in religion.”
It is also “connected to my disquiet about the Iranian revolution,” said Professor Taylor, “and the way its finer ideals have been hijacked by people who are abusing their faith in order to make it serve as a tool of mobilization against the ‘enemy.’”
Another prominent figure to add his name to the list is Hilary Putnam, Cogan University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Harvard, U.S.A.
“Ever since the American and French revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century, the aspiration of peoples of different ethnicities, nationalities, and creeds for their fundamental human rights, including the right to worship as one’s conscience dictates and the right to education, have gained momentum,” said Professor Putnam.
“The persecution of the Baha’i university students in Iran is a shameful attempt to turn the clock back to the dark ages. Their cause deserves the support of enlightened and moral people everywhere,” he said.
Charles Taylor – Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, McGill University, Canada
Hilary Putnam – Cogan University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Harvard University, U.S.A.
Cornel West – Class of 1943 University Professor of African American Studies, Princeton University, U.S.A.
Leonardo Boff – Professor Emeritus of Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and Ecology, Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil
Stanley Hauerwas – Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University, U.S.A.
Ebrahim Moosa – Professor of Religion & Islamic Studies, Duke University, U.S.A.
Graham Ward – Regius Professor of Divinity, Oxford University, U.K.
John Milbank – Professor in Religion, Politics and Ethics, University of Nottingham, U.K.
Rabbi David Novak – J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto, Canada
Tahir Mahmood – Chairman, Amity University Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, former member, National Minorities Commission and former member, Law Commission of India, New Delhi, India
Moshe Idel – Professor Emeritus of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Abdulkader Tayob – Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Xinjian Shang – Professor of Philosophy, Peking University, China
William Desmond – Full Professor of Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium; Adjunct Honorary Professor of Philosophy, National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland
Kevin Hart – Edwin B Kyle, Prof of Christian Studies and Chair of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, U.S.A.; Professor Of Philosophy, Australia Catholic University, Australia
Murray Rae – Professor of Theology and Head of the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Otago, New Zealand
Asghar Ali Engineer – Founding Chairman of Asian Muslim Action Network; Head of Center for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, India
Remi Brague – Chair of the Study of Religion, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany
A. Rashied Omar – Research Scholar of Islamic Studies and Peacebuilding, University of Notre Dame, U.S.A.; Imam at Claremont Main Road Mosque, Cape Town, South Africa
Joshua Cho – President and Professor of Christian Thought, Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary, Hong Kong
Douglas Pratt – Professor of Religious Studies, Waikato University, New Zealand
Ashok Vohra – Professor of Philosophy, Delhi University, India; Indian Council of Philosophical Research
Carver Yu – President and Professor of Christian Thought, China Graduate School of Theology, Hong Kong
Laurie Zoloth – Professor of Medical Humanities and Bioethics, Professor of Religious Studies, Northwestern University, U.S.A.
Pilgrim W.K. LO – Professor of Systematic Theology, Chairman of Institute for Luther Studies in the Asian Context, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Hong Kong
Philip Goodchild – Professor of Religion and Philosophy, University of Nottingham, U.K.
Paul Morris – Professor of Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
James E. Faulconer – Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding, Brigham Young University, U.S.A.
Rod Benson – Ethicist and Public Theologian, Tinsley Institute, Morling College, Australia
Hassan Mwakimako – Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Pwani University College, Kenya
Yunus Dumbe – Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Islamic University College, Ghana
Joseph Cohen – University Lecturer in Philosophy, University College Dublin, Ireland
Adam Miller – Professor of Philosophy, Collin College, Texas, U.S.A.
Elaine Wainwright – Professor of Theology, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Raphael Zagury-Orly – Head of the MFA Program, Bezalel School of Design and Fine Arts, Israel
Felix O Murchadha – Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
Na’eem Jeenah – Associate Lecturer of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand; Coordinator of Masjidul Islam in Johannesburg, South Africa
Kathleen Flake – Associate Professor of American Religious History, Vanderbilt Divinity School, U.S.A.
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen – Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature, American Jewish University, U.S.A.
Jeffrey Bloechel – Associate Professor of Philosophy, Boston College, U.S.A.
William Hackett – Research Fellow and Lecturer in Philosophy, Australian Catholic University, Australia
Rabbi Akiba Lerner – Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies, Santa Clara University, U.S.A.
Nathan Oman – Assistant Professor of Law, William and Mary School of Law, U.S.A.