For those who remember the awful time 40 years ago when we heard the news of the execution of Mona Mahmoudnejad in Shiraz, there will come a sad realisation.
Had Mona’s life been spared she would now be 57 years old, and probably a mother and perhaps a grandmother.
Instead, her courageous example became the inspiration for ongoing global efforts to promote principles such as gender equality as well as unity, justice and truthfulness.
Seventeen-year-old Mona became the international symbol of the 10 Baha’i women who were hanged by the authorities on the evening of 18 June 1983 for teaching Baha’i children’s classes, and for being “Zionists” (because the Baha’i World Centre is in Israel).
By early June of that year we had become sadly accustomed to receiving the dreadful news of the pogroms against the innocent Baha’i community of Iran. The accounts hit home because among our communities in Australia there were Persian Baha’i refugees whose own families and friends were being targeted.
We had read and distributed a book to governments and media called Cry from the Heart. Written by the Hand of the Cause William Sears, it was a graphic account of the horrors of the persecutions and the inspiring response from the Baha’is of Iran.
But when we heard the devastating news about the execution of 10 women, aged between 17 and 54, we were stunned and shattered, the pain intensifying when we found out later what had actually happened.
The following description of events comes from Volume 19 of The Baha’i World. The details contrast the heinous cruelty of the clerical authorities against the radiant spirituality of their defenceless prey.
Mona was arrested along with her father in October 1982. In her last year of high school this excellent student was known for her fine singing voice and a “warm loving nature and a frank inquisitive mind.” She was innocent yet not blind to the likelihood of her future predicament. Her father was martyred three months before her.
Like all the others Mona was tortured. In her case she was lashed with a cable on the soles of her feet and forced to walk on her bleeding feet as the guards taunted her and kept a glass of water just out of her reach.
All ten women endured long interrogations in prison. Then they were told they would be subjected to four sessions, and if they had not recanted and converted to Islam after the fourth, they would be killed. All refused to recant their faith.
The following part of the report in The Baha’i World is both agonising and inspiring to read. The women were hanged one by one, the oldest first, an unsuccessful strategy cruelly designed to induce the remaining ones to recant. Instead the women were singing and chanting the holy verses.
The account continues: “…Mona asked to be the last to be hanged, and… she prayed for the ‘murderers’ of her martyred friends. Then she is reported to have said, ‘In the Baha’i Faith the kissing of hands is prohibited, and we are only allowed to kiss the hands of the those who kill us for our beliefs.’
“Seizing the executioner’s hand she kissed it lightly, then kissed the rope and placed it around her throat and smiling, said goodbye to this world.”
The families of the executed women were not notified of their deaths, neither were their bodies returned, nor did they receive dignified burials.
Baha’i journalists in various countries around the world at least had the consolation that they could write the stories of the martyrdoms and thereby proclaim the Faith, with its teachings of respect for all religions, including Islam, its non-political nature, its commitment to be law-abiding, its practice of gender equality.
Baha’i media liaison officers gave the news to journalists worldwide. The reporters went into action and soon the story of these ten women was told in the press, on radio and on television screens
Baha’i representatives met with officials of their countries, and soon governments around the world—and the United Nations–strongly protested to the Iranian regime. The guilty clerical authorities responded with lies and slander to the disbelief and outright condemnation of the world community.
The Universal House of Justice, frank in its accounts of the martyrdoms, raised our hearts and minds to contemplate the spiritual reality of what was happening,
On the 24 June, the House of Justice sent a message of stunning eloquence to the youth of the Baha’i world, citing Baha’u’llah, the Master and the Guardian, assuring those young people, now in their 60s or older, of their prayers at the sacred threshold that they would arise to promote the Cause on “homefronts and foreign fields.”
The Supreme Body called on the youth to manifest the same spirit as their counterparts in the cradle of the Faith so as to become the pride of their peers and the consolation of the hearts of the Persian believers.
In the years to come that message and the story of Mona and her dear martyred sisters became a prime motivator among young and old alike to spread the message of unity throughout the globe. The results came quickly.
Mona’s story won widespread interest though film and music –how we loved Doug Cameron’s music video, Mona with the Children, produced by fellow Canadian Jack Lenz and which made the pop charts in Canada. Throughout the world there were also feature articles and television programs that told her story.
In 1984, a beautiful Baha’i Temple with a glistening dome opened in Samoa, the home of the first monarch to become a Baha’i. That exciting development exemplified the quotation of Baha’u’llah: “Should they attempt to conceal His light on the continent, He will assuredly rear His head in the midmost heart of the ocean and, raising His voice, proclaim: ‘I am the lifegiver of the world!”
In 1986 in India, there came the dedication of a Baha’i Temple so exquisite in its lotus design, so serene in its spiritual atmosphere, that it was to become the most visited building in the world.
Soon the Universal House of Justice completed the buildings on the Arc of Mount Carmel, and laid the foundations of the institute process that has galvanised Baha’is and their friends in virtually every country in the world to spread the message of the oneness of humanity, of global unity, of the essential harmony of the teachings of the divine messengers, of gender equality.
Mona’s radiant face still shines out from her photographs, forever young, forever an inspiration.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary, and as the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran continues, the Baha’i International Community has initiated a campaign that calls upon creative people to employ their talents to honour the 10 martyrs and the cause of justice and equality.
The martyrs were: Ms Mona Mahmoudnejad, 17, a high school student; Ms Shahin (Shirin) Dalvand, 25, a sociologist; Mrs Ezzat-Janami Eshraghi, 57, a homemaker; Ms Roya Eshraghi, 23, a veterinary student; Ms Zarrin Moghimi-Abyaneh, 28, a poet; Ms Mahshid Niroumand, 28, a physicist; Ms Simin Saberi, 25, a high school graduate; Mrs Tahereh Arjomandi Siyavushi, 32, a nurse; Ms Akhtar Thabit (Sabet), 25, a nurse; Mrs Nosrat Ghufrani Yaldaie, 46, a Baha’i teacher and administrator, a mother of several children, including a martyr, Bahram.
Michael Day is the author of a new book, “Point of Adoration. The story of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah 1873-1892.” He is also the author of “Journey to a Mountain”, “Coronation on Carmel” and “Sacred Stairway”, a trilogy that tells the story of the Shrine of the Bab. His photo book “Fragrance of Glory” is an account of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. A former member of the New Zealand Baha’i community, Michael now lives in Australia. He was editor of the Baha’i World News Service in Haifa 2003-2006.