Originally printed January 12. 2006 in the South Bend Tribune
No need to hide
Refugee family cherishes freedom to be Bahai
Tribune Staff Writer
Ali Akbar Sohrab and Nastaran Saramaghan are expecting company.
The married couple who fled Iran because of religious persecution will host a Nineteen Day Feast in their Mishawaka apartment.
they participated in this worshipful gathering of the Bahai Faith in
their homeland, this time there's a difference. There is no need to
hide. There is no need to fear being watched or harassed.
Sohrab, 38, and Saramaghan, 30, along with their sons Milad, 13, and
Mohsen, 7, arrived from Shiraz, Iran -- via Turkey -- last May, as
others in their extended family have done before.
American-born Elizabeth Sohrab, a cousin by marriage, translating her
Farsi into English, Saramaghan shares what her family endured as
followers of the Bahai Faith in a Muslim country.
"They could only worship in homes, not openly in
public," Elizabeth Sohrab translates. "They were not given permission
to meet in groups, so they met in homes where it wasn't so obvious.
"They were just very careful and quiet."
Saramaghan heard stories of Bahai meetings in the past being broken up
and participants taken to jail, recent meetings were left alone if they
were held inconspicuously, she says.
Ali Akbar was arrested
twice, Saramaghan says. Once he refused to take part in a ritual of
self-flagellation. His second arrest occurred when he questioned why he
was not being treated fairly at work.
It was difficult for Ali
Akbar to find work in Iran, Saramaghan says. If an employer found out
he was Bahai, he was fired. A job at a Bahai-owned store would end when
that business closed due to lack of customers.
Trying to fix refrigerators out of his home, Sohrab
found customers wouldn't hire him or would refuse to pay because of his
religious beliefs, she says.
Elizabeth Sohrab says that such
treatment is typical since the 1979 revolution in Iran. At that time,
Islamic fundamentalists and their supporters overthrew the Shah of Iran.
went through only the eighth grade in school because of harassment
there, Saramaghan says. Her hair was pulled; she wasn't allowed a drink
Milad received poor grades because he would not say Muslim prayers in class.
Like his parents before him, he had no hope of obtaining higher education in Iran. Milad now dreams of going to college.
they were leaving for vacation in Turkey in September 2004, the family
took with them only what they could carry. They had some savings of
their own, but family members also helped out financially. They stayed
with other Bahais in Turkey until cleared to come to this country in
The boys attend public school. Though Milad, an
eighth-grader, learned some English in Iran, this is kindergartner
Mohsen's first exposure. Saramaghan attends English as a Second
Language courses three times a week and hopes to find a job.
Sohrab tries to pick up English at the jobs he has found.
likes being able to feel secure in the fact that her husband will
always be able to get a job and not have to worry about that,"
Elizabeth Sohrab translates, noting that hard work and effort, not his
faith, will be the determining factor.
"She said she is really
happy that she knows she can tell people she is Bahai and say things
about the Bahai faith without worrying about it," Elizabeth Sohrab
reports. "And she is happy that her children can do that."
Sohrab and Saramaghan may go back to Iran some day to visit family, but not to live, Saramaghan says.
displayed in their new home's living room is a picture of Bahai leader
Abdu'l-Baha, the son of the faith's founder, Baha'u'llah.
believe that Baha'u'llah was the world's most recent divine messenger
sent from God. Declaring himself as such in 1863, Baha'u'llah taught
the oneness of mankind and that the world's religions represent one
The Persian nobleman was exiled from what is now Iran because of his beliefs.
Now, almost 150 years later, followers who left Iran for Mishawaka to worship in peace prepare to do so.