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    Tunisia’s Spiritual Pluralism: The Baha’i Faith

    By Roua Khlifi | Feb 26 2013 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

    Tags: Baha'i faith , Religion , second-featured , Tunisian Baha'i , world religions

    This Baha’i symbol represents humanity’s connection to God

    The following feature is the first story in “Tunisia’s Spiritual Pluralism,” a recurring series Tunisia Live will be running about religious minorities in the country. 

    Although members of the Baha’i faith say they have not been overtly persecuted by the Tunisian state, they nonetheless often feel socially marginalized and excluded.

    “Some colleagues of mine stopped talking to me once they knew I was Baha’i, even though I had a good relationship with them,” said Jamal, 63, a Tunisian Baha’i who is now retired.

    Although Baha’ism is considered one of the fastest growing religions today, its followers often face harassment and persecution, especially in the Muslim world. One of the most high-profile cases has been that of the Baha’i community in Iran that was massacred by the Islamist regime.

    In Tunisia, the state tolerates Baha’ism and allows its practice, even though it considers the religion to be heretical.

    “Baha’ism is not new in Tunisia. It has existed for over a century now,” according to Nizar, a representative of the Baha’i media office in Tunisia. “It originally came with Egyptian Baha’is who visited Tunisia early last century.”

    Founded in the nineteenth century, Baha’ism spread in Iran under the guidance and leadership of Bab and then Baha’u'llah, whom the Baha’is consider to be a prophet. Baha’ists believe in all messengers that preceded Bab and think they founded religions relevant to their times and contexts. A monotheistic religion, the Baha’i faith believes in the spiritual unity of humankind.

    “The Baha’i religion is an organized religion,” Nizar explained. “It has an administrative structure, and we organize monthly meetings every 19 days, during which we chant Duaa and discuss some issues. We elect a committee every year too.”

    Although there is no official census of Baha’is, Nizar estimates that more than a thousand exist in Tunisia. He says numbers have risen in recent years as Tunisians have become more interested in new religions.

    Jamal said he didn’t grow up in a religious home and his father was an atheist. Although he had no faith in religion as a young man, he began to read about spirituality and discovered Bahai’ism.

    “I was impressed by how Baha’i’ in Iran were persecuted and yet continued to resist without being violent,” he said. “They were massacred and still retained their beliefs.”

    He continued, “we don’t reject Islam. We believe in all of God’s messengers. Yet, religions evolve and humanity progresses. This is what Baha’ism taught us. We have reached a stage of maturity. We need a new religion and new laws.’’

    The Tunisian state does not recognize Baha’ism as a religion, and although practice of the faith is generally tolerated, members of the community reported some harassment during the former regime.

    Jamal said he was called to the Ministry of Interior every few months, where authorities would question him about the Baha’i community.

    “When I tried to renew my passport, they kept delaying the procedure and eventually proposed I become an informant,” he said. “Of course, I refused and with the help of some people I know, I got my passport back.”

    Nizar added, “Some people say that this is not a religion and this is not our faith.  They are free to believe that. We believe in one God and all prophets, after all.”

    *A correction was added to this article: Bab was the herald of Baha’u'llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i faith.

  • By Roua Khlifi  / 
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      Randall Dighton /

      Thank you for the insight into the Baha’i community in Tunisia. Many years ago I had dear friends in Southern California who were Tunisian Baha’is, who spoke highly of the hospitality and faith of their Muslim neighbors.
      One small correction, please: The Bab was the Herald of the Baha’i Faith, a Prophet who was executed after only 6 years of teaching. The Faith was founded by Baha’u'llah, who revealed its Holy Scriptures for 40 years, suffering prison and exile during that entire time.

    1. Patrick Batchelder /

      I would find it interesting if you wrote on the different areas of Christianity here in Tunisia. None of my Muslim friends really are educated on the difference between Protestant, Roman Catholic or Coptic Christians – all who have churches here. There is quite a difference. The Anglican Church (British Protestant) in Tunis is St. George’s in the Medina or close to it and quite old. On my first visit no one could give me directions even though it was a short distance from their shops, they didn’t even know what it was or had never heard of it. Comparing religions and the different parts of it is surely an important part of an excellent education.

    2. Parvaz /

      The Article is good, however I think it has not provided all the information about the persecuted communities in Iran. It is a matter of severe concern for the humanity to see the persecution of Baha’is in Iran but I would like to bring to attention the plight of AZALI COMMUNITY also. The article did not mention the name of AZALI COMMUNITY which is a part of BABI COMMUNITY. In Iran all the minority communities are being persecuted, be they Bahai, Christian, Azali or Babi. The Baha’i community is a Part of Babi Community, there are also those Babis who did accepted Baha’i faith, they still remained to chose Babi faith. There are Azalis who accept Subh-i-Azal as the manifestation of God and There are Baha’is the followers of Baha’u'llah. The tragedy with the AZALIs is that they are being persecuted by both, the Islamists and the Baha’is. The Azalis today are called as Bayanis.

      Thank you.

      • MisterMistake /

        The reason why it doesn’t deal much with the persecuted communities in Iran is because the article is about Tunisia. However, a lot of articles can easily be found on the situation in Iran on the net, all you need to do is look on Google.

        The Baha’is do not persecute anyone, their purpose is to bring world peace and unity, and hatred and ill-treatments are hardly the best ways to reach it. Moreover, Baha’u'llah always showed respect and love towards his brother Mirza Yahia (Subh-i-Azali) even though the latter broke the covenant and tried to poison the former. He claimed to be the successor of the Bab because he was ambitious, and tried to harm Baha’u'llah in every possible way, which makes him anything but a manifestation of God.

        The Bab was, but his purpose was to prepare the world for the arrival of his successor, as Saint John the Baptist was to Jesus. You can’t say the Baha’is are part of the Babi community, any more than to say the Christians are just a branch of the followers of the Christ’s predecessor. That would be absurd, right? However, the Baha’is consider the Bab’s history and writings as part of their faith, naturally, as much as Saint John is well respected in the Christian community, and the Bayan is also read by all Baha’is, even though most of what it says has been explained and at times corrected by Baha’u'llah.

        Thank you!

        • Parvaz /

          You said Baha’u'llah loved his brother. This is utterly false.

          Read this :

          Bahaullah called his brother as ‘lamb’ (Asrar al Athar-e-Khususi, Vol 4 page 197), ‘Satan’ (Ibid. Vol 4, page 101 and Vol 5, page 346) and entitled him as ‘bull’ (Bahaullah, the Book Badi, page 772). He abused him under the name ‘deceptive snake’ (Asrar al Athar-e-Khususi, vol 4 page 34) and called his followers as ‘dogs’ (Ibid. Vol 5 page 177) and considered their sayings as the calls of the ‘wolf’ and the ‘pig’ (Ibid. Vol 5 page 177).

          This was his love?

          You said Subh-i-Azal tried to poison Baha’u'llah.
          Again False

          Infact it was Baha’u'llah whose followers killed many of the Earlier Prominent Azalis. See Bayanic.com

          Also see this :
          Bahaullah had a sister by the name of Iziyah Khanum, who wrote a book entitled “Tambihun Naemeen” (Awakening the Sleepy). She points out to the inhuman massacres of the Bahais in various parts of the book and names many people who had been killed through cutting off their necks or ripping off their bellies, or suffocating them in the river or shooting them, because of not believing in Bahaullah.
          (Ref: Tambihun Naemeen, page 15-16)

          I request the readers to please visit the Official Website of the BAYANI COMMUNITY to learn more about the persecution of BAYANIS (AZALIS) by the Baha’is.

          Also I request the Baha’is to read the RUHI BOOK 8, that is full of Hate Speech against our Beloved Leader, the Appointed Successor of BAB, the Manifestation of God.

    3. I know all but want none ! /

      I always said : we are not ready, not at all ready !
      We need ONE iron hand to govern us
      we need only one GOD( ALLAH ) to beleive in
      We need only one religion to follow .
      Democracy is not yet for our people
      pluralism is not yet for us
      different religions we do not need !
      We in tunisia are like young children that started going to school, we need time, a lot of time to consume all these things that are happening to us, it is too much, far too much !

      • Parvaz /

        Hi Marco Oliveira,

        I hope the same for Iran and throughout the world. Every person must be allowed to follow any religion he feels good. There should be no hatred for any religion. Islamists should allow the Baha’is and all minorities to follow any religion and they should not promote Hate towards the Baha’is. And the Baha’is should also stop promoting hate towards our severely persecuted BAYANI community. I request the Baha’i Administration to remove all the hateful chapters related to Subh-i-Azal from their Ruhi Curriculum. The treatment that Baha’is expect from the Islamists is what we (AZALIs) expect from Baha’is. Stop Hatred in the name of Religion. Please.

    4. nals /

      “… but I am openly Christian. I am not ashamed.”
      Ashamed?! What being Christian and being ashamed have got in common?


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