A DRESS FOR MONA
|THE STORY OF MONA (Part 1)|
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1 The Baha'i Faith has no clergy. The community around the world is administered at the municipal and national level by elected institutions called Spiritual Assemblies.
2 Meetings that are held every 19 days, at which the local Baha'i community comes together to pray, consult and enjoy fellowship.
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3 A term for the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, whose name means "Glory of God".
4 A Baha'i institution that serves to teach and protect the Faith.
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5 The age at which individuals make their own personal decision to declare -their membership in the Baha'i community.
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("The Story of Mona: 1965-1983" was published in 1985 and is posted here with permission. The copyright is held by Baha'i Canada Publications, under the auspices of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Canada.)
Mona Mahmudnizhad, a young high school girl, was one of several score Baha'is, including women and teenage girls who were imprisoned in the fall of 1982 because of their Faith by the Islamic Revolutionary authorities in the Iranian city of Shiraz.
The prisoners, including Mona, endured months of abuse, interrogation and torture as the Islamic judges and their revolutionary guards attempted to force them to deny their religion. All refused, and ten of the women, including Mona, were secretly sentenced to death by hanging on June 18, 1983. In a final effort to break their wills, the authorities hanged the women one by one as the others were forced to watch.
Mona asked to be the final victim executed so that she could pray for the strength of each one who was hanged before her. When her turn came, she kissed the rope and put the noose around her own neck.
She was arrested with her father, Yad'u'llah Mahmudnizhad, who was hanged on March 12, 1983, several months before her.
Following is a brief outline of Mona Mahmudnizhad's life, imprisonment and execution, based on accounts of relatives, friends and fellow prisoners.
Mona's life began on September 10, 1965, in difficult circumstances. Her father, Yad'u'llah Mahmudnizhad, was a dedicated Baha'i who left his comfortable home in Iran to serve as a Baha'i pioneer in the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen in the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula.
When Mona was born, Yemen was under military alert, with the roads controlled by armed guards. Since the Mahmudnizhad's lived in the countryside where there was no hospital, they had to travel to Aden, Yemen's capital, to assure that Mona was safely delivered. Although the trip itself was long and arduous because their automobile was stopped and meticulously searched at numerous roadblocks, they reached the hospital in time.
Mona was the second child born to Yad'u'llah and Farkhundeh Mahmudnizhad and brought the family great joy. Their first daughter, Taraneh, was already seven years old and her parents had often prayed for another child. Mona spent her first four years in Yemen, most of it uneventful and showered with great love by her family.
On one occasion, however, while crawling around as a baby, she nearly died from accidental poisoning. When she was out of danger and released from the hospital, she began shaking her hands and dancing to music her father was playing, much to everyone's immense relief. At age two, she was hit by a car and thrown to the sidewalk. She got up and uttered the only harsh words she knew, "You are bad," and then passed out before being taken to the hospital. Luckily, she sustained no serious injuries and she soon recovered.
Mona would probably have grown up in Yemen had the government not expelled all foreigners in 1969. While Yad'u'llah Mahmudnizhad desired to remain as a pioneer, he was forced to return to Iran, spending two years in Isfahan, six months in Kirmanshah and three years in Tabriz before finally settling, in 1974, in Shiraz, a city precious to Baha'is because it is the birthplace of the Faith and home of one of its two Prophet-Founders, The Bab. During this time, her father repaired small appliances for his work and served the Baha'i community as both an elected and appointed member of various administrative bodies. 1
Mona's family was very humble and sensitive, passing these traits to Mona. While she was only a young child, she was already displaying these qualities which later led to her becoming known, even as a youth, as the" Angel of Shiraz". When she attended school in Tabriz, for example, she became so close to her teachers that she would cry when they left the school for some other position.
When she entered the third grade in Shiraz, she was quickly recognized as an excellent student and was considered one of the most outstanding in the school. She also had a beautiful singing voice and a genuine love for those around her, especially younger children who would often surround her when she arrived at school just to be with her.
Mona's special qualities were greatly appreciated by her Baha'i community. She would always complete her assignments for Baha'i school classes and was often asked to recite poems, sing songs or chant prayers at the Baha'i 19-day Feasts.2 When she met people that she loved, her eyes would fill with tears and she would run forward to spontaneously embrace them. She would then exclaim in a loud voice, "O my God! I want to hug you and squeeze you in my arms."
One young woman had this recollection of Mona at age 11:
The first time I met Mona, it was in their apartment on the fifth floor of a building in downtown Shiraz. The family was living in a two bedroom apartment. I do not know why and how I was attracted to that simple room, Mona's room. The decoration of the room was as simple as possible, and the only thing that caught one's eye, was a large wall decoration made by Mona from the Baha'i writings. It clearly showed, even at that early age in life, how devoted she was to the Baha'i Faith.
By the time Mona became a teenager, she was well-known in Shiraz by both young people and adults, both inside and outside the Baha'i community. She was growing into a lovely young woman, with long brown hair and beautiful green eyes. She also continued her excellent scholarship, entering advanced Baha'i classes with students who were often much older. She did well, however, and was one of the best at memorizing many prayers and passages from the Baha'i writings. Mona's love for the Faith ran so deep that she would often awake in the middle of the night to pray and meditate.
While Mona's father deeply loved his whole family, he had a special love for Mona and would say, "Mona is the very child I have asked the Blessed Beauty3 to give me." The two developed a deep bond and grew together as Baha'is. In 1981, Mr. Mahmudnizhad was appointed as an Auxiliary Board Member4 for the Province of Pars, and was also elected Secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Shiraz. He was one of the most popular teachers in the Baha'i school. Those who knew them closely said that Mona would often look deeply into her father's eyes in an almost meditative state and communicate with him silently. He was known as a man who was always smiling.
Mr. Mahmudnizhad's humility and dedication to service can be seen from the following story. When the family first moved to Shiraz, they considered it a dream come true. In Tabriz, they had prayed fervently that they would be able to visit the House of The Bab, the most holy place for Baha'is in Iran, and were thrilled that they would be living in the same city. But even when they were finally living in Shiraz, however, Mr. Mahnudnizhad still did not feel that he had earned the right to visit the House of The Bab on his own and told his family, "I shall not visit the Blessed House of The Bab unless he calls me himself."
One day Mr. Mahmudnizhad received a phone call and was asked to go to a certain address to repair a television set. The television, as it turned out, belonged to the mother of the caretaker of The Bab's House. After doing the work, Mr. Mahmuznizhad was ready to leave when the woman said, "Don't you want to visit the Blessed House? There is nobody there and I will let you in."
Thus, in this unexpected way, Mr. Mahmudnizhad had his prayer answered. He had been summoned to the House of The Bab to provide a service for the caretaker's family. Later he told his family that it was the happiest day of his life. He walked around the yard several times and then up and down the stairs, kissing the edge of each step; finally, he entered the room where The Bab had first declared his mission, bowed his forehead to the ground, and immersed in spiritual ecstasy. Every time he talked about this visit with family or friends, his eyes would fill with tears.
Because of the rise to power of the Islamic clergy, the Islamic Revolution inaugurated a new period of severe repression of the Baha'i Faith. The "mullahs", as the clergy are called, had branded the Baha'is as "unclean infidels" at the earliest beginnings of the religion in 1844 and had continued to incite popular prejudice against them under all regimes. Over twenty thousand Baha'is had been put to death, often after barbaric and public torture, throughout the 19th century and in sporadic pogroms as recently as 1955 and 1963, when Baha'is were murdered and Baha'i centres destroyed by the combined forces of the clergy and the late Shah's army.
From the moment of the Bab's claim to have brought a new religion which fulfilled Islam, they denied even the possibility of another message from God after Muhammad, whom they regard as the "final prophet". In addition, the fanatical Muslim clergy deeply resent and fear the modern, scientifically-minded social teachings of the new faith, such as the equality of men and women, its emphasis on education, its world-minded attitudes, and especially the fact that it stresses the capacity of each individual man or woman to study and recognize spiritual truths for themselves, without the intervention of a clergy.
In Shiraz, the persecutions were particularly severe. In 1978, mobs vandalized the House of The Bab and also set fire to the homes of several hundred Baha'is. The events had a profound effect on both Mona and her father. On November 19, 1981, Mona and her father visited the House of the Bab, now almost completely destroyed, for the last time. Her mother relates that when she returned from the visit, she asked for her permission to walk into the house, "just this once", with her shoes on, since they were covered with the dust of the Bab's House. She told her, crying, that she wanted to write something about her experience. She went into her room and wrote a long, poetic essay.
As the crisis for the Baha'is worsened, Mona had many disturbing thoughts of the destiny that God might have in store for her father and for herself. She had a dream in which both she and her father were killed for their faith. After the dream, Mona added another virtue to those she already possessed -- fearlessness. As the persecutions worsened, she talked and wrote to her friends about the need for courage in the face of their fundamentalist persecutors, showing no fear of death. Her father reacted in the same way. When the Islamic authorities banned public Baha'i meetings, he, his wife and Mona would continue to visit their Baha'i friend in their homes, although they were constantly watched and harrassed.
Mona's life changed on September 10, 1980, when she turned 15, the age of spiritual maturity in the Baha'i teachings.5 Mona had already begun following in her father's footsteps as a Baha'i teacher and wanted to teach young children, for whom she had a special love. A year earlier, she had applied to the Baha'i Education Committee to be named to one of their sub-committees, but was refused because she was not yet 15 and not considered old enough for this service. When she received the news, she burst into tears.
When she turned 15, she considered it her true first birthday and immediately registered as a Baha'i youth and reapplied to the Education Committee. This time she was assigned to the Children's Education Committee and began teaching Baha'i children's classes, which included the study of the great religions, developing spiritual qualities, encouraging the children to put their talents and education to the service of their fellow man and especially learning to appreciate the oneness and diversity of the human family.
Her service to the Faith accelerated greatly and actually began causing her problems. She spent so much time on Baha'i activities that she was having difficulties completing her school assignments. At one point, the pressure was so great that she considered resigning from her Baha'i activities, but could not do it. One day, when she was particulary tired, she asked her father to help her. He read her a passage from the Holy Writings that said, "The prophets of old wish they were alive in this day so that they may accomplish a service." Mona immediately stopped talking about her problems and decided that she would carry out her duties to the best of her ability. She even began walking to school instead of riding a bus and saved enough pocket money to buy coloured crayons, booklets and pencils, which she would give out as prizes to the students during Baha'i children's class. She also wrote prayers in the booklets and would give them to the children to memorize.
The persecution of the Baha'is extended to every level of society. While the Islamic authorities tended at first to single out only the more prominent members of the Faith for arrest and execution, cancellation of pensions, freezing of bank accounts and dismissal from employment, they extended their repressions even to the school level by expelling numerous Baha'i children, especially those attending high school and university. They were only to be allowed to continue their studies if they denied being Baha'is. Baha'i children, even when they were still allowed to stay in school, were forced to sit apart at the back of their classrooms, as "unclean infidels" and were not allowed to touch the other children. In one instance a Baha'i child was forced to wash the brick floor of his classroom and sent home with bleeding hands, because he had refused to recant his Faith.
In Shiraz, a number of Baha'i children had been expelled and Mona expected that her expulsion would come soon as well. But rather than fear it, she looked forward to it, since she would then be able to spend all her efforts for the Faith. When one of her friends was expelled, she said, "Good for you. Now you can study the Baha'i books one year longer. Pray that I will also be expelled."
In the fall of 1981 (her second year of High School), she enrolled in a course on religious literature. Up to that point, like most Baha'is in Iran, her freedom to mention her Faith had always been strictly curtailed and was limited to brief and private responses to the questions of fellow students about the symbol on the stone in the ring she wore. However, when the literature teacher assigned the students a paper on the topic: "the fruit of Islam is freedom of conscience and liberty, whoever has a taste for it is benefitted," Mona poured out her frustrations at being silenced in the poignant essay which follows.
While the paper Mona wrote is still in the hands of school authorities, the notes that she used to write the paper have been recovered:
'Freedom' is the most brilliant word among the radiant words existing in the world. Man has always been and will ever be asking for liberty. Why, then, has he been deprived of liberty? Why from the beginning of man's life has there been no freedom? Always, there have been powerful and unjust individuals who for the sake of their own interests have resorted to all kinds of oppression and tyranny...
Why don't you let me be free to express our goals in this community; to say who I am and what I want, and to reveal my religion to others? Why don't you give me freedom of speech so that I may write for publication or talk on radio and television about my ideas? Yes, liberty is a Divine gift, and this gift is for us also, but you don't let us have it. Why don't you let me speak freely as a Baha'i individual? Why don't you want to know that a new religion has been revealed; that anew radiant star has risen? Why don't you push aside that thick veil from your eyes?
Perhaps you don't really think that I should have freedom. God has granted this freedom to man. You, his servant, cannot take it from me. God has given me freedom of speech. Therefore, I cry out and say, "His Holiness Baha'u'llah is the Truth!" God has given me freedom of speech. Therefore, in clear words, I write, "Baha'u'llah is the One whom God has made manifest! He is the founder of the Baha'i religion and His Book is the Mother of Books..."
The frank openness of her paper caused a furor at the school. The principal, who was considered a fanatical Muslim, called Mona to his office and warned her that she no longer had the right to mention the Baha'i religion while on school grounds, a prohibition which Mona obeyed.