August 22, 2012
Myth #1: Baha’is are a Zionist entity and, therefore, not entitled to any rights. Last month, Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, said Baha’is are of “Zionist origin” and, thus, should not be protected under the constitution to practice their faith publicly. What “origin” has to do with constitutional protections for any of Egypt’s citizens is anyone’s guess. Leaving this point aside, the particular accusation is baseless. It is leveled solely because the Baha’i world headquarters is in Haifa, Israel. This, however, was clearly not the preference of Baha’i leaders at the time. The faith’s founder, Baha’u’llah, was imprisoned and exiled throughout the region during Ottoman rule in the 1800s: from Iran and Iraq to Turkey and Palestine. Baha’u’llah died while under house arrest in 1892 in Acre, Palestine. It was his family and followers who established the administrative center of the faith there, more than a half century before 1948, the year the state of Israel was born. Moreover, based on the logic of his position, Ghozlan would be forced to call every resident of Palestine or Israel a Zionist. Clearly, that’s not what he meant, but this demonstrates the absurdity of his claim about the Baha’is. Of the nearly six million Baha’is in the world today, fewer than 1,000 reside in what is now Israel. They serve as temporary volunteers at the Baha’i World Center and eventually return to their home countries after a short period.
Myth #2: Baha’is are a threat to national security. Like Myth #1, this dubious claim hinges on the location of the Baha’i world headquarters in Israel. This claim is made most frequently by conservative clerics such as Abdel Moneim al-Shahat, a prominent Salafi leader who reportedly once said that Islam forbids playing or watching soccer. In February, he stated that Baha’is are a security threat, claimed that Baha’is deserve no rights in a new constitution, and asserted that Baha’is should be tried for treason. Such irresponsible statements promote the further demonization of Baha’is in society and pour fuel on the fire of extremist attacks on Baha’is.
Myth #3: Baha’is are apostates from Islam and, therefore, should be eliminated by the state. Al-Shahat, and others like him cite Al-Azhar’s fatwas declaring Baha’is as apostates. This accusation is based on numerous fatwas issued by the Islamic Research Academy at Al-Azhar University over the years, most recently reiterated in 2003. The gist of the argument is a theological one, that Baha’is claim divine revelation after the Prophet Muhammad, which makes them apostates from Islam because, in their view, Muhammad was the last of the Prophets from God.
However, religion experts explain that the Baha’i faith emerged out of Islam similar to the way Christianity sprang from Judaism and is separate and distinct. In fact, in 1925, Egypt became the first predominantly Muslim state to recognize the Baha’i faith as an independent religion after an Egyptian court ruled that the faith indeed was separate from Islam, and consequently, Baha’is could not be deemed heretics or apostates. This ruling led to greater emancipation for the Egyptian Baha’is in the decades thereafter, and they were legally recognized in the 1930s until the 1960 ban. Since then, conservative clerics and political leaders alike have used Al-Azhar’sfatwas and Nasser’s ban to justify discrimination, vilification, and incitement.