The names of the students in the following case studies – first published in 2005 – have been changed to protect their identity.
Growing up in Tehran, Hamid knew that – like almost everywhere else in the world – the key to a good job is a university diploma. But because he is a Baha’i, he knew he had little chance of getting into college.
“It made all of us Baha’i youth very sad about the future,” said Hamid. “In Iran, if you don’t have a university degree, it is very difficult to get a job.”
“Many nights I dreamed I was allowed to get into the university, but in the morning I woke up and it was only a dream.”
Now 32 years old and attending graduate school outside of Iran, Hamid had already been denied schooling once for being a Baha’i. That was in 1984, when, as an 11-year-old in middle school, he was expelled along with most other Baha’i children in Iran.
“For several months, I had to study at home,” he said. “My family helped me, but it was really tough for an 11-year-old child to study alone.”
An international outcry soon forced the government to re-enroll primary and secondary school children. But the government has continued to prevent Iranian Baha’i youth from attending university.
“When I was in high school, I saw the other students studying and preparing to take the university entrance examination,” he said. “But I knew I had no hope of getting in.”
He tried submitting the forms to take the exams anyway. But in Iran, those forms require that prospective students put a mark to denote their religion. And there are only four possible religions to choose from: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.
“Since I didn’t belong to any of those denominations, I didn’t mark anything,” said Hamid, noting that there was, of course, no place for the Baha’i Faith. “I was told I could not be given an entrance card to the exam.”
That was in 1992. He tried other years, also, to get into university. But to no avail.
Eventually, he enrolled at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), which at the time was little more than a correspondence school course for Baha’is, run by Baha’is.
“In the BIHE, you have to study by yourself. It is kind of like studying in prison alone. You have no friends, no teachers, nobody to take your questions.”
Because he also had to work to help support himself, it took six years to finish his studies.
“Many nights I dreamed I was allowed to get into the university, but in the morning I woke up and it was only a dream,” he said.
Eventually, in 2003, Hamid graduated from the BIHE with a degree in engineering. By that time, the Institute had achieved considerable distinction, and Hamid left Iran to enter graduate school in another country.
He hopes, however, to go back to Iran after he has completed his graduate studies. “Iran is my country. And I wish for the day that the government of Iran will understand that Baha’is want nothing but the progress and prosperity of Iran. And I want to go back and help the progress of my country.”
When confronted by four boxes — one for each of the major religions in Iran, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism — on university entrance forms, Parviz took a distinctively creative route.
“I just drew another box, added the word “Baha’i,’ and checked it,” said Parviz.
The tactic failed to impress government authorities, who had since the early 1980s blocked Baha’i youth from higher education.
“They wrote back saying that the application was incomplete,” said Parviz, who is now out of Iran and studying in another country. “So I went to the testing office in the Ministry of Education, along with another Baha’i friend.
“And I asked “What is wrong with my application.’ And the guy sitting there just looked up and said, “I think you know what is the problem.’ And we tried to talk about it with him. But finally he said “Either leave or I will call security.’”
His rejection was, of course, entirely expected. Thousands of Baha’i young people have been denied access to higher education in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“I wasn’t shocked to be rejected” said Parviz. “But it was still a disappointment because each time you apply, you hope something might change.”
Parviz eventually managed to get a college education by enrolling at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), a Baha’i-run institution founded in 1987 to provide university-level education for Baha’i youth on a correspondence-school basis.
“I knew all about the BIHE. It has its own exam, and I took that pretty much the same time as the national exam. And I got accepted and started. That was in 1990.”
Four-and-a-half years later, he graduated with a degree in civil engineering.
Parviz eventually found some work as a civil engineer, even though he could not obtain a license as a Baha’i and a graduate of the BIHE.
“You don’t have to have a license in Iran. You do all the work and then have someone with an engineering license sign it for you for a fee. It is quite a common practice.”
Eventually, Parviz realized that to advance, and to pursue his goal of teaching, he needed a graduate degree. “I couldn’t go to graduate school in Iran, of course, so I left the country so that I could attend school outside,” said Parviz. At the time of this writing, he was pursuing a PhD at a noted Western university.
In order to stay in high school, Miriam had to sign a statement vowing that she would not tell anyone in her school that she was a Baha’i.
“By law we could attend high school, but in many cities, including in Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd and the others that are more influenced by the Muslim clerics, many Baha’i students had problems nevertheless,” said Miriam, which is not her real name.
“In my case, after they found out I was a Baha’i, the only condition they would accept me in high school was to sign a form, that no one in the school, including students and teachers, would find out that I was a Baha’i.”
“If anyone found out about my religion, then I would be expelled,” she said.
When it came time to apply for college, however, Mariam knew there was little or no chance for her to attend, even if she was willing to keep her beliefs to herself.
Entry forms for university in Iran in 1989 required a declaration of religion, and the Baha’i Faith was not one of the four options. And since religious principle forbids Baha’is from lying if asked about their beliefs, no Baha’i youth were being allowed into universities — a situation that prevails today.
Like other Baha’i youth, her only option was to attend the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), a Baha’i-run institution founded in 1987 to provide university-level education for Baha’i youth on a correspondence-school basis.
Miriam was not happy about this. “I wanted to go to medical school, and it was clear that I couldn’t do it through correspondence schools that had just been formed the previous year,” she said. “There would be no chance of being able to work at a hospital and get the experience I would need as a medical student.”
The BIHE was, nevertheless, her only option for obtaining higher education. And instead of studying medicine, she chose psychology.
“At the beginning, I was not invested in it. I was dragging my feet. But we had no other choice. So then I started doing it and disciplining myself.”
Eventually, Miriam was able to leave Iran. Her BIHE was recognized by a major North American university, where she entered a master’s programme in a field related to psychology.
“At the time, everyone told me that if I wanted to become a doctor, it was still not too late. They said, “You are 25 years old, why don’t you start?’ But mentally, I didn’t want to do medicine anymore. My BIHE degree in psychology just meant so much to me.
“It was my way of saying to the Iranian government that “I am a Baha’i and I am proud and I don’t care if you want to try to destroy us. We are still alive.’ And I needed to do something with my degree. I wanted to prove that we hadn’t done this for nothing.”Return to top