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Unrest in Iran sparks prayerful concerns here
Local Bahai worried about followers arrested for practicing faith
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Who are the Baha’i?

Baha’i is a monotheistic religion founded in the 1860s by Baha’u’llah, a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by the Baha’is. Baha’u’llah taught that all religions represent progressive stages in the revelation of God’s will, leading to the unity of all people and faiths. The Baha’is have no clergy; they are governed by local, national and international elected councils. The international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, is based in Haifa, Israel. Its U.S. offices are in Evanston, Ill.

The Associated Press

Tension and riots continue to surround Iran’s presidential election and the trial of religious and political leaders.

What’s the local response to the outrage? Prayer.

"We’re praying daily for those people who have been arrested," said David Abercrombie, a member of Gainesville’s chapter of the Baha’i Faith. "Persecution continues to go on over there for Christians, Jewish followers, Zoroastrians, Baha’i and lots of people from all religions."

With 300,000 members, the Baha’i are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran but have faced constant persecution. Seven Iranian Baha’i leaders were arrested in 2008 on charges of spying for Israel and face the death penalty if convicted. They were supposed to be tried in court on July 11, but the trial was delayed and no new date has been set.

"What’s going on in Iran right now is poignant to Baha’is here," said Bill Neiheisel, another member of the Gainesville community. "We’ve been asked to be in touch with people in the community and let them know about the plight of the prisoners. They were held a long period of time without charges being brought and then were said to be spies of Israel, which is a totally baseless charge."

Another mass trial features more than 100 pro-reform protestors accused of challenging the Islamic system. The trial was postponed from Thursday and resumed Saturday after defense lawyers asked for more time and complained they were blocked from access to clients.

At the same time, protestors across the world continue to debate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s right to a second term as president. He was sworn in Wednesday amid doubts that the election process was run fairly, and the European Union refused to congratulate him.

President Barack Obama has given Iran until September to open a peaceful dialogue.

But the politics of the situation isn’t what is keeping local Baha’is interested in the election.

"One of the big principles in our faith is not to participate in partisan politics or belong to a political party," Neiheisel said. "But we’re interested in the election ... right now the Baha’is are being denied their human rights. This has been one of the issues to come up recently."

Baha’i believers have been denied university education and government jobs and are often affected by home raids, property confiscation and social discrimination. Neiheisel took a pilgrimage in June to Haifa, Israel, where leaders discussed ways to promote human rights in a nonpartisan way.

"All issues are political issues, no matter what," Neiheisel said. "Baha’is are now trying to speak out and demand rights, and they’re getting a lot of attention for doing this. When we didn’t, we were thought of as hypocritical for not standing up for what we believe in for basic human rights."

The Baha’i International Community supported a planned Global Day of Action on July 25 for more than 80 cities around the world "to demand respect for the human rights of the Iranian people and to demonstrate worldwide solidarity with the civil rights movement in Iran."

The event and others planned for the future are nonpartisan and a collaboration of human rights organizations. The group is opposed to foreign interference or military attack.

"Muhammad protected everyone from Mecca to Medina, including the Christians and Jewish followers who were persecuted," Anderson said. "The majority of the Muslim faith is very inclusive, and so are we."