The Education of Girls in Baha’i Schools of Iran: Recent Studies

In 2010 IB Tauris published an important study of Baha’i schools in Iran by Soli Shahvar (The Forgotten Schools: The Baha’is and Modern Education in Iran. London & New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2010. Review see  Banani, Amin. “Book Review: The Forgotten Schools: The Baha’is and Modern Education in Iran, 1899-1934.” The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 20, no. 1–4 (2010): 93–96. ). In recent months several additional studies reporting original research on this topic have been published in various scholarly journals especially concerning the education of girls and promoting the advancement of women in the Baha’i context in Iran.

Jasamin Rostam-Kolayi (2013): The Tarbiyat Girls’ School of Tehran: Iranian and American Baha’i Contributions to Modern Education, Middle East Critique, 22, 1-17. DOI:10.1080/19436149.2012.755298 Abstract: This article, which examines the thirty-year history of the Tarbiyat Girls’ School of Tehran from the late Qajar to the Reza Shah period, sheds light on the nature  of contact between Iranian and American Baha’is and the changing communal and organizational development of Baha’is in the early twentieth century. Through the efforts of the Persian-American
Educational Society (PAES), American Baha’is financed the school and oversaw its operations and teaching staff during a period when girls’ schools were first emerging in Iran. As the school grew in size, its  diminishing American influence coincided with the rise of Iranian Baha’i institutions and an emerging public identity for Iranian Baha’is that clashed with the dictates of the state’s centralizing, secularizing, and
nationalizing reforms.

 Siyamak Zabihi-Moghaddam (2013): Promoting the Advancement of Women:Baha’i Schools for Girls in Iran, 1909–35, Iranian Studies, DOI:10.1080/00210862.2012.758480Abstract: In the early twentieth century, Iranian Baha’is were at the forefront of efforts to promote modern schooling for girls in Iran. Using previously untapped published primary  sources and archival records, this article examines the history of the Baha’i schools for girls in the context of modern schooling of Iranian girls and assesses their contribution to female education in Iran. This  contribution was significant and all the more remarkable considering the Iranian Baha’is’ numbers and resources and the restrictions under which they operated. Most notably, in the spring of 1933, less than two years
before the forced closure of Baha’i schools by the Pahlavi state, 4 percent of all females in Iran’s accredited schools were enrolled in Baha’i schools. The Baha’i community’s most prestigious school,  Tarbīyat-i banāt in Tehran, was by this time Iran’s largest girls’ school. Outside Tehran, in some localities, the only girls’ schools were run by Baha’is, and in others a significant portion of all female pupils  were enrolled in Baha’i schools.

Siyamak Zabihi-Moghaddam (2012): Educating Girls in Early Twentieth-Century Iran:A Study of a Baha’i School, Journal of Religious HistoryVol. 36, No. 4, December 2012
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9809.2012.01228.x
Abstract: In the first decades of the twentieth century, the Baha’is of Iran were actively engaged in establishing schools for girls. This article provides a case study of one such school in a provincial town: Sa‘adat-i banat in Najafabad. The
study sheds light on how the Baha’i community and the wider public responded to the school and on the nature of its impact. The case highlights the challenges that surrounded schooling of girls and  illustrates the greater readiness of the Baha’is to support female education compared with the majority Muslim population. What made the crucial difference was not their material and human resources but rather  the values that they espoused. The study also shows that in spite of their status as a stigmatized community, the Baha’is were able to make an important contribution to promoting girls’ schooling. Among the  Baha’is, the experience with the school contributed to their commitment to female education.

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Palgrave MacMillan: Ronen Cohen: The Hojjateyeh Society in Iran: Ideology and Practice from the 1950s to the Present.

Ronen A. Cohen, The Hojjatiyeh Society in Iran: Ideology and Practice from the 1950′ to the Present. Palgrave Macmillan, February 2013 ISBN: 978-1-137-30476-6, ISBN10: 1-137-30476-6, 5.500 x 8.500 inches, 214 pages, 1 b/w tables. $US90.00 Table of Contents: Part I: The Spiritual Background To The Immate Shi’a: Ithna A’shariyyah And The First Half Of The Twentieth Century: The Story of the Shi’a. The Revival of the Shi’a after the Qajars Part II: The Baha’i Faith And The Emergence Of The Hojjatiyeh: The Baha’i Faith and its Origins in Shi’a Islam and Despair. The Hojjatiyeh Society Part III: Post-Revolution Era And The Hojjatiyeh As Counter-Revolutionaries Movement: Danger Ahead – Challenging Khomeini. Conclusions

Ronen Cohen published an article, The Hojjatiyeh Society – Between Shi’a and Baha’ism, Philosophy and Revolutionism in Hebrew in 2012 in the journal The New East: Journal of the Middle East and Islamic Studies. This book represents a fleshing out of that article and the supply of  additional historical and sociological context for the  Hojjatiyeh Society in Iran. The book is generally a welcome addition in English to improving our understanding of this mercurial and shadowy group. Cohen has previously written about other clandestine movements in the Iranian and Shi’ih context.  The book is not without it’s flaws however. Baha’u'llah is constantly referred to as “the Baha’u'llah”; Both Baha’u'llah and Mirza Yahya, Subhi-i-Azal according to Cohen, were members of a “council” of 18 ardent followers of the Bab.  On p.58 Cohen identifies Baha’u'llah as a cleric rather than a Qajar nobleman. Two pages later Cohen tells us that Abdu’l-Baha adopted Esperanto but later English as his religion’s lingua franca.  Cohen may have more or less assembled what is known about the Hojjatiyeh Society but he should be treated with caution when it comes to the Baha’i Faith itself.

Cohen has also not managed to balance his resources particularly well when it comes to documents from Baha’i authors and researchers on trials and persecution of Iranian Baha’is. This is now quite a vast and sprawling literature even in Western languages. Cohen hardly dips his toes into it. Cohen is also a Persianist and it is surprising, for example, to see no reference to Fereydun Vahaman’s tome: Yeksad-o-šast sāl mobāreze bā dyānat-e bahā’ī: Gūše-yī az tārīx-e ejtema’ī-dīnī-ye Irān dar dourān-e mo’āser (Asr-i-Jadid, 2009 reprinted Baran, 2012) . Despite these limitations Cohen has provided a good starting off point for further research. Further reading:  Bahram Choubine (trans Ahang Rabbani) The Suppression of the Baha’is of Iran in 1955, Baha’i Studies Review, 15(1), 2009, 83-95. Nasserr Mohajer (trans Ahang Rabbani) The Brutal Slashing to Death of Dr. Berjis, Baha’i Studies Review, 17(1), 2011, 133-167. Baha’i International Community. What is the Hojjatieh Society?. Mahmoud Sabri, Ḥojjatiya, Encyclopedia Iranica, Vol.12, Fasc 4, 2004 (online revised 2012), 426-428.

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