Minority religions discuss faith, persecution

The Daily News

Behrouz Kousari, a retired media specialist from Ball State, discusses Bahá’í persecution in Iran for a modern day representation of religious persecution Monday evening. Kousari and other religious studies leaders took the opportunity to inform students and community members about the examples of religious persecution during a meeting at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. DN PHOTO COREY OHLENKAMP
Behrouz Kousari, a retired media specialist from Ball State, discusses Bahá’í persecution in Iran for a modern day representation of religious persecution Monday evening. Kousari and other religious studies leaders took the opportunity to inform students and community members about the examples of religious persecution during a meeting at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. DN PHOTO COREY OHLENKAMP

In a crowded room sitting on the edge of campus, students and community members alike squeezed into a tiny space to learn about two religions that have faced persecution — one in the past, another today.

“Unfortunately, all of the great world traditions have experienced [persecution] at one time in their past,” said George Wolfe, coordinator of outreach programs for the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Wolfe brought together followers of two minority faiths, Bahá’í and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in an Interfaith Dialogue emphasizing the atrocities of religious persecution against these religions, which according to their teachings, give credence to all other religions.

“No one has come to this earth [and] said, ‘Let’s all get along and work together,’ and not been reacted to with violence,” said Gwen Kousari, a former professor of marketing and communication and a Bahá’í.

Behrouz Kousari, Gwen Kousari’s husband and retired Ball State media specialist from Ball State, told his story of witnessing persecution in Iran. He said he had four friends who were killed because they would not renounce their faith.

“If you are Bahá’í, you are subject to death,” he said. “They will not ask questions; they will not be lenient; they will simply find something to shoot you with.”

Gwen Kousari spoke about her life as a Bahá’í and the persecution her religion has been subject to in the theocratic government in Iran.

“Our marriage is not recognized by the Iranian Constitution,” she said. “If we were caught in Iran, I would be considered a prostitute and condemned to death.”

Tom Burdett, president of the Muncie Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke about the history of the religion — one he calls his own, and the persecution in the U.S. during the mid-1800s.

Burdett cited rumor and false witness as reasons for the persecution of the early Mormon church, as well as its early practice of polygamy.

Mormonism was originally founded in New York, and then driven West until the religion found a home in Utah, all the while thousands of Mormons were killed for their beliefs. Burdett said at one instance, an army was headed for what is now Salt Lake City and the Mormons there fled their homes and deserted the town to avoid being slaughtered.

He said the problem is the same as it was a hundred years ago. Individuals see it as one belief against another, instead of two coexisting beliefs.

A success story has emerged in the form of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Learning, an underground school centered in Iran to allow Bahá’í students to gain scholarships and knowledge from professors of their religion, which under Iranian law means a death sentence.

“The root cause of all persecution is ignorance,” said Rebecca Burkhart, a professor of music history and a Bahá’í.

Her fellow believer Gwen Kousari echoed these words, citing events like tonight’s Interfaith Dialogue as a way to inform those who otherwise may not know about these persecutions.

“Once you identify someone as ‘the other,’ you can do whatever you want to them, because you do not identify with them,” she said.

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