Iranâs Secret University for Bahaâi: Global and Underground
A university in Iran connects to the rest of the world to give the minority BahĂĄâĂ community opportunities for higher education
Hereâs how classes work: Holakou Rahmanian turns on his computer early in the morning or late at night. He goes to a website whose address is known only to students, faculty and administrators of his university. Sometimes heâs in his pajamas when he logs in. Sometimes, he guesses, his professors are also in their pajamas. In his four years of classes, he has only seen his online teachersâ faces once or twice. The bandwidth is saved for their voices and online whiteboards.
Rahmanian, 23, completed a degree in computer science last fall and is close to finishing his second major in mathematics. He is one of about 50,000 students who have studied in unconventional ways at the BahĂĄâĂ Institute of Higher Education since it was founded in 1987 to subvert official discrimination by the Iranian government.
When he graduated from high school as one of the top performing mathematics students in Iran, Rahmanian was not eligible to attend an Iranian university because he is a BahĂĄâĂ. His faith-which considers BahĂĄâuâllĂĄh the most recent of a series of divine messengers that includes Muhammad and Jesusâhas been under attack in Iran almost since its founding there in the mid-1800s. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the new government excluded BahĂĄâĂs from official recognition as a religion; Ayatollah Khomeini denounced its followers as spies and traitors. BahĂĄâĂs in Iran today are not allowed to hold government positions, face property seizures and are routinely discriminated against and harassed.
BIHE began in response to the discrimination largely by correspondence and covert meetings. Pejman Mahboubi, a 39-year-old former BIHE student who this year completed a Ph.D. in math at the University of California, Los Angeles, recalls traveling four or five hours by bus for meetings in Tehran several times a semester. âYou are careful without even noticing,â he recalls; he and his classmates would leave makeshift classrooms one by one so as not to draw attention and get their hosts into trouble.