October 6, 2022
On September 29, 2022, members of AMCD met with a group of Iranian American women to discuss the fate of their sisters in Iran.
Homeira Bakhtiari was born and raised in Iran. She attended the University in Tehran to study dentistry. After graduation, she worked in the poor areas of the city and saw how people could not afford basic dental care. She has been a political activist for several years and is one of the organizers of the anti-Iran regime rallies held across the country on October 1.
Manda Zand Erwin fled Iran for America following the Islamic revolution. During that time, Manda witnessed the execution of many innocent people, including her high school principal who was murdered because she was a woman and the Secretary of Education. She bore witness as her homeland pushed backward to crude 7th century Arabian standards. She came to United States as a political refugee in 1980, became a citizen three years later, and began her fight for human rights in Iran. She is the founder and president of the Alliance of Iranian Women, a group which has deep connections within the Iranian diaspora and within Iran. She is the author of The Ladies’ Secret Society: History of the Courageous Women of Iran.
Molly Rozbeh is a medical researcher and political activist.
Question to Mrs. Erwin: What was the value of women in pre-Islamic Iran?
Manda Zand Erwin: In Neolithic times, women were revered as Gods because they could create a human being. It began as a matriarchal society and then later produced a great religious leader: Zoroaster. He taught the doctrine of “good thought, good words and good deeds.” The highest god, Ahura Mazda revealed that human beings are given freedom of choice, but with that choice, comes the responsibility for the consequences. Zoroastrianism produced a society of kind, friendly and loving people. The word “Iran” means the land of kind, hospitable people. Under Zoroastrianism, women were considered equal to men and the women managed the temples.
The Arab conquest brought Islam and tried to change the language and culture with it, but the Persians held onto their identity, language and culture. In the 15th century, the Turks invade Persia and forced Shi’a Islam on the people. Women in Iran have been fighting the oppression of Shi’ism ever since. After the Constitutional Revolution, which was led by women in the early twentieth century, the people threw off the yoke of the clergy and Iran developed into a modern secular country until President Carter decided to get rid of the Shah.
Q: Homeira, can you describe the humiliating treatment women receive in Iran today?
Homeira Bakhtiari: Any women not wearing the complete chador covering are harassed and beaten by the morality police. Once, my family was going on vacation to Northern Iran and my sister was wearing sunglasses. The police took her to the station and after two hours of pleading to release her, my father broke the sunglasses to show them she would not wear them again and they finally let her go. My mother was later arrested for pushing her sleeves up so she could wash her hands. The people are beaten down and demoralized by this kind of constant harassment by the authorities. While the people are distracted by all these rules, the mullahs have been selling the country out to Russia and China. We want regime change – nothing less!
Q: The women of ancient Persia were revered and given some of the highest jobs, for example Artemis commanded the Persian Navy against the Greeks. Now, women are treated like property and manhandled in the street. How has this happened?
Molly Rozbeh: I was a young student in 1979 and I saw how they changed the laws to allow child marriage, child custody to the father, forced hijab and so on. When I was a graduate student visiting the UN to draw attention to this, I was told: “This is your culture.” No, it’s not our culture! The brutal treatment of women was shocking to me. They threw acid in women’s faces; they legalized prostitution by “temporary marriage.” They persecuted Christians and Jews and accused them of being spies, etc. So, I have been active since 2014 trying to bring change to my homeland. Young people there need real opportunities. I hope the women’s struggle extends to the entire region.
Q: We want to welcome Pastor Mark Hayate-Abadi. Pastor Abadi, tell us about your work.
Pastor Hayate Abadi: I broadcast the gospel into Iran in Farsi and I tell you the people are hungry for truth. The love of Christ and the bravery of Christ are inspiring. You don’t have to kill people to get into heaven. Many of my listeners have been released from the curse of addiction and have given their lives to the Lord. You cannot stop the Word of God, the Love of God.
I was originally an imam at the University mosque. I was married. I had been betrothed when I was ten years old and she was just six. We waited ten years to marry. Then when I went to Mecca, I was told by another imam than if I didn’t pray in perfect Arabic at this particular place, I must divorce my wife. I reject that completely, then I had a car accident and was paralyzed and couldn’t walk. A neighbor took me to a play about Jesus and my faith was kindled and I was healed. I can walk perfectly now. Later an Ayatollah in Iran said he wanted to kill me. I gave him my address and said, “Come and kill me.” He ended up following Christ – transformed by the Love of God.
Manda Zand Erwin: When the Arabs attacked Persia in the 7th Century, it took them 80 years to take just half of Iran and the revolts continued for many years. We have fought against Islam from the beginning. The clergy today know nothing but Islam and are corrupt to the core. They have no love for the Iranian people. They are just opportunists who rob the people. They are afraid of Iranian women, that is why they use such a heavy hand to control them. It’s all about intimidation. Unfortunately, the colonialists in Europe and America are also opportunists and want oil contracts and other business deals. That’s why they are negotiating with the mullahs. They don’t care about the Iranian people either.
Pastor Hayate Abadi closed with a prayer for the people of Iran.