Nadia Aghdasi sifts through stacks of photographs of old friends and family members. In many cases, the pictures are the only remnants she has of relatives either still living in her native Iran or those who have been killed because of religious persecution.
"He was never the same," she says, looking at a small picture of her father, who was jailed for two years. "He became very sick after that."
Aghdasi and her husband, Taraz, immigrated to the United States nine years ago with their two daughters. Their lives in Manhattan Beach are much different - here, they are free to live openly as Baha'is, a religion founded some 150 years ago that promotes world peace as one of its major tenets.
But as South Bay Baha'is prepare for Ridvan, their most reverent time of year - including a celebration in Manhattan Beach today - they acknowledge that the world is far from peaceful, particularly in the birthplace of their faith.
"It's sort of a bittersweet time for us," said Mandy Chandler, a Baha'i in El Segundo. "It's a hopeful time, but also very sad when you see what's happening around the world."
Only about 300,000 of the world's estimated 6 million Baha'is still live in Iran, an Islamic republic where it is against the law to openly practice other religions.
Some 200 Baha'i scholars, writers, educators and activists have been killed since 1979, when the Islamic regime overthrew the shah of Iran. Thousands of others have been jailed, including Aghdasi's husband, who was arrested twice for his religious beliefs…
Congress is now considering passage of a resolution condemning the violence in Iran against Baha'is. Local Islamic organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also said it must stop.
"The Islamic teachings call for the right to free worship," said Munira Syeda, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of CAIR. "A verse in the Quran states, ‘There's no compulsion in religion,’ and highlights the spirit of tolerance in Islam." (More)