Like many followers of the Baha'i faith, John and Mojgan Rouhani of York Township are monitoring news reports about seven Baha'i leaders imprisoned by Iranian authorities.

The arrests in March and May 2008 revived international criticism of Iran for its treatment of Baha'is, who are forbidden to hold religious gatherings. Baha'is who make their faith public are barred from universities, military service and government jobs.

In recent weeks, Iran charged the seven with espionage, portraying them as spies for Israel.

Baha'i officials say the detainees are innocent. The Rouhanis say the charges make little sense: Baha'is don't participate in partisan politics.

"I just pray they don't kill them," John said.

As teenagers in 1988, John and Mojgan left their parents in Iran to seek a new home -- one where they could continue their education and be free of government harassment.

They met leaving the country, and, as refugees, made their way to Canada and the U.S., where each had family. She studied interior design and he medicine. They married and became U.S. citizens.

In America, they have experienced no discrimination, said John, 38, a neonatologist at York Hospital.

"Just imagine being under a microscope and all of the sudden having all this freedom," he said.

About 20 Baha'is are active in York County, and several gathered Sunday evening at the Rouhanis' home, where they prayed for the detainees' release, discussed an upcoming month of fasting and shared a meal.

Baha'is follow the teachings of a Persian nobleman, Baha'u'llah, who taught that God has sent divine messengers throughout human history to reveal divine will. They say their founder is the most recent in this line.

The U.S. State Department, several other nations and human-rights groups are concerned the seven Baha'is might not receive a fair trial in Iran, which has persecuted them since the religion originated there in the mid-19th century.

Leaders of the international Baha'i assembly say that, since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, the country has jailed hundreds of followers and executed some.

Rouhani thinks it's a step forward that Iran announced the charges and trial against the detainees-- a move he attributes to international pressure.

"In the past, they came to your house, confiscated your things and kept you in prison," he said. "Then your family gets a call weeks later to come pick up the body."

Iran denies it has imprisoned or executed people because of their religion.

Ann Booth of York Township said, while Iran is a predominantly Muslim nation, it's not Islam that Baha'is are upset with but the Iranian authorities.

"We don't condemn Islam," Booth said.

John Rouhani, right, and a small group of Bahais gathered to discuss an upcoming trial awaiting seven Bahais on alleged espionage charges in Iran.
John Rouhani, right, and a small group of Bahais gathered to discuss an upcoming trial awaiting seven Bahais on alleged espionage charges in Iran. (York Daily Record/Sunday News - Mike Zortman)
"It's what's happening to these people right now. It's the inhumanity of the situation. It's a government that's basically making it illegal to practice the faith."


The Baha'i faith emerged as an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam in the mid-1800s. The founder was a Persian nobleman with the title Baha'u'llah.

He taught that the world's great religions represent a process of "progressive revelation" of God's will that will lead to the establishment of global unity and a peaceful world society in this age. The 5 million Baha'is worldwide consider Baha'u'llah the most recent in a line of messengers of God including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad.


Baha'is follow a calendar with 19 months of 19 days each.

Monday marked the beginning of the final month of the year -- a time of spiritual renewal and fasting during which Baha'is refrain from food and drink during daylight hours.

The fast concludes March 20 with the celebration of the new year. The Baha'i faith originated in Persia (today, Iran), and followers adopted the traditional Persian new year, Naw-Ruz.

Bahai's usually celebrate Naw-Ruz after sundown March 20, the eve of the spring equinox. It's observed with festive gatherings, meditation and prayers. School and work are often suspended.


Who: John and Mojgan Rouhani

Born in: Iran

Live in: York Township

Family: Children Melody, 10; Bayan, 5; and Nafis, 3