n order to stay in high school, Miriam had to sign a statement vowing that she would not tell anyone in her school that she was a Bahá’í.
“By law we could attend high school, but in many cities, including in Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd and the others that are more influenced by the Muslim clerics, many Bahá’í students had problems nevertheless,” said Miriam, which is not her real name.
“In my case, after they found out I was a Bahá’í, the only condition they would accept me in high school was to sign a form, that no one in the school, including students and teachers, would find out that I was a Bahá’í.”
“In my case, after they found out I was a Bahá’í, the only condition they would accept me in high school was to sign a form, that no one in the school, including students and teachers, would find out that I was a Bahá’í.
“If anyone found out about my religion, then I would be expelled,” she said.
When it came time to apply for college, however, Mariam knew there was little or no chance for her to attend, even if she was willing to keep her beliefs to herself.
Entry forms for university in Iran in 1989 required a declaration of religion, and the Bahá’í Faith was not one of the four options. And since religious principle forbids Bahá’ís from lying if asked about their beliefs, no Bahá’í youth were being allowed into universities — a situation that prevails today.
Like other Bahá’í youth, her only option was to attend the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), a Bahá’í-run institution founded in 1987 to provide university-level education for Bahá’í youth on a correspondence-school basis. [See BIHE]
Miriam was not happy about this. “I wanted to go to medical school, and it was clear that I couldn’t do it through correspondence schools that had just been formed the previous year,” she said. “There would be no chance of being able to work at a hospital and get the experience I would need as a medical student.”
The BIHE was, nevertheless, her only option for obtaining higher education. And instead of studying medicine, she choose psychology.
“At the beginning, I was not invested in it. I was dragging my feet. But we had no other choice. So then I started doing it and disciplining myself.”
Eventually, Miriam was able to leave Iran. Her BIHE was recognized by a major North American university, where she entered a master’s program in a field related to psychology.
“At the time, everyone told me that if I wanted to become a doctor, it was still not too late. They said, ‘You are 25 years old, why don’t you start?’ But mentally, I didn’t want to do medicine anymore. My BIHE degree in psychology just meant so much to me.
“It was my way of saying to the Iranian government that ‘I am a Bahá’í and I am proud and I don’t care if you want to try to destroy us. We are still alive.’ And I needed to do something with my degree. I wanted to prove that we hadn’t done this for nothing.”