Bahais in Iran must study in underground universities
The Bahais, the largest non-Muslim minority community of Iran, are not permitted to study in the universities. In the mid-1980s, Bahai teachers/students came together to form the Bahai Institute for Higher Education (BIHE), an underground-university. Lectures took place in improvised classrooms in private homes. No master's programs are offered, prompting students to go abroad to study further. Most American universities recognize BIHE-granted BA degrees.
Who are the Bahais
The Bahai faith was founded in the mid-19th Century Persia by Bahá'u'lláh. It preaches spiritual unity of all humankind and treats all other religions equally. There are an estimated 5 million Bahais around the world.
Why Bahais face persecution in Iran
There are 300,000 Bahais in Iran, making them the largest non-Muslim minority community in the country. Iran's Shia establishment considers the Bahai "a deviant sect" because it rejects the Islamic belief that Mohammed (PBUH) was the last prophet. The Bahai are described as apostates and "unclean" on official websites. Persecution of Bahai has increased since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Bahais in India
Nearly one-fifth of all Bahais live in India, making it home to the world's largest Bahai population. The Bahai House of Worship in New Delhi, popularly known as the Lotus Temple, is the most visited Bahai site in the world.
University classes were a logistical nightmare
Classes were held in Tehran forcing many students to travel 16-20 hours to attend them. Everyday, lectures for different subjects had to be held in opposite corners of the city. One former student remarked: "It was exhausting!" and everyone's "faces looked so tired."
Iran has cracked down on Bahai BIHE university
After the BIHE's establishment, waves of crackdowns on Bahai intelligentsia began. Classrooms were raided and several teachers were arrested. In the latest crackdown, seven members of the Bahai administrative body were arrested in 2008 and even charged with spying on Israel. This has created uncertainty for Bahai students, forcing them to leave their homes and study abroad.
Professor explains dangers of studying in underground university
"Students and instructors in Iran can end up in jail just for being students and instructors. So they are not only doing something that is hard for them to do, but dangerous to do," a Bahai professor who teaches online courses said.