Near the end of 2000, Firouz Mehrabad, his wife, Sofia, and their three children fled Tehran, Iran, to stay with Sofia's brother in Minnesota. As Bahais, the Mehrabads were tired of the constant persecution they faced from Iran's Shiite Muslim government.
"All Bahais are under pressure there," Firouz said. "If you say you're Bahai, there is no job for you. It took me 15 years to get my passport, because I am Bahai."
"That's the reason, (Bahais) prefer to live in a different country, especially the United States, because of the religious freedom."
The Mehrabads settled four years ago in Juneau. Firouz is an accountant for the state Division of Juvenile Justice, Sofia works at Wildflower Court, son Panah plays soccer at Juneau-Douglas High School, daughter Anahita is in kindergarten and son Nick turned 412.
They were five of the roughly 200 Bahais that turned out Sunday night at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to celebrate Naw Ruz, the Bahai New Year.
"My friend came to Minnesota to visit us, and when we asked about Juneau, he talked about the community and the job opportunities," Firouz said. "We found there is a really strong Bahai community."
There are approximately 150 Bahais in Juneau, spread among spiritual assemblies in Juneau, Douglas and Auke Bay. The Bahais are trying to build a center off Egan Drive, across from Carr's Safeway, but that project is at least two years off.
Naw Ruz has been celebrated as a national holiday in what is now Iran for almost 4,000 years. It always falls on the vernal equinox, sometime around March 21.
The Bahai religion was started in Persia in the 1840s. It celebrates the unity of mankind, and today there are more than five million Bahais in the world, slightly more than 110,000 in the United States.
The Bahai calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days. Days begin at sunset, rather than midnight. Sunday at 6 p.m. was the beginning of the Bahai calendar year 162. For the last 19 days, Bahais fasted from sunrise to sunset.
"It's a time of resting and refocusing spiritually on where we need to be going in the coming year," said Auke Bay Bahai Keith Hermann. "Now we're ready to have New Year's and start with a fresh spiritual plate."
At the glacier center, the Bahais celebrated with a buffet feast, 40 minutes of short presentations and a dance party with local band Salsa Borealis.
Bahais are the largest religious minority in Iran, but its followers are constantly persecuted.
"Bahai religion is a faith that is respectful for all religions, and a faith that is very tolerant," said Juneau Bahai Kevin Araki. "We have a faith that is unfortunately marked with blood from the death of martyrs. But due to the martyrs' death, the faith has grown."
Bahai Mansour Sadeghi moved to Juneau from Iran 20 years ago. His father and family still live in Iran.
"It was really hard at the beginning of the Revolution; that's why we're here in America," Sadeghi said. "We couldn't go to school. We couldn't have any decent jobs. We didn't have any rights. Even now, things are better, but we still don't have any rights. They can come and confiscate anything that we have if they want to."
Sadeghi's family lives in Shiraz, about 900 miles from Tehran, Iran's capital. He spoke to them on the phone a few days ago.
"I wished them the best," Sadeghi said. "They visit each other on Naw Ruz. They wear their best suit, and give gifts, a little bit more than we do here."
"People there are still fighting to have more, and they don't have that," he said. "We need to have more freedom. We need to have basic rights. All the people, not just Bahais."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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