AN ACT OF FAITH
Rostan Loroon escaped Iran, his home, for opportunity and religious freedom. Photo by Adam Finkle.
With a dream of going from poor rural kid to city lawyer, Rostan Loroon* passed the Concours, Iran's college entrance exam, and a screening interview where he was grilled with questions on current events.
And all of his studying would have paid off, if not for a background check.
"They would come to your village, neighborhood or city and ask you who you are, how devoted you are to Islamic values," he says. "But they just rejected me, saying 'You are not devoted to the Islamic Republic of Iran, you are not Muslim, you are not in line with anything."'
The problem: Loroon is Baha'i, a member of a religion founded in 19th-century Persia by Bahau'llah, who preached teachings of Abraham, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad and others. Labelled an apostasy from Islam, Baha'i persecution intensified after Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Amnesty International reports over 200 Baha'is have been executed in Iran since the revolution, and in 2010, seven Baha'i community leaders were sentenced to 20-year prison terms for baseless charges like "propaganda against the system," "insulting religious sanctities" and "espionage for Israel."
Loroon was about 6 years old during the revolution and learned to keep his faith a secret. "For your own survival, you had to minimize the practice of your faith to your own home and your heart," he says.
He was born at home, in a village in the southwestern mountains. He's not sure how old he is, but figures about 40. "My parents are illiterate, and so are most of my siblings," he says. "They are a deprived class, and that is mainly due to their background."
In 1986, when Loroon was about 15, but thought to be 18, he was drafted to the military during Iran's war with Iraq. He held his faith closer to his chest than ever. "That's the place to be scared," he says. "It's the worst place to bring it up. Lots of people were devoted to their government, so I just kept it quiet."
Persecution of Baha'is increased after Iran's Islamic Revolution.
After the war, he got his high school certificate, but soon realized he'd never reach law school because he's Baha'i. "That was the peak of it," Loroon says. "You can only go that far staying under the radar."
He paid smugglers to take him to the United Arab Emirates, where he stayed until he was given a forged Swedish passport to go to Holland, where he planned to apply for refugee status. But with conflict raging in Bosnia, he was in line behind thousands of Balkan refugees. "At some point, I realized it was just going to drag on," he says. So, he took a train to the American embassy in Frankfurt and became a refugee in 1998.
With help from World Relief, Loroon arrived in Dallas, Tex. His English was poor and he couldn't drive, but soon learned both, moving around the country for different jobs and school.
Finally, Loroon realized his dream by finishing law school at the University of Utah in 2010. He lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and daughter, found a community of other Lors (people from Iran's Southwest region) and now feels free to express his faith, no matter who's watching.
Compared to his life as a young man with no future, Loroon says he feels like he finally has something to lose. "I am thankful to God and this country for all of my blessings."
*Name changed to protect family members still living in Iran.
Though Utah's Baha'is number only 1,000, they take their faith's tenet of service to the community seriously, particularly when it comes to helping newly-arrived refugees.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States supplies Persian refugees with guidebooks to help them integrate, and on a local level. Baha'i members make personal contact. "The idea is to get immigrants quickly up to speed to integrate them into the community so they can start serving as well," says Shahab Saeed, chairman of Salt Lake's Spiritual Assembly.
Salt Lake City's Baha'is don't have the resources of Catholic Community Services or the LDS church, but when a refugee arrives, they invite them to gatherings, translate for them and provide cultural guidance.
They have also held clothing exchanges and provided furniture for refugee apartments.
For more information on the local Baha'i community, call 801-582-2026.