Baha?i student comes to U.S. in search of religious freedom

By By Veronica Pineda

By Veronica Pineda

At the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, every portrait has a story to tell, and so do some of its employees.

Naeim Sobhani, a Baha’i refugee from Iran, has been working as a security guard for the UMFA for the past two years while attending the U.

Six years ago, at the age of 16, Sobhani, along with his parents and older brother, left Iran to have the freedom of practicing their Baha’i beliefs while being treated as equals in a new nation, an option that was not available in their own country.

The Baha’i faith, a relatively young monotheistic religion, was founded in 1844 in Iran and emphasizes global unity and equality. It is recognized as a threat to Islamic leaders in Iran for its progressive beliefs on topics such as women’s rights and education.

Because Iran recognizes Baha’i not as an official religion, but as a danger, followers have undergone hostility from the government. Unwarranted arrests, seizure of property, the restriction of obtaining government jobs or holding a work permit and8212;what affected Sobhani the most8212;the inability to attend a university in Tehran, were some of the abuses of power that the government executed on the religious minority.

After leaving Iran, it was not a straight route to the United States. Sobhani and his family lived in Turkey for a year and half while waiting for their their U.S. visas. Unfortunately, because the Sobhanis were not residents, they could not find work or attend school.

“I couldn’t do anything; I was just sitting there,” Sobhani said. “I felt like I was wasting my time.”

After processing the necessary paperwork, Sobhani’s family members finally made their way to Utah, where a relative was waiting for their arrival. An aunt, who left Iran before the Iranian revolution in 1979 to avoid persecution and obtain a higher education, offered them a place to stay for the first few months.

Although Sobhani already completed two years of high school in Iran, he had to attend Highland High School in Salt Lake City for another three years. Learning English, Sobhani said, was the greatest obstacle to overcome when he arrived in the United States. When he graduated from high school in 2006, Sobhani was accepted to the U and is pursuing a degree in finance after studying electrical engineering for three years and switching majors this year.

Sobhani said he has no intention to move back to Iran, but his love for the food and his family have him considering a visit to his homeland.

[email protected]