Monday, April 09, 2007

This Was When I Broke My Hand!

This last post reporting the abuse of Baha'i children in Iran, could not but trigger some painful memories from my childhood in Egypt. Normally these memories find a labyrinth in the far recesses of one's brain until something more painful brings these awful memories to the forefront. I normally do not write about myself in this blog, but was unable to suppress the perceived urge to talk about this particular incident.

The reason for bringing this up is neither to compare it with the current events nor to show today's children how to react to persecution--far from it--but it may illustrate how a child can end up reacting to an insult out of desperation, and in a reflex manner, even though that reaction might not have been in accordance with the morals infused into his upbringing.

At 11 or 12 years of age, a mere child should not be insulted, beaten, humiliated or harassed because of his religion, but this was a common occurrence to many Baha'i children growing up in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s. I have been subjected to such treatment on a regular basis, not only by some of my classmates, but at times by certain teachers entrusted to protect me. The worse offender was a 'Sheikh' who taught us the Islam class, who would frequently kick me out of the class, then stops by my father's office on his way home after school to report to him that I neglected to attend his class and that I was a rebel-rouser.

Front row second from right (book on his lap) is me

A young student, after being subjected to such repeated episodes of abuse, can get to a point to think "enough is enough!"

During a morning period in between classes, one of my classmates whom I have known to be the son of Muslim fundamentalist whose father belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood movement stuck his face right into mine and shouted: "You Baha'i...son of a Baha'i...son of a dog." At that exact moment my brain came to a standstill, and without any hesitation I hit him right into his face with my clinched fist, breaking his nose and breaking my hand at the same time. Blood was gushing out of his nose...I was in shock...he was too.... I believe that was the only time in my life when I ever hit anyone--that was not in a self defense situation. Needless to say, that traumatized and embarrassed student never bothered me again, and I had to be in a cast for the next six weeks.

My great concern that day was not what happened to him or to me, but rather what would I tell my father, because I knew that he would not have approved of that action, and that he would then, for sure, believe the Sheik's stories. When I went home after school with a broken hand, my story was that I fell while playing basketball...and there was no discussion! I thought at the time that this was OK as white lie. Until now, no one in my family knew the real story...but I guess it is time to tell the truth even though my parents are not with me any longer, but perhaps they will hear this where they now live--in eternity!


  1. your story reminds me of my own childhood.. I was teased and bullied too
    not because I was a member of a different religion[we were all catholic in a catholic school]

    I was just different... I saw things differently...and I was chided by fellow pupils
    because I behaved in a different manner I did not see things in the way my fellow
    students saw things... I saw the news watched the events as they played out and I thought
    the disparity between the rich and poor was not right. I was raised in the typical
    white suburban neighborhood in the Midwest United states and did not realize how fortunate I was.

    this was probably due to the constant harassment by so-called fellow christian who obviously
    did not follow the teachings of christ. The teachers in my opinion did not stop this harassment because they were
    more concerned with the teaching of Catholic doctrine instead of actually practicing the ethics that Jersus of nazereth
    brought to the world.My parents were helpless also because of the long hours my father devoted to the local newspaper as the executive
    Sports editor and his job required him to travel constantly to athletic events across the United States.My mother was more interested
    in her music career instead of raising children but her parents forced her to give up her dream of an operatic career in Chicago and New York city.
    So therefore I was left to the mercy of the neighborhood bullies and I was forbidden to strike back because that would be "UNCHRISTIAN!!!"
    Furthermore the teachers never were actually interested in practicing social justice!!
    There were times I wished that God would give me the power to strike down these bullies
    but nothing ever happened!!!!

    so you are not alone!!

  2. It is not unusual for many people to place someone, who holds a minority opinion that is opposed to the majority's way of thinking, in a certain category that is assumed to be wrong and against the common standards of norm or goodness. However history has shown us otherwise—repeatedly—that many of those who were thought to be different or eccentric become the ones who make a real change in the world. Just think of those who dared to propose that the earth was not the center of the universe...that the earth is not flat...that discovered electricity...and so on. Recall what happened to these people!

    I think that it is healthy to be different, otherwise can you imagine what the world would be like if we all think and behave exactly the same?

  3. Nice story Bilo, seems we have even more in common than I thought. Your experience reminds me of some things that happened to me in the South during my childhood in the early 80's, a mere generation removed from the Civil Rights Era. I was fortunate enough to never break my hand though!

  4. Oh, the south! Some of these states are being dragged into the twenty first century kicking and screaming...but they are getting there, slowly but surely.

  5. Bilo,

    This is a touching story that brings back childhood memories. Instead of immediately recalling my own memories though, I will share an experience that my son had in the early 1980s as a third grader in a Canadian elementary school. His teacher asked about religions represented in class. When he responded that he was a Baha'i, the teacher asked him what it was. Enthusiastically he responded that Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah is a new messenger from God who taught the oneness of God, the oneness of people, and the oneness of religion. Her response was "Oh Fooey". Needless to say that my son came home discouraged for being made fun of by his teacher who was supposed to respect and embrace the diversity in her class!

    This was not much different from the experience I had in Egypt as a Baha'i child being singled out for ridicule by bigoted teachers.

    However there were also those teachers who treated me with respect and admiration of the Baha'i teachings. In fact, one of them (who also taught my older brother) invited us and our father to his home to inquire about the Baha'i Faith. He was genuinely interested in learning. He rests in my memory as an exemplary teacher who had an open mind and an open heart. He was a Muslim, and his deeds reflected the loftiness of his Islamic beliefs!

  6. Nabil,
    This response from the Canadian teacher is unusual. I had different experience in a US school. When the teacher found out from my son about his religion, he asked me to give a lesson to the entire class about the Baha'i Faith. Also, for the past five years, I have been teching a quarterly class to the medical students entitled "an Introduction to the Baha'i Faith" in an elective called "Spirituality in Medicine."

  7. Bilo,

    This is impressive! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I did not intend to leave the impression that what happened with one teacher was typical in Canadian schools. This was just an isolated incident but it did impact my son. Canada admitted me as a refugee at a time where most doors were closed when I completed my studies in United States and my father was in prison in Egypt for being a Baha'i. My 35 years in Canada were full of great experiences of religious freedom, tolerance, cooperation, understanding, and interfaith events and activities. The Canadian government championed the cause of Iranian Baha'i refugees, and the Canadian press carried the torch to bring the persecutions of the Baha'is in Iran to light, as they did recently with the Egyptian Baha'is!

    What I wanted to point out is that even in Egypt there were teachers who truly reflected the attributes that all religions taught: compassion, understanding, love, and respect.

  8. Nabil,
    As you well know, prejudice has no borders or boundries. The same is for enlightenment, it can be found anywhere. It becomes alarming and ominous though when intolerance becomes sanctioned and promoted by governments and authorities.


Your opinion is valuable. Please share your thoughts.