Ironically, there is no place in the system just described for what is in fact the single largest non-Muslim religion in Iran, Bahaism. Before the revolution, as many as half a million Iranians were members of this faith; today, offi – cially, the religion does not exist in Iran even though the actual membership totals around 300,000. The reasons for this anomaly are complex and need some historical background to understand. Contemporary Bahaism is a successful missionary religion that has founded Spiritual Assemblies in well over a hundred countries and has its headquarters at the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel; its core message emphasizes pacifi sm and the brotherhood of mankind. The origins of the religion, however, go back to a very specifically Iranian and Shi‘ite background in the movement known as Babism. In 1844, a certain Sayyid ‘Ali-Mohammad Shirâzi announced that he was the “gate” ( bâb ) to the Twelfth Imam and gathered a group of eighteen disciples to spread his message throughout the Shi‘ite world. Shirâzi and the Babi movement drew strength from the ideas of the Shaykhi school of Shi‘ism and widespread expectations that the return of the Hidden Imam was imminent as well as from the growing social unease in the country as a whole. The radical nature of Babism was underscored by the fact that one of its most prominent missionaries was a remarkable woman, Qorrat-ol-’Ayn, who considered herself an incarnation of Fâtemeh and preached unveiled before male audiences. Moreover, Shirâzi claimed in 1848 that he himself was the Imam and the existing laws of Islam were abolished. The Shi‘ite clergy was alarmed at the spread of what it saw as a dangerous and seditious heresy, and the Qâjâr government felt obliged to suppress the movement. Consequently, Shirâzi was arrested, brought before an inquisition, and executed in 1850. After some of his followers attempted to assassinate the shah in 1852, the movement was ruthlessly suppressed. One branch, the Azalis (named for its leader Sobh-e Azal), continued to operate more or less covertly in an essentially Iranian and Shi‘ite milieu. The Azalis were quite active during the period of the Constitutional Revolution, but their numbers eventually dwindled. The other branch of the movement, the Bahais (named for its leader Bahâollâh), moved outside Iran, transformed the teachings of the movement dramatically, and proselytized internationally as well as in Iran. Babis and Azalis might be regarded as marginally acceptable heretics on the fringes of Shi‘ism. Bahaism, however, presents itself as a new world religion which will replace Islam. From the point of view of the Shi‘ite clergy, this is intolerable; Bahaism is a “misguided sect” that has no legitimate claim to be one of the acceptable revealed religions. Non-Muslims who convert to it are not entitled to zemmi status, and Muslim converts are guilty of apostasy—a capital offense in traditional Islamic law. This hostility towards Bahaism on religious grounds has been compounded by the suspicion that its members might be disloyal to Iran and potential spies (since the Bahai headquarters are in Israel) and by the perception that they received privileged treatment during the Pahlavi period. Although Iranian Bahais have often been subjected to harassment and persecution, they could generally practice their religion openly prior to the Islamic Revolution and, when politically feasible, Mohammad-Rezâ Pahlavi did his best to shield their community from harm. The teaching and practice of the faith, however, is forbidden in the Islamic Republic: Bahai buildings have been destroyed or confi scated; individuals cannot declare a Bahai identity on government documents; Bahai marriages are not recognized offi cially; and known Bahais are barred from government employment, admission to universities, etc. Presumably to intimidate the community, a number of Bahais (perhaps several hundred) have been imprisoned or executed.