Mehnoush Bakhtiari suffered under the oppression of an abusive father growing up in Iran. This is her story of survival and how one day her life was dramatically changed when she met Christ. This story will be featured in our new book, "Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."
My life in Iran (1986-2017 )
My name is Mehnoush Bakhtiari. I am a 32 year-old Iranian girl that was born into a Muslim family with a dictator father and a culturally suppressed mother. My father belonged to the Lor Tribe and according to their ancestral traditions, the “male child” received all of the family honor in preference to females. My mother was forced into a cultural marriage to my father unaware that he was a practicing polygamist, already married to another woman, and had two sons. She was too busy being a school teacher and a slave to housekeeping that she didn’t realize anything about my father’s past when she married him. On the day of my brother’s birth, my father happily celebrated with a huge party because Allah had blessed him with a male child. My mother was already 6 months pregnant and my father couldn’t wait to have another celebration!
On February 12, 1986, the year that Iran was still engaged in a bloody war with Iraq, I was born in a hospital in Tehran. My father was devastated! It seemed like the end of the world to him. Enraged over the birth of a girl instead of a male child, he left my mother suffering in bed after undergoing a painful caesarean section. Returning home from the hospital still in pain, life for my mother became more difficult and stressful. My father’s mood became uglier each day. It was torture for him to accept the birth of a female.
By the time I turned five years old, instead of wearing make-up or playing with dolls, my father insisted that I shave my head, wear boyish clothes, and play football with my brother. This was the only way that he could cope with me being a female. When my father was at work, my mother came to my aid and had me change my clothes from jeans to skirts, and she even purchased dolls for me to play with. She insisted that I should not hide my femininity. As time when on, my hair began to grow back and one of the most precious memories of my childhood that I remembered best was when my mother would tenderly comb my blond hair and adorn it with colorful clips.
However, the happier moments with my mother did not last very long. My father’s behavior toward me grew uglier. He complained to my mother that I was too busy with schoolwork and should instead be taught cooking skills and learning household chores that were fitting for a woman! By the time I turned 18, he wanted me to marry one of my relatives in order to get rid of me as soon as possible. He intended for me to become just like my mother by studying the Quran, be an efficient housekeeper and learn child nursing skills. I despised this kind of lifestyle and fought it every step of the way! I longed to go to university, study hard, travel, and meet other people, and learn about their cultures.
Deep down inside of me I longed for a spirituality that fulfilled the passions of my heart, a spirituality that made me feel wanted and loved by a personal God. I hated the times I was forced to hold the Quran in my hands and listen to Islamic teachings from my father. When I would look into my mother’s eyes, I saw an emptiness, as she recited from the Quran. She had no peace and was only going through the motions to please my father.
When my father revealed that he had married a third wife, my mother had finally reached the breaking point. She refused to sit by and just tolerate the other women and be a faithful spouse. Standing up to my father, she demanded a divorce. It was the first time that I remember her mustering up the courage to confront him. I knew she had reached the end of her so called, “patient submissiveness!”
However, my father adamantly refused to grant her the divorce and concocted a plan with his emotional manipulative tactics, persuading us to take a trip to the northern section of Iran to relax and carefully sort out our differences. It was here in the beautiful countryside that I witnessed the absolute evil and dark side of my father. I vividly remember, even though this was many years ago, that my Father took my brother and I by the hand to walk on the beach of the Caspian Sea. Little did I realize that he was planning to drown us in front of my mother! It was all part of his devilish scheme to force my mother into dropping her plans to divorce him by threatening to drown us before her eyes. However, my mother proved herself that day to be a tough and courageous survivor. She screamed so loudly, creating a scene, that people began to rush toward us on the beach frantically wanting to know what was wrong. My father’s plans had been thwarted!
After a long and hard legal battle, my mother succeeded in divorcing my father. In Iran, it is very difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce and in most every case she loses custody of her children. However, in this case, she miraculously won out! Even though we were successful in separating ourselves from my abusive father, the financial burden became too enormous for my mother to shoulder. My brother, influenced by my persuasive father, decided to leave us and live with him. Iran is very patriarchal, man-centered society, and now the financial responsibility fell upon my shoulders. I became the “head” of the house and with the help of one of my mother’s colleagues at the university, I took a job in the tourism industry. Since I was a child, I always loved learning about new cultures and languages so this was the perfect job for me! My father had never let us travel alone, so being a tour guide was the answer to one of my lifelong dreams. It was at this time that my father continued to punish us for divorcing him. He convinced my brother not to allow us to attend his wedding and this crushed my mother. Day and night, she wept and moaned and all I could do was hold her in my arms and console her.
After a few months of working for the tourism industry, my manager asked me to travel to United Arab Emirates and handle a contract. I was thrilled and immediately persuaded my mother to accompany me on the trip. Once we arrived, we could immediately sense the freedom and loveliness of this wonderful country. I remember the joy of allowing the wind to blow through my hair since the United Arab Emirates did not have a mandatory hijab law. I noticed that the cloud of depression had lifted off of my mother and I was overjoyed to see her relax and smile for the first time in many months. It was such a wonderful experience seeing people enjoy life, walking, jogging, and cycling in the outdoors, free from the shackles and chains of a patriarchal society. Both my mother and I wished that this feeling of joy and exuberance could have lasted forever, but 2 weeks later reality set in when we had to return to Iran.
I continued to travel and meet people from different cultures and I vividly remember on one particular trip that I was introduced to some very nice Christian people. I was very impressed by their kindness and respect and became good friends with one young Christian girl. Together we visited a Christian Church in Armenia and as we walked inside, I was overcome with such a peace and a sense of the divine. I had been struggling under the darkness of depression and I will never forget the experience of walking into that church and being overwhelmed by such a feeling of tranquility in my soul.
After the trip, I began to research Christianity and study the Bible. I was so impressed by the way Jesus treated women and showed love and compassion to the hurting and the lost. I was gripped by his love and how this innocent man, who claimed to be the Son of God, willingly died on the cross to forgive the sins of all mankind. Through my research I discovered how very much different Christianity was from Islam. The God of Christianity was filled with love and compassion unlike the God of Islam. Human beings were treated with great value, respect, and compassion. Christianity taught love and forgiveness, while Islam taught violence and revenge. My trip to Armenia had planted the seeds of a new way of life in my soul that was to change me forever!
While back in Iran, I became close friends with The Jabbari family. Their daughter, Reyhaneh was on death row in prison for defending herself against a government rapist. I spent many days, praying, hugging, and crying with Shole, Reyhaneh’s mother. The misogynistic society of Iran had no respect for women. Their only value to men was birthing babies and keeping the house. I will never forget the morning of October 25, 2014, when we heard the news that Reyhaneh had been unjustly executed by hanging. That morning changed my life forever. I was outraged by the tactics of this murderous regime who treated humanity like cattle! I could no longer be silent! I had to speak out and began writing articles on Facebook about the sins and evil cruelty committed by the government. I needed to shout to the world, that my homeland, once the glorious Persian empire of beauty and history, had been captured and corrupted by the oppressive religion of Islam.
I soon realized that my life was now in danger. I knew the regime would be looking for me and unless I quickly left, I would suffer the same fate of many others who had been imprisoned and executed for speaking out against the government. In August of 2017, I said a tearful goodbye to my mother and asked her blessing on me as I fled my homeland for a more safe and peaceful life. I applied for a visa to take an English language course at a university in Sweden. I explained I was going there to study, but once I arrived, I made plans to never go back to Iran. A new chapter in my life had now begun. I was now a refugee in a foreign land, an asylum seeker, never to return to my homeland.
I had successfully escaped from that misogynist, religious, oppressive, and dictatorship regime and for the first time in my life, I had a bright future ahead of me. I had ridded myself of the dark and difficult days of living in an oppressive culture. I was ready to begin a brand-new life!
In the first few months, I managed to successfully pass a short-term English course in an international university and graduated. It was during this time, that one of my friends took me to a church in the city of Stockholm. After several visits of getting to know the members of the church, I talked with the pastor and explained to him about my research into the Christian religion. On November 5, 2017, I was baptized in a special ceremony. The water was very chilly, but I will never forget how cleansed I felt after being submerged. I was immediately overwhelmed with a feeling of peace. The darkness of Islam that had filled my soul with torment and oppression had finally been cleansed in the wonderful waters of baptism. I felt born again! I felt like a completely new person. This time my faith had not been formed by my father or a government’s threats, but instead it was the result of my heartfelt and emotional commitment to Christ! Now I could express my ideas and opinions without fear and publish them as essays and books!
Now I could open up the Bible and dig deep discovering the riches and treasures of God’s grace. I was still a new student of the scriptures eager to read and discover their meanings and live by their principles. In the Old Testament, I came across a very powerful promise of God that really spoke to my heart. It was as if God was speaking directly to my heart and assuring me of his love for my homeland and all Iranians.
“And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.
I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
Wherever they have been mocked and shamed.
On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction,
Among all the nations of the earth.
I will restore your fortunes before their very eyes.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
(Zephaniah 3:19-20 NLT)
My goal is to write and publish books about injustices and cruelty done by the Iranian government against my people. Shortly after I became a Christian, I became friends with Randy Noble. I was so impressed by his love and commitment to the Iranian people. He is my Angel! He has given me the privilege of writing articles for his radio program. God brought a wonderful American friend into my life to fulfill my dream of writing books and being a voice for my people. The book you are holding in your hands is the result of many nights of praying and crying out to God. I believe now that God will answer my prayers and the prayers of many others and one day bring true freedom and democracy to Iran!