AUBURN — After fleeing revolution and religious persecution in Iran 35 years ago, Parivash Rohani returned to Iran this year to tend to her ailing mother.

Rohani knew that her mother’s health was failing but had no idea why. Her parents, both in their 80s, had not seen their daughter since they came to the United States 10 years ago. The only news she received about her mother since then came through her brother.

Worried about her parents, she said she decided to return to Iran in February. She returned this month.

Rohani spent her childhood in the village of Ardestan in the Isfahan Province during the rule of the Shah of Iran. In 1979 the Iranian Revolution occurred and with it, an extremist Muslim government intolerant of other religions.

Followers of the Baha’i faith, like Rohani, faced immediate persecution at the hands of the new government. Her parents’ home was even burned by those who saw Baha’i as “unclean,” she said. Her parents were faced with the difficult decision to send their 19-year-old daughter away to escape the violence.

Certain the revolution would be over in a few months, Rohani first fled to India, she said. When the new regime remained in power, she and her husband, Nasser, applied for immigrant visas as refugees, landing first in California, then Auburn, Maine for the past 28 years.

Rohani described a greater diaspora of Iranians unwilling or unable to live under the new government spread across the world.

Upon her return, Rohani said, she discovered her mother was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. Her father, she said, was not doing very well either, seeing his wife of 55 years ill. Rohani would spend the next three months in Iran.

During this time, Rohani said she was able to see more of Iran, one that held little resemblance to the one she left.

“Iranians themselves love America and you have to see how much they do to look like Americans,” Rohani said. She described young Iranians’ preoccupation with American fashion and music.

Not wanting to cause trouble for her parents, Rohani returned to Iran in a conservative hijab and veil. She said she drew laughs from her Iranian Muslim friends who mocked her drab dress.

She described tight-fitting bright colors and patterns, elaborate makeup, high heels and veils that all but disappear along the hairline.

She even had her overcoat shortened, because she felt so out of place.

“I think it is, on the part of the woman in Iran, I think it is a way of telling the government, ‘we are not putting up with this.’ They are revolting against the government.”

“My culture froze in ’79,” she said, explaining she did not see herself as returning as an Iranian but as a Baha’i pilgrim.

Even as a pilgrim, Rohani was challenged, she said. Since the revolution, all places held dear by the Baha’i had been destroyed by the government.

Rohani said she wanted to visit the site of the house of the Bab in Shiraz, a popular pilgrimage for Baha’i. She likened the Bab to Christianity’s John the Baptist.

“You know, that holy place is now a big mosque. They demolished the whole thing and it is a big mosque,” she said. She was warned against walking in front of the mosque to say a prayer, she said, because she would be recognized as Baha’i and could be arrested. Instead, it was recommended she pray from a bus stop behind the mosque.

“It is not good for the Baha’is at all,” she said, citing government doublespeak about tolerance on one side while persecuting them on the other.

Baha’is are not allowed to hold business licenses or deal in food, Rohani said, because they are seen as “unclean.” Higher education for Baha’is is also not allowed.

Rohani said she is very thankful for the prayers from people of all faiths during her stay in Iran. “I definitely felt it — and owe my safe return from Iran to the people of this community.”

She said she feels more at home in Maine than anywhere else, feeling she’s in touch with the diverse community. “I’m home when I come to Maine,” she said.

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