I had not heard of the Right Reverend Hassan Dehqani-Tafti until I read his obituary in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. Between 1961 and 1990 he had been the Anglican bishop of Iran. Who knew there was such a churchman? A large photograph revealed a fine strong face. The more I read the more extraordinary Bishop Hassan became. I learnt that many considered him as 20th-century saint. We should all remember and commemorate this man.
He had been born in 1920 in Taft, a village in the north of Iran, the child of Muslims. Educated at Stuart Memorial College (and who knew about this institution, whose name has a wonderful ring of British imperialism at its best), he converted to Christianity at the age of 18. During the Second World War, he served in the Iranian army. Afterwards he married Margaret, the daughter of Bishop William Thompson, the then Bishop of Iran. Finally he prepared himself for ordination in England, in a Cambridge college, and he was one day to take over as bishop from his father-in-law. The obituary says he established schools for boys and girls, and particularly worked to help the blind.
When Ayatollah Khomeini staged his successful coup, Bishop Hassan wrote to him to pledge support for building a just, equal and free Iranian society. But an unjust, unequal, and unfree society was in the making. Church hospitals and blind missions were immediately confiscated. Only months after the Islamist revolution, gunmen one night broke into Bishop Hassan’s house, entered the bedroom and fired shots. The heroic Margaret threw herself across her husband’s body, and four shots missed, while the fifth only went through her hand. Some months later, the Bishop’s secretary was shot and badly wounded. Then the Bishop’s son, Bahram, was shot and killed as he was returning from work. Here is the prayer Bishop Hassan wrote for his son:
O God, Bahram’s blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls; So when his murderers stand before Thee on the day of judgement Remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives, And forgive.
It is not for us to forgive, but once again we too should all remember how prejudice and lack of common fellow-feeling have condemned Iranian society to commit evil.
The obituary dryly states that after this violence the bishop was persuaded that it was impossible for him to stay in Iran, and he duly spent the rest of his life in exile in England. Apparently he had a specialist knowledge of Persian mystical poetry, and was himself a poet. The day when a memorial is put up to him in Iran will also be the day that Iran proves it has rejoined the family of nations.