We Irish love our funerals. Hundreds of people will jam the church for a funeral mass to honour the life of even the most humble neighbour. But when Mrs. Ashraf Khanjani died in Iran, the mourners were counted in their thousands – 8,000 to be exact. That’s 6,000 more than attended the church service for Diana, the former Princess of Wales when she died in 1997, and 7,000 more than attended the funeral of the late Garret Fitzgerald, a popular Irish Taoiseach who died in 2011, the same year as Mrs. Khanjani.
So who was this woman whose death commanded such a large funeral attendance? What kind of significant things did she achieve in her life that 8,000 people cared enough to show up and pay their last respects?
She was a woman who experienced both great joy and great suffering in her life. The beloved wife of Jamaloddin Khanjani, she maintained family life against a backdrop of intense persecution. During her life she witnessed the forced closure of her husband’s business, following the Iranian revolution of 1979.
She endured the anxiety and loss of his company and support as he spent most of the ‘eighties on the run because, as a Bahá’í leader, he was threatened with imprisonment.
In the ‘nineties Jamaloddin and Ashraf Khanjani successfully took on the running of a family farm only to see it fall into the hands of the revolutionary guard in 2010. The work of destroying the farm had begun before Ashraf died in 2011 and was finished in 2015 when the farmhouse itself was razed to the ground.
But even before that Ashraf’s life had again been turned upside down, for in 2008 her husband was arrested and imprisoned as a member of the Yaran, the ad hoc group of seven Bahá’ís who helped their 300,000 co-religionists in Iran.
This 83 year old man is still in prison on trumped up charges and wasn’t even allowed out on temporary compassionate leave to comfort his wife in her dying days or to attend her funeral.
“They knew each other from childhood,” said Mr. Khanjani’s daughter, Ferida Khanjani, who lives in the USA. “My father loved her for a long time before coming forward to ask for her hand in marriage.” They married in the mid-1950s and have four children – Ferida, Maria, Alaeddin, and Emilia; seven grandchildren and at least one great-grandchild.
Ashraf Khanjani’s funeral was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life and most religious backgrounds. They came to honour a woman who had lived a good and decent life and to honour too the good and decent husband, Jamaloddin Khanjani who was cruelly denied his place by her graveside.
— BahaisofIreland (@BahaisofIreland) May 17, 2017