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Fatollah Ferdowsi

Under the Staircase is a biography of Fatollah Ferdowsi, a remarkable man who was executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran on the morning of January 4, 1982. His only crime was his belief. He was a member of the Baha’i Faith, a persecuted minority in Iran. The regime gave him a choice: “Recant your faith and go free, or you will die.” Fatollah remained steadfast. He chose faith over life—the eternal over the ephemeral.


Under the Staircase is more than a story of the unjust killing of an innocent man. It is much more than that. It is the spiritual triumph of a man over the awesome power of the state. The Islamic Republic imprisoned and tortured Fatollah. They tried to force him to utter the words, “I reject the Baha’i Faith and agree to become a Muslim.” His response was a knowing smile. The Islamic Republic seized his assets and belongings, and promised their return if Fatollah would simply recant his faith. His response was a nonchalant shrug. “My faith can’t be bought.” The Islamic Republic condemned him to death unless he signed a piece of paper that said, “I renounce my faith.” Fatollah’s response was “Never!” So, the Islamic Republic crushed Fatollah’s body, but could not vanquish his soul.

Fatollah Ferdowsi’s journey to martyrdom is meticulously narrated by his youngest son, Farsheed. His preparation for writing Under the Staircase started in the mid-1980s, a few years after his father’s execution. Farsheed felt a burning desire to write a book about his father’s life. He began to collect and read articles, letters, memoirs, and books about the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran in general, and the events related to his father’s life in particular.


To comprehend the powerful force that drove Fatollah Ferdowsi throughout his eventful life, one needs to understand the Baha’i Faith. His life story is deeply intertwined with his religion. A number of chapters in Under the Staircase are devoted to the history, teachings, and administrative structure of the Baha’i Faith in order to provide the proper framework for Fatollah’s story. Likewise, a basic history of Iran during the second half of the nineteenth century to the present, and the convulsion of the Islamic Revolution are presented for context.


Under the Staircase is, in a larger sense, the story of the entire community of Iran’s Baha’is, who have endured more than a century and a half of severe persecution, and who have responded to their predicament with determination to do whatever they can, in the face of unrelenting indignities and injustice, to preserve their identity and to work for the good of their country. Under the Staircase is a story from Iran. Yet it is not merely an Iranian story. In it, there are lessons for both the oppressors and the oppressed across the world.

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