NEW YORK—27 May 2023— Houthi gunmen have staged a violent raid on a peaceful gathering of Baha’is in Sanaa, Yemen, on 25 May, detaining and forcibly disappearing at least 17 people, including five women. The raid leaves the Yemeni Baha’is reeling from the latest blow to a severely…
OTTAWA, Canada — In a rare dialogue about the role of faith in governance, Canadian parliamentarians and representatives of the country’s religious communities recently held the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Interfaith Caucus—a new space to explore how principles and insights from religion can contribute to thinking about the challenges facing the country.
“I believe that religion defines who we are and what we value, and that democracy, which is a vehicle by which we inform change, is often guided by these values,” said Mobina Jaffer, a member of the Canadian Senate.
The recently formed all-party caucus is open to members of Canada’s elected House of Commons and appointed Senate and is organized with the support of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation (CIC), of which the Bahá’í Community of Canada is a member.
“The pandemic has produced new kinds of dialogue between government and religious communities,” said Geoffrey Cameron of the Canadian Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs. “It has made leaders more conscious of the important role religion continues to play in inspiring people to serve their society.”
. (Photo credit: Adam Scotti)
Stockwell Day, former MP and cabinet minister, spoke about the power of religion to bring comfort and hope, especially in times of crisis. “The very notion of religion in our society gives us a sense that there is restraint on a leader, and that there should be some sense of humility at the possibility that there is a bigger force out there than himself or herself, or the group to which they associate.”
He continued: “If individuals have a sense of religion—that there is something greater than ourselves—that brings a sense of solace.
“And so we imagine this spread over millions of citizens within a political setting, a significant portion of whom believe there is actually a power of God out there, [who] are living with a greater sense of respect and, we would hope, love for one another.”
Participants emphasized that beyond personal inspiration, religion can make important contributions to the policymaking process.
and other spaces to discuss the place of religion in public life and religion’s contribution to the betterment of society. Shown here is a yearly conference called Our Whole Society.
Member of Parliament Garnett Genuis said, “There are two concepts that are of supreme importance in religion: one is love and another is truth. And those two concepts have to go together. If you have love but no sense of truth, then … you’re not understanding what is really going on or what someone’s real needs are. And if you have a sense of the pursuit of truth, but no love in the process, that’s also clearly deficient… Love means being willing to confront serious injustice.”
Speaking with the News Service about the future of the all-party interfaith caucus, Dr. Cameron of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs states: “There is a need to foster new relationships among policymakers and faith communities and to frame conversations such that people can collectively advance in their thinking by exploring productive lines of inquiry, rather than framing every issue as a binary choice.”
“Underlying the contributions of the Office to the discourse on the role of religion in society,” he continued, “is the Bahá’í principle of the essential oneness of humanity. This caucus, although in its very early stages, is an expression of that principle and an example of greater societal unity.”
LENAKEL, Vanuatu — A boat carrying a long-awaited cargo set sail from Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, to the remote island of Tanna a few days ago. By the time it had reached the island, over 250 people had gathered in great anticipation for its cargo: the main components of the local Bahá’í House of Worship to be built in the town of Lenakel.
“We are so happy for this moment,” said Joseph Tuaka, a member of the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of a nearby town, after the boat arrived. “There is a traditional belief that one day the people of Tanna will pray together in one house. That day is now come.”
Nalau Manakel, a member of the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly of Vanuatu, stated: “Many traditional songs and stories of the people of Tanna speak of a new way of living, when all enmity will be gone, and peace and harmony will come. The emergence of a Bahá’í temple in our community points to a great change that is taking place on this island spiritually and materially.”
Speaking further about the significance of the House of Worship, Disline Iapum, the director of the temple, said: “We see the temple as a place of spiritual refuge, where we will come together to pray and draw inspiration for service to our community, in times of happiness or of crisis.”
Since the groundbreaking for the House of Worship in November 2019, many people have been coming together at the temple site to pray and offer assistance with various aspects of the project.
Some have been weaving bamboo to make the cladding for one of the surrounding auxiliary structures. Some are preparing an amphitheater for large community gatherings on a terraced slope that looks out over the Pacific Ocean. Some have been assisting with upkeep of the grounds, preventing the site from getting overgrown with the area’s lush vegetation.
, with wooden walls and a thatched roof modeled after Vanuatu’s traditional architecture, supported by a hidden steel structure. The various parts of the structure were manufactured across the islands of Vanuatu and overseas, and were prepared for assembly in the capital, Port Vila, before being transported to Tanna.
“Youth, mothers, fathers, chiefs, everyone,” said Mr. Manakel, “they come with their tools and help. And you can see in their faces that they are doing it all with joy. They know that they are contributing to something that will be of great significance to future generations.”
Since the material for the central edifice arrived in Tanna, the main steel structure has been raised on the temple site in the town of Lenakel. A glass oculus at the apex of the structure, which will pour light into the House of Worship, was the first piece to be put in position using a temporary central column. The nine wings of the roof, shaped like the deep valleys that mark the terrain of the volcanic island, were then assembled around it one by one.
Reflecting on the future, Mr. Manakel says, “The Pacific Ocean is very special. There are currently only a few Bahá’í temples in the world, and several of them have been raised or are being built on the shores of the Pacific. We hope that one day many more villages and towns across all oceans and continents will feel the joy we felt when we saw the temple arrive—like seeing a light of hope shine out from the midmost heart of the ocean.”
One hundred years ago, in May, the first race amity conference in the United States was held in Washington, D.C., by the American Bahá’í community, a defining moment on the path toward racial unity in the country.
The description on the program read, in part: “Half a century ago in America slavery was abolished. Now there has arisen need for another great effort in order that prejudice may be overcome. Correction of the present wrong requires no army, for the field of action is the hearts of our citizens.”
To mark the centenary of that historic gathering, the U.S. Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs brought together academics, civil society leaders, and other social actors for a three-day online symposium titled Advancing Together: Forging a Path Toward a Just, Inclusive and Unified Society.
“For those of us gathered here today, we are conscious that we are engaged in a process aimed at profound organic change in the very structure of society,” said P.J. Andrews of the Office at the gathering.
“The change required to create justice in the country,” he continued, “is not only social and economic but moral and spiritual.”
The latest episode of the Bahá’í World News Service podcast provides highlights from the symposium at which panelists discussed topics including the role of language in fostering a sense of shared identity, the relationship between truth and justice, and the need to address systemic changes in efforts toward social justice.
Woven throughout the conversations at the gathering was the spiritual principle of the essential oneness of humanity. Drawing on the Bahá’í teachings, May Lample, also of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs, stated: “Any movement that seeks to eradicate all forms of racism from our society has to be predicated on a notion that all human beings are in their essence the same, that they are deserving of dignity, that they possess unique skills and abilities, and that they are worthy of safety and security.
“And without an understanding of our oneness and interconnectedness our differences appear too vast, rather than adding necessary and valuable complexity and beauty to our lives.”
This symposium was part of an ongoing contribution of the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs in the United States to the discourse on race unity. Recordings of discussions at the symposium can be viewed here.
BIC BRUSSELS — Each year, tens of thousands of people from Africa travel to Europe to work alongside a declining national agricultural workforce on farms in EU member states in an industry that is increasingly becoming dependent on migrant seasonal workers.
When the pandemic disrupted international travel in April 2020, the spring harvest throughout Europe was thrown into jeopardy, revealing the extent of the EU’s reliance on seasonal workers and their difficult living conditions. Additionally, the pandemic has brought renewed attention to economic crises, the loss of land by farmers, and other factors that are driving people to leave rural areas in Africa.
“The way that agricultural affairs are organized is not sustainable or equitable, be it in Europe, Africa, or anywhere else in the world. There are fundamental questions that need to be closely examined in the light of principles such as the oneness of humanity,” said Rachel Bayani of the Brussels Office of the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) at an online seminar held by the Office last Wednesday.
The gathering is part of a seminar series, co-hosted by the Brussels Office and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which brings together policymakers, academics, and civil society organizations from Europe and Africa to explore the relationship between agriculture, rural sustainability, and migration, particularly in the context of partnerships between the two regions.
Rodrigo de Lapuerta, Director at the Liaison Office in Brussels of the FAO, spoke about the novel approach of the seminars: “FAO estimates that 80% of all moves involve rural areas. Migration and rural transformation, with the sustainability of agri-food systems, are totally interrelated. However, I do not think these two issues have often been treated jointly.”
Attendees at the gatherings have highlighted different aspects of the links between migration and agriculture. “Many factors influence why and how people migrate from rural areas… [but] it is essential that this migration is done out of choice, rather than necessity,” said Mr. Ola Henrickson, Regional Director at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
A particular focus of the most recent seminar was on the viability of EU’s agricultural sector and the need for rethinking production systems.
“We have to remember that our food security depends on the respect of our agri-food workers’ rights,” said Maximo Torero Cullen, the FAO’s Chief Economist, at a recent gathering. “The pandemic has shown us how indispensable migrants are… but it has also rightfully put the spotlight on the poor working and living conditions in the [agricultural] sector and the invisibility of these workers.”
Dr. Torero Cullen and other participants emphasized that policies of African and European states and regional bodies aimed at building sustainable food and agriculture systems need to put at the center the interests, safety, and well-being of agricultural workers.
“Many EU Member States frame their seasonal worker schemes primarily in terms of meeting labor-market needs at home,” said Camille Le Coz of the Migration Policy Institute of Europe. But she highlighted that some countries are looking at other approaches, including framing migration policies around “co-development”—creating arrangements that are beneficial to the sending and receiving countries as well as the workers themselves.
Reflecting on the gathering, Mrs. Bayani states: “Our current economic and agricultural systems and their implications for migration, the environment, nutrition, and livelihoods need to be closely examined. The Bahá’í teachings offer insights that can be helpful in this conversation: that the question of economics should begin with the farmer, because the farmer ‘is the first active agent in human society.’ This idea can allow us to explore possibilities for different ways to look at production systems.”
She continues: “The issues discussed at these seminars reflect only some of the profound questions before humanity. The Bahá’í teachings envisage that every element of society, including economic relations, will have to undergo a profound transformation in the light of the essential principle of the oneness of humanity.”
Future seminars over the coming months will continue to look at agriculture and migration, focusing on topics such as education and the future of villages.
BANGUI, Central African Republic — A years-long armed conflict in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.) has disrupted life across the country and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
In the midst of this crisis, the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly has guided the Bahá’ís of the country in their efforts to contribute to social progress, most recently drawing on a network of people engaged in community-building activities to channel assistance where it is most needed.
Speaking with the News Service, Hélène Pathé, member of the National Spiritual Assembly, describes the context in which such initiatives are under way in parts of the country: “The country has faced serious challenges. There are places where people have been severely affected and have had to flee, abandoning their homes and losing their means of making a living. This is the condition in many regions.”
Despite these conditions, the Bahá’ís in these areas have helped to foster resilience and a vibrant community life that has endured through cycles of war. For decades, regular gatherings for prayer have been strengthening bonds of friendship, and Bahá’í educational programs have been developing in children and youth a deep appreciation for the unity of all peoples, races, and religions.
During times of intense conflict, when entire populations have had to abandon their villages, teachers from community schools established with the support of a Bahá’í-inspired organization have sought ways to re-establish programs in temporary locations, explains Mrs. Pathé.
established with the support of a Bahá’í-inspired organization have sought ways to re-establish programs in temporary locations during times of intense conflict.
As part of its efforts to further enhance its capacity for responding to crises, the National Spiritual Assembly formed an emergency committee in March. The members of the committee, including Mrs. Pathé, quickly got to work. Within a few weeks they had assembled a team and headed to identified areas to help in person.
Over three days, they drove hundreds of kilometers from Bangui, the capital, to the town of Bambari, stopping in four other towns along the way to provide essentials, such as medicine for water-borne illness, to people who had returned from taking refuge in forest areas. Travel to these communities has been permitted under government health restrictions owing to exceptions for humanitarian efforts.
The emergency committee has worked closely with Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assemblies in coordinating the distribution of relief packages among village residents. “We had prepared as well as we could ahead of time with the information we could get,” says Mrs. Pathé, “but as soon as we arrived in a town, we sat down with the members of the Local Assembly, prayed together, and consulted about the needs, which they knew intimately.”
Young people have been at the forefront of these efforts, says Mrs. Pathé. “The youth were ready to spring into action as soon as the committee called on the community for support. They view this work as an extension of serving their neighborhoods: a contribution to the material and spiritual progress of society.
“They could see how this act of travelling for days to deliver a few necessities to people by hand was not just about addressing an immediate need. Meeting and speaking with people who had been cut off for so long also brought encouragement and helped build ties of unity as all saw that they are not alone in their challenges—like one family, there are others across the country who care for them and walk with them.”
Two months since its formation, the committee is already thinking about how to address long-term needs, including through projects for local food production.
With the experience it has gained, the committee is now expanding its efforts by contacting many more Bahá’í Local Assemblies throughout the country.
“In these relief efforts, we often call to mind ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who was always attentive to those in need and ever ready to respond,” says Mrs. Pathé. “He never hesitated to offer help. The National Spiritual Assembly hopes and wishes to do the same for the people of our country. What grieves us as a national body is that we can’t cover the whole country. Our efforts so far are only a small start, and we are learning little by little how to reach everyone.”
MATUNDA, Kenya — A luminous presence in Matunda Soy, Kenya, the first local Bahá’í House of Worship in the continent of Africa was dedicated at an opening ceremony Sunday morning.
The chorus of “Make my prayer, O my Lord, a fountain of living waters” sung by a local choir resonated deeply within the people who had gathered at the dedication ceremony, and represented thousands of people nearby and across Kenya celebrating a momentous step in the spiritual journey of their people.
The House of Worship—referred to in the Bahá’í writings as a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, meaning “Dawning-place of the Praise of God”—has a unique reality. It stands at the heart of the community, is open to all peoples, and is a place where prayer and contemplation inspire service to society.
Sunday’s opening ceremony included remarks from Townshend Lihanda, a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa whom the Universal House of Justice named as its representative to the event. Mr. Lihanda read a letter of the House of Justice addressed to the gathering, which stated: “…at a time when the world is caught in the midst of uncertainty, the efforts of the friends throughout Matunda Soy and beyond have culminated in the raising of this beacon of hope, a cause for jubilation and great joy.”
The Universal House of Justice stated that the completion of the project in just three years and under difficult circumstances “is a testament to the vitality, resourcefulness, and determination of the Kenyan people.”
Others in attendance included government officials, village and district chiefs, local dignitaries, representatives of local and national Bahá’í institutions, the architect and other representatives of the construction team.
Mourice Mukopi, the chief of the group of villages where the temple is located, said, “The most important thing about the Bahá’í temple is that it welcomes everyone from different religions to come and worship.”
In speaking with the Bahá’í World News Service, residents of the area have echoed these sentiments. “The people of Matunda Soy see the House of Worship as a sign of unity,” says Andrew Juma.
Elder Khaemba, another member of the local community, states: “The differences that existed before are over, since people of all faiths come together in prayer at the temple.”
A village elder, Justus Wafula, states: “The House of Worship is a space where the negative forces of society have no place. When we go to the temple, we know that we are on the right path. We know that we are home.”
The sense of home created by the appearance of the temple is reminiscent of the traditional huts of the region, explains Neda Samimi, the House of Worship’s architect. “A place of worship is a place where your soul belongs, where you should feel comfortable whatever your religion and be able to connect and commune with your Creator.”
Mrs. Samimi describes how the process of raising the temple was unifying.
“Everyone who has been involved in the project has been very conscious that this structure is dedicated to the promotion of oneness and the praise of God. All our work has been carried out through consultation, and our meetings would begin with prayers from diverse faiths.”
Construction came to a close this month with two significant events. A sacred Bahá’í symbol known as the Greatest Name was raised to the apex of the dome.
Then, on Saturday, a small ornamental case containing dust from one of the Holy Shrines at the Bahá’í World Centre was placed within the structure of the House of Worship, symbolizing the profound connection between the temple and the spiritual center of the Bahá’í Faith.
John Madahani, a member of the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of Matunda, explains how Bahá’í community life in the region has evolved since its origins in the 1970s. “In the past, only a few Bahá’ís would gather in their homes for prayers. Now more than 300 families regularly hold devotional gatherings, praying with their neighbors, welcoming all without asking what religion one is from.
for the temple construction project in March 2019.
“And when we started the practice of gathering on the temple grounds early in the morning before construction began, we saw how powerful it was for all members of the community to have such a moment together before going about their daily tasks. Otherwise we would never see workers and farmers, youth and parents together at once.”
Bernard Liyosi, another member of the Local Assembly, says, “The House of Worship brings us closer to God through both worship and service. We receive energy from gathering at the temple, energy that we channel into building stronger communities.”
DUBLIN — Comhrá, meaning ‘conversation’ in Irish, is a recently launched podcast by the Bahá’ís of Ireland that provides a window into uplifting discussions among friends on themes central to the life of society.
“We want to engage in social discourses at a level that is not usually seen, and to hear from people who are not always heard,” says Patricia Rainsford of the Irish Bahá’í community’s Office of External Affairs.
“There is a place for high-level discussions of policy, but the conversations in this podcast look at an essential component of social change that is found at the grassroots—addressing ideas that listeners might see reflected in their own lives.”
BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — The online publication The Bahá’í World has released two new articles.
“Reading Reality in Times of Crisis: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Great War” looks at how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s analysis of the crises of His time was profoundly distinct from contemporaneous “progressive” movements and thinkers. The author describes how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s warnings about the causes of war could not be understood by societies immersed in paradigms of thought totally different from the ones He presented.
Published as part of a series honoring the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, “Reading Reality in Times of Crisis” joins another recently released article titled “The Cause of Universal Peace: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Enduring Impact.” This latter article looks at the circumstances around ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s participation in the 1912 Lake Mohonk Arbitration Conference and the urgency and timeliness of His message over the subsequent decades. The article also reviews efforts of the Bahá’í community to promote world peace in the decades that followed.
The Bahá’í World website presents a collection of essays and articles that explore themes of relevance to the progress and well-being of humanity, highlight advancements in the worldwide Bahá’í community at the levels of thought and action, and reflect on the dynamic history of the Bahá’í Faith.
DILI, Timor-leste — Crisis and victory go hand-in-hand, states an associate of newly set up nationwide Spiritual Assembly associated with the Bahá’ís of Timor-Leste talking about the historic elections that were held final Friday amid tireless attempts to react to the devastating floods in the united kingdom.
Given current conditions, delegates voted remotely. “We feel therefore privileged to have a National religious Assembly in Timor-Leste,” states Graciana da Costa Herculano Boavida, a part regarding the Assembly.
In an email toward Bahá’ís of Timor-Leste, the Universal House of Justice published: “The establishment of this nationwide Assembly will allow your community to contribute with increasing effectiveness into spiritual and content wellbeing of community…”
The Bahá’ís of this nation trace their origins to 1954, when three Bahá’ís from Australian Continent and Portugal arrived in Dili. A quick few years later on, in 1958, the first Bahá’í town Spiritual set up had been created in Dili. While some Bahá’ís off their nations proceeded to reach until the mid-70s, the Bahá’í-community just re-emerged in 1999 with community-building efforts getting momentum in 2011.
The Timorese Bahá’ís were anticipating the National Assembly’s election final month, as soon as the country had been hit by Cyclone Seroja. Extreme floods started on 4 April, taking tragic loss in life around the world from landslides and mosquito-borne conditions.
“It is out of the center of a tragedy this institution emerges,” says Vahideh Hosseini, a part for the National religious Assembly. “These have already been trying months, but most people are striving to do whatever they can to help, especially the childhood.”
An integral aspect of the reaction was the creation of a five-member task force by the Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly of Dili to coordinate attempts. The duty force features facilitated the distribution of some 1,400 bundles of food, mosquito nets, as well as other essentials that have assisted a lot more than 7,000 men and women across 13 villages and neighbourhoods. The job power in addition organized for a boat to be built so that assistance could achieve folks in which roadways were take off.
“Bahá’í organizations and regional officials have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with individuals on the ground,” states Madalena Maria Barros, another member of the nationwide Assembly. “we moved aided by the xefe (chief) of my village to see your home of an elderly girl who had lost every thing inside flooding and had been sick with temperature. The xefe, who had been profoundly moved by the woman’s condition, wrapped this lady in a blanket and prepared on her behalf with supplies we’d brought.”
Alberto dos Reis Mendonca, a Bahá’í when you look at the hard-hit Masin-Lidun community of Dili, says, “Bahá’í activities inside our area began simply six months, as well as in that small amount of time we’ve discovered a lot about how to provide together as one.
“Every time we function and mirror, after which arrange for a day later. A few days following the flooding, more support ended up being reaching the location and people had rice, oil, as well as other materials. So we said now we require protein and vegetables is healthy, and we achieved out to organizations who could offer mung beans alongside vegetables for us to circulate.”
Commenting on devotional nature that sustained people throughout these attempts, Marcos da Costa Dias, a member for the nationwide Assembly which life in Masin-Lidun, states: “We pray early each and every morning and feel united, at serenity, and enter a prayerful condition which lasts for the day-to-day work of relief and data recovery.”
Reflecting regarding the previous thirty days, Mrs. Herculano Boavida states, “In our a reaction to this crisis we turn to the exemplory instance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—that every where he moved, he always found techniques to help folks in trouble. Equivalent nature of solution is considered now because of the National Spiritual Assembly.”
ZAGREB, Croatia — The Bahá’ís of Croatia have reached a historic milestone with the election of the country’s first Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly.
The nineteen delegates who had gathered at the convention held in Zagreb—while maintaining safety measures put in place by the government—cast their ballots last Saturday in a spiritual and joyful atmosphere. People across the country also joined the convention through online programs dedicated to prayer and uplifting music.
The formation of the National Spiritual Assembly is the culmination of developments since 1928, when Martha Root—a notable early Bahá’í—introduced the Bahá’í teachings to people in the former Yugoslavia. Although initially few in number—at times down to a single person—the Bahá’ís in Croatia promoted Bahá’u’lláh’s message of unity and peace over the ensuing decades, including periods of great restrictions and war, until 1992 when it became possible to elect the first Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assembly in Zagreb. Other Local Assemblies were eventually formed elsewhere in the country.
In the years since, including through turbulent times in the country’s history, Croatian Bahá’ís have fostered love and harmony among their compatriots and focused on community-building activities that seek to raise capacity for service to society.
The Universal House of Justice was represented by Andrej Donoval, member of the International Teaching Centre. Mr. Donoval addressed the convention, reading a message of the House of Justice in which these efforts are referred to as “a reflection of the qualities of the Croatian people who, throughout their history, have demonstrated great warm-heartedness, courage, and zeal.”
Maja Prezel, one of the members of the newly formed National Spiritual Assembly, describes the significance of this unique moment, saying, “The establishment of the National Assembly comes at a pivotal time, when the need for greater societal unity, for fellowship and love, and for selfless service to one’s society is becoming clearer and clearer. These are the qualities that will build our society’s resilience to face future crises, and they are qualities that a National Spiritual Assembly serves to promote in society.”
BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — A volume of newly translated tablets penned by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has been released online and in print.
Light of the World comprises a selection of seventy-six tablets, from among thousands penned by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in which aspects of the life of Bahá’u’lláh and the purpose of His Faith are recounted. “Who better to tell us about Bahá’u’lláh,” the preface of the new volume states, “than His most cherished Son, Who shared, as His closest associate, His life of exile, imprisonment, and persecution?”
The passing of Bahá’u’lláh on 29 May 1892, after a ministry spanning four decades of exile from His native Iran, left the Bahá’í community grief-stricken. In its hour of need, the community turned to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—Bahá’u’lláh’s appointed successor—for solace and guidance.
Many of the tablets in the new volume are from that time of bereavement, while others were written in later years when Bahá’ís found themselves suffering persecution and hardship. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called on Bahá’ís to reflect on the life of Bahá’u’lláh and His response to times of tribulation as a source of inspiration in their efforts to serve humanity, even when under the most difficult circumstances.
The release of this volume comes at a special period of reflection on the lives of the Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith. Over the last five years, the Bahá’í world has marked the bicentenaries of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh and the Birth of the Báb and now prepares to commemorate the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing later this year.
Light of the World is available on the Bahá’í Reference Library; the book can be ordered through the United States Bahá’í Publishing Trust.
SYDNEY — In the span of just a few months, Creating an Inclusive Narrative—a publication of the Australian Bahá’í community released last November—has stimulated profound discussions among government officials, social actors, journalists, faith communities and others in gatherings across states and territories in the country.
A recent discussion was held at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Sydney, coming at an important time for the Australian Bahá’í community when it is marking the closing of the centenary year of its establishment in the country. “The centenary of the Bahá’í community represents a hundred years of learning about fostering unity in diversity,” says Venus Khalessi of the country’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs.
In remarks on behalf of the Prime Minister of Australia, Member of Parliament Jason Falinski spoke at the gathering, stating: “Safeguarding our cohesion is not just a matter for government. It is something that belongs to all of us. … Bahá’í Australians have made a significant contribution to building our multicultural nation and inclusive national identity.”
“Faith has the capacity to be a powerful uniting force,” Mr. Falinksi continued, “bringing people together in a spirit of belonging and harmony. … It is a source of comfort, of solace, and of resilience for so many Australians.”
The Bahá’í community’s journey over the last century is the story of faith as a powerful impulse for greater unity, explained Fiona Scott, a member of the country’s Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly. Speaking about the first group of Bahá’ís who arrived on Australia’s shores, Dr. Scott described how they “were fueled by the vision of a world at peace, a world that values and harmonizes the diversity of the human race.
“They would not have dreamt that a hundred years later the Australian Bahá’í community would comprise well over 80 ethnic and racial groups in more than 417 localities around this nation.”
At a gathering in the state of South Australia, Jing Lee, the assistant minister to the premier of South Australia, referred to the recently published Creating an inclusive Narrative, stating: “The values of the Bahá’í Faith connect individuals, the community, and even institutions. I’m an individual standing here, but I also come from a community and an institution—this Parliament House, our democratic system.”
What the publication shows, Mrs. Lee continued, is “how all those things come together to promote oneness in humanity, that men and women are equal, that we all have a joint responsibility… to a collaborative framework. This particular publication challenges us, collectively with all the research behind it, to think a little bit further… and not just talk about it, but work towards common goals.”
Philippa Rowland, president of the Multifaith Association of South Australia, said that “the publication … manages to combine individual perspectives within the larger picture of how our [society] operates. More importantly, it draws a practical arc from learning where we have come, to understanding our present situation and having the collective courage to imagine that we can bring into being a better future for all.
“This dialogue on how we can create an inclusive narrative,” she continued, “is at the heart of an important journey that speaks strongly to interfaith harmony and peaceful mutually rewarding coexistence in a multicultural society.”
BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — The newly redesigned website of the worldwide Bahá’í community at www.bahai.org has launched, representing the latest in a series of developments since the site was first created in 1996.
The extensive revamp provides an enhanced visual experience and additional features that aim to make the site’s some 140 articles more easily accessible.
The new version of the site opens the way for further additions planned for the coming months and years, which will explore the development of the global Bahá’í community and the experience of those throughout the world who, inspired by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, are striving to contribute to the betterment of society.
OKCHEAY, Cambodia — In 2019, a group of young adolescents in the Cambodian village of Okcheay set out to plant trees along a patch of road to improve air quality and provide shelter from the heat. At the time, they could not have anticipated that this section of the road would be protected from severe erosion during the floods which came a year later.
Although modest in its impact, the project and how it can continue to be supported was recently discussed among local leaders of neighboring villages.
“If these youth hadn’t started their project, we might have lost the whole road. If we help them continue their efforts, we could see a big difference for future floods,” said the leader of Okcheay village, Chhert Say, at the meeting.
The youth were inspired to undertake the initiative through their participation in Bahá’í educational programs that develop capacities for service to society. Phoeurb, an older youth who works with the group, describes an important aspect of these educational programs, saying: “These youth have been developing an essential capacity—to describe the social reality of their village and identify needs that they could address.”
One of the young members of the group explains the thinking behind the project. “It gets hot during the summer, and there was no shade for people who walk on the road, so we decided to plant trees.”
“Trees also produce flowers and fruit,” adds another youth, “which makes our village more beautiful.”
Local leaders and community members, including other youth in the village, enthusiastically supported the project from the outset, giving advice on selecting the most suitable species and helping to plant the trees.
Mr. Say, shares his observations about the group, saying: “This shows the importance of the Bahá’í activities, because the young people of our village are using their time after they come back from school to discuss meaningful topics and to be of service to the village.”
At their most recent meeting this week the youth reflected on how they can continue their efforts. “Our hearts are full of happiness,” said one young person, “when we see all the people in the village happy. We see how we can do our part to make a new civilization.”
BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — A two-year long project that strengthened seismic resistance of the House of ‘Abbúd while restoring parts of the building that had deteriorated over time has concluded. This undertaking was an extension of the conservation work carried out by Shoghi Effendi in the early 1950s, when he prepared the sacred site for pilgrimage.
As exiles and under house arrest, Bahá’u’lláh and His family arrived at this building in 1871 and lived in extremely cramped conditions. At one point more than 13 people were living in one room.
It was at this sacred site that, in 1873, Bahá’u’lláh revealed His Most Holy Book—the Kitáb-i-Aqdas—which outlines the essential laws and principles of His Faith, lays the groundwork for Bahá’í institutions, and is referred to in the Bahá’í writings as the “charter of the future world civilization.”
The restoration of the House of ‘Abbúd aims to preserve “the building in a befitting condition for centuries to come”, wrote the Universal House of Justice in a letter to Bahá’í National Spiritual Assemblies on Friday.
Different aspects of the restoration and conservation work can be seen in the images that follow.
A historic (left) and current (right) view of the east façade of the house. This is the part of the house first occupied by Bahá’u’lláh and his family—known as the House of ‘Údí K̲h̲ammár—with the room (at upper-left) where Bahá’u’lláh revealed the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of the Bahá’í Faith.
In the room where Bahá’u’lláh revealed the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, conservation was carried out for the wooden wall panels, many of which had become warped or discolored. Each one was straightened, reinforced, and re-stained.
A set of sofas from the house were restored to their original appearance. The upholstery pattern was recreated from a few photographs and used by a textile producer to replicate the fabric.
One of the rooms features a beautifully patterned ceiling and an intricate frieze painted on zinc panels. Conservators documented the frieze pattern, repaired the panels, and restored the paintings—a remarkable conservation of artwork from the Ottoman era.
A restored ceiling in the House of ‘Abbúd.
Detail from the restored frieze in the House of ‘Abbúd.
Ceiling patterns in another room of the house which had become concealed overtime have been restored.
A closeup view of the restored ceiling of one of the rooms in the House of ‘Abbúd
A major aspect of the restoration of the House of ‘Abbúd was replastering some 5,000 square meters of internal and external walls. Lime-based plaster, recommended by conservation experts for use in rehabilitation of historical buildings, was applied. The new plaster and paint will prevent the buildup of moisture inside the walls.
Repairs were made to wooden roof beams throughout the building and reinforced in some places with stainless steel.
Traditional glass-blowing techniques were used to produce the windowpanes.
The marble columns and capitals of the colonnade overlooking the Mediterranean Sea that had become degraded were replaced with identical replicas.
An example of restored stonework in the building.
Once the easing of public health restrictions allows, the doors of the House of ‘Abbúd will once again open to receive pilgrims.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — A small but growing conversation about human nature and capacity is taking root in Slovakia, challenging common notions about migration and minorities, as well as fostering greater participation and mutual support. Over the last several years, the Bahá’í community of Slovakia has been contributing to discussions on these issues and creating spaces in which thinking about migration can advance.
“A common assumption in many societies is that migrants are a burden for a country to bear”, says Venus Jahanpour of Slovakia’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs.
“It’s understandable that people who arrive in a new land may require support with settling and tending to various needs, especially if they are fleeing conflict and oppression,” says Mrs. Jahanpour. “But there is more to their lives.
“With a different view of human nature—that human beings can show great capacity for selfless service and generosity—people are able to transcend notions of identity that create divisions between them and see each other as a fellow being.”
The Office has found that conversations with this as a starting point have illuminated various aspects of the issue and strengthened cooperation and collaboration among social actors such as government, human-rights organizations, and religious communities.
At a recent conference on civic engagement organized by the Human Rights League of Slovakia, Mrs. Jahanpour described the implications of these ideas for good governance. “When people arrive in a country, they are full hope and come in anticipation of a better life. They have fresh perspectives and a strong desire to contribute to the advancement of their new home, but they need to be engaged as equals as early as possible. There is an important window early on where spaces need to be created for discussion and mutual learning among those newly arrived and their fellow compatriots.”
In her comments shared with the Bahá’í World News Service about the empowerment of individuals and communities, Alena Holka Chudzik—the moderator of the conference and representative of the Center for Research on Ethnicity and Culture—points to the experience of the Bahá’í community, stating: “Through their strong involvement in local communities, Bahá’ís play a crucial role in engaging very diverse people in local activities, interactions, and relationships… The sense of social responsibility we have noticed in the Bahá’ís can be a great driver of the inclusion of migrants.
“I feel that their focus on what unites us as human beings is what creates a unique space for inclusion of migrants… The idea that each individual matters and has a great potential to make a difference is something that should be more present in the debate on migration and inclusion of migrants.”
Monika Kuchtova, member of Slovakia’s Bahá’í community adds, “There is a tendency to divide people into categories such as ‘native’ and ‘foreigner,’ ‘majority’ and ‘minority.’ But when people come together to examine the root cause of prejudice and explore ways to serve their society, these divisions fall away and we become one people. Like a garden, we come to see the beauty in our diversity.”
BIC NEW YORK — As the world undergoes profound change, the pandemic has clearly revealed the indispensable role of women leaders and the need for models of leadership to be reconceptualized. These ideas are at the heart of the Bahá’í International Community’s (BIC) contribution to the 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which includes a statement titled Leadership for a Culture of Equality, in Times of Peril and Peace.
“In nations where women have contributed more prominently to leadership in their society at whatever level, a degree of stability has been seen across a variety of short-term indicators, including public health and economic security,” says Saphira Rameshfar, Representative of the BIC.
“It has never been so clear how much humanity benefits when women’s leadership is embraced and promoted at every level of society, whether in the family or the village, the community or local gov¬ernment, the corporation or the nation.”
In its statement to the Commission, the BIC highlights several characteristics and capacities for effective leadership, including “the ability to harmonize different voices and foster a sense of common endeavor.”
At an online discussion centered on the BIC statement during CSW, Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University said, “I think that the model that [the BIC] put forward is really important. We need to understand that a model of equality… isn’t about making women equally dominant over other people to make them leaders…”
At another discussion space attended by ambassadors of several UN member states, participants viewed the recently released film Glimpses of the Spirit of Gender Equality. In response to the film, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Liberia to the UN, Ambassador Israel Choko Davies, said: “You see how actions in a given community can cultivate positive changes in the behavior of others.
“We see how happy a family becomes when a husband and wife exhibit mutual respect for one another and see themselves as equals. You learn of the positive role and the importance of spirituality in achieving gender equality. You realize the important role a family can play in promoting gender equality.”
Ambassador Davies quoted the film saying, “The capacity to love, to create, to persevere, has no gender”
Forty-nine delegates representing the BIC joined more than 25,000 representatives of governments and non-governmental organizations at this year’s CSW which was held online—the largest gathering since the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing involving governments and civil society organizations in advancing the discourse on gender equality.
SYDNEY — The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has cast a light on the transformative effect of Bahá’í community-building activities on the lives of young people in Mount Druitt, a neighborhood in Sydney. In an article titled “The struggle for their streets,” the ABC describes how Bahá’í educational initiatives in Mount Druitt are “empowering young people to be the change they want to see in the community.”
The article highlights the vibrant community life that is taking shape through gatherings for prayer, discussion, and music, which has recently given rise to an initiative, titled “Manifold”, to produce songs that express the youth’s highest aspirations for their society.
Speaking with the Bahá’í World News Service, Siobhan Marin, the journalist who wrote the article, shares her motivation for covering the story: “It’s always a joy to travel to different parts of Sydney and to meet communities who aren’t often represented in the news with the aim of sharing their story.”
Ms. Marin explains that this neighbourhood had recently been negatively portrayed in the media, and her hope is to offer something different. “I was interested in how the local community, particularly youth, are using music and social activities to change the narrative.
“It struck me that the members of Manifold, and others in the community, are not only demonstrating a more positive pathway to youth—one that doesn’t involve drugs, alcohol or violence—they’re also highlighting the goodness that already exists in the area. It was heartwarming to hear about efforts to help younger generations flourish.”
She adds: “And, from the sounds of it, these efforts are not only benefiting kids in the community, they’re also strengthening social cohesion and a sense of pride and respect for the area—amongst the older generations, too.”