BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — On 23 May 1844, 175 years ago, an eager scholar and seeker of truth approached the gates of Shiraz. Standing outside this historic city known for its roses, its cypress trees, and its long tradition of poetry, he was searching for a new messenger of God.
His arrival would lead him to a profound discovery. It was in Shiraz on that evening that he first met the Bab. In the conversation that followed, the Bab made known that He was the Founder of a new religion that was to prepare the world for the coming of Baha’u’llah and presaged the latest stage in humanity’s social evolution.
The events of this night are the origins of the global Baha’i community’s endeavors for the betterment of the world. From community building activities, to projects of social action, to involvement in public discourse, those seeking to put into practice Baha’u’llah’s teachings find the origin of their efforts in that first conversation.
This October marks the bicentenary of the Bab’s birth. In this year, the Baha’i World News Service is examining some of the most salient moments in the life of the Bab. The latest podcast episode focuses on the night of His declaration. This year, it is being celebrated around the world from sundown Thursday to sundown Friday.
(NOTE: Visit huntsavillebahais.com often to learn of details of the local observance.)
The podcast episode explores how the heroism and sacrifice set in motion by the Bab’s declaration relates to the world today: “Though separated from our own time by two centuries, the society in which the Báb appeared resembles the present day world for the sense of oppression and for the longing of so many to find answers to slake the soul’s thirst to know,” the Universal House of Justice wrote in its Ridvan 2018 message.
Podcast: In this bicentenary year, remembering the birth of a new Faith
The latest episode of the Baha’i World News Service podcast focuses on the historic declaration of the Bab.
Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — For nearly two decades, New Zealand’s Baha’is have been promoting a discourse on race unity through an annual process that brings together high school students from across the country. This year, the culmination of that process occurred in the shadow of the Christchurch terrorist attacks that shook this nation. Praised by the country’s prime minister, about 100 high school students gathered on Saturday to probe the critical issue of race unity.
Initiated by the Baha’i community and sponsored by the national police, the Human Rights Commission, and others, the Race Unity Speech Awards and Huihave provided a national platform for high school students to express their ideas of how the country can improve race relations. This year, 180 students gave speeches at regional events throughout the country, and the six best speakers were chosen to speak again at last week’s national gathering in Auckland. Accompanying those speeches was a daylong conference where scores of youth from around the country examined this critical issue.
“I would like to pass my warm wishes to everyone taking part in this year’s Race Unity Speech Awards and Hui,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote in a letter dated 7 May. “Over the past eighteen years, the Race Unity Speech Awards have provided young people with a space to deepen their understanding of race relations issues, and share their views on how we can all help to promote unity in Aoteaora.”
The young people’s speeches brought to light insights about race and the oneness of humanity.
“Pigmentation should have nothing to do with how we treat one another. Unfortunately it does,” said David Faalau-Solia of Sacred Heart College in Auckland. “Now, some say God created different races and with that comes all these problems. However, God created one race, that is, the human race. Human beings created racism.”
The speech awards and hui have had an especially timely impact, Prime Minister Ardern said. The event has received widespread coverage in the country’s news media. Also, the country’s Minister for Youth, Peeni Henare, and seven other Members of Parliament attended the gathering.
“I wish you all the best for this year’s Race Unity Speech Awards and Hui, and I am sure the event will inspire thoughtful, open and positive discussion. Allah-u-Abha,” Prime Minister Ardern concluded in her half-page message.
The day-long conference, held at the Te Mahurehure Marae in Auckland, focused on the theme of speaking for justice and working for unity.
“The hui is a unique space where you have mostly high school students but also Members of Parliament and leaders of significant NGOs in the country,” explained Tarn Austin, one of the organizers from the Baha’i community. “It’s a kind of space where there’s really a sense of connection between the youth and policymakers.”
“Now, some say God created different races and with that comes all these problems. However, God created one race, that is, the human race.”
—David Faalau-Solia of Sacred Heart College in Auckland
In addition to small group conversations, the conference included a panel discussion. The speakers—writer Lynda Chanwai Earle, lawyer and Maori activist Kingi Snelgar, and community leader Mehpara Khan—reflected the country’s diversity. Each speaker complemented and built on the comments of the others, enriching the day’s thoughtful exploration of the concepts of justice and unity.
“Throughout the hui, participants repeatedly said that this is an incredible space where we interact with people who are different from us but have the same sense of purpose,” Mr. Austin said. “But people are also asking, ‘How can we bring this back to where we came from? How do we ensure that there is action that comes out of this and it’s not an isolated event?’”
The young participants left with concrete plans to contribute to race unity and societal harmony. They are also drafting a collective statement on race relations.
Organizers also held two regional conferences earlier this year: one in New Plymouth on 1 March and another in Wellington on 6 April, bringing together a total of about 80 participants.
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — The recent call of the Universal House of Justice for the construction of the permanent Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha near Akka, Israel has galvanized the Baha’i world. The selection of the edifice’s architect and the establishment of a fund to support the historic project were made known earlier today.
Hossein Amanat a distinguished Iranian-Canadian architect, best known for his designs of three of the buildings of the Arc on Mount Carmel in Haifa as well as the Azadi Tower in Tehran, has been selected as the Shrine’s architect.
The Shrine will be built in the vicinity of the Ridvan Garden in Akka, a place Baha’u’llah visited on several occasions in the later years of His life.
“It is our heartfelt desire that this sacred edifice will be raised up through the universal participation of the friends,” the House of Justice wrote today.
The day after His passing in Haifa on 28 November 1921, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s remains were placed in a vault within the sacred Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel, a temporary arrangement until such time that a separate shrine would be erected in His honor. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s funeral was unprecedented in the region for the number and diversity of those who participated. Some 10,000 people attended—more than a quarter of the city’s population—representing every class, religion, and race there.
The Shrine will be “of a character befitting the unique station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá,” the House of Justice also wrote. Designated by Baha’u’llah as “Ridvan”, meaning paradise, the garden near which the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha will be built is a holy place visited on Baha’i pilgrimage. The garden lies about 2 kilometers outside the old city of Akka, where Baha’u’llah was held prisoner from 1868 to 1877, after which He lived in the countryside surrounding that historic fortress city. After the passing of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha continued to live in Akka for most of the remaining years of His life. He eventually moved to Haifa from where He undertook His historic journeys to Egypt and the West.
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Sixty-seven selections from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha were published for the first time today on the Baha’i Reference Library, including His two well-known and historic Tablets to The Hague. The online publication of the works is a feature of the Reference Library. Launched in September, the feature enables the release of Baha’i writings that, in the course of the work at the Baha’i World Centre, are translated and prepared for publication.
The selections—34 English translations and 33 Persian originals—include several tablets referencing communications with Leo Tolstoy, the renowned Russian writer and admirer of the Baha’i Faith, as well as Isabella Grinevskaya, also a Russian author and a Baha’i who wrote plays about the lives of Baha’u’llah and the Bab.
The Tablets to The Hague were written in the aftermath of World War I to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in The Hague. The first Tablet, which is of substantial length, includes ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s analysis of the attainment of international peace within the context of the need for wider political, economic, and cultural change. About half of the first letter, penned on 17 December 1919, was translated and published in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. It is now being published in its entirety. An early translation of the second, shorter letter, written on 1 July 1920 in response to the Organization’s reply to the first Tablet, had been published in Star of the West in January 1921.
When ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote the two letters, the Paris Peace Conference was bringing together world leaders to discuss the terms of peace following the end of World War I. The conference led to the establishment of the League of Nations. While praising the League’s aims, ‘Abdu’l-Baha was candid in explaining that it was too restricted to realize peace. He explained that peace would require a profound transformation in human consciousness and a commitment to the spiritual truths enunciated by Baha’u’llah. In the first message, ‘Abdu’l-Baha also identifies many important Baha’i principles, such as the abolition of all forms of prejudice, the harmony of science and religion, the equality of women and men, that religion must be the cause of love, and others.
In the second Tablet, ‘Abdu’l-Baha returns to the idea of the importance of religious faith to the establishment of peace, explaining that His “desire for peace is not derived merely from the intellect: It is a matter of religious belief and one of the eternal foundations of the Faith of God.”
In His message to Isabella Grinevskaya, ‘Abdu’l-Baha praised her efforts to stage theatrical performances about the Bab and Baha’u’llah but cautioned her that people’s attention at that moment was focused on “war and revolution.” However, He added, “the time for staging it will come” and it will “have a considerable impact” in Europe.
Ms. Grinevskaya’s play about the Bab was first staged in St. Petersburg in January 1904. Mr. Tolstoy read the play and wrote Ms. Grinevskaya to praise her and share his sympathy with the Baha’i teachings, according to an article by Martha Root in the 1934-1936 edition of The Baha’i World.
After days of deluge, the Local Spiritual Assembly of Dondo gathered on the morning of 19 March to take stock of the community’s needs. Convening the meeting was a challenge; telephone lines were down, and the only way to reach each other was by going to each other’s homes.
The cyclone, one of the worst ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, first made landfall as it tore through the port city of Beira with sustained winds of 165 kilometers per hour. Idai made its way 30 kilometers inland to the town of Dondo and by nighttime was in Zimbabwe, weakened but still dumping torrential rain. After the cyclone dissipated, heavy rain continued for days, flooding the region’s waterways and turning them into an “inland ocean,” as described by a United Nations official. More than 1,000 people have died in the storm and its aftermath; thousands more remain displaced in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Health officials are working to stem an outbreak of cholera, a disease transmitted through dirty water. As of Monday, 6,596 cholera cases and eight deaths have been reported, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In Dondo, the Baha’i community relied on its experience organizing community-wide activities to contribute to the area’s recovery. Devotional gatherings and an emphasis on moral and spiritual education have fostered a sense of communal solidarity that extends beyond the interests of any one group to the whole community. Ultimately, a rising spirit of service has found expression in a growing desire to put others ahead of self and an emphasis on consultation and collective action.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, before outside help could arrive, Dondo’s Assembly decided to take action. It identified two priorities: ensuring people had a roof over their heads and combatting price gouging.
“We realized we have a team of young people who can help,” explained Erick Mhiriri, a member of Dondo’s Assembly and the country’s National Spiritual Assembly.
Young adults participating in different educational activities have been helping to repair and rebuild homes damaged by the cyclone. “They work together. They eat lunch together. They pray together,” Mr. Mhiriri said. “And after their work, they reflect and plan what they do the next day.”
So far, they have rebuilt three homes and repaired two. The young people continue to work on homes destroyed by the cyclone, now seeing this effort as a part of their service to the community, Mr. Mhiriri added.
Anticipating post-disaster price gouging, just after the storm, the Assembly of Dondo, drawing principally on its own resources, bought food and soap at lower wholesale prices and prepared small food kits for families in need. The Assembly carefully identified the most vulnerable families—typically those with young children or the elderly—and gave them about a week’s supply of food.
“People see that it is a privilege to be able to help others who lost more than we did,” said Arild Drivdal, the Secretary of Mozambique’s National Spiritual Assembly, who also visited Dondo shortly after the cyclone hit. “The Assembly of Dondo took on a strong role. They didn’t use a fixed formula. They assisted families on a case-by-case basis depending on their needs.”
The country’s National Spiritual Assembly received help from the worldwide Baha’i community, which provided financial and logistical assistance as well as guidance based on the lessons learned in this area of action by other communities that recovered from natural disasters.
With support from the Baha’i International Community, the prayers of Baha’is around the world, and the devoted efforts of the local population here, the people of Dondo are reminded of that fact that they are not alone. They are part of an interconnected global community contributing to the betterment of humanity, Mr. Mhiriri said.
A month after Idai, people in Dondo, an area that relies largely on communal farming, are resilient, carrying on with their daily responsibilities, according to Mr. Mhiriri. Yet, the community has to navigate dangers ahead, such as the spread of infectious diseases.
The government and aid agencies have also been responding to needs throughout Mozambique, including in Dondo. The United Nations allocated $20 million in emergency funds days after the cyclone hit, the Mozambique Red Cross and partners are distributing shelter kits to people in need, and international aid organizations have been vaccinating against and treating cholera in the weeks following the cyclone. The international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders reported on 15 April that cholera cases in Dondo are contained and being addressed, and the UN reports that the number of new reported cases continue to decline.
OTTAWA, ONTARIO, Canada — As societies have woken up to the reality that the Internet can be a platform for hate speech that leads to violence, a Canadian Parliament committee is studying this phenomenon and gleaning insights from several faith communities, including the Baha’is.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights recently began its study of online hate speech, bringing together for a hearing on 11 April representatives of several religious and other civil society organizations to discuss ways of combating the issue.
“Young people need access to education that teaches them from the earliest years that humanity is one family,” explained Geoffrey Cameron, representing the Baha’i Community of Canada’s Office of Public Affairs. “They require education and mentorship that goes beyond a simplistic condemnation of hatred or a set of dos and don’ts regarding their online activity.”
The widespread proliferation of social media has given hate speech a larger audience online. This has led to the glorification of violence and hateful actions, several speakers at the committee hearing said. For example, the first of the two Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks was livestreamed on Facebook for 17 minutes, and many violent extremists have been inspired by online discussion forums and social media posts, speakers noted.
Dr. Cameron highlighted the need for educational processes that help young people navigate a polarized and deceptive information environment online: “Youth need help to develop a strong moral framework within which they can make decisions about their online activities, like which content they choose to share and consume, and how they use their powers of expression when communicating with friends and strangers online.”
The significance of education, central to the Baha’i contribution at the hearing, was noted by others, including the committee’s vice chair, Member of Parliament Tracey Ramsey. “I think a core piece of what we’re looking at here is (for) people (to) understand how to identify what is a legitimate piece of media and what is something that is sharing perhaps hateful messages on the Internet and how to distinguish between those things,” Ms. Ramsey said.
The discussion also explored the tension between respecting freedom of expression and regulating hate speech online as well as the prospect of technical solutions to reporting and monitoring hate speech or designating legitimate news sources.
The hearing brought to light a growing awareness that governments and citizens cannot be naive about online technologies and their impacts on society. Questions about the value systems embedded in different online technologies, about privacy, misinformation, and hate speech, and about social isolation and increased risk to vulnerable populations, are among many concerns being explored by a wide range of social actors such as governments, educators, civil society, and individuals.
Amid this complex landscape, helping young people to develop a moral framework to navigate online content and their contributions is an important dimension that should not be overlooked, Dr. Cameron added.