A peaceful, persistent response to injustice

GraduatesThirty years ago, the Baha’i community of Iran embarked on a remarkable endeavor. Denied access to formal education by the country’s authorities after their numerous appeals, they set up an informal program of higher education in basements and living rooms throughout the country with the help of Baha’i professors and academics that had been fired from their posts because of their faith. This gradually came to be known as the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).

Since its inception, BIHE has helped educate thousands of individuals, many of whom have been accepted into nearly 100 universities around the world to pursue graduate studies. Many BIHE graduates that complete their post-graduate studies abroad will return to Iran to serve their communities.

IN DEPTH: Listen to learn more about the response of the Baha’i community to injustice

For decades, the Baha’i in Iran have tried to peacefully and persistently find a solution to the harsh persecution and injustice they face. Interviews with BIC Representative Diane Ala’i and Education is Not a Crime Coordinator Saleem Vaillancourt explore the concept of constructive resilience and how the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education embodies it.

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Thanks to advances in technology, BIHE’s students are now taught by professors from across the globe. Those who offer their expertise and knowledge to the education of Baha’i youth in Iran, have witnessed first-hand the students’ high ideals and commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.

“The Baha’i response to injustice is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor,” explained Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, quoting a letter from the Universal House of Justice.

“This,” she said, “is the fundamental definition of constructive resilience.”

“Of course, the Baha’is are not the only ones that have responded non-violently and positively to oppression, but they are finding a different way of doing that, which is more focused on their role in serving the community around them together with others,” said Ms. Ala’i.

Despite efforts by the Iranian authorities to disrupt BIHE’s operation by raiding hundreds of Baha’i homes and offices associated with it, confiscating study materials, and arresting and imprisoning dozens of lecturers, it has grown significantly over the past three decades. It relies on a variety of knowledgeable individuals both in and outside of Iran to enable youth to study a growing number of topics in the sciences, social sciences, and arts. Overall, not only has BIHE survived thirty years, it has thrived.

Studying at BIHE is not easy. Because it’s not a public university, there is no funding available, and many students hold down full-time jobs. It is common to travel across the country to go to monthly classes in Tehran. Sometimes, students will have to commute from a home on one side of the city to the other in the middle of the day, because these are the only spaces available to hold classes. Despite these logistical challenges, students meet high academic standards.

“I have talked to BIHE students who said when their teacher was arrested and put in jail and all their materials were confiscated, they would get together for class just the same,” said Saleem Vaillancourt, the coordinator of the Education is Not a Crime campaign, which brings attention to the issue of denial of education to the Baha’is in Iran. “These students continued studying together, despite the fact that they didn’t have a teacher. This was their attitude, it didn’t seem remarkable to them. They just said this is what we have to do, because they had a commitment to the process.”

Universal education is a core belief of the Baha’i Faith, and when the authorities in Iran sought to deny Baha’i students this critical and fundamental right, the Baha’i community pursued a peaceful solution—never for a moment conceding their ideals, never surrendering to their oppressor, and never opposing the government. Instead, for decades, it has been seeking constructive solutions, a show of its longstanding resilience.

In Iran, persecution of the Baha’is is official state policy. A 1991 memorandumapproved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei states clearly that Baha’is “must be expelled from universities, either in the admission process or during the course of their studies, once it becomes known that they are Baha’is.”

Other forms of persecution torment the Baha’is in Iran as well. An open letter dated 6 September 2016 to Iran’s President from the BIC draws his attention to the economic oppression faced by the Baha’is there. The letter highlights the stark contradiction between statements espoused by the Iranian government regarding economic justice, equality for all, and reducing unemployment on the one hand, and the unrelenting efforts to impoverish a section of its own citizens on the other.

“The Baha’i community in Iran wasn’t going to let itself go quietly into the night. It wasn’t going to allow itself to be suffocated in this way,” said Mr. Vaillancourt.

A distinctly non-adversarial approach to oppression fundamentally characterizes the Baha’i attitude towards social change. The Baha’i response to oppression draws on a conviction in the oneness of humanity. It recognizes the need for coherence between the spiritual and material dimensions of life. It is based on a long-term perspective characterized by faith, patience, and perseverance. It at once calls for obedience to the law and a commitment to meet hatred and persecution with love and kindness. And, ultimately, this posture has at its very center an emphasis on service to the welfare of one’s fellow human beings.

“I think we see in the world today the breakdown of communities that people would not have thought could happen so easily. We’ve come to realize that living side by side is not enough. We need to live together and know one another, and the best way to know one another is to start working for the betterment of society,” said Ms. Ala’i.

“As the Baha’is in Iran have begun to do this in a more conscious way, other Iranians have come to know their Baha’i neighbors and understand that much of what they had heard about the Baha’is from the government and clergy were lies. As they have become more involved in the life of the communities where they live, the Baha’is have witnessed an immense change in the attitude of other Iranians towards them.”

The Baha’i response to oppression is not oppositional and ultimately strives toward higher degrees of unity. Its emphasis is not only on collective action, but on inner transformation.

This strategy is a conscious one employed by the Baha’i community. Going beyond the tendency to react to oppression, war, or natural disaster with apathy or anger, the Baha’i response counters inhumanity with patience, deception with truthfulness, cruelty with good will, and keeps its attention on long-term, beneficial, and productive action.

The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education embodies all of these elements.

“BIHE is an extraordinary achievement,” commented Mr. Vaillancourt. “Perhaps the least known, longest-running, and most successful form of peacefully answering oppression that history has ever seen. It sets the best example I know of for this particular Baha’i attitude to answering persecution or answering the challenging forces of our time, where we try to have an attitude, posture, and response of constructive resilience.”

‘Arise’ Video for the Baha’i Twin Holy Days

You are invited to watch and share ‘Arise’, a short choral piece composed specially for the Festival of the Twin Holy Days that commemorates the anniversaries of the Birth of Baha’u’llah and of The Bab. The words to ‘Arise’ are taken from a newly-translated Tablet of Baha’u’llah concerning the Birth of Baha’u’llah to be published in the forthcoming volume “Days of Remembrance.”

“O people of Bahá! Soar upon the wings of detachment into the atmosphere of the love of your Lord, the All-Merciful. Arise then to render Him victorious…” -Baha’u’llah

The video features the Shrine of  Baha’u’llah near Akka in Israel, the holiest spot on earth for Baha’is.

Vocals and composition: Elika Mahony

The song is available as a music gift download at: http://music.elikamahony.com/track/arise-com

‘Who is Baha’u’llah?’ Trailer: film to be used in schools across the United Kingdom

“200 years ago a Child was born in Iran.”

In honor of the bi-centennial year of the Birth of Baha’u’llah, the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom has commissioned a short film on the Personage of Baha’u’llah and His Teachings, that is to be used in schools across the country.

It is envisaged that this film will not only inform, but also inspire young people from a variety of diverse settings and backgrounds to examine their own lives and capacities for service to humanity.

The film will be available for the September 2017 term and the Religious Education Task Force is currently creating lesson plans and educational materials to accompany the film.

Watch the stunning teaser here:

Baha’is To Observe 200th Birthday of Baha’u’llah

The Baha’is of Huntsville are preparing to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, on October 22, 2017.

Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892) was a spiritual teacher Who announced in 1863 that He was the bearer of a new revelation from God. His teachings have spread around the world, forming the basis of a process of social transformation and community building which is unique in its global scope and the diversity of participants.

The observance of 200th anniversary is a celebration of the transformative impact of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on the lives of families, neighborhoods and communities around the country and the world. Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of the oneness of humanity is an antidote to the racial prejudice and materialism that are corroding American society.

The build up to the observance is not a singular event but a series of activities that reinforce Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of the oneness of humanity and empower participants to contribute. Activities will include drama, music, art exhibits, storytelling, service projects, prayer and devotional programs.

At the national level, the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, IL will host a nine-week series of programs beginning in early September on themes applying the principle of the oneness of humanity to contemporary challenges, including environmental justice, race relations, indigenous peoples, human rights, and the harmony science and religion.

Who is Bahá’u’lláh?

Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), whose name means “The Glory of God,” is considered by millions around the world as the Divine Educator for this age, Whose coming was foretold by all of the Divine Messengers of the past. In His writings, Bahá’u’lláh outlines a framework for the development of a global civilization which takes into account both the spiritual and material dimensions of human life. His teachings, centered around the recognition of the oneness of humanity, offer a compelling vision of a future world united in justice, peace, and prosperity.

Bahá’u’lláh’s coming was heralded by the Báb (1819-1850), meaning “the Gate.” The Báb declared His Divine Mission in 1844, which is considered the beginning of the Bahá’í Era–a new cycle of human history and social evolution.

What did Bahá’u’lláh teach?

One God

Called by different names throughout the ages, the eternal God, the Creator of the universe, is limitless, all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. God is one. The reality of God is beyond human understanding, though we may find expressions of God’s attributes in every created thing. “The peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God.” –Bahá’u’lláh

One Human Family

Beyond all differences of culture, class or ethnicity, regardless of differences in customs, opinions or temperaments, every individual is a member of one gloriously diverse human family. Each unique soul has a role to play in carrying forward an ever-advancing material and spiritual civilization. “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship…” –Bahá’u’lláh

One Unfolding Religion

Humanity’s spiritual, intellectual and moral capacities have been cultivated by the successive Founders of the world’s religions–the Manifestations of God—among them Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and most recently, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Each religion originates from God and is suited to the age and place in which it is revealed. In essence, the religion of God is one and is progressively unfolding. “This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”–Bahá’u’lláh

Origins

The Bahá’í Faith originated in Iran in the mid-19th century. In less than 200 years it has become a universal faith present in every country in the world with adherents from virtually every national, ethnic, religious and tribal background.

A Movement of Personal and Social Transformation

The international Bahá’í community, numbering more than five million, is quite possibly the most diverse organized body of people on the planet.  United by their belief in Bahá’u’lláh, and inspired by His teachings, members strive to live out the twofold moral purpose of transforming their own characters while simultaneously contributing to the advancement of society. Bahá’u’lláh taught that religion is a cohesive force in society and a system of knowledge that has, together with science, propelled the advancement of civilizations

Sacred Writings

The writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are considered by Bahá’ís to have been revealed by God. As the creative Word of God, these sacred writings have the power to touch the deepest recesses of our hearts and transform us and the world around us. The Bahá’í writings address the needs of the age and offer inspiration for individuals working to better themselves and their communities. Bahá’u’lláh enjoined His followers to read daily from the Sacred Texts, “Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths.”

Worship

Bahá’ís consider work done in the spirit of service to humanity as the highest form of worship. Prayer, offered both in private and in the company of others, is regarded as essential spiritual nourishment, providing inspiration for positive personal and social change. Individuals pray daily and observe an annual period of fasting.The Bahá’í Faith has no clergy or sacraments, and has very simple practices for life transitions such as marriage and funerals.

Administration

The affairs of the Bahá’í community are administered, without clergy, through institutions established by Bahá’u’lláh to foster universal participation and to diffuse knowledge, love, and unity. This administrative order includes both elected and appointed institutions at local, national, and international levels. Non-partisan elections and collective decision-making are hallmarks of Bahá’í administration. These and other principles constitute a model of just and unified global governance.

For more information, write: hsvlsa9@gmail.com

Forced migration calls for faith in action

MADRID — In a stirring display of solidarity and good will, some 300 representatives of religious communities and civil society organizations gathered for a conference in Madrid on an issue of acute concern—forced migration. The event was held at the Iglesia de Jesus Church in Madrid on 20 June 2017, the International Day for Refugees.

A poignant presentation by Reuters photographer Juan Medina captured the urgency of the refugee issue in Europe through a collection of his photographs and a videodocumenting the journey of refugees into Europe.

“It’s important to show these images, however shocking, time and again—as many times as necessary,” said Mr. Medina. “Some say you can become desensitized by so many pictures of suffering, and they will have less of an effect. I think it’s important to tell their story, and remember the sufferings of those who had to leave their country.”

“These photos show the harsh reality of what it means to be an immigrant. There is a sharp contrast between the exhausted refugees that are swept in by the shore, struggling to remain alive and locals strolling along the beach.”

In 2015, the Spanish government pledged to the European Union to receive over 17,000 refugees. To date, 1,200 have arrived, prompting a growing discussion in the country.

In recent years, the Baha’i community in Spain has recognized the necessity for a more substantial and profound dialogue on migration and the implications of having greater awareness of the issue. Its efforts have rested on the conviction that religion has a critical role to play in cultivating a common sense of humanity as well as in mobilizing communities to contribute to social harmony and peace.

The gathering was enriched with artistic presentations, including a performance of indigenous music from Latin America.

Together with a group of other civil society and faith-based organizations, the Baha’i community of Spain convened the recent conference, where diverse participants shared their experiences and renewed their commitment to take action in welcoming and supporting refugees. The event was also a forum through which participants sought to speak to the conscience of their people and kindle the light of compassion in Spanish society.

“The purpose of this event is to underline the important role religious communities are playing in the reception and integration of refugees into their own communities and to give voice to the varied experiences and knowledge acquired through their contributions to society,” said Leila Sant Massarat, who chaired the gathering and represented the Baha’i community of Spain.

“Regardless of the language we speak, our skin tone or place of birth, we are all human beings and share the same primary identity.”

The conference highlighted the efforts of various faith-based groups in Spain to play a constructive role with the rising number of refugees arriving into the country. The representative from the Sant’Egidio community, a Christian organization, described an initiative taken by his community to encourage kindness and understanding by reading the names of all the newly arrived refugees. “We can sometimes forget that refugees have an identity and a name,” he said.

Director of Public Affairs for the Baha’i community of Spain, Sergio Garcia, noted other contributions of the various faith groups in support of refugees, citing, for example, an initiative of the Muslim community to ensure that food was prepared and available for families in need and the experience of a Jewish group assisting youth in a refugee camp.

“There was a real spirit of solidarity among participants,” said Dr. Garcia. “It was striking how harmoniously these different groups consulted and operated.”

Reflecting the unified spirit that emerged from the gathering, the conference ended with a meal at dusk for everyone to share on the occasion of Ramadan.