Bahá’í House of Worship in Chile is American Institute of Architects 2017 Innovation Award Winner

temple-645x430The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named the Bahá’í House of Worship of South America, designed by Toronto-based Hariri Pontarini Architects, the winner of their 2017 Innovation Awards.

This annual recognition by the AIA’s Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community honors architects and designers for the implementation of new practices and the innovative use of technology in the built environment. The awards are divided into five categories: Stellar Design; Project Delivery & Construction Administration Excellence; Project Lifecycle Performance; Practice-based or Academic Research, Curriculum or Applied Technology Development; and Exemplary Use in a Small Firm.

chileThe Bahá’í House of Worship of South America is honored for .  Located on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile, the design of marble and glass paneling focuses on the interplay and reflection of light, both within and outside of the temple. These glass panels were developed specifically for this building through machine-to-machine fabrication technology in order to create their irregular shapes and unique light-capturing qualities. During the day, natural light reflects into the dome-shaped glass structure, creating a stellar lustrous performance. At night, the opposite happens, the light from inside the temple reflects towards the majestic outside landscape of the Andes Mountains. The temple demonstrates innovation through its material, technological and structural composition, which is designed to withstand extreme earthquakes, a reality of the area.

Four awards were announced by the AIA.

UN condemns Iran’s human rights violations for 30th time

Empty GA HallUNITED NATIONS — A committee of the United Nations General Assembly has condemned Iran for its continuing violations of human rights, the 30th such resolution since 1985.

By a vote of 83 to 30 with 68 abstentions, the Third Committee of the General Assembly approved a five-page resolution expressing concern over illegal practices ranging from torture, poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, and curbs on freedom of religion or belief to state-endorsed discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities as well as women.

The resolution expressed specific concern over Iran’s treatment of members of the Baha’i Faith, the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. It highlighted the economic and educational discrimination against them and called on Iran to release the more than 90 Baha’is who are unjustly held in Iranian prisons.

“We welcome this resolution and its strong condemnation of Iran’s ongoing human rights violations,” said Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“Despite the Iranian government shifting its strategy of oppression and supporting a vigorous public relations campaign to deny the existence of such violations, the resolution today shows that other governments have not been deceived and that Iran’s failure to heed international law remains high on the international agenda,” said Ms. Dugal.

The resolution follows a strongly worded document from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir. Her 23-page report, released earlier this session, catalogued a broad range of rights violations by Iran.voting

Ms. Jahangir cited “serious human rights challenges” including “the arbitrary detention and prosecution of individuals for their legitimate exercise of a broad range of rights; the persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, students, trade union leaders, and artists; a high level of executions, including of juvenile offenders; the use of torture and ill-treatment; widespread violations of the right to a fair trial and due process of law, especially before revolutionary courts; and a high level of discrimination against women and religious and ethnic minorities.”

She also highlighted the situation of Iranian Baha’is, noting that “members of the Baha’i community have continued to suffer multiple violations of their human rights.”

Ms. Jahangir in particular called attention to the case of Farhang Amiri, a Baha’i who was stabbed to death in September 2016 and whose confessed killers were swiftly released on bail.

“Despite the fact that they have been documented for years, these violations continue unabated and with full impunity, as shown by the release of the murderer of a Baha’i,” she said, referring to Mr. Amiri.

Ms. Jahangir’s report also noted that “thousands of Baha’is have been expelled from their jobs, with their pensions having been terminated, and have been banned from employment in the public sector.

“Companies are pressured to dismiss Baha’i employees, banks are forced to block the accounts of Baha’i clients, and Baha’i business licenses are either not issued, not extended, or deliberately delayed.”

The Sunday (London) Times: Milestone for the world’s youngest religion

Communities celebrate, but still face persecution

Since its founding in the 19th century, the Bahá’í faith has grown to about seven million followers
Since its founding in the 19th century, the Bahá’í faith has grown to about seven million followers.

Two hundred years ago a man was born in Tehran who became a passionate promoter of the unity of God, of religion and of mankind. He took his message far beyond Persia, was persecuted and exiled, and in doing so became the founder of the world’s youngest global faith — the Baha’is.

The birth of Baha’u’llah is being celebrated and commemorated across the world by a community that is still suffering strong persecution in the land of its origin.

The Baha’is now number about seven million, spread across almost every country of the world — from India, where there are an estimated two million, to the remote island of St. Helena, where a small Baha’i community numbering about a dozen has built its own centre to welcome visitors.

Each community is celebrating in its own way: there is no priesthood or central religious organisation. In Britain, with about 7,000 Baha’is, there is a particular emphasis on the community’s work with youth groups, children’s classes and links with other faiths.

(The Huntsville Baha’i Community held a Bicentenary event at Lincoln Mill Oct. 21, preceded by a Resolution by the Huntsville City Council honoring the anniversary.)

Baha’is believe that God’s truth, throughout the ages, is progressively revealed through the sacred writings of all the main religions, and that religious unity and oneness with other faith groups is central to their mission.

In Britain the 7,000 Baha’is run initiatives such as this junior youth group
In Britain the 7,000 Baha’is run initiatives such as this junior youth group

In Britain (and in the U.S.) spiritual study courses are run in homes and community centres, and organise activities such as helping old people or cleaning up parks. The aim is to demonstrate a moral commitment to society, and the interconnection between service to humanity and realising one’s own potential.

A new film was, “Light To The World”, documents Baha’u’llah’s life. He believed the press was a powerful way to spread his message and was particularly attentive to The Times, then seen as the most influential newspaper in the world. Just before his death, he called on all newspapers to be “sanctified from malice, passion and prejudice, to be just and fair-minded, to be painstaking in their inquiries and ascertain all the facts in every situation”.

He argued that newspapers were the “mirror of the world” and this was a potent phenomenon. But journalists therefore had to be “purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity”. And in flowery language he appealed to The Times to highlight repression of his followers in Iran:

“O Times, o thou endowed with the power of utterance! O dawning place of news! Spend an hour with the oppressed of Iran, and witness how the exemplars of justice and equity are sorely tried beneath the sword of tyrants”.

Some communities put on exhibitions to mark the bicentenary, telling the story of Baha’u’llah’s life, his teachings against inequality, racism and unbridled nationalism, his persecution by the religious authorities in Persia and subsequent imprisonment, his exile in Baghdad, move to Constantinople and then banishment by the Ottoman authorities, first to Adrianople and then to Palestine, where he died while still a prisoner in Acre.

Some British Baha’is open their homes to visitors, while others are planning festivals. The all-parliamentary Baha’i group — whose members are not themselves Baha’is — held a reception in parliament to mark the bicentenary occasion.

However, there will be no public celebrations in Iran. Baha’is, considered by the Shia authorities as apostates from Islam, have been harshly persecuted, especially since the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979, and are often given the stark choice of embracing Islam or being killed.

Baha’is have been subject to mass arrests, beatings, torture and arbitrary execution. They have been accused of acting as Israeli spies, of subverting Muslim youth and of anti-government activities. Many are denied work and access to higher education, their houses have been targeted by mobs and have had their property and businesses confiscated. Ten years ago seven Baha’i leaders were imprisoned. One was released last month and the rest are due to be released this year, although hopes are not running high. The UN, the EU, Amnesty and human rights groups have condemned Iran’s treatment of the Baha’is, but the Shia establishment sees them as deeply threatening. Any celebrations in Iran could be used as the pretext for another round of repression.

Elsewhere Baha’is are thriving. Pilgrims flock to Acre and to Haifa, now in Israel, where Baha’u’llah is buried. He is a revered figure, his shrine is surrounded by gardens, and volunteers will be welcoming the visitors. Yet Baha’is do not permit any pictures or photographs of him to be published.

During the bicentenary period, new Houses of Worship are opening in big cities across the world. These are not temples — the faith does not impose mandatory public prayers — but places for prayer and reflection, open to all. The continental House of Worship is near Frankfurt. A local one opened in Cambodia last month, where the faith is growing fast among the survivors of the Pol Pot regime, and another will open soon in Papua New Guinea. The Lotus Temple in Delhi, is expecting hundreds of thousands to mark a bicentenary that has spiritual repercussions around the world.

Exhibition of Baha’u’llah’s writings opens at British Museum

Writings

Rarely-seen original handwriting of Baha’u’llah, as well as other archival items associated with His life, on display in London to mark the 200th anniversary of His birth. Here, an example “Revelation Writing” is on display.

LONDON — The British Museum is showing rarely-seen original handwriting of Baha’u’llah, as well as other archival items associated with His life, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of His birth, which was celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October.

The exhibition opened on November 6 during a reception, attracting over 100 people and bringing together representatives from academia, the arts, and the media.  One of the central themes of the exhibition is the power of the Word, which refers to divine revelation, a concept fundamental to the origins of all the world’s great faiths.

Reflected in His many writings, Baha’u’llah’s revelation addresses a vast array of subjects, ranging from the ethical and moral dimensions of the life of the individual to the societal principles and practices that can enable humanity to transition to the next stage of its collective development—the emergence of world civilization.

Book

One of Baha’u’llah’s works, The Hidden Words, is among the sacred texts on display.

The exhibition’s introductory panel reads, “Baha’u’llah (‘Glory of God’) wrote over 100 volumes of text setting out his vision for humanity: to build a world of peace and justice. Baha’u’llah taught that the ‘Word,’ as revealed to the founders of all the great faiths, could inspire humans to transform society and establish great civilisations.”

In His lifetime, Baha’u’llah’s writings were recorded as they were revealed. In some instances, Baha’u’llah, in masterful calligraphy, wrote with His own hand some of the sacred verses that constitute His vast body of writings.

“It is quite remarkable to think that such a simple instrument as the reed pen of Baha’u’llah…was the means through which He set out His vision for a united humanity.”

– Representative of the UK Baha’i community

Often, Baha’u’llah would recite verses aloud, and these would be transcribed by secretaries. Eyewitness accounts of individuals who observed the manner by which Baha’u’llah’s writings were revealed shed light on the extraordinary nature of these works. To keep up with the large volume of verses, secretaries would rapidly transcribe His words in an often illegible handwriting that only they could read, referred to as “Revelation Writing.” The exhibition includes an example of these original texts.

Display

A panel in an exhibition displaying original writings of Baha’u’llah

Later, these texts would be rewritten, at times requiring Baha’u’llah to decipher them, before a final copy was ready to be shared. Baha’u’llah’s writings spread far and wide across the Ottoman and Persian lands and further afield, reaching to the Far East.

The display in the British Museum’s John Addis Gallery will be open to the public until January 22, 2018. During a period of worldwide celebrations honoring the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the British Museum exhibition opens another window into His extraordinary life and works and the immeasurable influence that His Word has had on the world.

Law conference highlights atrocities against religious minorities

group

Some 100 people, comprising lawyers, academicians, and civil society actors, attended the Oct. 26-28 panel discussion on freedom of religion or belief at the ASCL conference in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON D.C. — Why does it take unimaginable atrocities against religious minorities for the world to respond?

“The question requires us to look at the way we deal with oppression today,” stated Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community United Nations Office in Geneva, at a panel discussion on freedom of religion or belief in Washington, D.C., Oct. 26-28  at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Comparative Law (ASCL).

Ms. Ala’i pointed to the mechanisms at the UN that aim to defend religious minorities: the appointment of Special Rapporteurs, the resolutions adopted at the Human Rights Council and other such bodies, the Universal Periodic Review, and the utilization of media to raise awareness and bring governments to account, among others.

Bonnie

Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community United Nations Office in Geneva, speaks at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Comparative Law.

“Each of these has proven to be effective in curbing extreme persecutions, but there are still limitations when relying only on legal norms and international interventions. There are chronic conditions of oppression that are much more difficult to address. They demand from leaders—especially religious leaders—to take an honest look at how their rhetoric affects social conditions in their countries.”

Looking at the rise of religious persecution within a society, she said, “It often begins with ‘othering,’ which is systematically cultivated in society through the development of stereotypes, myths, and lies that are attributed to a minority group.”

“It is interesting to note that the lies that are spread are generally very well thought through and culturally designed to tap into primordial fears of the given audience.” The case of the Baha’i community in Iran, in which the calculated, sophisticated process of “othering” that for many decades has allowed clerics, authorities, and the media there to dehumanize the Baha’is in the eyes of the Iranian populace, was used as an example.

discussion

Participants at the ASCL conference from October 26-28 in Washington, D.C.

The challenge in Iran is that the strategy of persecution has shifted over the years in order to make international scrutiny harder. The more visible violations of human rights, like the executions carried out in the 1980s, have been replaced by much more insidious forms which can have more devastating effects. But arbitrary arrests, banning Baha’i youth from higher education, and closing virtually every avenue of economic subsistence to segments of the Baha’i population continue. And these are combined with a prolific media campaign that leaves Iranians no opportunity to get accurate information about the Baha’i community. “These are also devastating, but they do not evoke the same response as an acute outbreak of religious violence,” stated Ms. Ala’i.

In this chronic, decades-long condition of oppression, the Baha’i community has responded in a distinctive way. It has not accepted the state of victimhood. It has kept hope, it has forgiven those who have perpetrated these injustices, and it has continued to kindle the love of others in the hearts of its community members.

“Despite the vast forces directed at strangulating their community,” she continued, “the Baha’is are gradually winning over a growing number of their fellow Iranians through their attitude, integrity, and their persistent attempts, against all odds, to contribute to the betterment of society with their fellow citizens, shoulder-to-shoulder.”

 

 

Bicentenary website to remain resource, inspiration

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — A complete selection of nine video recordings from the celebrations of the bicentenary of the birth of Baha’u’llah held at Baha’i Houses of Worship and sites where future Houses of Worship will be built is now available online.

The bicentenary website has captured—through broadcasts, videos, photos, stories, and artistic expressions—the range of celebrations held on every continent. Reports have continued to be published on the website since the 72-hour period of worldwide celebrations ended at 4:00 GMT on Monday 23 October.

Among these recently added accounts is a report of a reception in Bahrain that attracted 120 guests, including government officials, religious leaders, writers, and others, focusing on Baha’u’llah’s teachings of unity and peace. Another, from Indonesia, highlights an event in Jakarta attended by a wide swath of the city’s inhabitants, which featured songs, dances, and other cultural programs.

Although coverage of events related to the bicentenary has ended and further content will not be added to the site, it will remain available as a source of inspiration to Baha’i communities around the world in their efforts with others to apply Baha’u’llah’s teachings.

As the Universal House of Justice wrote in its October 2017 message for the occasion: “Baha’u’llah calls or good deeds, kind words, and upright conduct; He enjoins service to others and collaborative action. And to the task of constructing a world civilization founded on the divine teachings, He summons every member of the human race.”

Second member of Yaran released

BIC NEW YORK — Fariba Kamalabadi, a member of the former leadership group of the Baha’is in Iran recently concluded her unjust, ten-year prison sentence. She is the second individual from among the former Yaran to be released.

Although no longer bound by the confines of prison, Mrs. Kamalabadi, a developmental psychologist, will return to life in a country that has not changed with respect to its prejudicial and unjust treatment of Baha’is. She will encounter, among many other forms of oppression, a media landscape that is entirely hostile to the Baha’i community. She will also be extremely limited in her access to opportunities in both the public and private sector for gainful employment simply because she is a Baha’i—a limitation designed and implemented by the government of Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Mrs. Kamalabadi, 55, was part of the ad-hoc group known as “the Yaran,” or the Friends, which tended to the basic spiritual and material needs of the Iranian Baha’i community and was formed with the full knowledge and approval of authorities there after formal Baha’i institutions were declared illegal in Iran in the 1980s. She and five other members of the group were arrested in May 2008 after an early morning raid on their homes. Another member, Mahvash Sabet, was arrested two months earlier, in March 2008, and was released last month after completing her sentence.

Fariba Kamalabadi was recently released from jail, upon concluding her unjust prison sentence.

The five remaining members of the Yaran are also expected to complete their sentences in the coming months. They include Jamalodin Khanjani, 84; Afif Naeimi, 56; Saeid Rezai, 60; Behrooz Tavakkoli, 66; and Vahid Tizfahm, 44.