Statement on racial prejudice spurs vital conversation in the US

CHICAGO — A public statement from the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of the United States on racial prejudice and spiritual principles essential for progress toward peace released days ago has already stimulated critical reflection across the country.

The statement comes at a moment when recent tragedies and long history have intersected to bring anti-Black racism and other forms of prejudice to the forefront of public consciousness in the United States and across the world.

The message reads in part: “To create a just society begins with recognition of the fundamental truth that humanity is one. But it is not enough simply to believe this in our hearts. It creates the moral imperative to act, and to view all aspects of our personal, social, and institutional lives through the lens of justice. It implies a reordering of our society more profound than anything we have yet achieved. And it requires the participation of Americans of every race and background, for it is only through such inclusive participation that new moral and social directions can emerge.”

The statement was released on 19 June, a date traditionally dedicated to commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Initially published in the Chicago Tribune, it has also appeared in dozens of other publications, reaching a wide range of people.

Youth across the country have been examining how the statement can assist them in their efforts to contribute to greater harmony and understanding among their fellow compatriots. Participants in a recent national forum on race unity drew on ideas from the statement to illuminate their discussions.

Photograph taken before the current health crisis. A message to the people of the United States written by the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly spurs on a conversation on the elimination of racial prejudice in which the Baha’i community has long been engaged in many spaces.

The message voiced by the National Assembly is one of hope, speaking about what is required to address the root causes of racism: sustained and concerted effort guided by the recognition of the fundamental truth that the human family is one.

This view is informed by the experience of a national Baha’i community in which, since its inception at the turn of the 20th century, people of African and European descent and eventually of all origins have joined hands to labor towards the elimination of racial prejudice.

May Lample of the country’s Baha’i Office of Public Affairs says that this message addresses profound questions that people are raising. “Americans are asking who we are as a society. What do we believe, and what will we tolerate? How much longer will we allow suffering to continue before we take action to make substantive change?”

P.J. Andrews, also of the Office, says: “In the culture of ‘othering’ in which we’re embedded, diversity can be seen as a source of weakness. But in truth diversity is a source of wealth. Unity in diversity is something that strengthens us spiritually as a society.”

Photograph taken before the current health crisis. Participants at the Dialogue on Faith and Race gathering held by the Baha’i Office of Public Affairs in the United States.

Speaking about current circumstances, Anthony Vance, Director of the Office of Public Affairs, states: “It is remarkable that in just a short span of weeks, demands for racial justice have not only been strongly renewed but are made with a much broader base of support throughout the US population. With smartphones everywhere to record events, injustices that the Black community has spoken about for generations have become an indisputable fact. Large segments of society have become conscious of this reality to a degree where inaction becomes untenable. In seizing this opportunity to act, Baha’is seek to undertake or expand activities, learn, think systematically, and, perhaps most importantly, persist over the long term to make a lasting advance toward justice and unity.”

Escalation in persecution of Baha’is in Iran: tried in court and imprisoned for their beliefs

BIC NEW YORK — The Iranian authorities have escalated their persecution of the Baha’is, targeting at least 77 individuals across the country in recent weeks despite the present health crisis afflicting the country.

Baha’is in the provinces of Fars, South Khorasan, Mazandaran, Isfahan, Alborz, Kerman, Kermanshah, and Yazd have been arrested, summoned to court, tried, sentenced to jail, or imprisoned, all under baseless accusations and for no reason other than a deep-seated antagonism to the Baha’i Faith and its teachings which emphasize truthfulness, equality of men and women, safeguarding the rights of all people, and the harmony of science and religion.

In addition, Iran’s state-affiliated media have stepped up the public defamation of the Baha’is through an increasingly coordinated spread of disinformation about their beliefs by using television channels, newspapers, radio stations, websites, and social media to denigrate and to ostracize the Baha’is. The Baha’is, meanwhile, are not permitted to respond publicly, denying their fellow citizens the opportunity to investigate the truth themselves.

In one instance, a court in South Khorasan Province has sentenced nine Baha’is from three to six years of imprisonment. These include an elderly man, whose advanced age puts his health at great risk if he is imprisoned. In Fars Province 12 Baha’is were sentenced from one to 13 years of imprisonment under spurious charges. In recent days, six Baha’is in South Khorasan Province were summoned and have had to present themselves for imprisonment; four more were arrested in Kerman and Yazd provinces; another Baha’i in Alborz Province was sentenced to one year of imprisonment and two years of internal exile; and yet another Baha’i in Isfahan province was summoned to serve a prison sentence.

After being arrested and released on large bails, these individuals have faced months, and sometimes years, of waiting between their arrest, trial, appeal court, and the beginning of a jail term, adding an enormous additional burden psychologically. Such cruel tactics have been employed repeatedly by the authorities in recent years, as part of their systematic persecution of the entire Baha’i community.

“The recent incidents have placed great pressures on so many families,” said Ms. Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community. “Subjecting them to the constant threat of imprisonment under these circumstances and emotional anguish associated with it is yet another attempt to place greater strain on the community. And to do all this during a health crisis, at an alarmingly escalated rate without any justification whatsoever, is extremely cruel and outrageous.”

For more information on the situation of Baha’is in Iran, visit the website of the Baha’i International Community, which includes archives of Baha’i persecution in Iran.

Prerequisites for peace penned 100 years ago reverberate today

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — In the aftermath of World War I and the devastating 1918 flu pandemic, two Baha’is set out from the Holy Land in May 1920 to deliver a message written by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in The Hague. This message, referred to as the First Tablet to The Hague, explored principles required for profound societal transformation.

“This tablet continues to speak to us today,” says Sherene Devid-Farag of the Dutch Baha’i community’s Office of External Affairs. “It helps us see, point by point, the elements that are needed for a peaceful world, including the equality of women and men, the harmony of religion and science, the promotion of education, and the elimination of all forms of prejudice. These same principles inspire countless movements, organizations, and people in their efforts toward social justice today. What we need to realize across all these endeavors is that we are all companions on the same path toward peace.”

The Baha’is of the Netherlands and Religions for Peace Netherlands co-hosted an online conference last Thursday, marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the tablet to its destination. The commemoration was originally planned to take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague but was later moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In the aftermath of World War I and the devastating 1918 flu pandemic, two Baha’is set out from the Holy Land in May 1920 to deliver a message written by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in The Hague.

Participants explored the themes from the First Tablet to The Hague in light of current circumstances.

“What ‘Abdu’l-Baha was telling us is that faith is the light that eliminates the darkness of fear… What is needed is the deliberate commitment to come together as people of all faiths and take action [based] on our common principles,” said Azza Karam, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace International.

Speaking on the theme of the oneness of humanity, Britt Bakker, vice-president of Religions for Peace Netherlands, said: “It is in these remarkable times that we are painfully, but at the same time beautifully, confronted with our… connectedness.”

Awraham Soetendorp, a Jewish rabbi in The Hague, shared his hope that people might one day look back at this time as a crucial moment “when we found the wisdom and courage to truly cooperate beyond borders out of mutual trust, when we thus turned great peril into great promise and fashioned a new compassionate world order in which no one was left behind.”

The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the First Tablet to The Hague to its destination was originally planned to take place at the Peace Palace but was later moved online due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Marga Martens, Secretary of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, in reflecting on the event and the vision for peace presented in the tablet, says:

“The remedy to these ills are the principles elucidated by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. We all have the choice to work toward them, both in our personal lives and as a society. Just as turning to the advice of a physician is essential when we are ill, it is the spiritual medicine of these principles that will help us go to the roots of society and create a beautiful change.”

Heavy sentences, return to prison for Baha’is in Iran despite health crisis

GENEVA—18 May 2020—

In a reprehensible move by the Iranian government, incidents of persecution against the Baha’is have increased despite already difficult circumstances endured by the entire population during a global health crisis.

In recent days, two Baha’is in Isfahan have been arbitrarily arrested; seven Baha’is in Shiraz have been sentenced to long prison terms ranging from one to thirteen years; prison terms of five Baha’is in Karaj previously sentenced to one year imprisonment have been confirmed in an appeals court; another Baha’i in Ghaemshahr who was sentenced to eleven years in prison has been summoned to prison; and two Baha’is—one in Shiraz and one in Karaj—who were released due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, have been summoned back to prison, making them vulnerable to the disease. This is despite widespread international calls for the release of prisoners of conscience in Iran due to the deadly risks associated with the spread of the infection in prisons. 

Those sentenced to prison in Shiraz were arrested under the preposterous claim that their efforts in the area of the environment and children’s education constituted “propaganda against the regime” and “forming groups against the regime.”

“The Baha’i International Community is appalled by the sentences handed down to these innocent individuals who were guilty of nothing other than selflessly serving their communities,” said Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “At a time when the government should be encouraging and promoting mutual support and assistance among citizens, it instead penalizes and condemns those who try to help others”.

Two Baha’is who had been released as part of the prison leave associated with the epidemic have been re-summoned to prison in recent days.  

“These individuals are not criminals and they do not belong in prison,” said Ms. Ala’i. “During this global pandemic, when prisons are hotbeds of infection, returning these Baha’is to prison is akin to handing down a death sentence.”

The Baha’is in Iran have been systematically persecuted since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. They are barred from numerous businesses and professions and employment in the public sector. They are denied the right to study in universities, are routinely arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned, their properties are confiscated, their cemeteries desecrated, and their private livelihoods are often disrupted or blocked—all because of their beliefs. The persecution of the Baha’is in Iran has been widely documented and condemned by UN bodies and the international community for four decades.

“The Baha’i community not only has to share many of the economic and health-related consequences of the current pandemic with the rest of the population,” continued Ms. Ala’i. “They face additional layers of pressures, being denied the right to public employment, to study in universities, and having to endure arbitrary arrests and imprisonment only for their faith. This is an abhorrent treatment of an entire community at a time when lives and livelihoods in Iran are already under such severe strain.”

The two Baha’is imprisoned in Isfahan are Mr. Shahzad Hosseini and Mr. Shayan Hosseini. The seven Baha’is sentenced in Shiraz are Mr. Navid Bazmandegan, Ms. Bahareh Ghaderi, Ms. Soudabeh Haghighat, Ms. Niloufar Hakimi, Mr. Ehsan Mahboub, Ms. Noura Pourmoradian, Ms. Elaheh Samizadeh. Those in Karaj are Mr. Abol-Fazl Ansari, Mr. Rouin Kohansal, Mr. Mohammad Sadegh Rezaie, and Mr. Rouhollah Zibaie. The three Baha’is summoned to prison are Mr. Ali Ahmadi, Mr. Nematollah Bangaleh, and Mr. Farhad Fahandej. 

Arts reveal beauty in the world, cast light on current situation

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — In these unique times, the arts have been particularly important in stimulating reflection on the spiritual dimension of human life and inspiring hope. Baha’is and their compatriots throughout the world have been drawing on the arts to cast a light on themes that are captivating the public consciousness, such as humanity’s interconnectedness.

“Creative initiatives are providing people a way to reach out to friends and to help relieve their anxiety. Artistic works can increase the feelings of hope, cohesion, and unity in a society,” says Simina, a sketch artist from Romania.

People of all ages, especially youth, have found ways to uplift the spirits of their fellow citizens through music, podcasts, paintings and drawings, theatre, puppet shows, poetry, and digital designs. Such works have focused on revealing the beauty that exists in the world and conveying new perspectives on current circumstances.

Nadiv, a young musician from Kenya, reflecting on the use of the arts to express constructive ideas says: “We’ve been able to address issues of common concern during the pandemic through music, and to bring people together to take part in collective expressions of solidarity. The arts have really been a voice for the voiceless. When you can’t say something directly, you can express it through creative means.”

The arts have been drawn upon by many to show appreciation for those working in essential services and to provide communities with information about health measures.

Meadow, a painter from the United States, says that “by using our hands and our voices, we’ve seen how everyone can create something beautiful and inspiring for others to enjoy. Creativity allows inspiration to flow, lifting our spirits and helping those around us.”

The following is a small selection of the many artistic expressions produced during this period that have been inspired by the Baha’i teachings.

Baha’is in Latin America and Spain have been producing uplifting music videos for youth. This song titled “La fuerza del amor”, meaning the strength of love, encourages young people to translate positive thoughts into actions.
Teachers of children’s moral education classes in Italy have recorded a puppet show on the theme of justice and shared it on the website, “Stelle Splendenti” (Brilliant Stars). This website, one of several initiatives of the country’s Baha’i community, was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic and makes available multimedia resources to help families explore with their children the spiritual qualities most needed at this time.
Three siblings in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have produced podcast episodes telling stories from the history of the Baha’i Faith that demonstrate perseverance in the face of challenges.

Young people who have been participating in educational programs of the Baha’i community in Nanaimo, Canada, held an online youth camp and reflected on how they can be of service to others during this time of crisis. This video was made by these youth to explore the theme of humility.

Young people from Minsk, Belarus, have created a video in which they recite poems they have written about seeing the beauty of humanity and of good deeds.

An artist from the United States has created a video to share painting skills and the spiritual concepts that have inspired her work.

one-man play from Romania titled “Exile to Paradise” explores significant historical events in the Baha’i Faith. Multiple recordings of the actor playing different roles were edited together to convey a seamless narrative.

A family in the United Kingdom performs a selection of live music on the theme of humanity’s essential oneness. Many such broadcasts have been made throughout the world from living rooms to stimulate reflection on profound spiritual principles.

An initiative of several musicians in Auckland, New Zealand, titled “Illuminate the World”, has been bringing people together to create musical works that shed light on challenges facing their society.

Children in Berlin, Germany, who participate in Baha’i education classes, have made drawings on the theme of hope for the residents of a home for the elderly

A collective of artists from Norte del Cauca, Colombia, have produced a lively song with a message about taking health precautions.

This piece, called “In the Heart of Unity”, is about how hope can spread from heart to heart. It was inspired by conversations among a group of young people who gather weekly online to share ideas about how they can continue to serve their societies under present circumstances.

Series on “Baha’i World” to focus on themes related to global health crisis

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, questions about humanity’s future loom large. The online publication The Baha’i World is, in this context, initiating a series of articles that focus on major issues facing societies as they look ahead.

“The current global pandemic has demanded drastic action,” write the editors. “It has also made evident the need for profound reflection on how humanity will emerge from this crisis. Will we move towards a more just and peaceful world?”

The first article in the series, published earlier today, looks at questions around government’s role in social welfare. Future articles will explore a range of topics such as economics, migration, and agriculture and food security, among others. The new series will join existing articles on peacetechnologyrural development, and humanitarian relief.

A new article on The Baha’i World website entitled “The Role of Public Institutions in Ensuring Social Well-Being” looks at questions around government’s role in social welfare.

The website also features a new pictorial essay depicting the settings most closely associated with the Bab and His Faith.

The Baha’i World began in print form in 1926 under the direction of Shoghi Effendi. In May of last year, the website was launched to house new articles that deal with Baha’i perspectives on contemporary themes. An email subscription service is available, allowing subscribers to be informed when new articles are published.

Looking beyond the health crisis in the Kurdistan region of Iraq

ERBIL, Iraq — Online forums, now a common feature of life in many places, have become a venue for promising conversations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The Baha’is of the region have been organizing weekly forums where academics, social actors, faith leaders, and government officials are examining spiritual principles that have drawn people together in this time of crisis and exploring how these principles can help shape public life in the future.

A running theme has been the oneness of humanity and how society suffers when any one group considers its own needs without thought for others.

“These conversations are allowing us to sincerely and genuinely learn from each other,” said Tahireh Abaychi, representative of the Baha’is of the Kurdistan region. “It’s not that any one of us has the answers. We’re seeing one another through a new lens with the interests of all at heart.”

New perspectives are allowing participants to challenge assumptions that underlie prevalent modes of thought, questioning the idea that self-interest drives prosperity and that progress depends on its expression through unrestrained competition.

A running theme of weekly online forums among social actors in the Kurdistan region of Iraq has been the oneness of humanity and how society suffers when any one group considers its own needs without thought for others.

The current circumstances, participants noted, are showing just the opposite—an outpouring of generosity that transcends differences is what contributes to the progress of all. Such expressions of good-will, some participants observed, have had their most profound affect in small geographic areas, where people can come to know one another, understand each other’s needs, and take action for the benefit of their fellow citizens.

“What is happiness? What are needs? What is prosperity? These terms can now be redefined,” said another participant. “A culture of consumption promotes the value that our worth is based on how much we can consume and accumulate. But we are now seeing that giving selflessly needs to be an organizing principle.”

Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, including the director of the ministry’s department of coexistence, noted that these discussions are proving helpful in formulating plans for promoting societal values.

“The government is actively looking at policies that can help our society to come through this crisis more resilient and more attentive to needs. These conversations will help with that process,” said one of the officials from the ministry.

Reflecting on the discussions to date, Mrs. Abaychi says: “The question is how can we ensure that principles which have for so long been at the margins of thought or viewed as idealistic be brought to the center of the public consciousness and policy making?

“This will require a recognition of our essential oneness and many acts of true and selfless generosity—meaning, that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand has given.”

Community banks in Nicaragua take early precautions

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Before concerns about the global coronavirus outbreak were in the public consciousness, a Baha’i-inspired community banking program in Nicaragua took initiative to implement safety measures for the handling of money and made arrangements for transactions to take place online and by telephone.

“These banks are founded on the Baha’i principles of service and care for the well-being of all,” says the program’s national coordinator. “So, with the economic challenges and the evolving health crisis, we have not only been conscious of continuing vital services that support the economic life of the community but also of ensuring that our operations do not put people at risk.”

The way the program works is by offering training to groups of 10 to 30 people, who then begin to save small sums and make modest loans available to bank members at a reasonable rate. The banks are managed entirely by the members themselves and interest earned is divided proportionally according to the amount each person holds in savings. As a bank grows, it is also able to provide financial support for social and economic development initiatives in the community.

Photograph taken before the current global health crisis. Community banks in Nicaragua inspired by Baha’i principles are managed entirely by the community members.

Over the last 15 years, the program has grown in Nicaragua to serve several localities and is recognized in the country for its distinctive approach.

“The banks’ experience and underlying principles have informed their response to the global health crisis,” says the national coordinator. “We recognize that we are not just businesses looking to our own affairs but are here to serve the common welfare. We have the responsibility to be an example of sound and safe business practices during these times.”

Local Temple design unveiled in India

NEW DELHI — The design for the local Baha’i House of Worship to be built in Bihar Sharif has been unveiled. In light of the prevailing circumstances, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of India chose to make the announcement online today in lieu of the ceremony that would have marked the historic event.

This will be the second Baha’i temple in India. The House of Worship in New Delhi that has stood as a symbol of hope and unity in the country for decades has become a beloved place of spiritual reflection and renewal for Indians of all faiths and traditions.

“We have personally experienced the power of a space to inspire in the architecture of the Lotus Temple, which many of us have been visiting since we were children,” stated the firm that designed the new temple. “We appreciate that the Baha’i House of Worship in Bihar Sharif needs to offer a setting for the experience of the divine, while being humbly rooted in its surroundings.”

“Bihar is a fertile land and its many villages present a timeless scene of Indian rural life,” says Suditya Sinha, one of the architects. “The House of Worship is coming up in this lush, rural setting. Inspired by traditional architecture and crafts, we chose to use brick made from local earth. The land is literally and metaphorically molded into the form of the temple.”

Drawing on patterns found in the Madhubani folk art of Bihar and the region’s long architectural heritage, the firm created a design with a repeating pattern of arches. The domed edifice will step up from nine arches at the base, multiplying until each segment appears to merge into a single geometry. Openings at the center of the dome and in each ring of arches will reduce the weight of the ceiling while allowing gentle light to filter in.

Openings at the center of the dome and in each ring of arches will reduce the weight of the ceiling while allowing gentle light to filter in.

Reflecting on the power of prayer, Naznene Rowhani of the National Assembly says: “in the difficult times we are passing through, people are finding more than ever the need to turn to their Creator. Therefore, constructing the temple in Bihar Sharif now has even greater meaning, and we feel that we must continue this process while ensuring the safety and health of all involved in its construction.”

The new temple and its grounds will serve to enhance the connection between service and worship present in the community-building activities of the Baha’is of Bihar Sharif. With its doors open to everyone, the temple will foster a culture of inclusion and cooperation among all people.

The domed edifice will step up from nine arches at the base, multiplying until each segment appears to merge into a single geometry.

Youth move to the forefront of grassroots response throughout the US

CHICAGO — Young people across the United States who have been engaged in Baha’i community-building efforts are swiftly responding to a host of needs arising in their communities from the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“There are deep bonds of friendship between people that have for months or years been working together to contribute to social progress,” says Candace Vance, who follows Baha’i social and economic development activities of the country. “Because of this and the love they have for their communities, many young people are finding that they can’t just watch this crisis go by; they’re using the skills and capacities that they have developed through their participation in Baha’i educational programs to assist those in need.”

A family in Rockwall, Texas, prepared protective masks for non-medical use and left them for neighbors.

A youth from Chicago describes the nature of her group’s efforts. “We’ve developed tools over time to map volunteers and various materials in our neighborhood, and now we’re able to use these to quickly connect people to various necessities, such as collecting and distributing disinfectant wipes.”

Other youth from the area have been creating informative videos about health measures in languages commonly spoken in the community. They are also assisting families that face language barriers to access government services.

imagesFamilies in Illinois place quotations from the Baha’i writings in public view to bring joy and reflection to passers-by.

Such barriers exist in many other areas, such as in Prince William County, Virginia, where many parents, without access to translators, had been unable to adequately access school programs for their children.

“At first we thought that children missing classes was related to Internet access, but we were wrong,” says a youth from a group that had been engaged in Baha’i educational programs. “It was actually because the parents had no idea of what the school arrangements were.”

These youth, having identified the families requiring additional assistance, are now holding regular online sessions to disseminate administrative information in various languages and to assist their peers with assignments.

In the Triangle area of North Carolina, another group of young people has organized response teams to assist with food distribution, financial aid, and academic tutoring for their neighborhood, where at least six languages are commonly spoken.

Youth in Delaware prepared a tutorial to assist older adults in their community with ordering supplies online. Other youth in Chicago have been creating informative videos about health measures in languages commonly spoken in the community.

From children in Los Angeles, California, who prepared care packages for their neighbors, to youth in Delaware who prepared a tutorial to assist older adults in their community with ordering supplies online, Baha’is of all ages and in all parts of the country are considering the unique needs of their communities and are reaching out to build friendships and to be of service to their society.

“Now more than ever,” says Mrs. Vance, “we are seeing incredible expressions of generosity and creativity across the country. People everywhere are striving to help one another, to keep everyone safe. We are moved to action when we reflect on the spiritual reality of a human being, which is to give generously to others and to act in solidarity.”