Baha’i Chair explores overcoming racism

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND, United States — This year’s annual lecture of the Baha’i Chair for World Peace focused on the subject of race. Held in September at the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park, the lecture is part of an ongoing focus on structural racism and the root causes of prejudice.

“To date, we have held 11 separate lectures or symposia bringing 22 of the most prominent, leading scholars in questions of race to present their findings,” explains the holder of the Chair, Hoda Mahmoudi. “The Baha’i writings explain that until America makes major advances in race relations and in removing structural injustices, the country will not achieve stability, true prosperity, and happiness.”

This year’s keynote speaker, Jabari Mahiri believes that it is time to re-examine the terms on which race is discussed and racial justice pursued. Dr. Mahiri is Professor of Education and the William and Mary Jane Brinton Family Chair in Urban Teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.

In his lecture, titled “Deconstructing Race/Reconstructing Difference: Beyond the U.S. Paradigm,” he proposed that, although race has no basis in scientific fact, it has been one of the most powerful constructs used to divide people, create social hierarchies, and propagate injustice.

Speaking before an audience of 370 faculty, administrators, students, and guests, he argued that it is time to transcend the “black-white binary” and to break out of what he calls “the color bind.” Race artificially and falsely categorizes people and compels them to “perform” according to their race group, he explained. These categories create a hierarchy of status based on race and reinforced by social forces and institutions, allowing injustice and oppression to persist.

Describing numerous ethnographic interviews, Dr. Mahiri explored how transcending the standard categorization of people by race would liberate people to construct identities that are rooted in science and their authentic selves, or their “micro-cultural identities,” which he regards as genuine, fluid, and complex.

Dr. Mahiri also emphasized the universal human identity that binds all people and is scientific fact. Recognizing the oneness of humanity allows for true diversity to flourish.

Reflecting on the event, Dr. Mahmoudi says that the lecture was well received by the audience and stimulated many thought-provoking questions.

“We have seen how this series on structural racism and the roots of prejudice has resonated with the aspirations of so many students on campus who want a more just and unified society,” explains Dr. Mahmoudi. “More and more students are expressing their interest in contributing to the work of the Chair.”

The Baha’i Chair will continue exploring the theme of structural racism and the roots of prejudice and to bring leading scholars in the field to share their findings and insights. It will host a major panel discussion in November where several of the leading scholars in this area will explore solutions to structural racism.

An American Story: Race Amity and the Other Tradition

The Baha’i Community is delighted to share with you news of the upcoming national broadcast on public television of the documentary film An American Story: Race Amity and the Other Tradition.

The documentary was produced by the National Center for Race Amity and co-sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States as a means of promoting public discourse on race relations.

Beginning on November 11 and continuing through November 30, the film will be
broadcast across the nation on PBS through its network of 350 affiliated local stations.

By illuminating significant past episodes of loving friendship and collaboration that
demonstrably transcended race, the film seeks to light the way out of the morass of
racial prejudice and to fire our enthusiasm for renewed efforts to build community and
continue our ascent toward true equality, justice, and unity. We hope it will serve as a
resource in your interactions with family, friends, and neighbors on this vital subject.

A Widening Embrace extra features released

 

Three new short films to complement A Widening Embrace were made available on Bahai.org today. This scene shows people from a community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the areas included in the documentary.
Three new short films to complement A Widening Embrace were made available on Bahai.org today. This scene shows people from a community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the areas included in the documentary.

 

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — New features complementing the recently produced documentary film A Widening Embrace were made available online today.

Three short films highlight aspects of the community building endeavors of Baha’is and like-minded friends around the world. Totaling about 32 minutes, the new features cover three themes: nurturing younger generations, exploring the empowerment of junior youth, and communities learning to advance together.

A Widening Embrace, released in April on Bahai.org, tells the story of the transformation of communities unfolding throughout the world by featuring the process in 24 communities representing different realities and contexts. The 77-minute film and its new features were produced in an innovative way, drawing on footage recorded by local teams who documented the efforts of their own communities to effect constructive change.

This scene from Panama is in one of the three additional short films added to complement A Widening Embrace, an innovative production drawing on footage recorded by local teams who documented the efforts of their own communities to effect constructive change.SLIDESHOW
This scene from Panama is in one of the three additional short films added to complement A Widening Embrace, an innovative production drawing on footage recorded by local teams who documented the efforts of their own communities to effect constructive change.

Baseless charges in Yemen signal intensified persecution

 

The Iran-backed Houthi authorities in Sana'a, Yemen targeted some 20 Baha'is with a string of baseless charges on Saturday. (Photo by yeowatzup, accessed through Wikimedia Commons)
The Iran-backed Houthi authorities in Sana’a, Yemen targeted some 20 Baha’is with a string of baseless charges on Saturday. (Photo by yeowatzup, accessed through Wikimedia Commons)

 

SANA’A, Yemen — Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi authorities have, in a court hearing Saturday, targeted some 20 Baha’is with a string of baseless charges. This action comes at a time when the leader of the Houthis has incited the population to violence against Baha’is and other religious minorities.

These absurd charges—which include espionage and apostasy—have been primarily leveled against individuals who hold administrative roles in the Baha’i community, but extend to other Yemeni Baha’is including a teenage girl.

Saturday’s hearing began with only the judge, the prosecutor, and other court officials present; neither the Baha’is being charged nor their lawyers were informed of the announcement. The next hearing is scheduled for 29 September in Sana’a, to which the judge has summoned those absent from the first court session.

“These charges are extremely alarming and mark a severe intensification of pressure at a time when the Baha’i community is already being threatened and the general humanitarian crisis in the country requires urgent attention,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“We have every reason to be concerned about the safety of the Baha’i community in Yemen. We urge the international community to call upon the authorities in Sana’a to immediately drop these absurd, false, and baseless accusations against these innocent individuals, who have been maliciously charged simply because they have been practicing their Faith.”

The religiously motivated accusations by Houthi authorities in Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, at Saturday’s court hearing come amid a systematic effort to oppress Yemeni Baha’is, including through hate speech, arrests, imprisonment, and a death sentence.

“We urge the international community to call upon the authorities in Sana’a to immediately drop these absurd, false, and baseless accusations…”

– Bani Dugal

“The manner in which the Houthis are targeting the Baha’i community in Yemen is eerily reminiscent of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran in the 1980s, during which the leaders of the Baha’i community were rounded up and killed,” Ms. Dugal added.

In a televised speech in March, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, vilified and denounced the Baha’i Faith. He incited the Yemeni people to violence, urging them to defend their country from the Baha’is and members of other religious minorities.

Within days of his speech, several Yemeni news sites reiterated these attacks, and a prominent Houthi writer and strategist commented on social media that “we will butcher every Baha’i”. Similar sentiments were expressed by religious authorities in Sana’a, including the Mufti of Yemen, Shams al-Din Muhammad Sharaf al-Din, who was educated in Iran and was appointed by the Houthis last year.

Currently, six Baha’is are imprisoned for their beliefs. Among them, Hamed bin Haydara, detained since 2013, was sentenced in January to public execution for his faith following a protracted and unjust trial. Abdu Ismail Hassan Rajeh, the same judge who presided over Mr. Haydara’s farcical case, is overseeing the trial of the recently charged Baha’is.

Out of exile, a light to the world — 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in Holy Land: Part 3

This 1921 photo shows the prison cell in which Baha’u’llah was kept for more than two years from 1868 to 1870. It was here where he revealed some of the messages to the kings and rulers of the world.
This 1921 photo shows the prison cell in which Baha’u’llah was kept for more than two years from 1868 to 1870. It was here where he revealed some of the messages to the kings and rulers of the world.

The Baha’i World News Service is publishing a series of podcasts about the 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Holy Land. This article is the introduction to the third of the podcast episodes. Listen to part 1 in the series hereand part 2 here.

Podcast: Out of exile, a light to the world — 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in Holy Land: Part 3

Baha’u’llah’s arrival in Akka was a moment of severe crisis. But is marked the time when he made His weightiest pronouncements to the kings and rulers of His time, laying out the framework for a world civilization.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content

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BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — A century and a half ago, Baha’u’llah arrived in the Holy Land as a prisoner in the most harrowing of conditions. Despite His great suffering, He penned a series of extraordinary writings addressing the kings and rulers of His time.

Those historic works called upon humanity, through its leaders, to work for the building of a just world civilization founded on the oneness of humankind. He urged the rulers of His time to set aside their differences, establish a system of collective security and move toward disarmament, to champion the cause of justice, to show the utmost care and consideration for the well-being and rights of the poor, and to work toward a lasting peace. He praised the system of representative government and the abolishment of slavery.

The third and final podcast episode on the 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Holy Land contains interviews that explore these historic messages. The vision in these works is relevant not only to the world of the 19th century and today, but far beyond this generation, foreseeing the reorganization and transformation of the entire planet and the emergence of a global civilization that is spiritually and materially coherent.

This photo from 1907 shows the barracks where Baha’u’llah and His companions were taken after arriving in Akka on 31 August 1868. It was inside this prison where Baha’u’llah penned some of His messages to the kings and rulers of the world.

This photo from 1907 shows the barracks where Baha’u’llah and His companions were taken after arriving in Akka on 31 August 1868. It was inside this prison where Baha’u’llah penned some of His messages to the kings and rulers of the world.

SLIDESHOW

“It is remarkable how Baha’u’llah’s vision from 150 years ago addresses our current situation,” says Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community, anticipating the gathering of world leaders next week in New York for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“The issues these leaders face today are formidable: peace and security, nuclear disarmament, climate change, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, human trafficking, migration, and the list goes on,” continues Ms. Dugal. “The need for international cooperation is greater now than ever.”

Baha’u’llah’s letters to the leaders of His time are translated into English and published in The Summons of the Lord of Hosts. The most momentous of these writings, according to Shoghi Effendi, is the Surih-i-Muluk, or Surih of Kings, revealed in Edirne, Turkey. In this tablet, Baha’u’llah addresses rulers of the East and West, religious leaders, philosophers, lawmakers, and more. He sets forth the character of His mission and the standards of justice that must govern the behavior of leaders. A uniquely powerful and visionary work, the Surih-i-Haykal, or Surih of the Temple, includes individual letters to five leaders: Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III of France, Russia’s Czar Alexander II, Queen Victoria, and Nasiri’d-Din Shah of Iran.

 

 

Out of exile, a light to the world — 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in Holy Land: Part 2

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — The sailboat drifted slowly across the bay under the brutal summer sun, delivering Baha’u’llah and His fellow prisoners to Akka. It was 31 August 1868, 150 years ago Friday.

Akka did not have proper landing facilities, so the boat stopped in the shallow waters outside the city. As the prisoners waded in the water to the sea gate, they encountered a hostile and jeering crowd.

Baha’u’llah was taken from the sea gate, through the city’s narrow and winding alleys, to the barracks, used at the time as a prison.

Out of exile, a light to the world — 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in Holy Land: Part 1

This drawing from a book published in the 1880s depicts Akka from a beach to the city’s west. The sea gate is near the left edge of the sea wall. (Source: W.M. Thompson, The Land and the Book)
This drawing from a book published in the 1880s depicts Akka from a beach to the city’s west. The sea gate is near the left edge of the sea wall. (Source: W.M. Thompson, The Land and the Book)

The Baha’i World News Service is publishing a series of podcasts about the 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Holy Land. This brief article is the introduction to the first of the podcast episodes.

Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Holy Land: Part 1

This episode of the Baha’i World News Service podcast explores the context of Baha’u’llah’s banishment to Akka, His departure from Edirne, and the curious history of Akka and Haifa.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content

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BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — This week marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Baha’u’llah in the Holy Land, the last banishment in a series of exiles decreed by two monarchs. The Akka/Haifa area has since become the spiritual and administrative center of the Baha’i world, home to the community’s holiest sites.

“This exile was an act of oppression and injustice and persecution, but Baha’u’llah turned this act of oppression into a journey of humanity toward spirituality and freedom,” explains Nader Saiedi, Professor of Iranian Studies at University of California, Los Angeles. “This time becomes the main turning point in the mission of Baha’u’llah and, in a sense, a turning point in the cultural history of humanity.”

Baha’u’llah was banished from his homeland of Persia in 1853, initiating a series of exiles. The Persian and Ottoman governments thought that by sending Baha’u’llah to a far-off prison, they would extinguish the light of His religion.

On 12 August 1868, Ottoman troops surrounded Baha’u’llah’s house in Edirne, known at that time as Adrianople, and authorities told Him he was banished again. To where, they would not say. It was almost two weeks later, after Baha’u’llah and His companions had begun their journey, that they learned their destination: Akka, an ancient prison city in Ottoman Palestine, known also as Acre.

This recent photo shows the House of Rida Big, one of the homes Baha’u’llah lived in during his time in Edirne, Turkey. The Ottoman Empire banished Baha’u’llah from Edirne on 12 August 1868, eventually sending him to Akka. The edifice in Edirne is now a holy place, which Baha’is can visit.SLIDESHOW
This recent photo shows the House of Rida Big, one of the homes Baha’u’llah lived in during his time in Edirne, Turkey. The Ottoman Empire banished Baha’u’llah from Edirne on 12 August 1868, eventually sending him to Akka. The edifice in Edirne is now a holy place, which Baha’is can visit.

“Acre became for the Ottomans a place where, first of all, they had a prison for criminals, and then, a place for exile of all kinds of people who they thought should be watched over. The Baha’is were of that category,” explains Professor David Kushner, a historian who specializes in the Ottoman Empire.

Akka was a historic city that had passed through the hands of several civilizations and was once a prominent center in Ottoman Palestine. By 1868, however, the Ottomans used it as a prison colony, a desolate city where Baha’u’llah was sent to be forgotten.

Now, thousands of Baha’is visit the Akka/Haifa area every year for pilgrimage, an act of devotion to the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah.