Universal House of Justice announces architect for Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha

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.

Baha’i World Center on the Arc, Haifa, Israel

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 Ridvan Garden includes a small house where Baha’u’llah would sometimes spend the night. The Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha will be constructed in the vicinity of this garden.

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.

More than 10,000 people attended ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s funeral, held on 29 November 1921, the day after His passing. This photo shows the start of the funeral procession outside of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s home in Haifa at the bottom of Mount Carmel. His remains were temporarily laid to rest in a vault inside the Shrine of the Bab. The House of Justice announced the construction of a permanent Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

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.

67 new selections of Baha’i writings published online

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the Holy Land, c. 1920

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.”

The Baha’i Reference Library has 67 newly published selections from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, 34 of which are English translations and 33 are Persian originals.

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.

In Mozambique, community mobilizes after cyclone

DONDO, Mozambique — Mud homes had melted, crops flooded, and electricity and phone connections were out. Cyclone Idai had devastated this largely rural region known as the Beira Corridor on 15 March.

(NOTE: Mozambique is being receiving a second hit:
https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/2019-04-24-tropical-cyclone-kenneth-forecast-mozambique )

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.

Two young Baha’is Frederico Coutinho (top center) and Elisha Antonio (left) traveled from other communities in the Beira Corridor of Mozambique to assist the Dondo’s recovery from Cyclone Idai. Here they join other young people in rebuilding the home for a resident of Dondo.

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.

This home was among the many destroyed when the rain softened the dry mud and melted it off the stick structure.

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.

The Festival of Ridvan Begins!

Fountain at the replicated Ridván Garden, near Haifa, Israel, the world centre of the Baha’i Faith.

The Garden of Ridván (literally garden of paradise) or Najibiyyih Garden[1] was a wooded garden in what is now Baghdad‘s Rusafa District, on the banks of the Tigris river. It is the location where Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, stayed for twelve days from April 21 to May 2, 1863, after the Ottoman Empire exiled him from Baghdad and before commencing his journey to Constantinople. During his stay in this garden, Bahá’u’lláh announced to his followers that he was the messianic figure of He whom God shall make manifest, whose coming had been foretold by the Báb. These events are celebrated annually during the Festival of Ridván.[1]

Canadian Parliament explores Internet, social media, and hate speech

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.”

Geoffrey Cameron of the Canadian Baha’i community’s Office of Public Affairs attended a Canadian Parliament committee hearing about combatting online hate speech. Dr. Cameron was among representatives of nine religious and other civil society organizations discussing the issue.

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.

EARTH DAY: Join the Fun!

Come Celebrate With US!

The 49th Annual Earth Day

Monte Sano State Park Picnic Area

Saturday, April 20th, 2019 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • Local Music with Microwave Dave,  Musgrove Sessions, and Wolves a Howlin”
  • A Predatory Bird Show and Release
  • A NASA Weather Balloon Release
  • Walk and Listen to Southern Appalachian Herbal Lore.
  • Enjoy Healthy Food & Shop Our Farmer’s Market & Outfitters
  • And learn about the Agencies and Non Profit Groups are doing
  • to Protect Our Natural Environment—

 Sign up for trips, hikes, and workshops

Brought to you by The Flint River Conservation Association, and Monte Sano State Park

(Native Tree Giveaway to the first 200 folks)

Children are especially wanted to learn about the Stewardship of the Earth.

Gate Fee for Families is $10 per van or car load.

49th Earth Day at Monte Sano State Park Schedule

10 a.m. Earth Day begins! Happening all day–
• Musical groups: Microwave Dave, Musgrove Sessions, Wolves a’ howlin
• Hands on activities–Make your own native plant mud bomb–all sorts of activities with Earth Scope Teachers, a paleontologist (fossil guy)–Sliterin, with reptiles and amphibians, Build a Bat House, and MORE!
• LOCAL FARMER’s MARKET!!–Live Animals!
• Many exhibitors–Outfitters, Conservation Groups, Subaru –the only automotive giant certified by The National Wildlife Federation.
• Family Mountain Bike ride to O’Shaughnessy Point—bring bike and helmet.
10:30 Paleontology (Our Local Fossils) with Richard Keyes-with fossils to share11:00 Birds of Prey Show (Amphitheatre) with Alabama Wildlife Center, and after a raptor release into the State Park at the Scenic Overlook.

11–2 Food Trucks Available by Picnic Pavilion

12:00 Slitherin’—Andy Cantrell with native reptiles and amphibians

12:30 Family Bike Ride to O’Shaughnessy Point (with Trailhead Bikes &
Alabama Bike Coalition—Meet At their Table in Outdoor Gear Area)

1:00 Microwave Dave plays the blues and lots more in Amphitheatre. Wolves a Howlin’ and Musgrove Session at Large in Picnic Area

2:00 Appalachian Herbalism in the Pavilion with Ashley Kellow followed by an herb discovery walk—bring camera!

2:30 NASA Weather Balloon Release with SWIRL at the Scenic Overlook

3:00 Event ends but all are invited to stay and enjoy Monte Sano State Park

Cities, technology, and happiness: a look at the future

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND, United States — Does city life make for happy citizens? What does a prosperous city look like? And what will be the values shaping cities in the future?

“In The Secret of Divine Civilization‘Abdu’l-Baharepeatedly uses ‘happiness’ to make a point about how leaders should develop political, economic, social, and cultural structures in order to advance the spiritual, material, and physical well-being of their citizens, to whom they are responsible,” says Hoda Mahmoudi, the current Holder of the Baha’i Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“Our most recent event brought to light how important happiness is to all aspects of human development and offered evidence-based results regarding the many factors that help to promote the happiness of people and society.”

Held on April 4-5, the Baha’i Chair’s two-day conference brought together leading scholars and practitioners from diverse disciplines to better understand the dynamics of urban life. More than half the world’s population lives in urban areas, and the United Nations projects that this proportion will reach more than two-thirds by 2050. Concerned with the implications of this trend, speakers explored how urban infrastructure—from its physical elements such as buildings, highways, or power lines, to intangible ones such as social support, community organizations, or spirituality—affects the future of humanity.

Carrie Exton from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) argued that researchers and journalists interested in trying to gauge the prosperity of societies focus too much on gross domestic product, a measure of a country’s economic output, rather than on indicators of happiness and well-being.

One of the topics explored by presenters was whether happiness can be measured, and, if so, how.

Speaking to the conference’s attendees, Dr. Mahmoudi proposed that the concept of happiness is not merely an individualistic aim or a personal goal but a collective enrichment indicated by greater equity, inclusivity, access, health, security, and overall well-being. The subsequent talks looked at various dimensions of this broader conception of happiness.

“Any view of (the relationship between) infrastructure and happiness must contend with inequality in its myriad forms.”

—Carol Ryff, the Director of the Institute on Aging and a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

For instance, Carrie Exton from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) argued that researchers and journalists interested in trying to gauge the prosperity of societies focus too much on gross domestic product, a measure of a country’s economic output, rather than on indicators of happiness and well-being. Dr. Exton’s work at the OECD has been to monitor happiness and progress in the 36 member countries as a way of determining societal well-being.

Carol Ryff, the Director of the Institute on Aging and a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, heads a major longitudinal study on health and well-being in which she studies 12,000 people in the United States. In her comments, Dr. Ryff noted the impact of the stark inequalities in American society today, arguing that greater attention needs to be given to this urgent matter. “Any view of (the relationship between) infrastructure and happiness must contend with inequality in its myriad forms. We must attend to the differential access to quality housing, schools, jobs, food, neighborhoods, and green space.”

Houssam Elokda, the Director of Operations and Masterplanning Lead with the Vancouver-based company Happy City, focused on how urban inequalities can be reinforced by a city’s transportation infrastructure. “When driving a car is the only mode of commute—the only option to access all the opportunities (of a city)—then you are telling those who can’t drive, … maybe they’re too poor, they’re too young, too old, or they have a disability, you are telling them that this city is not for them, that they are not meant to access these opportunities,” Mr. Elokda said.

Mr. Elokda also explained: research confirms that commuting by walking or riding a bicycle leads to greater happiness than commuting by car. To make this possible, however, cities need to invest to make these modes of transportation safer and more accessible to all residents, for instance, by building proper sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and other relevant infrastructure.

Dubai is a rapidly developing city in the desert of the United Arab Emirates. Cities face complex and unprecedented questions that have deep implications for humanity’s future. Who determines the direction of cities’ development? What values underpin decision-making processes? Will inequality continue to worsen? How will technology impact happiness and well-being? Both the physical infrastructure of a city, such as buildings and highways, and intangible elements, such as social support, community organizations, or spirituality, can have a bearing on the well-being of humanity.

Evidence was also shown that cities, in part because of their infrastructure, can either restrict or facilitate residents’ participation in decision-making processes in their community. This can happen, for example, through “soft infrastructure,” such as laws, norms, and customs, explained Lok Sang Ho, the Dean of Business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education in Hong Kong. “We need to think about how to improve our institutions and cultural heritage so that they can be inclusive and positive in cultivating the values of love, fortitude, and engagement so that we all accumulate the spiritual capital that unites us,” Dr. Ho said.

Technology’s role in cities also featured prominently in the conference. For example, speakers explored how, as cities become filled with more digital technologies—from wireless Internet to self-driving cars to the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras—it will be important to think critically about the values underlying these technologies and whether they promote or restrict people’s agency. “You can actually encode values in the way you design the technology,” noted Ricardo Alvarez, a researcher with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab. “This is important because when you look at the large-scale systems that we’re putting together, it actually falls on us as society to frame the constraints and limits of a technology.”

The conference helped to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the questions facing cities today. In reflecting on the interconnectedness of the planet, Dr. Mahmoudi later commented that the revolutionary changes affecting society must be seen through the lens of the oneness of humankind. “This vital principal is ‘not only applicable to the individual,’” she said, drawing on a well-known passage by Shoghi Effendi, “but is concerned primarily with the ‘nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society.’”

Recordings of the talks can be found on the Baha’i Chair’s YouTube channel.