MACAU — A Baha’i-inspired international school in Macau is marking its 30th anniversary this academic year. School of the Nations has become an educational institution highly regarded for its academic rigor and its integrated approach to the moral and intellectual development of its students.
“The school’s founders saw the need for an educational approach that develops students’ intellectual powers together with the moral and spiritual foundations that will guide them throughout life,” says Victor Ali, Executive Director of the Badi Foundation, the school’s parent organization.
“The school had very humble beginnings. It started in an apartment. And there were more teachers than students,” adds Vivek Nair, the school’s director.
School of the Nations opened in 1988 with five students and seven teachers. It grew rapidly, attracting nearly 100 students in its second year and nearly 200 in its third year. Eventually, the Macau government donated land where a 7-story facility was opened in 2008. That new building includes a library that is also accessible to the public throughout the week.
Today, School of the Nations has 600 students from kindergarten through high school and 100 teachers.
“We see ourselves as exploring what it means to be a Baha’i-inspired school,” adds Mr. Nair. Drawing inspiration on principles such as the harmony of science and religion, the oneness of humankind, and the independent investigation of truth, the school takes innovative approaches in refining and offering its curriculum in a manner that builds on sound educational approaches.
While garnering international recognition for its high academic standards, the school places a particular emphasis on students contributing to the well-being and progress of their society. Service projects are part of the curriculum, and students see the improvement of the material and social conditions in their communities as an essential aspect of their development.
The school also serves Macau in other ways. For instance, educators throughout Macau use teacher-training materials developed by School of the Nations. A local university sends students for a year-long internship program at the school, where they learn about the school’s educational methods.
School of the Nations is one of more than 800 Baha’i-inspired educational institutions around the world. Rather than providing programs for religious instruction or indoctrination, these endeavors have as their primary objective the development of capacity in generation after generation to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society. They are among the many social and economic development efforts of varying degrees of complexity that Baha’is are carrying out, which operate on the principle that populations should be the protagonists of their own material, spiritual, and intellectual advancement, not just recipients or mere participants.
The moral education component began in the form of classes supplementary to the core curriculum of English, Mandarin Chinese, history, math, science, and other subjects. But increasingly, the school has been learning about the integration of this dimension into every subject.
“One area of learning for us is how to integrate moral education into all subjects,” Mr. Nair says.
For students in grades six to eight, for example, the school uses a moral empowerment program, offered by the Badi Foundation. The program engages young people in the study of educational texts to learn to identify local needs and engage in service projects and activities to improve the social and material reality of their communities. The program also helps young people to understand the application of moral principles, such as kindness toward others, service to one’s community, honesty and generosity, and unity and harmony among one’s family, friends, and neighbors. The emphasis on moral principles aims to inspire youth to be dedicated to the progress of their society.
“We see ourselves as exploring what it means to be a Baha’i-inspired school.”
—Vivek Nair, School of the Nations Director
The school has a mid-year project where groups of students work together to try to understand a current social problem. “This year’s project is about wealth inequality,” Mr. Nair explains. “So, they will study different countries and begin to understand some of the causes of the extremes of wealth and poverty and try to gain insights about how to begin to address these challenges,” he adds.
Their efforts to work in a learning mode—characterized by the process of action, reflection, consultation, and study—have been central to the school’s growth over three decades. This allows challenges to be examined, lessons to be learned, and modifications to be made. School administrators and teachers meet regularly to not only consult on operational matters, but also to deepen their understanding of the sort of education they are offering, Mr. Nair says.
Today, about 80 percent of the students and nearly half of the teachers are local to Macau, deeply rooting the school in the community. When teachers and students consult on service projects, for example, they have an intimate understanding of the community they have lived in their whole lives and deep connections with other people who can help.
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BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — For the Baha’i world, 2018 was marked by a wide range of developments. Through its podcast and written articles, the Baha’i World News Service sought to capture some of these developments and to explore new insights emerging from Baha’i endeavor.
Stories in the past year, which began in the afterglow of the bicentenary of Baha’u’llah’s birth, covered a diversity of topics.
Representing 166 countries, more than 1,000 delegates attended the convention in Haifa. Delegates were shown a new documentary film about community building efforts around the Baha’i world. The occasion was also a time to make available a new section of the website for the bicentenary of Baha’u’llah’s birth.
The Temple’s dedication marked a new stage in the unfoldment of the Baha’i Faith in the region, where the Faith has had roots for more than four decades. The inauguration included a first visit to the Temple with great reverence, led by a representative of the House of Justice. The sharing of music, dance, and other artistic expression helped to create a joyful atmosphere for the occasion. Residents from nearby communities continued to visit the Temple for a series of special visits on the four Sundays following the 22 July ceremony.
In New Delhi, an educational facility was added to the Baha’i Lotus Temple, which continues to be a vibrant center of life for the city and beyond. The continental House of Worship first opened in 1986 and has had more than 100 million visitors. In Santiago, the Temple for South America has not only earned international recognition for its innovative architecture but is also a point of attraction and inspiration for people in Santiago and beyond.
Arts and Social Transformation
From collective expressions of music and drama at the grassroots to performances at prestigious venues, the Baha’i world continued to explore the nature of the connection between the arts and social transformation. The Baha’i World News Service wrote about a few examples of artistic expression from Azerbaijan, the United Kingdom, and Zambia.
Inspired by the life of Tahirih—an important figure in early Baha’i history—Azerbaijani journalist Kamale Selim Muslimgizi produced the play Daughter of the Sun. The stage performance highlighted Tahirih’s unmatched courage throughout her life as an influential poet, scholar, and champion of women’s emancipation.
At Edinburgh’s world-famous Fringe Festival, a new stage musical, Henry Box Brown, vividly brought to the life the story of a man who escaped slavery by shipping himself in a box out of the southern United States to freedom. Drawing on the arts as a powerful medium for raising consciousness, the show stimulates constructive conversation and inspires action and social change.
And in northwestern Zambia, where collective singing is an integral part of daily life, the Lunda people have been drawing inspiration from the Baha’i teachings to channel the power of music to unite.A Lunda singing group in Mwinilunga, Zambia, sings “The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers.”
Participation in the discourses of society
Efforts of the Baha’i community to contribute to the betterment of society at the level of thought are one of the themes followed by the Baha’i World News Service. Listen to parts 1and 2 of a series of podcasts about the involvement of the Baha’i community in broad conversations focused on social betterment.
An article also explored the efforts of the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity, a Baha’i-inspired educational and research organization that holds seminars to help young adults reflect on their part in the emergence of a peaceful and just global civilization.
And in its 9 November message to the Baha’is of the world, the Universal House of Justice announced the establishment of a new global institution to “promote and coordinate the efforts of the worldwide community in social and economic development.”
The development of Baha’i communities at the grassroots
The profound impact Baha’u’llah’s teachings are having in communities around the world formed the basis of a number of other reports by the News Service. In January, an article featured how some villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are learning to transcend the longstanding barriers that divide people.
In a series of podcast episodes, the News Service interviewed groups of Continental Counsellors about insights emerging from community building efforts around the world.
Finally, the new film A Widening Embrace, which was released in April and mentioned above, tells the story of transformation unfolding in 24 communities representing different realities and contexts. A trio of short films accompanying the documentary was released in September, describing more about the process of social change being seeing in communities around the world.
Access to the Holy Writings
This year also saw the publication of new translations of the Baha’i writings as well as the implementation of a new feature of the Baha’i Reference Library. In its Ridvan message, the Universal House of Justice stated that the “feature will allow previously untranslated and unpublished passages or Tablets from the Holy Writings to be released online over time.”
This year was also the centenary of the end of World War I, one of the most devastating conflicts in human history. In the years preceding the war, ‘Abdu’l-Baha made urgent efforts to promote peace. Once the conflict broke out, He took critical actions to ease suffering in the region. His call for peace, stating that it would require a profound transformation in human consciousness and a commitment to the spiritual truths enunciated by Baha’u’llah, perhaps has even greater relevance today.
Persecution of Iran’s and Yemen’s Baha’i communities continues unabated
The Baha’i communities in Iran and Yemen continue to face persecution.
In Iran, the lastfourimprisonedmembers of the former leadership group, the Yaran, were released from prison this year. Still, as the seven former members of the Yaran have now completed their unjust 10-year prison sentences, the country’s Baha’i community continues to suffer under the weight of state-sponsored systematic persecution.
Representatives of a number of national Baha’i communities recently gathered at the Baha’i World Centre to reflect on the past several years of experience learning about participation in the discourses of society. The Baha’i World News Service took the opportunity to interview groups of representatives about the experiences and insights they have gained in this area of endeavor. Listen to the second of these conversations in this week’s story. Part one is available here.
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — The accelerating movement of populations across borders, increasing religious diversity, growing interreligious tensions, sectarian violence, youth discontent and vulnerability to radicalization: these and other factors are combining to bring religion to the forefront of discourse in virtually every region of the world and on the international stage.
Podcast: Why is religion in the spotlight again
In this podcast, Rachel Bayani from the BIC Brussels Office, Lyazzat Yangaliyeva from Kazakhstan, Arash Fazli from India, and Geoffrey Cameron from Canada discuss the efforts of regional and national Baha’i communities to participate in one particular discourse: the role of religion in society.
Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content
Conscious of the forces of change sweeping across their societies, societal leaders are pursuing constructive ways to address humanity’s most pressing challenges. In this context, some governments, scholars, prominent thinkers, and civil society actors have sought to better understand the positive contributions that religion and faith communities can make to society.
“There was a time in Canada when it was assumed that religion would fade away,” Geoffrey Cameron says in the podcast. “Notwithstanding the relative degrees of prosperity and progress in the world, our societies face immense social, political, and cultural challenges. And it’s hard to think that those challenges can be overcome without honestly engaging the insights that exist within religion. We have to look for new ways to talk about religion, not only as it contributes to our own personal lives but also how it relates to the social transformation of our communities.”
“We need to gain this unifying vision of the role of religion in society,” explains Lyazzat Yangaliyeva, from Kazakhstan. A generation ago, that country emerged out of the former Soviet Union and its government-mandated scientific atheism. As a multi-faith nation today, Kazakhstan is trying to draw on religion’s constructive powers for the betterment of society. “We are exploring what an important role religion can play in, for example, strengthening morality among youth or in coping with the different social challenges that our country now faces, such as corruption.”
Reflecting on the current reality in India, Arash Fazli adds: “In the past decade or so, to some extent, the question of religion has been tied to the question of social cohesion and unity. And partly this is because of the increasingly loud and brazen voices from within extreme religious fundamentalist groups who have become more and more dominant in the public domain.”
“So, when we started to think about how to have a meaningful engagement with other social actors on the role of religion in society, we found the most ready theme that needed to be addressed was this question: how can we dispel the various misconceptions about religion that cause disunity between religious communities and how can we, in a sense, put out there a conception of religion that is actually unifying?”
In this podcast episode, Dr. Cameron, Ms. Yangaliyeva, and Dr. Fazli are interviewed by Rachel Bayani, who also draws on her experience as the representative of the Baha’i International Community Brussels Office.
BIC GENEVA — The last imprisoned member of the former leadership body of the Baha’i community in Iran was released from prison today after serving an unjust 10-year prison sentence for merely practicing his faith. Iran’s Baha’is, however, continue to face daily, pervasive persecution.
Afif Naeimi, 56, was arrested on 14 May 2008 and charged with, among other false claims, espionage, propaganda against Iran, and the establishment of an illegal administration. Mr. Naeimi and the other six former members of the Yaran—an ad-hoc body tasked with tending to the spiritual and material needs of the religious community—faced those charges more than a year after their arrest in a sham trial without any semblance of legal process. Authorities sentenced Mr. Naeimi and the other former members of the Yaran to 10 years in prison.
While detained, Mr. Naeimi experienced severe health problems, often receiving inadequate treatment. Authorities made a cruel determination that the brief time Mr. Naeimi, a father of two from Tehran, spent in a hospital recovering would not be counted as part of his sentence.
“We are of course happy that Mr. Naeimi has been released. However, this should by no means be seen as an improvement of the situation of Iranian Baha’is as a whole,” said Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations. “The stark reality is that scores of Baha’is still remain imprisoned in Iran because of their beliefs and tens of thousands more face intense persecution including denial of access of higher education, shop closures, and harassment.”
The long history of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of the Baha’is is well documented. The Archives of Baha’i Persecution in Iran website compiles thousands of official documents, reports, testimonials, photos, and videos revealing irrefutable proof of relentless persecution, including the killing or execution of more than 200 Baha’is since the Iranian revolution in 1979. The October 2016 report “The Baha’i Question Revisited: Persecution and Resilience in Iran” also describes the Iranian government’s systematic persecution of the Baha’is.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly has condemned Iran’s ongoing human rights violations against Baha’is and others facing severe restrictions on the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief.
On Monday, the General Assembly approved a resolution passed by its Third Committee that calls upon the Iranian government to “release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, including the remaining imprisoned member of the Baha’i leadership.”
The international community also noted in the resolution Iran’s attacks on Baha’i places of worship and cemeteries as well as “other human rights violations, including harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention, denial of access to education and incitement to hatred that leads to violence against” Baha’is and other religious minorities. The vote was 84 to 30, with 67 abstentions.
WASHINGTON — On December 12, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Resolution 274, “Condemning the Government of Iran’s state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.
House Resolution 274 gained strong bipartisan support. Of the 132 representatives co-sponsoring the resolution, 54 are Republicans and 78 are Democrats. No members of the the Alabama congressional delegation co-sponsored the Resolution.
The Resolution was introduced by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL], Congressman Ted Deutch [D-FL-21], Congressmen Steve Chabot [R-OH], Eliot Engel [D-NY], Brad Schneider [D-IL], Chris Smith [R-NJ], and Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky [D-IL], and Lynn Jenkins [R-KS].
The resolution calls on the President and Secretary of State, together with responsible nations, to “condemn the Government of Iran’s continued violation of human rights and demand the immediate release of prisoners held solely on account of their religion,” as well as urging them to “impose sanctions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals directly responsible for serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Baha’i community of Iran.”
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen stated, “Iran’s Baha’i community is a frequent target of the regime’s human rights abuses, subjecting adherents to arbitrary arrest and harassment, denying employment, refusing to recognize marriages, and destroying cemeteries and holy places. By passing Ted’s and my resolution, Congress is sending a strong message of support to those suffering in Iran and making it clear that those responsible for this persecution will be held accountable. I urge the administration to continue using all tools at its disposal, including sanction authorities with human rights provisions, to bring an end to these abuses.”
Congressman Deutch added, “The Baha’i community in Iran has long suffered from deep persecution by the government, as detailed by our own U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Annual Report. With this vote, the House is sending a strong and unified message that we condemn the Iranian regime’s religious persecution and human rights violations and demand the release of Baha’i leaders wrongfully imprisoned. We’re also calling on the Administration to take serious action against those responsible.”