Bahá’u’lláh enjoins Baha’is to develop a sense of world citizenship and a commitment to stewardship of the earth. His writings are imbued with a deep respect for the natural world and for the interconnectedness of all things. They emphasize that the fruits of God’s love and obedience to His commandments are dignity, nobility and a sense of worth. From these attributes emerge the natural inclination to treat one another with love and compassion, and the willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of society. Bahá’u’lláh also teaches moderation, a commitment to justice, and detachment from the things of this world – spiritual disciplines which enable individuals to contribute to the establishment of a prosperous and united world civilization. The broad pattern for such a civilization and the principles on which it should be based are set forth in Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, a revelation which offers hope to a dispirited humanity and the promise that it is truly possible both to meet the needs of present and future generations and to build a sound foundation for social and economic development. The inspiration and the vision for this civilization are captured in Bahá’u’lláh’s words: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”1
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — As the Baha’i community prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the Harvard Divinity School is also commemorating its bicentenary.
This confluence of noteworthy anniversaries has more in common than the mere overlap of dates. In the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, a number of eminent American philosophers, artists, and writers connected to both the Baha’i Faith and Harvard University were engaged in a dynamic, emerging discourse on unity.
This was a subject of a recent presentation, which addressed how the Baha’i principle of unity expressed itself in the development of the American Baha’i community. The presentation took place at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions and was titled “The Religion of Unity and the Unity of Religion.” It was given by Sasha Dehghani, a visiting scholar at Harvard, who is doing research on the Baha’i Faith as an independent world religion.
“When I first arrived at Harvard,” said Dr. Dehghani, “Prof. Francis Clooney, Director of the Center of the Study of World Religions, welcomed me by saying: ‘We need religions today that create unity and tear down walls.'”
Addressing how the concepts of unity and the oneness of humankind shaped Baha’i endeavors in the early years of the American Baha’i community, Dehghani highlighted major milestones and discussed some of the significant thinkers of that time.
The earliest public mention of the Baha’i Faith in the United States was at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, where the concept of the unity of religions was among the most remarkable topics explored.
The spirit that animated the World’s Parliament that year inspired Sarah Farmer, the owner of the Green Acre Inn in Maine and one of America’s early religious innovators, to offer conferences on progressive subjects in the sciences, arts, and religion. These gatherings brought together leading writers, educators, philosophers, artists, and activists and opened a space for ideas to be exchanged and for thought to advance.
In his book Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt comments on the impact of Green Acre on public discourse in the early twentieth century: “The Green Acre gatherings thrived for more than two decades; the World’s Parliament lasted all of seventeen days.”
During the early twentieth century, a number of America’s religious thinkers were in touch with Farmer or visited Green Acre and participated in the dynamic exchange of ideas that took place there. Among them were the Harvard scholars William James and W.E.B. Du Bois, two of the most prominent and influential American writers and philosophers of the time. William James, in turn, invited Ali Kuli Khan, an Iranian diplomat and prominent member of the Baha’i community, to give presentations on the Baha’i Faith at Harvard University.
Du Bois, who had been a student of James, received his doctorate from Harvard and was the first African American to do so, graduating in 1895. His work as the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) brought him into contact with ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who gave a speech at its fourth conference in 1912. Du Bois, as pointed out by Guy Mount in his research, later published the speech in the official magazine of the NAACP, along with a photograph of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.
A contemporary and close colleague of Du Bois, Alain Locke was also among the most eminent thinkers of the time. Locke was the first African American Rhodes Scholar, and he is often remembered as the “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance. In a biography on Locke, Christopher Buck suggested that Du Bois may have been the one who introduced Locke to the Baha’i Faith. He received his PhD from Harvard in 1918, the same year he became a Baha’i. Du Bois and Locke’s profound contributions to philosophy were recognized widely—the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. compared their influence to that of Plato and Aristotle.
The early American Baha’i community also included Albert Vail and Stanwood Cobb, graduates of the Harvard Divinity School and prior Unitarian ministers. Vail published an impressive article on the Baha’i Faith emphasizing its principle of unity in the Harvard Theological Review in 1914.
While the Harvard University and Green Acre represented significant meeting points for leading writers and philosophers of the time, Dehghani’s lecture also noted that the influence of the emerging discourse on unity reached other prominent thinkers in the northeastern United States.
The Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer Kahlil Gibran lived in Boston in the early twentieth century. Best known for his work The Prophet, Gibran’s writings explored the unity of humankind and of religion. Gibran was introduced to ‘Abdu’l-Baha through Juliet Thompson, a Baha’i and fellow artist, and in the spring of 1912, he had an opportunity to sketch a portrait of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and attended several of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s talks.
The pursuit of unity within the American Baha’i community expressed itself in the creation of devotional spaces open to all. In 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Baha laid the cornerstone of the first Baha’i House of Worship in the Western hemisphere, which was dedicated in Chicago in 1953 and remains today a potent symbol of the unity of all people and religions.
Dehghani noted that it was fortuitous that this bicentenary period allowed for an opportunity to reexamine such a critical issue—the unity of the human race. In reflecting on this moment, he commented that it is timely to consider the place of the Baha’i Faith among the world religions and the implications of the principle of the oneness of humankind, as set down by Baha’u’llah, at this moment in history.
At two hours and 11 minutes after sunset this evening, Bahá’ís in the Tennessee Valley and around the world will celebrate the 165th anniversary of the birth of the Bahá’í Faith – the Declaration of the Báb on this day in 1844.
The holy day marks the moment when the Báb announced that He was a new divine Messenger sent to herald a new age for humanity and to prepare the way for Bahá’u’lláh, the universal Messenger of God expected by people of all religions.
The house in Shiraz, Iran, where the Báb first made His announcement had been preserved as a Bahá’í holy site, but in 1979 – 30 years ago this year – it was destroyed by a mob aided by Revolutionary Guards.
The Bahá’í calendar dates from 1844, with the year 166 B.E. (Baha’i era) now under way.
The Declaration of the Báb is one of nine holy days during the year on which Bahá’ís suspend work.
SANA’A, Yemen — Hundreds of Yemenis—led by tribal leaders and human rights activists—gathered on Monday this week (May 15, 2017,) to denounce the recent call for the arrests of several Yemeni Baha’is and to demand their immediate release.
Currently, five Baha’is, including tribal leader Walid Ayyash, remain in prison or detention under the direction of authorities in Sana’a. The detainees have not been allowed to receive visitors. Many more Baha’is are under the threat of being arrested.
“There are clear indications from reports within the country that certain authorities there have been instructed from Iran to carry out these unjust actions and have no other motive but to persecute the Baha’i community,” said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.
“Not surprisingly, such interference from another country is arousing solidarity among the Yemeni people on an unprecedented scale in defense of the Baha’is, who are their friends, brothers, sisters, neighbors, and fellow tribespeople. It has also led to far greater awareness of the Baha’i Faith among the people of Yemen. And of course history shows that if you persecute the innocent, their cause will only spread.”
Leading the campaign against Baha’is in Yemen has been a member of the Prosecution Office in Sana’a, Rajeh Zayed. Reports indicate that, during the peaceful demonstrations on Monday morning, Mr. Zayed threatened the crowd with a weapon and attempted to incite violence against those present.
Despite shots being fired by security forces, the crowd remained peaceful, and fortunately no one was hurt.
“These Yemeni tribespeople and activists have courageously shown their support for the Baha’is, despite themselves becoming targets of attack,” said Ms. Dugal. “Their expression of solidarity, especially during such a difficult time for their country, is sincerely appreciated by the Baha’i International Community.”
“Indeed,” Ms. Dugal added, “their actions testify to the principle of the oneness of humankind and show that we are closely tied together so that the pain and joy of one becomes the pain and joy of another. We ardently hope and pray that the senseless persecution of the Baha’is in Yemen comes to an end and energies can be directed instead towards loftier aims such as an end to the violence ravaging the country and the eradication of disease and malnutrition now afflicting major segments of the population across that land.”
NEW YORK — The Baha’i International Community has launched a new global campaign calling for the immediate release of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders, unjustly imprisoned for nine years.
The campaign, “Not Another Year,” raises awareness about the seven women and men unjustly arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for their religious beliefs. This sentence was reduced to 10 years in 2015 after the overdue application of a new Iranian Penal Code.
“Our expectation is that these seven brave individuals will be released in the coming year as they complete their sentences,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.
“But the reality is that they never should have even been arrested or imprisoned in the first place and that, under the terms of Iranian law, they should long ago have been released on conditional discharge.
“In fact these seven, their families, and, indeed, the entire Iranian Baha’i community are all subject to injustice and cruelty, to oppression and tyranny. They all face unjust policies of economic strangulation, the unabated denial of access to higher education, and unprosecuted and malicious attacks on Baha’is and their properties, not to mention extensive negative propaganda in the official media,” she said.
In a message addressed to the Baha’is of Iran on the occasion of the anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven, the Universal House of Justice states:
“Some of the events of the past year have left no doubt in the minds of the people of Iran and beyond, that the rigid fanaticism and worldly considerations of some among the religious leaders are the real motive for all the opposition and oppression against the Baha’is.”
It further states: “the representatives of the country on the international stage are no longer able to deny that these acts of discrimination are in response to matters of belief and conscience. Officials, lacking any convincing explanation for their irrational conduct and unconcerned at the damage done by their narrow policies to the name and credibility of the country, find themselves unable even to give a plausible answer to why they are so apprehensive about the existence of a dynamic Baha’i community in that land.”
The campaign for the seven imprisoned Baha’is aims to secure the immediate release of the seven, who are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm, the eldest of whom is over eighty years in age.
Similar to campaigns from previous years, it commemorates the anniversary of the arrest of six of the seven on 14 May 2008. It will be supported by videos, songs, and activities designed to call attention to their plight.
The campaign also focuses on all the events they have missed during their nine years in prison, the joys—and sorrows—of day-to-day life with their families and loved ones.
“All seven were married with children and, prior to their arrests, had rich family lives,” said Ms. Dugal. “All seven were also extremely active in working for the betterment of their community—not to mention Iranian society as a whole.
“Further, their long-running imprisonment has meant, among other things, that they have missed out on the birth of numerous grandchildren, the joyous weddings of children and close relatives, and the funerals of family members and dear friends.
“They have been forced to celebrate their national and religious holidays in prison, instead of in the company of their loved ones. And, while in prison, they have been unable to tend to their farms and businesses, which have languished or, in at least one case, been destroyed by the government,” she said.
The Baha’i International Community calls on the Iranian government to immediately release them, as well as the other 86 Baha’is currently behind bars in Iran—all held solely for their religious beliefs.
More background about the campaign can be found at a special section of the website of the Baha’i International Community.
Join us at Panoply, the Southeast’s premier arts weekend where Huntsville’s innovative spark shines through a festival of art, music and more in downtown’s Big Spring Park. Panoply 2017 will be held April 28, 29 and 30.