Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Structure rises above foundations

BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — Since the completion of the foundations for the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the first vertical elements are now being raised. The subterranean portion of the structure, which will lie beneath the circular geometry, is also beginning to take shape.

Work is advancing to lay the concrete platforms that will provide stability to the landscaping berms on either side of a central plaza.

The selection of photos below provides a view into the work currently underway.

As with the central foundations, many support piles were driven deep into the ground, and these are now being capped with a layer of reinforced concrete in several stages to create platforms for the landscaping berms.

As with the central foundations, many support piles were driven deep into the ground, and these are now being capped with a layer of reinforced concrete in several stages to create platforms for the landscaping berms.

A close up of a portion of the structure.

A close up of a portion of the structure.

The design of the Shrine incorporates two sloping berms enclosing the central plaza. An intricate trellis above the plaza connects the berms to the inner part of the structure. A concrete platform is being prepared for each berm, providing stability to the landscaping that will sit above.

The design of the Shrine incorporates two sloping berms enclosing the central plaza. An intricate trellis above the plaza connects the berms to the inner part of the structure. A concrete platform is being prepared for each berm, providing stability to the landscaping that will sit above.

“Void former” blocks are fitted together to separate the concrete platform from the soil.

“Void former” blocks are fitted together to separate the concrete platform from the soil.

Once “void former” blocks are put in place, reinforcement bars are laid for the concrete pour.

Once “void former” blocks are put in place, reinforcement bars are laid for the concrete pour.

As one segment of the platform is completed, preparation continues on the next. The construction of concrete platforms for the berms is nearing completion.

As one segment of the platform is completed, preparation continues on the next. The construction of concrete platforms for the berms is nearing completion.

Step by step, the construction of the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues.

Step by step, the construction of the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues.

The News Service will continue to cover developments of the project through articles and brief notices, which may be viewed in a special section of the website.

Bahá’í Radio: Stations invite participation, connect people during pandemic

TALAVERA, Philippines — Radio stations operated by Bahá’í communities in several countries have found a renewed purpose during the pandemic, acting as a source of critical information and an anchor of community life when other forms of interaction have been limited.

Radyo Bahá’í in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines has played a significant role during the health crisis in creating a sense of togetherness through participatory programs dedicated to prayer and uplifting music reflective of the culture of the region. Its broadcast radius of 90 kilometers has also allowed the station to transmit crucial messages to remote areas which would otherwise be difficult to reach.

In the United States, Radio Baha’i station WLGI is operated at the Louis Gregory Baha’i Institute in Hemingway, SC.

Christine Flores, director of Radyo Bahá’í, says, “Families are spending so much more time together, and we hope to contribute to a home environment characterized by unity and cooperation. For example, prayers and songs are broadcast every hour during the day, many contributed by listeners. Praying regularly is key to upliftment and inspiration. We are spiritual beings, and it is natural for us to connect with our creator in our homes.”

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Radyo Bahá’í in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines has played a significant role during the health crisis in creating a sense of togetherness and transmitting crucial messages to remote areas within its broadcast radius of 90 kilometers.

The station is also assisting with educational needs in the region by collaborating with the country’s Department of Education. Regular broadcasts of education materials by Radyo Bahá’í reach thousands of children whose schools are closed because of public health measures. These educational broadcasts are supplemented with songs and stories inspired by the Bahá’í teachings on such themes as truthfulness, generosity, patience, and kindness.

“The radio has been an important instrument in fostering a sense of belonging and connection between people during a time of distancing,” says Mrs. Flores. “A collective spirit is needed to face this crisis. A shared identity is strengthened when people hear programs reflecting their culture in their own local language and when they are contributing to content. Normally, information and ideas are passed around as people meet each other, but now the radio station is helping fill this need in our region.”

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The public schools district supervisor during a broadcast of educational programs that reach thousands of children whose schools are closed because of public health measures.

Across the Pacific Ocean, a Bahá’í-inspired radio station in Panama has focused on inspiring acts of service and attending to practical needs during the pandemic. Listeners are given the opportunity to offer support to those living in rural areas struggling to access public services given the restrictions on movement.

Fabio Rodriguez, coordinator of the station, says, “Our programs emphasize service and the idea that all people have the right to contribute to society. The station welcomes people from the area to assist in the production of programs, who are able to convey the reality of their shared experiences and their hopes in a way that speaks to the hearts of their fellow community members. This in turn encourages more people to see themselves as active participants in shaping the life of their communities.

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Photograph taken before the current health crisis. One area of focus of Chile Bahá’í Radio has been the preservation of language and culture of the Mapuche people.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Chile Bahá’í Radio based in Labranza, Chile, has been in close dialogue with surrounding indigenous communities to ensure that programs speak to their needs and aspirations. One area of focus of the station has been the preservation of language and culture of the Mapuche people.

“The radio plays a vital role in promoting the noblest aspects of the Mapuche people, and contributes to a sense of hope and comfort in this crisis,” says the coordinator of the station, Alex Calfuquero.

“Early morning prayer is a fundamental tradition, and Mapuche prayers are often included in the station’s devotional programs, which are sometimes broadcast from the Bahá’í temple in Santiago.”

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Prayers in the indigenous Mapuche language are a part of regular broadcasts of Chile Bahá’í Radio.

Katty Scoggin, who collaborates with the radio stations in Chile and Panama, reflects on recent experiences: “These Bahá’í radio stations have been operating for years and years. They have been a part of the local culture. These initiatives are not just a one-sided broadcast service, they have a meaningful presence in the communities they serve.

“In media, there are the people who create something, and the people who consume content—usually just as recipients. We are trying to learn about something different. These radio stations assist with raising capacity for service to society and give a voice to the whole community.”

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During the health crisis, Radyo Bahá’í in the Philippines has been creating a sense of togetherness through participatory programs dedicated to prayer and uplifting music reflective of the culture of the region.

2020 Annual Celebration and Awards Conference

It’s almost time for the Interfaith Mission Service annual event and this year promises to be an exciting and inspiring evening, VIA ZOOM!

Baha’is from Huntsville and Madison attended last year’s event at UAH and were delighted by the inclusion of the Faith in the program, and the mention of the station of Baha’u’llah by the keynote speaker.

For 50 years, the member congregations, as part of the “Power of We” network, have been filling gaps in community services by developing service agencies and working to transform systemic social injustice, racial inequity, and interfaith barriers.

By lifting our eyes and looking to the future, we learned about changing trends, such as increased diversity and the accompanying push back, and hunger for spirituality. We are now focusing on the moral and ethical challenges of the coming years—The Future is NOW!  https://www.interfaithmissionservice.org/2020-ims-acac/

Groundbreaking for House of Worship celebrated across DRC

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic Of The Congo — Construction of the national Bahá’í House of Worship in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was inaugurated today (Sunday, Oct 18) with a groundbreaking ceremony on the site of the future temple and broadcast on national television. Situated on the outskirts of Kinshasa, the site was host to government officials, representatives of religious communities, and traditional chiefs. At the same time, celebrations were held across the vast country as countless people joined in prayer to mark this important milestone.

The National Spiritual Assembly, in a letter written for the occasion, says that the House of Worship embodies the essential elements of the Bahá’í concept of worship and service, “both so vital to the regeneration of the world. Therein lies the secret of the loftiness, the potency, and the unique position of the House of Worship as one of the most outstanding institutions conceived by Bahá’u’lláh. … The ceremony today has great significance, comparable to the sowing of a seed in the soil in the hope of seeing it grow and, before long, produce the most valuable fruits.”

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Current health guidelines allowed for a beautiful gathering to take place with the necessary protective measures.

The arrival of this long-awaited moment and what it represents has stirred communities throughout the country. Bashilwango Mbaleeko, secretary of the Regional Bahá’í Council of South Kivu, explains that although people throughout the vast country of the DRC are physically distant from the site, the spirit of oneness already emanating from that spot is fueling their efforts to serve their society with greater intensity. “Every step of progress has been celebrated across South Kivu and the country. We see the rise of this edifice as an outcome of decades of efforts toward social transformation.”

Lavoisier Mutombo Tshiongo, the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the DRC, says that the presence of diverse people at the event signifies the unifying role of a House of Worship. “This is not only a Bahá’í place of worship, it is a House of Worship for everyone to offer prayers to their Creator. This temple will be the embodiment of unity and represents a new milestone in the development of Congolese society. In one of His writings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said that raising up such places of worship will allow people ‘to gather together, and, harmoniously attuned one to another, engage in prayer; with the result that out of this coming together, unity and affection shall grow and flourish in the human heart.’”

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Lavoisier Mutombo Tshiongo, the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the DRC, says that the presence of diverse people at the event signifies the unifying role of a House of Worship.

The immense impact of prayer on the patterns of community life was discussed by traditional chiefs in the Western Kasai region who had gathered on Friday to reflect on the House of Worship. Chief Bope Ngokadi of Mpempe village said, “We see in the Bahá’í devotional gatherings the involvement of diverse people; we are all walking together in unity. Praying has brought a positive impact, the village has changed. I have changed.

“People who were always in conflict and not talking together are now together in harmony. The power of the Word of God is immense. This is what has united those who were in conflict.

“Even as the chief of this locality I was not always united with other officials, but we have become so through devotional gatherings. This is what has allowed us to live as one community. This is what the House of Worship represents.”

The immense impact of prayer on the patterns of community life was discussed by traditional chiefs in the Western Kasai region who had gathered on Friday to reflect on the House of Worship.
The immense impact of prayer on the patterns of community life was discussed by traditional chiefs in the Western Kasai region who had gathered on Friday to reflect on the House of Worship.

The groundbreaking ceremony coincided with the Bahá’í Holy Day celebrating the Birth of the Báb. Current health guidelines allowed for a beautiful gathering to take place with the necessary protective measures. The ceremony, which was broadcast online through a live stream and covered on national TV news channels, culminated with the laying of a symbolic first stone on the spot where the new edifice will rise.

Plans to build a national House of Worship were announced in 2012. Since then the Bahá’ís of the DRC have been identifying architects and a suitable site for this unique structure.

The design of the House of Worship in Kinshasa is inspired by traditional artworks, structures and natural features of the DRC.
The design of the House of Worship in Kinshasa is inspired by traditional artworks, structures and natural features of the DRC.

This House of Worship is one of several Bahá’í temples under construction around the world, each with a unique design that reflects the unifying roles of worship and service. The design of the House of Worship in Kinshasa is inspired by traditional artworks, structures and natural features of the DRC. The image of the Congo River, whose tributaries gather rain from every part of the country into one great stream, symbolizes a coming together and uniting of the world and is expressed through the patterns that will adorn the outside of the dome in a style reminiscent of the artwork of various Congolese peoples.

University applies lessons learned from COVID first wave

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Despite the challenges facing all educational institutions, Nur University in Bolivia has been striving to cope with present circumstances and adapt quickly by drawing on lessons learned from the first wave of COVID-19.

The Bahá’í-inspired educational institution has found two aspects of the learning experience to be essential during this time. One is that students should be closely engaged and not left to themselves. Another is that thoughtful consideration should be given to identifying technologies suitable for present circumstances.

“All of the staff are being especially thoughtful—for instance, trying to call students and determine their needs, and recording every online class for those who could not connect to live online sessions,” says William Shoaie, the rector of the university.

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Established 38 years ago in Santa Cruz, Nur University has grown to become a significant center of education in Bolivia. The university offers a range of programs in the arts and sciences and emphasizes the development of moral capacities as an important aspect of all areas of study.

A special committee has been formed to look after the needs of students, speaking with them about their situation and helping them find accommodations where needed. Professional resources for medical advice and counselling have also been made available.

Conscious use of technology

With the move to online study, the university has been consciously selecting technologies for its operations. Mr. Shoaie says, “We are mindful that introducing any technology has implications for processes and relationships, because each technology favors certain kinds of interaction and can have long-lasting effects.”

In the first semester, which began in March, some teachers offered recorded lectures to students and interacted with them through group messages. Although this made lessons easily accessible, the collective experience of students learning together was lost. Some students were less engaged than those in classes that were held through group video discussions.

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With the move to online study, the university has been consciously selecting technologies for its operations.

In the vision of Nur, education entails much more than conveying information and knowledge. “A lot of the learning process is based on interaction among diverse students and faculty, which provides something that the content of a course alone does not. People who study by themselves can learn the same subject matter, but in terms of the underlying skills, attitudes, and moral and spiritual qualities that one needs in order to contribute more effectively to society, it is better to work and learn with many different people.

“So an important aspect of adapting has been to maintain as much interaction as possible among staff and students.”

An expanded understanding of education

Mr. Shoaie explains that although the pandemic has created many challenges, the university sees new possibilities for enhancing educational approaches. “We are not simply trying to replicate previous dynamics and patterns,” he explains, “but are being proactive in improving the educational experience in ways that we could not have imagined before.

“Because teachers and students have been open to discovering new modes of interaction through the use of certain technologies, learning is no longer confined to set hours or a place. For example, students communicate in messaging groups when they have questions; teachers and other students respond, providing supplementary materials. Our minds were structured around meeting in person, but now the dynamics are more organic. The teacher’s role is that of a facilitator rather than someone who stands in front of a class and conveys knowledge. We have had to reconceptualize some things, seeing the learning process as much more engaging and participatory than before.

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In the vision of Nur, education entails much more than conveying information and knowledge. “A lot of the learning process is based on interaction among diverse students and faculty, which provides something that the content of a course alone does not.”

A new vision by the students

One student named Romina reflects on the transition in the mode of education, saying: “Even though this situation with virtual classes has been difficult, we have been encouraged by the perseverance and care of the university to continue, and have been provided with the tools needed.”

A unique feature of Nur University’s approach is that it promotes service to society as a critical element in one’s life.

“The spirit of service that we develop at Nur University,” Romina continues, “has meant that we have not been passive during this crisis. Rather, we have been joining friends and others to help alleviate suffering.”

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All the changes that Nur University is making this year are allowing it not only to be a place where people are being educated, but to continue to serve as a body of people acting collectively to improve the condition of their society.

All the changes that Nur University is making this year are allowing it not only to be a place where people are being educated, but to continue to serve as a body of people acting collectively to improve the condition of their society.

Sassan, a final-year student, says, “You can feel that the university has a new spirit this year. You can see it in the conversations friends are having and their commitment to serving their fellow citizens with a greater sense of purpose.

“The pandemic has strengthened the identity of students at Nur University who, as part of their education, are learning to be attentive to the needs of their society, seeing each other through this difficult time.”

Established 38 years ago in Santa Cruz, Nur University has grown to become a significant center of education in Bolivia. The university offers a range of programs in the arts and sciences and emphasizes the development of moral capacities as an important aspect of all areas of study.

University students engage in conversations on social change

BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — In this period of heightened uncertainty, youth have especially been confronted with many questions about the direction in which the world is headed and their place in it. To assist university students in navigating these questions, the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity (ISGP) has been creating spaces for young people to come together in focused discussions.

A participant from Canada says: “By identifying relevant spiritual concepts—such as unity and justice—our discussions are helping us to reflect on the current situation and to gain new perspectives.”

These gatherings, largely held online, complement a four-year seminar program offered by ISGP to university students, who are taking the opportunity to reexamine many of the concepts and ideas studied in the seminars in light of the pandemic and their efforts to serve society at this time.

“One of the concepts that has brought clarity to our analysis of present conditions is from the Bahá’í teachings, which state that humanity is reaching its collective maturity, when its essential oneness will be recognized and will give shape to new social structures. This movement toward maturity involves both processes of disintegration and integration. But if all we see is disintegration, then we do not get an accurate picture and are left with hopelessness. Through these discussions we are learning to detect progress, no matter how subtle it may be, and to think about the ways we can contribute to our society,” says a participant from France.

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Youth participating at a gathering of ISGP in South Africa.

In whatever country they reside, the health crisis is making more apparent to participants and their peers the need to reconsider the relationship between the individual and society.

One participant from France says: “Many people are revisiting prevalent notions of what it means to be a good citizen and ideas about the ‘social contract’. Not harming others is simply not enough. Recognizing our essential oneness and making this a reality implies something far greater.”

“The health crisis has further exposed the inequalities that exist in our society and has made more evident the responsibility that we all have to those around us,” says a fellow participant.

A student from Russia states: “New conceptions are needed based on the organic unity of mankind, the nobility of the human soul, and the twofold moral purpose of the individual to develop their own inherent potentialities and contribute to the transformation of society.”

Such discussions are leading participants to examine further the relationship between science and religion, particularly how both science and religion—as evolving systems of knowledge and practice—can work together to eradicate prejudices and superstitions and to propel human progress.

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University students in Brazil at a gathering of ISGP.

A participant from Brazil states: “A great deal of information is being propagated on social media about the virus that is confusing. If we use science as a means for investigating the world, we will understand the methods and tools through which conclusions about reality can be reached. Religion helps us to consider how spiritual principles, like justice and the interconnectedness of humanity, can be applied to issues such as economic inequality that have become even more exacerbated during the pandemic.”

A facilitator from the Central African Republic (CAR) describes efforts by participants to provide reliable information about the health crisis to their communities.

“United action guided by both science and religion is required in finding solutions to the pandemic. We are learning how to draw on science—staying informed of what scientists across the world are saying about the pandemic, consulting with each other to weigh new information—to assist our families and neighbors by dispelling the misinformation that clouds people’s thinking and spreads confusion, fear, hopelessness and prejudice. At the same time, we are guided by the spiritual concepts explored in the Baha’i teachings, particularly the understanding that all humanity is as one body and whatever affects one nation can affect any other.”

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University students from Jordan at a gathering of ISGP.

Participants of the gatherings have been emphasizing the caution and wisdom needed when using social media to discuss the current health crisis. “There are online conversations about the pandemic that appear to be progressive in nature and attractive to young people concerned with the transformation of society,” says a participant from India. “But some have deep partisan political undercurrents, which can quickly unravel into highly charged debates that lead to discord.”

Another participant from India says, “The way we show forth our thoughts and ideas, combining a language that critically analyzes our social reality, with that of hope and possibilities, has become even more important during the pandemic.”

As university students reflect on the concepts and ideas discussed during these gatherings, they are identifying constructive conversations around them in which they can take part with fellow students and others, such as the role of religion in society, the intellectual and moral education of children and youth, and the material and spiritual dimensions of true prosperity.

While recognizing the value of contributing to public discourse in diverse social spaces, participants are also seeing how it is possible for them to effect social change at the level of community.

“Thinking about how any one of us can change society is very complex,” says a participant from Russia. “We can, however, see change through the efforts of people acting together at a neighborhood or village level and within their professions. We can learn about service and cooperation at these levels.”

“A challenge still is that many urban neighborhoods are large, similar to the size of a small town. But the pandemic has shrunk our space and made us see our neighbors in a different light. People living in high-rises helping each other has given us a glimpse of what community life on a small scale can look like and how unity can be built in different settings.”

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Ongoing gatherings have been held in Canada, and across the globe, for youth to continue to study ISGP seminar materials.

These discussions are providing participants with hope, helping them to resist the disheartening effects of the forces of disintegration of society and to see how they can align their efforts with the forces of integration that are propelling humanity towards a bright future.

“This is not a moment to let time slip away, waiting for a return to a so-called ‘normalcy’,” says a participant from India, echoing the sentiments of many others engaged in these conversations. “There is so much to do if we want to contribute constructively during this period.”

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.