National bicentenary gatherings shine light on social themes

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Recent bicentenary commemorations for societal leaders were celebratory occasions as well as moments of reflection on the challenges of our time.

In some communities, leaders were moved to express their appreciation of the Baha’i community’s contributions to society during this special period. For example in Wellington, New Zealand, Member of Parliament Priyanca Radhakrishnan hosted a bicentenary celebration in the country’s Parliament Buildings. “I can see that the work that you do in Aotearoa is rooted in the values and beliefs of the Faith,” MP Radhakrishnan said, “for example inculcating values of love, unity, and kindness amongst children, encouraging young people to be constructive agents of change, and contributing to discussions across New Zealand on some of the challenges that face us as a nation.”

A conference organized last month in Kyiv, Ukraine, brought together religious scholars, representatives of different Faith communities, students, and others to explore how the common underlying values of religion can contribute to societal progress.

“We want to investigate in this conference how we can go beyond simply recognizing what is common in all religions and act together to establish peace,” said Alla Baranova, Secretary of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of Ukraine and current head of the All-Ukrainian Council of Religious Associations.

The conference organized by Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies, and the country’s Baha’i community, included talks about the significance of the life and teachings of the Bab.

Organized by Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, the Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies, and the country’s Baha’i community, the gathering included a session on the Bab’s life and teachings and highlighted the life of one of His earliest followers—Tahirih. Tahirih is an iconic figure in the cause of women’s advancement. In 19th century Iran, she called for a profound transformation in society’s conception of women and advocated change in the habits and attitudes of society.

Tahirih’s courage and heroism were also the subject of a documentary shown at a bicentenary celebration for dignitaries, representatives of civil society, journalists, and others in Tunis, Tunisia. The screening, held at L’Agora cinema, led to a vibrant discussion on the equality of women and men.

In Sydney, Australia, to honor the bicentenary, the Baha’i community organized a conference on social cohesion and inclusion. “The bicentenary period is an opportunity to reflect on Baha’i teachings related to knowledge, compassion, and justice,” explained Ida Walker, of the country’s Baha’i Office of External Affairs. “This conference provided a space to learn from the experiences of one another and build on the efforts of many individuals and organizations to overcome prejudice and injustice and foster inclusion in society.”


Participants in a conference held in Sydney, Australia, shortly after the bicentenary discuss their efforts to contribute to social cohesion in the country.

At national gatherings in numerous countries, participants discussed the spirit of renewal brought by the Bab, as the Herald of Baha’u’llah, and the relevance of the Baha’i teachings in addressing the challenges of their societies. Attendees of many celebrations watched Dawn of the Light, which tells the story of eight people as they search for truth and meaning. They describe how their discovery of the Baha’i teachings brought hope and a way forward in addressing the social ills of our time. At a commemoration in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, the film resonated with a large audience, many of whom were visibly touched by its message.

Other national governments also honored the historic period with special receptions. The Australian Parliament marked the anniversary during a session of its House of Representativesas well as an event last month in the distinguished setting of the Senate Alcove of Parliament House. The United Kingdom Parliament also held a celebration for the bicentenary, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group in Portcullis House. Malaysia’s minister for national unity and social well-being, Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy, recognized the Baha’i community’s contributions to the country at a bicentenary celebration.

And at a reception in Madrid, Spain, held for national leaders, Ana Gallego, a director general of the country’s ministry of justice, explained that “the mission of the Bab aimed to elevate the status of women, promote universal education and the harmony of science and religion, and overcome prejudice, corruption, and fanaticism at a time and place where these ideas were revolutionary.”

South Africa’s Baha’i community held a bicentenary celebration for national dignitaries.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where Baha’u’llah spent two years of His life, a commemoration focused on the history of the Faith in the region. Speaking about the significance of the bicentenary and the Twin Birthdays, a local leader, Sheikh ‘Abdu’l-Rahman Al-Naqshbandi, described the period of Baha’u’llah’s two-year stay in and around the mountains of Sulaymaniyyih more than a century and a half ago. The Figure of Baha’u’llah and the stories of His time there have stayed with the local population, Sheikh Al-Naqshbandi said. “Much was said and continues to be said about (Baha’u’llah); that He had a mission, knew God, and came to Hawraman.”

Sheikh Al-Naqshbandi continued, describing that his account of the life of Baha’u’llah relies not on written history, but on the stories about His life that remain alive in the hearts and minds of the region’s population. “If you speak the name of Baha’u’llah in Hawraman, everyone will know Him and what He spoke about. … I hope His teachings continue to spread and prosper, and that it becomes a source of attention. These teachings are richer and loftier than the diamond.”

United Kingdom Member of Parliament Jim Shannon spoke at a celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab, held at Parliament, on 28 October.

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UN to Iran: End human rights violations against Baha’is

General Assembly Seventy-fourth session: Opening of the general debate AM

BIC NEW YORK — Iran has once again been condemned by the international community for its ongoing human rights violations. A United Nations General Assembly committee has expressed its serious concern about the country’s continued attacks against religious minorities, including the Baha’is.

This came in a resolution adopted today by a vote of 84 to 30, with 66 abstentions, from the Third Committee of the General Assembly.

The six-page resolution expressed “serious concern about ongoing severe limitations and increasing restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, … against persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities, including … members of the Baha’i faith.”

This resolution follows two recent reports on Iran. Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, noted in his July report that, “Over the past 40 years, the Baha’is, considered to be the largest non-Muslim and unrecognized religious minority in the Islamic Republic of Iran … have suffered from the most egregious forms of repression, persecution and victimization.” Additionally, the Secretary-General in a September report about Iran included the following recommendation: “The Secretary-General urges the Government to ensure the protection of minority groups and individuals, and to uphold and implement legislation that protects them.”

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The Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly today adopted a resolution that expresses its serious concern about Iran’s continued attacks against religious minorities, including the Baha’is.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, during the 34th session of the Universal Periodic Review, a large number of countries criticized Iran for its violation of the rights of religious minorities which led to six recommendations that specifically refer to the Baha’is.

“We welcome this resolution and its condemnation of Iran’s egregious human rights violations,” said Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“The passage of this resolution sends a strong message to the Iranian authorities that continuous violations against the Baha’is and other religious minorities are well-noted by the international community, and ongoing discrimination and harassment of any religious minority group for simply practicing their faith will not be tolerated.”

The resolution will be confirmed by the plenary of the General Assembly this December.

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Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, speaks with journalists in October. (UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

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At BIC, bicentenary celebrations explore peace, oneness of humanity

BIC ADDIS ABABA — Baha’i International Community offices brought together dignitaries and leaders of international organizations for celebrations of the historic 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab earlier this month. The gatherings, held at BIC offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday and in New York City on 1 November, explored the relevance of the Bab and Baha’u’llah’s teachings two centuries ago to the conditions of the world today.

In Addis Ababa, Solomon Belay, a representative of the Baha’i International Community, focused his presentation on the imperative of peace and the emphasis placed on it in the Baha’i teachings. “The reality of peace is so complex that no individual or organization can claim to grasp and promote it alone. We all need to come together and consult on the possibility, prerequisites, and the way of peace.”

In New York City, the celebration was held in the BIC offices where attendees explored some of the implications of the oneness of humanity.

“The conviction that we belong to one human family is at the heart of the Baha’i teachings,” Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community, said to the celebration’s attendees. She noted that acceptance of this principle “calls on each of us to strive to overcome all forms of prejudice—whether racial, religious, or gender-related.”

The bicentenary celebration held at the BIC office in New York City included many joyful discussions about the significance of the Baha’i teachings.

The celebrations served as an opportunity to reflect on the current state of world affairs, as well as the impact that the teachings of the Baha’i Faith are having on diverse populations. Participants in New York’s celebration watched excerpts from the film Dawn of the Light, which demonstrates the implications of some of the core Baha’i teachings in addressing contemporary forms of oppression in diverse settings around the world.

“Profound changes in the structures of society are, of course, essential to lasting peace,” noted Emily Osvold of the BIC, as she introduced a section of the film about individuals working for peace in their communities. “The role of women, of young people, of education, and our economic models—all require reexamination. But individuals need not wait for structural change before contributing to peace. Each person has the potential to become an active agent of social change and to contribute to building a peaceful society.”

Reflecting on the film, one participant noted, “My heart was touched by the message of love. This message is really what gives meaning to all of our lives, and is applicable to all of us, no matter our background.”

In the film, which tells the stories of eight people’s personal search for truth and meaning, one of the interviewees underscores this message of love: “The unquestionable truth is love. Love is what we share with everyone in our society. Love is the reason we exist.”

Dozens of dignitaries, representatives of international organizations, and others attended the bicentenary celebration at the BIC office in New York City.

“The hand of the community crafted the outcome”: Baha’i House of Worship receives prestigious international prize

TORONTO — The prestigious biennial Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) International Prize is not a typical architectural award.

An international jury of six highly distinguished architects has to choose a building that stands out for being “transformative within its societal context” and “expressive of the humanistic values of justice, respect, equality, and inclusiveness.” This they have to do from among an extraordinary selection of architectural structures from around the world that have impacted the social life of the communities within which they were built.

“The Bahá’í Temple was a community project. Numerous volunteers worked on this project, similar to a way a community project works in a small village, but this was on a global scale,” explains Diarmuid Nash, a distinguished Canadian architect and Chair of the Jury. “But the Temple went beyond the community,” he continues. “It extended the principles of the Bahá’í Faith—that every person is equal, that every person can come here to reflect and regenerate. It had this impact that rippled beyond the community and attracted more and more people from all walks of life.”

This year’s RAIC International Prize of $100,000 was awarded to the Bahá’í House of Worship for South America. The prize money is being dedicated to the long-term maintenance of the Temple. Commissioned by the Universal House of Justice and designed by Canadian architect Siamak Hariri, the House of Worship for South America has become an iconic symbol of unity for Santiago and well beyond. Overlooking the city from the foothills of the Andes, the Temple has received over 1.4 million visitors since its inauguration in October 2016. The House of Worship has not only symbolized unity but it has given expression to a powerful conviction that worship of the divine is intimately connected with service to humanity.

The connection between the built environment and the well-being of society was a preeminent concern for the Jury of the RAIC Prize. Diarmuid Nash, the chair of the Jury, explains that three architectural projects were selected as finalists for the transformative impact they had on their respective communities. “The Bahá’í Temple was a community project. Numerous volunteers worked on this project, similar to a way a community project works in a small village, but this was on a global scale.”

The House of Worship has received more than 1.4 million visitors since its inauguration in October 2016.

“But the Temple went beyond the community,” he continues. “It extended the principles of the Bahá’í Faith—that every person is equal, that every person can come here to reflect and regenerate. It had this impact that rippled beyond the community and attracted more and more people from all walks of life.”

The process of selection was rigorous and extended over six months. Jury members were asked to perform site visits as part of their research and selection process. “We asked Stephen Hodder, former President of the Royal Institute of British Architects and guest Juror, to visit this project,” says Mr. Nash. “We thought he would have a dispassionate eye.”

Mr. Hodder visited the Temple for three days earlier this year and spent a significant amount of time with the local community. He later shared his impressions with the Jury, referring to the House of Worship as “truly transformational, timeless and spiritual architecture, the like of which I have never experienced, and the influence of which extends way beyond the building.”

Speaking about Mr. Hodder’s visit, Mr. Nash says “Stephen said to me that he had not felt such an emotional impact since he had walked into Ronchamp, which is a very famous chapel all of us have visited in our architectural careers. It is a touchstone of modern architecture. He said ‘this goes beyond Santiago, it reaches out to the world.’”

Mr. Hodder in his comments to the Jury shared the following thoughts:

“How can it be that a building captures the spirit of ‘unity,’ a sacred place, or command a prevailing silence without prompting? The interior space spirals upwards vortex-like culminating with the oculus within which is the inscription ‘O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious’. Seating orientates to Haifa and the Shrine of the Báb, the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh…. But why do people flock to the Bahá’í Temple? Is it the garden, planted with native species and lovingly cared for by volunteers, or the view over Santiago and remarkable sunsets, or the curious object set against the mountains? The Temple is the anchor…At night, the opacity of the cast glass outer skin, and the translucency of the Portuguese marble inverts, and the dome appears to glow ethereally from the inside…. The Temple has not only afforded a focus for the Bahá’í community but in their commitment to ‘service’ also for the neighbourhood and its well being.”

The Baha’i Temple for South America

It was not only the impact of the Temple on society but also the nature of its craftsmanship that struck the Jury. “It was lovingly assembled,” says Mr. Nash. “The woodwork, the stonework, and the glasswork—they all have the sense of a hand shaping them, which is remarkable for a project so sophisticated. This had a powerful impact on the Jury. There was this sense that the hand of the community had crafted the outcome.”

In the wake of the award, Mr. Hariri has been reflecting on the endeavour. “Hundreds of people sacrificially worked on this project with great dedication, enormous skill, and put themselves forward at the very frontier of what’s possible in architecture,” he explains.

“The Temple reflects an aspiration. What architects do is put into form aspiration. When you have a chance like this, where the aspirations are so great, it requires the furthest reaches of imagination to meet that challenge.”

The award was presented on 25 October at a ceremony at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto. “Above all,” said Mr. Hariri in remarks he made that evening, “our gratitude extends to the Universal House of Justice which was our unwavering source of guidance, courage, and constancy.”

Mr. Nash, who was there, says that as the talk finished people were standing and cheering. “We were all very inspired. It’s a project that has a life of its own. It is supposed to be a building built to last 400 years. I suspect it will go well beyond that.”

The Baha’i House of Worship is open to all people as a sacred space for meditation and prayer.

72 hours, one world

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — The remarkable period that just ended with sunset in Hawaii Wednesday opened a new window onto the world. Over the course of three rotations of the Earth, humanity on every land commemorated the anniversaries of the births of the Bab and Baha’u’llah.

These days of commemoration offer a glimpse into a humanity that is rarely, if ever, so profoundly depicted in its oneness. Neither borders, nor conflicts between nations, nor prejudices of class, race, religion, or culture, were able in the least to obscure the reality that all humanity is one.

The description below, from the message of the Universal House of Justice on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab, was illustrated through the multitude of examples that flowed in over these days:

“… these are communities that define themselves by their commitment to the oneness of humanity. They value the rich diversity represented by all the world’s kindreds, while maintaining that one’s identity as a member of the human race has precedence before other identities and associations. They affirm the need for a global consciousness, arising from a shared concern for the well-being of humankind, and they count all the peoples of the earth as spiritual brothers and sisters. Not content with simply belonging to such communities, Bahá’u’lláh’s followers are making constant effort to invite like-minded souls to join them in learning how to put His teachings into effect.”

Two centuries ago during His brief and dramatic ministry, the Bab suffered exile, imprisonment, and martyrdom at the hands of a fanatical leadership that was determined to snuff out His light and keep the populace in darkness. He Himself during His imprisonment in the remote fortress of Mah-Ku was kept in darkness, denied even a candle at night. In contrast to that oppression, His Shrine on Mt. Carmel stands lit every evening as a reminder that His light, and indeed the light of Baha’u’llah for Whom He paved the way, cannot be put out.

The celebrations that encircled the planet brought to vivid life the well-known passage of Baha’u’llah: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”In countless settings across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tens of thousands gather to mark the bicentenary. The arts effloresce in joyful celebrations characterized by an uplifting spirit of fellowship and harmony. Families open their homes to neighbors and friends, communities welcome chiefs and village elders, and many gather in cities to explore the teachings of the Faith and their implications for their society.

As bicentenary celebrations sweep across India, gatherings are taking place among families and in close-knit communities. These intimate celebrations are bringing together thousands of people to deepen their understanding of the life and mission of the Bab and steel their commitment to put into practice the teachings of the Baha’i Faith.

In the period leading up to and during the bicentenary, groups across the United Kingdom are paying homage to the Bab in diverse settings, including homes, community halls, and open-air gatherings. In many of these spaces they are coming together for prayer, to draw inspiration from the heroic lives of the early believers of the Bab, to reflect on the condition and needs of their society and to seek out ways to contribute to the upliftment of their communities.

In settings across Germany, communities commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab and honor His sacred mission through the arts and uplifting community activities including interfaith concerts and theatrical performances.

View glimpses of bicentenary celebrations from around the world
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Celebrations have now encircled the globe

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Activities and celebrations honoring the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab multiplied rapidly since sunset in Kiribati on Monday. As sunset on the 28th occurred in place after place, moving westward across the entire globe, it initiated a period of celebrations in every land.

Reports from around the world reflect a diverse range of activities for the bicentenary, including profound conversations, prayer and meditation, visits to the homes of friends and family, artistic expressions, the distribution of booklets and special newsletters, service projects, large parades through city streets, celebrations in family homes and neighborhood centers, national commemorations with dignitaries and societal leaders, and devotional gatherings at Baha’i Houses of Worship.

In Huntsville Monday evening, an observance at Burritt on the Mountain included Baha’is and friends coming together to pray, hear inspiring talks about the Bab, sing together, and share their thoughts about the Forerunner of Bahau’llah.

Huntsville area Baha’is also welcomed everyone to attend a Holy Day observance of the Birth of the Bab at the Baha’i Center Tuesday to watch the film Dawn of the Light,

Attendees at some gatherings studied the October 2019 message of the Universal House of Justice written for the occasion of the bicentenary.SLIDESHOW
A celebration at a high school in Gwalior, India

Elsewhere at the grassroots especially, activities have flourished beyond any expectation. Numerous reports have come in about intimate celebrations in homes, where families share stories and pray together, recounting episodes from the life of the Bab. Similarly, larger community gatherings in neighborhoods and localities, open to all, have occurred across the planet.

In several instances, where communities faced natural disasters or acute social upheaval, Baha’i communities have responded by turning their energies toward alleviating in some way the suffering of their fellow inhabitants and drawing on the inspiring life of the Bab to bring hope.

The flourishing of activities witnessed over the past day reflects a growing capacity in recent years within the Baha’i community to build new patterns of community life, in which service, collective worship, collaboration, mutual respect and collective learning, have come to characterize interactions among families, neighbors, and friends.

During this bicentenary period, people throughout the world are finding a source of inspiration and hope in remembrance of the figure of the Bab, gentle and kind in His disposition yet courageous and indomitable in the face of oppression and injustice.SLIDESHOW
A service project in Ebreichsdorf, Austria
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A celebration with devotions held at the Temple site in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Worldwide celebrations begin, live updates on bicentenary site

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Moments ago in the Line Islands of Kiribati, sunset initiated a wave of joyous celebrations that will encircle the planet over the next 72 hours.

In Huntsville, The Baha’i Community will observe the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of the Bab at Burritt on the Mountain, today, Oct. 28, 5:30 pm.

During this special period, individuals, families, communities, and whole populations reflecting the diversity of the human family will gather in numerous settings to celebrate the lives of two divine Luminaries Who, in the words of the Universal House of Justice, “inaugurated a new stage in social evolution: the stage of the unification of the entire human family.”

This year’s celebrations are especially significant because they mark the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab.

Celebrations around the world can be followed on the bicentenary website, which will have live updates every few minutes, as well as on a number of other online platforms. Special gatherings held at Baha’i Houses of Worship will be broadcast as well.