Rosewater is not a crime

Iranian authorities have raided a number of Baha’i homes and warehouses in a village near Ghamsar and dismantled and removed containers used for making rosewater and other related equipment, another gross instance of the economic pressures being exerted by the authorities on the Baha’is.  

Agents from the Amaken1 Office, the Department of Health and Hygiene, the Intelligence Office, the Prosecutor’s Office in Kashan, and the police of Ghamsar entered the village on May 21, 2019, and confiscated all rosewater and herbal extracts bottles and on finding vinegar, falsely accused the Baha’is of making alcoholic drinks.

The village is situated in a region famed for its rosewater industry and many make their living this way.

“The persecution of the Baha’is in Iran is such that the mere fact of making rosewater is now used as an excuse to harass and prosecute them,” said Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i International Community at the United Nations in Geneva.

“It is yet another way the authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran are implementing a systematic program of depriving Baha’is of their economic livelihoods.”

It is important to note that the venture was started decades ago by the Baha’is as a way to remain in their village and continue to have access to a means of livelihood despite various economic limitations placed on them by the local authorities, including denying their purchase of certain goods and services,  added Ms. Ala’i.

Despite the equipment being returned the following day, the authorities demanded verbal assurances from the locals that they would not allow the Baha’is to produce rosewater in the future, thereby denying them their means of livelihood.

Mazgan is a village in Ghamsar, Kashan, in Iran’s Markazi province and contains a large number of Baha’is who trace their history to the early days of the establishment of the Baha’i Faith in Iran when Shaykh Mazgan, a local congregational prayer leader, embraced the Faith. Ever since, the local population have been subjected to discrimination and oppression, which was further escalated following the Islamic revolution in 1979.

1. [Amaken (Public Places Supervision Office):  Responsible for the enforcement of accepted moral codes in places of work and other offices.]

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Momentous gathering focuses on Houses of Worship

The oldest of all 10 Baha’i Houses of Worship, the Temple in Wilmette, Illinois, United States, opened in 1953.

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — With the inauguration of three new Baha’i Houses of Worship over the past three years and more about to be constructed, the Baha’i world community has been engaged in an intensive process of learning about these sacred structures.

This month, a unique gathering brought together representatives from around the world to explore what is being learned about every one of the Houses of Worship. More than 30 people gathered for the consultations, coming from Australia, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Germany, India, Panama, Samoa, Uganda, and the United States.

“We’ve been discovering how a House of Worship reflects the spiritual aspirations of a people,” said Eduardo Rioseco, the director of the Temple in Santiago, Chile. Since its dedication in 2017, over a million people have visited the House of Worship, and it has become a central feature of life for the people of the surrounding community and an iconic symbol of unity for the city. “For many people visiting the Temple, it has been a discovery to connect with their own spiritual identity. So, in a way, to go to the House of Worship is to come back home,” Mr. Rioseco reflected.

The consultations touched on a range of topics, from practical requirements of managing a Temple to its profound spiritual and social impacts on surrounding populations. How does the path to the central edifice reinforce visitors’ longing for mystical connection and spiritual meaning? What dynamics begin to emerge in a community as a House of Worship is built and becomes a collective center of worship open to all? What is being learned about the relationship between a growing devotional character in a community and a multiplication of acts of service for the betterment of society? Participants explored these questions and many more over the course of the three-day meeting.

Some communities have experience with more sophisticated social and economic development endeavors, and these were also a subject of discussion. Of particular interest was the unifying influence Houses of Worship are having on surrounding populations.

Administrators of Temples also presented various environmental initiatives. In New Delhi, India, for instance, wastewater is treated on-site and used to water the gardens, and solar panels provide a substantial portion of the Temple’s electricity usage. In Norte del Cauca, Colombia, the Temple is built alongside a native forestry project that is helping to restore indigenous plants. The native forest is reconnecting the local population to its natural environment, largely overtaken by monoculture farmland.

At the heart of the conversation was one of the central themes associated with Baha’i Houses of Worship: they are sanctuary for all people. “The Temple doesn’t belong to the Baha’is, although Baha’is are the ones managing and taking care of it. The Temple belongs to each and every human being,” noted Santos Odhiambo, the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda.

In addition to the 10 Houses of Worship currently open, five more are in development: Construction began on a temple in Kenya in March; designs have been chosen for Temples in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu; work is also underway for temples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India.

The Baha’i World News Service interviewed representatives of Houses of Worship in Chile, India, and Uganda, which can be heard in a two-part podcast. Part one of the podcast, which focuses on the spiritual experiences people are having at Temples, is being published with this article.

Insights from Baha’i Houses of Worship: Part 1

The Baha’i World News Service interviewed representatives of Houses of Worship in Chile, India, and Uganda, which can be heard in a two-part podcast. Part one of the podcast, which focuses on the spiritual experiences people are having at Temples, is being published with this article.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content.

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Part two will be made available in the coming weeks.

An in depth exploration of Houses of Worship can be found in a newly published article on The Baha’i World website.

Faith as catalyst of social change: Perspectives from the Congo

Hundreds of people attended an interfaith march in Kinshasa last month.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic Of The Congo — When representatives of Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities first gathered at a Kinshasa juice shop in February, one question above all animated their conversation: How could they articulate to others the deep connection between religion and constructive social change?

That first informal discussion in the Congolese capital city has since evolved into a vibrant dialogue about the power of faith to unify people and give impetus to peace.

“We all had a common vision. We are convinced that religion is a source of unity, so let’s not just talk about it. Let’s take action,” explained Rachel Kakudji, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Baha’i Office of External Affairs. One of the steps the nascent group undertook was to organize a day-long forum highlighting how spiritual principles and concepts impact many aspects of society, such as economics, governance, law, health, education, the media, and art.

For years, the Baha’is have been working alongside fellow religious communities in Kinshasa to give expression to this desire for unifying action. The recently formed interfaith group has been gathering regularly since its inception, calling its meetings the United in Diversity Social Space.

This collaboration is yielding many fruits. For instance, the group has already organized a day-long seminar last month and prepared a short documentary film, featuring interviews with leaders of different faith communities discussing the importance of their collaboration. They explore themes such as how sustainable development contributes to peace and how education can awaken a sense of duty and service, among other topics. Yet, Ms. Kakudji explains that beyond these specific initiatives has been the unfoldment of a process in which people of diverse belief systems are working together, consulting through challenges, and relying on the process of action, reflection, and consultation to make systematic progress.

Bringing together religious, academic, and student speakers, the recent seminar focused on a diverse range of topics, for example how economics can promote collective well-being, how good health is a dimension of a culture of unity, and how education is central to development. Leaders of the faith communities organizing the space spoke about the centrality of spiritual principles to social progress.

“To grow and develop, the world must draw strength from unity,” explained Alex Kabeya, a member of Congo’s Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly. “It is encouraging to see religious leaders and their believers work together in good will, because the process of transformation then reflects the sincerity necessary to contribute to sustainable peace.”

Leaders of some of the faith communities involved, including several Christian groups and the Muslim community, also reflected later on the interreligious collaboration.

“In the holy Quran, unity is what God recommends to men. A true Muslim seeks peace with everyone,” noted Moussa Chirala, the coordinator of the National Confederation of the Muslim Youth of Congo.

Willy Masaka, the national president of the Protestant Youth of Congo, emphasized how the principle of unity in diversity applies to work with all religions: “With this forum for peace, we want to open the voice of unity in diversity beyond ourselves with different religious denominations.”

The seminar was preceded a week earlier by a march in downtown Kinshasa, attended by some 3,000 people. The participants ended their hour-long march at a stage where different presenters shared music and other artistic performances that touched on the importance of unity, caring for the environment, and other aims.

Ms. Kakudji said they plan to screen the documentary film in the coming weeks on a local television channel as well as with their partners in the United in Diversity gatherings.

Overcoming prejudice through education

NEW DELHI — The latest episode of the Baha’i World News Service podcast explores how an educational process that seeks to release the potentialities of the human soul and mind can lead to profound social transformation, in this case overcoming long-held societal prejudices and superstitions about women.

Women in India are overcoming sentiments and prejudices that prevent their full participation in society. A group of young women in a large neighborhood of New Delhi, India, has been determined to help its community develop a different attitude toward women who are in their menstrual cycle.

Pooja Tiwari, who facilitates the group as part of the Preparation for Social Action (PSA) program, explains that women on their periods can be considered “impure” and are separated from aspects of community life. Though this cultural feature has no basis in reality—scientific or spiritual—it is entrenched in the consciousness of much of the local population. “While discussing this, a member of the group said, ‘During these days, we cannot go to the temple. We cannot touch anything. We cannot sleep on the bed but have to sleep on the floor,” explains Ms. Tiwari.

The group decided to organize an awareness campaign to promote an understanding of menstruation that is grounded in science and also rooted in spiritual belief.

After a study of the science behind the menstrual cycle, the group felt that it is critical to help people appreciate how a woman’s period “is an important element for the birth of a human being.” Ms. Tiwari explains, “The idea was brought up that during these days, we should respect women and that they require healthy and nutritious food.”

Podcast: Overcoming prejudice through education

The latest BWNS podcast episode explores how a group of young women helped their community to shed superstitious attitudes that have ostracized women for generations.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content.

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PSA is a Baha’i-inspired program implemented in 17 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific. The program is organized to help young people develop a set of scientific and spiritual capabilities that enable them to become promoters of the well-being of their communities.

Ms. Tiwari is joined in the interview by Bhavna Anbarasan, a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Asia. Ms. Tiwari and Ms. Anbarasan spoke with the News Service in February when they were at the Baha’i World Centre. They were among a group of 30 people, representing eight localities around the world where a robust Baha’i educational and community building process is engaging thousands or tens of thousands of people. At the heart of these efforts has been local populations building capacity to bring about social change through the application of fundamental Baha’i principles—such as the oneness of humankind, the harmony of science and religion, and the equality of women and men—to their own social reality.

The stimulating conversations at this gathering are connected to the decades-long process in which Baha’i communities at all levels, from the grassroots to the global, have been creating spaces for sharing experiences and insights arising out of community building efforts. The gathering demonstrated how people around the world are contributing profound insights relevant to the future of humanity. It also showed that, rather than being confined to a privileged elite, the advancement of knowledge is a right and responsibility of every human being.

Baha’i World article highlights centrality of agriculture

Women learning about agriculture at the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore, India

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — In The Baha’i World, authors take a deep dive into contemporary questions, exploring insights from the Baha’i teachings and the experience of the Baha’i community. In his article Begin with the Village: The Baha’i Approach to Rural Development, Paul Hanley explores the topic of agriculture in an increasingly urbanizing world.

In the article, published on 23 May, Mr. Hanley underscores the emphasis the Baha’i writings give to agriculture as a central feature of civilization, touching on four themes. First, a sustainable future, Mr. Hanley argues, requires a reevaluation of agriculture and the imperative to live in harmony with the environment at a time when humanity faces a growing ecological and climate crisis. His article next examines the implications for agriculture of the spiritual principle that material wealth is not an end in itself. Mr. Hanley explores how the Baha’i community is placing knowledge and learning, rather than wealth, at the center of development.

Another important idea Mr. Hanley notes is how sustainable development of agriculture can help humanity to live in harmony with the natural environment. The fourth theme is the primacy of capacity building in every population to contribute to sustainable development in agriculture; in the current community building endeavors of Baha’is around the world, capacity can be built for the development of villages through the training institute, Mr. Hanley explains.SLIDESHOW 
2 imagesThis photo shows ‘Abdu’l-Baha in the Holy Land in 1920. In his article, Mr. Hanley describes how ‘Abdu’l-Baha stimulated sustainable farming practices in the village of ‘Adasiyyih, a few kilometers southeast of the Sea of Galilee in present-day Jordan.

Mr. Hanley also draws a thread from social action guided by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in the early 20th century to the Baha’i world’s contemporary social and economic development endeavors. Referring to earlier research looking at ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s agricultural stewardship in the Levant, Mr. Hanley provides a compelling account of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha stimulated sustainable farming practices in the village of ‘Adasiyyih, a few kilometers southeast of the Sea of Galilee in present-day Jordan.

The Baha’i World examines themes related to civilization building, periodically making available new articles. Other pieces on the recently launched website cover topics such as technologypeacethe emergence of Baha’i Houses of Worship, and humanitarian relief.

In this bicentenary year, remembering the birth of a new Faith

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — On 23 May 1844, 175 years ago, an eager scholar and seeker of truth approached the gates of Shiraz. Standing outside this historic city known for its roses, its cypress trees, and its long tradition of poetry, he was searching for a new messenger of God.

The upper portion of the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran, before its destruction in 1979

His arrival would lead him to a profound discovery. It was in Shiraz on that evening that he first met the Bab. In the conversation that followed, the Bab made known that He was the Founder of a new religion that was to prepare the world for the coming of Baha’u’llah and presaged the latest stage in humanity’s social evolution.

The events of this night are the origins of the global Baha’i community’s endeavors for the betterment of the world. From community building activities, to projects of social action, to involvement in public discourse, those seeking to put into practice Baha’u’llah’s teachings find the origin of their efforts in that first conversation.

This October marks the bicentenary of the Bab’s birth. In this year, the Baha’i World News Service is examining some of the most salient moments in the life of the Bab. The latest podcast episode focuses on the night of His declaration. This year, it is being celebrated around the world from sundown Thursday to sundown Friday.

(NOTE: Visit often to learn of details of the local observance.)

The podcast episode explores how the heroism and sacrifice set in motion by the Bab’s declaration relates to the world today: “Though separated from our own time by two centuries, the society in which the Báb appeared resembles the present day world for the sense of oppression and for the longing of so many to find answers to slake the soul’s thirst to know,” the Universal House of Justice wrote in its Ridvan 2018 message.

Podcast: In this bicentenary year, remembering the birth of a new Faith

The latest episode of the Baha’i World News Service podcast focuses on the historic declaration of the Bab.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content.

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of the Bab.

Subscribe to the BWNS podcast for additional audio content.

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Encouraged by Prime Minister Ardern, New Zealand’s youth press to end racism

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — For nearly two decades, New Zealand’s Baha’is have been promoting a discourse on race unity through an annual process that brings together high school students from across the country. This year, the culmination of that process occurred in the shadow of the Christchurch terrorist attacks that shook this nation. Praised by the country’s prime minister, about 100 high school students gathered on Saturday to probe the critical issue of race unity.

Initiated by the Baha’i community and sponsored by the national police, the Human Rights Commission, and others, the Race Unity Speech Awards and Huihave provided a national platform for high school students to express their ideas of how the country can improve race relations. This year, 180 students gave speeches at regional events throughout the country, and the six best speakers were chosen to speak again at last week’s national gathering in Auckland. Accompanying those speeches was a daylong conference where scores of youth from around the country examined this critical issue.

“I would like to pass my warm wishes to everyone taking part in this year’s Race Unity Speech Awards and Hui,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote in a letter dated 7 May. “Over the past eighteen years, the Race Unity Speech Awards have provided young people with a space to deepen their understanding of race relations issues, and share their views on how we can all help to promote unity in Aoteaora.”

The young people’s speeches brought to light insights about race and the oneness of humanity.

“Pigmentation should have nothing to do with how we treat one another. Unfortunately it does,” said David Faalau-Solia of Sacred Heart College in Auckland. “Now, some say God created different races and with that comes all these problems. However, God created one race, that is, the human race. Human beings created racism.”

The conference was accompanied by an evening program where six high school students gave speeches on race unity. (Credit: Ben Parkinson)

“It shouldn’t take 50 lives for us to finally realize that racism still lives in New Zealand, and it shouldn’t take 50 lives for us to come together as one,” said Nina Gelashvili of Kuranui College in Wairarapa.

The speech awards and hui have had an especially timely impact, Prime Minister Ardern said. The event has received widespread coverage in the country’s news media. Also, the country’s Minister for Youth, Peeni Henare, and seven other Members of Parliament attended the gathering.

“I wish you all the best for this year’s Race Unity Speech Awards and Hui, and I am sure the event will inspire thoughtful, open and positive discussion. Allah-u-Abha,” Prime Minister Ardern concluded in her half-page message.

The day-long conference, held at the Te Mahurehure Marae in Auckland, focused on the theme of speaking for justice and working for unity.

“The hui is a unique space where you have mostly high school students but also Members of Parliament and leaders of significant NGOs in the country,” explained Tarn Austin, one of the organizers from the Baha’i community. “It’s a kind of space where there’s really a sense of connection between the youth and policymakers.”

“Now, some say God created different races and with that comes all these problems. However, God created one race, that is, the human race.”

—David Faalau-Solia of Sacred Heart College in Auckland

In addition to small group conversations, the conference included a panel discussion. The speakers—writer Lynda Chanwai Earle, lawyer and Maori activist Kingi Snelgar, and community leader Mehpara Khan—reflected the country’s diversity. Each speaker complemented and built on the comments of the others, enriching the day’s thoughtful exploration of the concepts of justice and unity.

“Throughout the hui, participants repeatedly said that this is an incredible space where we interact with people who are different from us but have the same sense of purpose,” Mr. Austin said. “But people are also asking, ‘How can we bring this back to where we came from? How do we ensure that there is action that comes out of this and it’s not an isolated event?’”

The young participants left with concrete plans to contribute to race unity and societal harmony. They are also drafting a collective statement on race relations.

Organizers also held two regional conferences earlier this year: one in New Plymouth on 1 March and another in Wellington on 6 April, bringing together a total of about 80 participants.