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
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.

In Huntsville and the Americas, spirit of oneness moves communities in anticipation of bicentenary

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, Canada — The global momentum of bicentenary preparations is building through the Americas. Artistic expressions, thoughtful presentations on the past and present, and other activities give a glimpse of how the continent’s diverse populations are readying themselves for the upcoming historic anniversary of the Bab’s birth.

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

During this period, neighborhoods across Canada are experiencing a new impulse of energy. In one neighborhood of Vancouver, devotional gatherings as well as educational programs for children and youth are increasing in these months.

“As a team we are seeing every moment before this bicentenary as precious,” says Hoda Toloui-Wallace, who lives in the area. “Our orientation is to reach out to as many friends to become protagonists in the betterment of society. There is a real spirit of joy in seeing more people channel their energies and find their place on a path of service.”
Young people in Ecuador participate in a recent three-day gathering to learn more about the lives and teachings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah.

Across the United States, communities are drawing growing numbers to local celebrations and other activities. Many places held special summer school gatherings, placing a particular focus on the life and teachings of the Bab. Energizing conferences have allowed participants to reflect on ways to generously serve their community and intensify this effort in the lead-up to the October bicentenary. Artistic endeavors are also underway through the creation of paintings, craft projects, and film screenings.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Baha’is are putting a special focus on the history of the Faith in the city. A series of events is planned for September to commemorate the centenary of the arrival of Martha Root, a notable early Baha’i, in the Argentine capital. Also, on the day of the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab in October, a special gathering will be held at the resting place of May Maxwell, a prominent early American Baha’i who died in Buenos Aires in 1940.

This deep connection with history also found expression in Vila Velha, Brazil, where the local community is planning a drama featuring monologues of six early followers of the Bab.

“The six of us are very excited about it. We are enjoying writing the monologues,” says Bahiyyih Maani Hessari. “We’re nervous for the play, but we’re also very happy and willing to do our best.”

Communities throughout the United States have been preparing for the upcoming bicentenary. These photos (clockwise from left) show a devotional gathering inside the Prayer Hogan at the Native American Baha’i Institute in the Navajo Nation, a special gathering in Dallas, and the participants in the Indiana Baha’i Summer School. These gatherings are among many happening as part of an increase in community building efforts before the October celebrations

Also in Brazil, A Tarde, a major newspaper in Salvador, featured the Baha’i community in its latest Sunday magazine. The special section featured 6-page cover article about the Baha’is of Salvador, their history from when Ms. Root first visited a century ago, their present efforts to contribute to life in Salvador, and their plans for the upcoming bicentenary celebrations.

Communities throughout the Americas have been holding special gatherings about the lives and teachings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. For example, in Kingston, Jamaica, an arts workshop to create and present different creative works was held. In Ecuador, people in the country’s southern region recently met for a three-day camp focused on themes inspired by the Bab and Baha’u’llah’s vision for humanity. In La Bomba, Costa Rica, there are a variety of efforts such as a weekly devotional gathering that includes sharing accounts from the lives of the Bab and early heroes and heroines of the Baha’i Faith. And in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, youth are meeting to learn and tell stories about the life of the Bab.

Elsewhere, along the continent, four Baha’i Houses of Worship radiate the spirit of the bicentenary period, acting as a focal point for preparations. A gathering at the Temple in Agua Azul, Colombia, brought together dozens of community residents to discuss different themes from the life of the Bab. In all of the Houses of Worship in the Americas—in Chile, Colombia, Panama, and the United States—devotional gatherings will be held during the bicentenary holy days and plans are underway in some for live online broadcasts of the celebrations.

Designated accounts on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube are regularly being updated with images and videos in honor of the upcoming celebrations and those held in 2017 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah.

Community members meet for a gathering on the grounds of the Baha’i House of Worship in Agua Azul, Colombia. The group was studying and reflecting about the life of the Bab.

Thinkers challenge social structures, link women’s empowerment to peace and progress

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND, United States — In a recent conference held by the Baha’i Chair for World Peace, academics and practitioners from diverse fields examined the inseparable relationship between the advancement of women and the creation of prosperous and peaceful societies.

Talks and panel discussions at the two-day event held last month at the University of Maryland, College Park, examined the inadequacies of contemporary social structures to address the major challenges facing humanity today and explored the leading role women must play in the pursuit of genuine solutions.

“Despite the progress being made toward women’s equality, by no means are we close to fully understanding the scale of change required to bring about full equality between women and men,” explained Hoda Mahmoudi, holder of the Chair. “We will have to create a new social order with new norms and institutions that are constructed with the full and equal participation of women.”

Speakers at the event critically examined the major obstacles that prevent the participation of women in all the spheres of society. Among their conclusions were that that societal structures today concentrate decision making at all levels in the hands of a relative few, largely excluding women; that science is misused to reinforce prejudices about women and, in some cases, to justify the abuses of men in certain positions of power; and, that laws and policies often exclude or disadvantage women, blocking their progress or establishing ceilings.SLIDESHOW
Speakers and attendees converse during a break at the recent Baha’i Chair conference about the equality of women and men.

Panel discussions also focused on the contributions that women are making to positive social change. Margaret Satterthwaite of the NYU School of Law spoke about indigenous women around the world who are learning to work with and shape legal systems to overcome oppressive structures. Brandy Thomas Wells, a historian from Oklahoma State University, described the contributions of African-American women to 20th century and present-day peace movements.

Other speakers described the significant contributions made by women to peace-building efforts, noting that peace negotiations in which women are included as major actors tend to be more fruitful and long-lasting.

“Where women are represented in higher numbers in civil society groups and in legislation, there is less violence and war,” Dr. Mahmoudi says. “According to many studies, higher levels of women’s equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict both between and within states.”

Speakers also emphasized the need for structural changes in society to bring about the equality of women and men. Marie Berry of the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies described how incremental reforms would not be sufficient.

“How are we actually seeking to build movements that change systems and don’t replicate the violence of those systems? How do we build movements that challenge and dismantle those systems and rebuild more just, more inclusive, more democratic, and more peaceful societies?” noted Dr. Berry.SLIDESHOW
A student asks a question during the recent Baha’i Chair conference that focused on the equality of women and men.

Reflecting on the conference, Dr. Mahmoudi explains that the event has revealed important questions about the requirements for new patterns of thought and behavior and for new social structures which reflect the principle of the equality of women and men.

The empowerment of women is one of the Baha’i Chair’s five central themes on which it focuses as part of its mandate to advance research and dialogue on global peace. The Chair will continue to open spaces for leading academics and practitioners to exchange ideas and explore new insights about the advancement of women and its relationship with global peace and prosperity.

The conference’s talks and panel discussions can be viewed on the Baha’i Chair’s YouTube channel.

During one of the panel discussions, Brandy Thomas Wells, a historian from Oklahoma State University, speaks about the contributions of African-American women to 20th century and present-day peace movements.
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Bicentenary preparations intensify throughout Australasia

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This fifth and final article in a series on preparations for the bicentenary highlights efforts across Australasia. See the previous articles here.

SOUTH TARAWA, Kiribati — Across Australasia, communities are filled with anticipation for the coming bicentenary and are honoring this special period through an abundance of artistic works and vibrant community activities.

There is a long and rich history in this region of marking celebrations with traditional dance. A well-known dance troupe in South Tarawa, Kiribati, is offering a series of performances along the island’s main road, presenting stories about the Bab and His mission. “The bicentenary is so special, and we want to let every soul on South Tarawa know about it,” says Therese Bakineti, an island resident.

In the Tongan island of Tongatapu, youth from several communities are rehearsing traditional dances to be performed at upcoming celebrations.

A group of musicians in Christchurch, New Zealand, is honoring the bicentenary by setting Baha’i prayers and writings to music in the Maori language. Naming their effort the Waiata Project—from a Maori word for song or chant—they have created an album of nine songs in both traditional and contemporary styles. “Being Maori myself, this project made me connect a lot more with my language and with the prayers,” explains D. J. MacDonald, a 17-year-old musician who helped compose the music. “My hope is that these waiata strengthen the Maori language and bring people together in New Zealand. I want us to be united over these songs.”

In diverse settings throughout Australasia, people are also coming together to reflect on the special nature of the bicentenary, by viewing the film commissioned for the occasion, Dawn of the Light, and by turning their attention to a message of the Universal House of Justice about the bicentenary.

These and many other initiatives are strengthening community bonds across this region and channeling the energies of growing circles of people toward constructive processes in society. For example, the community in Lae, Papua New Guinea, is raising a building to house educational activities. In a suburb of Port Vila, Vanuatu, friends, neighbors, and government officials recently set out together to clean a river, clearing trash and planting riverbank grasses to prevent soil erosion. In a neighborhood near Sydney, Australia, dozens of households are inviting friends and neighbors to gatherings for prayer and reflection on the teachings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah and their application to humanity’s social progress.

At the site of the future Temple in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the community met for prayers on a recent national holiday, and young people spoke about the life of the Bab and the upcoming bicentenary.

The bicentenary has also been marked at the national level, including in Australia where the Federal Parliament last month held a session honoring the historic anniversary of the birth of the Bab.

A special feature of this region that is lending further impetus to preparations for the bicentenary is the presence of two Baha’i Houses of Worship, with two more that are under development. At the Temple in Sydney, some 200 people gathered recently for a conference to reflect on their community-building efforts. Drawing on the welcoming spirit of the Temple, participants spoke with visitors and residents of the surrounding neighborhood about the edifice and the teachings it represents. “A lot of people are starting to see who the Bab and Baha’u’llah were and why they’re so important to the world today. Their teachings about the oneness of mankind, the oneness of religion, and the equality of women and men are essential for our society,” notes Steven Maaelopa of Sydney.

Sites in the Pacific islands where Houses of Worship stand or will be built in the coming years are also acting as focal points of celebration and profound reflection during the bicentenary period. At the site of the future Temple in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the community recently met for prayers on a national holiday, and young people spoke about the life of the Bab. At the Temple site in Tanna, Vanuatu, a sense of collective ownership is permeating surrounding communities as residents learn about the nature and purpose of Houses of Worship and contribute to its development.SLIDESHOW
10 images at the Baha’i Temple in Sydney, devotional gatherings and meetings to reflect on community building efforts are regularly taking place in the lead-up to the bicentenary.

British Library marks bicentenary, exhibits works of the Bab and Baha’u’llah

LONDON — The British Library is marking the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab with various initiatives alongside the launch of a new website, Discovering Sacred Texts, and companion exhibition, which feature examples of the Faith’s original texts.

Drawing from its vast collection, the library is displaying three rare and exquisite pieces in its Treasures Gallery: an original of the Bab’s own handwriting, in the shape of a five-pointed star; calligraphic exercises written by Baha’u’llah in His childhood; and an example of “Revelation Writing”, the form in which Baha’u’llah’s words were recorded at speed by His secretaries as they were revealed. These manuscripts will be displayed at the library for the next six months.SLIDESHOW
Visitors viewing original works of the Bab and Baha’u’llah on display at the opening evening of an exhibition in the British Library’s Treasure Gallery

The exhibition opened in conjunction with the library’s new online educational resource which includes digitized selections of sacred texts from the world’s religions. “Through the project we have made the British Library’s significant collection of Baha’i manuscripts accessible online,” says Alex Whitfield, Learning and Digital Programmes Manager.

This tablet of the Bab, an original in His own handwriting, is on display at the British Library.

The new educational website “will provide an invaluable tool for students, teachers, lifelong learners, and anyone with an interest in the great world religions,” says Dr. Whitfield. The site includes pages introducing the Baha’i Faith, its sacred texts and Central Figures.

Coinciding with the launch of the site and exhibition is the publication of an article by Moojan Momen, specially commissioned by the library for the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. Dr. Momen writes about the three original works on display at the exhibition, set in the context of a brief historical account of the life of the Bab.

To further mark the bicentenary, the library invited actor and comedian Omid Djalili to stage his one-man show A Strange Bit of History recounting events surrounding the appearance of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. The four-day run of performances concluded this week.

Jon Fawcett, head of events at the British Library, saw the show 25 years ago and has never forgotten it. “It struck me as a brilliant piece of storytelling,” he says.

In the performance, Mr. Djalili plays 16 different roles. The main characters are an executioner and a camel driver. “The executioner represents the reaction of the authorities at the time of the Bab,” says Mr. Djalili, “while this lowly camel driver represents both the appeal of the Baha’i Faith to people from every stratum of society and, at the same time, the sense of expectation during the Bab’s time when, all over the world, people were spiritually searching.”

In the play Mr. Djalili also portrays five modern-day performance poets. “They in turn comment on what’s going on in the world, talking about their own search,” he says, “but they also convey the sense that we are living at a great time, when two Divine Messengers have appeared in the world.

One of many digitized manuscripts in the British Library’s Discovering Sacred Texts website, this illuminated leaf is from a volume of Baha’u’llah’s Writings.