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.

“Dawn of the Light”: New bicentenary film explores search for truth and meaning

A feature film commissioned for the upcoming 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab was released today on

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Dawn of the Light, a new feature film commissioned by the Universal House of Justice for the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, was released today on the bicentenary website,

The film follows the personal search for truth and meaning undertaken by eight people from different parts of the world. Each one describes the journey to discovering that God has sent two Divine Manifestations for today, the Bab and Baha’u’llah, Who are revolutionizing human thought and behavior.

The stories of the eight individuals are explored against the backdrop of the remarkable life of the Bab, the forerunner of Baha’u’llah.

Available in Arabic, English, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili voiceover and subtitled versions, the 48-minute film can be viewed here. The film can also be viewed on YouTube.

Design concept for the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha unveiled

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — The Universal House of Justice has today released the highly-anticipated design concept for the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to all National Spiritual Assemblies.

For Baha’is, ‘Abdu’l-Baha occupies a station without parallel in the religious annals of humankind. In a letter today, the House of Justice states that the structure envisaged in the design seeks “to honor ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s unique position” and “to reflect at once His lofty station and His humility”.

“This should be unlike any other building,” explains Hossein Amanat, who has been selected as the architect for this historic initiative. “It seeks to manifest ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s selflessness, wisdom, openness, acceptance, and kindness towards all people, to embody His love for gardens and nature, and to reflect His progressive and forward-looking approach.”

As well as a selection of images illustrating the design concept, a video has been released that allows the viewer to see both the central structure and its surroundings. SLIDESHOW

“‘Abdu’l-Baha had expressed His wish regarding where He should be buried,” explains Mr. Amanat, a distinguished Iranian-Canadian architect. “He had said to an early believer that if something should happen to Him and He should pass away, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wanted to be buried under the sands between Haifa and Akka, which He described as the pathway trodden by the loved ones and the pilgrims.”

In a prayer composed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, recited by visitors to His resting place, He expresses this supplication to God: “Make me as dust in the pathway of Thy loved ones.” This idea in the prayer is one of the organizing principles of the design.

“Considering the essence of these words and referring to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s attributes, one is hesitant to design an imposing structure for His resting place. His wishes must be taken into consideration,” Mr. Amanat says, “but not to such a literal extent that His station is not revered and recognized. His resting place must be new and unique, and not like any other building.”

Visitors will walk on a path designed to facilitate stages on a meditative journey toward the Shrine at the central point of the garden.

“The interior of the Shrine is envisioned to be a place of diffused light and quiet contemplation. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s resting spot is placed at the center of this serene space, and a sunburst pattern emanating from His resting place will embrace the whole garden, symbolizing the radiance that ‘Abdu’l-Baha brought to the people of the world,” says Mr. Amanat.

“Abdu’l-Baha was a modern Man,” he continues. “He was a harbinger of the new—His words were new, the Teachings of His Father that He promulgated were new, and He called humanity to a new set of relationships. This building seeks to reflect that.”

The video is also available on YouTube.

Members of parliament honor bicentenary

CANBERRA, Australia — Members of Parliament have honored the historic 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, highlighting the contributions of Baha’i communities to the life of their societies.

The House of Representatives of the Australian Federal Parliament held a 30-minute session on Monday during which members congratulated the country’s Baha’i community on the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab. The comments followed a private member’s motion with cross-party support.A video clip of a discussion at the Australian Parliament in which MPs speak about the bicentenary of the birth of the Báb and acknowledge the Baha’i community’s contributions to the life of society.

Among other points, the motion stated that the House of Representatives “considers the Baha’i community a valued part of Australian society,” “commends the contribution that Australian Baha’is make to social cohesion, unity and community building in Australia,” and “provides assurance that it holds the Baha’i Faith, its leadership and its practicing members in the highest regard, in light of their focus on serving others with excellence.”

MP Julian Leeser said in Monday’s session: “Baha’is seek to serve their community through cooperation and support to achieve good social outcomes.”

Another MP, Anne Aly, began her comments with a passage from Baha’u’llah’s Writings: “‘It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.’ That’s one of my favorite quotes, because it speaks to the universality of the human race unfettered by the imagined borders of nationhood and the constructed boundaries of race.”

Meanwhile in the United States, the California State Senate has also acknowledged the Baha’i community’s contributions to society in honoring the upcoming bicentenary. State Senator Henry Stern introduced the idea of commemorating the bicentenary with a proclamation from the legislative body. This video shows California State Senate leader Toni G. Atkins as she acknowledges the Baha’i community’s contributions and honors the upcoming bicentenary in a proclamation last month.

“Throughout California, Baha’i communities strive to collaborate with others to promote peace, justice, and unity, applying the spiritual principles to their lives and serving their fellow citizens in neighborhoods across our state,” the state Senate’s leader Toni G. Atkins told her colleagues. “In their celebration of diversity and commitment to a good life for all of us, the Baha’is represent the better angels of our state.”

Visit the website for the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab
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