The Baha’i World News Service is publishing a series of podcasts about the 150th anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Holy Land. This brief article is the introduction to the first of the podcast episodes.
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — This week marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Baha’u’llah in the Holy Land, the last banishment in a series of exiles decreed by two monarchs. The Akka/Haifa area has since become the spiritual and administrative center of the Baha’i world, home to the community’s holiest sites.
“This exile was an act of oppression and injustice and persecution, but Baha’u’llah turned this act of oppression into a journey of humanity toward spirituality and freedom,” explains Nader Saiedi, Professor of Iranian Studies at University of California, Los Angeles. “This time becomes the main turning point in the mission of Baha’u’llah and, in a sense, a turning point in the cultural history of humanity.”
Baha’u’llah was banished from his homeland of Persia in 1853, initiating a series of exiles. The Persian and Ottoman governments thought that by sending Baha’u’llah to a far-off prison, they would extinguish the light of His religion.
On 12 August 1868, Ottoman troops surrounded Baha’u’llah’s house in Edirne, known at that time as Adrianople, and authorities told Him he was banished again. To where, they would not say. It was almost two weeks later, after Baha’u’llah and His companions had begun their journey, that they learned their destination: Akka, an ancient prison city in Ottoman Palestine, known also as Acre.
“Acre became for the Ottomans a place where, first of all, they had a prison for criminals, and then, a place for exile of all kinds of people who they thought should be watched over. The Baha’is were of that category,” explains Professor David Kushner, a historian who specializes in the Ottoman Empire.
Akka was a historic city that had passed through the hands of several civilizations and was once a prominent center in Ottoman Palestine. By 1868, however, the Ottomans used it as a prison colony, a desolate city where Baha’u’llah was sent to be forgotten.
Now, thousands of Baha’is visit the Akka/Haifa area every year for pilgrimage, an act of devotion to the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah.
The Huntsville Baha’i Community is pleased to host on Sunday August 19, 2018:
~Alicia Tyson, a PhD student examining the intersection between natural and social system resiliency and management of natural resources in Puerto Rico
~Amelia Tyson, a MFA candidate exploring, through film, constructive approaches to building collaborative relationships to address water resource management issues in Alabama.
JOIN US FOR A LIGHT BRUNCH AT 9:30 AM.
Brunch is provided, including vegetarian, gluten free, & dairy free friendly offerings.
PROGRAM BEGINS PROMPTLY AT 10AM.
Children’s activities are available.
The presentations and discussions will explore ways in which the Revelation of Baha’u’llah sheds light on the evolution of methodological approaches within two diverse professional arenas seeking to address and examine societal and community needs. As society looks to deal with ever greater challenges to its oneness, integration of the Teachings of the Bahá’í Faith to the very fabric of our daily professional and personal lives is needed like never before.
“Is not the object of every Revelation,” Bahá’u’lláh proclaims, “to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?”
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — During a conference at the Baha’i World Centre, groups of Continental Counsellors joined in conversations that were recorded by the Baha’i World News Service for a series of podcasts on community building, spiritual transformation, and social change.
“After we had the Temple,” Ms. Reth explains. “We could see that people gained more understanding of prayer, about the meaning of prayer, and the power of prayer. They feel that when they come as a whole family, it helps the family to become closer to each other and much more united.”
Also, Mark Sisson from the United States and Taraz Nadarajah from Australia discuss family life, community, and race. They draw especially on experiences in Sydney, Australia, and San Diego, United States. In their conversation, they explore both how social forces are effecting society and how Baha’i communities are learning about transcending those forces to build new patterns of community life based on the oneness of humankind.
This scene depicts when Nasiri’d-Din Shah, the king of Persia, met with Tahirih, offering to marry her if she recanted her faith. Tahirih turned down the offer with poetry: “Kingdom, wealth, and power for thee / Beggary, exile, and loss for me / If the former be good, it’s thine / If the latter is hard, it’s mine.”
BAKU, Azerbaijan — The heroine, under the admiring gaze of the Persian king, listens to his proposal. Give up your faith, marry me, and enjoy a life of luxury as my favorite queen, was his bid.
The audience of 450 people watches this scene with bated breath.
With grace, wisdom, and courage, Tahirih declines his offer. She chooses instead to devote her life to a Cause she believes is destined to transform the world.
The performance, staged on 8 July at the Azerbaijan State Academic National Drama Theatre, was the opening of Daughter of the Sun, a new play about the life of Tahirih, an influential poet, scholar, and champion of women’s emancipation.
The opening night stirred performers and audience members alike.
“Tahirih is a hero of not only one religion but of all of humanity,” Sayman Aruz, a poet and Head of the Department of South Azerbaijan Literature in the Azerbaijan Writers Union, told the audience after the play. “She lived and died for divine and spiritual values for the whole of humanity. She has no parallel in the history of the East. She is the voice of freedom for millions.”
The play comes at a time when the life of Tahirih is gaining renewed attention and interest in Azerbaijani society.
A book on Tahirih’s life and works was translated and published in 2016, catalyzing a growing interest among the people of Azerbaijan about the life of this iconic champion of women’s emancipation. After learning about Tahirih, journalist Kamale Selim Muslimgizi was so inspired that she committed herself to producing Daughter of the Sun. Ms. Muslimgizi recruited about 30 students from a dozen universities in Baku to act in the play.
“Tahirih lived and died for the cause of truth,” Ms. Muslimgizi says. “This project changed my life. Before I had only ideas and dreams, but now I have spiritual power to make change. Tahirih gave me courage to act for the common good.”
“Tahirih is a hero of not only one religion but of all of humanity.”
– Sayman Aruz
Tahirih was born to a prominent religious family in early 19th century Qazvin, Iran. She showed great interest in matters that, at that time, were regarded as beyond the capacity of women and inappropriate for them to pursue. Despite the obstacles before her, Tahirih became a renowned poet and scholar whose influence, which was felt profoundly in her time, has not waned with the passage a century and a half.
In 1844, Tahirih became the first woman to accept the teachings of the Bab, the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, and became one of the leading figures in a movement that would spread across Persia and further afield, bringing into its ranks tens of thousands of believers in the span of a few years.
The title, “Tahirih,” was given to her by Baha’u’llah, Whom she met in 1848 at the historic Conference of Badasht. The word means “the Pure.”
It was at that important conference that Tahirih removed her veil. The act was considered unthinkable in 19th century Persia, a patriarchal society where women had little role in the public sphere. In that history-altering moment, she proclaimed that equality between women and men had been ushered in and that the teachings of the Bab signified a break from the traditions of the past — a “stunning trumpet-blast,” as described by Shoghi Effendi.
Four years later, as the Persian government undertook its brutal persecution of the Bab’s followers, Tahirih was taken into captivity in Tihran. Refusing to recant her faith, she was executed, her dying words ringing across the century that followed: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
Daughter of the Sun highlights Tahirih’s unmatched courage, a quality that has influenced generations of people. Nigar Aliyeva, the lead actor who plays Tahirih, explains:
“Tahirih said in the play, ‘I was born as Zarrin Taj but lived as Tahirih.’ While acting in the role of Tahirih I felt that I have changed. I am not a person like before. Now my life’s refrain is: ‘I was born as Nigar but will live as Tahirih.’”
In the performance, dramatization of scenes from Tahirih’s life were interspersed between segments of narration and the reading of selections from her poetry.
One audience member commented after the performance: “I now realize how courageous we should be and how we have to raise our voices against oppression and tyranny.”
Tahirih has long attracted interest among scholars. Western Orientalists of the 19th century wrote of her influence on literature and gender equality. In recent years, there have been numerous academic articles and books about her as well as translations of three volumes of her poetry into English.
Artists have also sought to depict her important influence on humanity, with playwrights, novelists, musicians, and filmmakers creating works inspired by her life and character.
Tahirih wrote in Persian, Arabic, and Azeri, a widely spoken language in Qazvin and the surrounding region. Azeri is also the main language of Azerbaijan.
The play will continue its run in Baku and in the coming months will go on stage in other cities across the country.
AGUA AZUL, Colombia — Sunday’s daybreak saw more than 1,000 people gather to celebrate a historic moment as Colombia’s first Baha’i House of Worship opened its doors to all.
Gathered in the shadow of the Temple, attendees awaited their visits to the interior of the central edifice as a spirit of joy and eager anticipation filled the air. The opening of the Temple marks a new stage in the unfoldment of the Baha’i Faith in Norte del Cauca, where the Faith has had roots for more than four decades.
“We can hardly bear the great joy we feel knowing that we now have a House of Worship here,” said Carmen Rodriguez, from the nearby town of Villa Rica, reflecting on the significance of the moment.
Buses arrived shortly after dawn with people filing to a large tent where the ceremony was held. Following opening presentations, the participants walked to the central edifice for prayers.
“I believe that the House of Worship is a very important spot for not only Norte del Cauca but also the whole region,” says Hender Martínez, from the nearby town of Santander de Quilichao. “The atmosphere inside the Temple is something totally unique. You feel tranquility and peace.”
Many attendees had participated in the early discussions about the design of the Temple during the months following its announcement in 2012 by the Universal House of Justice. “I was in those early community meetings about the creation of the House of Worship. Each person was able to contribute ideas and concepts for the design. Now, we can see the outcome of this process,” described Carlos Ever Mesur from the nearby village of Mingo.
“This historical moment today is not the end of a process,” said Mr. Gustavo Correa, a former member of the Universal House of Justice who spoke at the opening. “It is a very significant step in an enterprise that aims to bring material and spiritual prosperity to a whole region.”
Ms. Jenny Nair Gómez, the mayor of Villa Rica, also addressed the audience in an uplifting talk that recalled the first time that her office was approached about the idea of a House of Worship. “We are very honored to have this House of Worship in Norte del Cauca,” she exclaimed. She was one of four mayors that attended the event.
In his talk about the history of the Faith in the region, former member of the Universal House of Justice Dr. Farzam Arbab said: “As we contemplate today after almost half a century of continuous progress, some words that characterize the peoples of the region and their aspirations come to mind: an enormous spiritual receptivity; a keen spiritual perception; a sincere respect for intellectual achievements; an immense capacity for joy and pain which embrace one another; an unpretentious kindness and generosity of heart; untamed determination; and a brilliance of spirit which the winds of oppression cannot extinguish.”
Music and traditional dancing was featured as a central part of the opening and captured the spirit of the event.
“The House of Worship: an emblem of our history, a symbol of progress for the entire region,” sang a musical group as dancers performed. The piece, titled “The Soul of Norte del Cauca,” is about the arrival of the Baha’i Faith to the region and how Baha’u’llah’s teachings are given expression in the hopes and aspirations of the people. The group also performed a song called “La Cumbia del Jardinero.”
Following the opening program, Mrs. de Sadeghian led the first of five groups to a devotional program inside the House of Worship. The program consisted of prayers and quotations from the Baha’i writings, some of which were sung by a choir. Each group remained afterward for a period of silent prayer before making way for the next set of inauguration participants.
The event Sunday marks the opening of a month-long inauguration period. In a series of weekly visits to the Temple, 1,500 people are expected to participate in a special program called “My First Visit to the Baha’i House of Worship.” The program will include many of the features of Sunday’s dedication ceremony, allowing many more people to participate in the historic opening of the Temple.
BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Senior officers of the Baha’i Faith, members of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, recently met for a conference at the Baha’i World Centre following the 12th International Baha’i Convention to reflect on major developments in Baha’i communities around the world.
During their recent conference, groups of Counsellors joined in conversations that were captured by the Baha’i World News Service for a series of podcasts on community building, spiritual transformation, and social change.
In this episode, Alain Pierre Djoulde, Clément Thyrrell Feizouré, Maina Mkandawire, and Judicaël Mokolé – all members of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa – discuss selected Baha’i-inspired endeavors in the field of education.
Their conversation is informed by the experience of several Baha’i-inspired organizations involved with education and highlights certain principles drawn from Baha’u’llah’s teachings that help inform their approach to development.
“Fundamentally, we start from the assumption that each human being has been endowed with the potential to contribute to their own transformation and the transformation of their society,” explains Mr. Djoulde, who follows the work of Emergence Foundation in Cameroon. “And each people, each community has been endowed with all the capacities that allow it to develop. So, the role of [our educational program] is to help individuals to become more conscious of the potential that God has given them, and how they can use that potential for the well-being of their community.”
Mr. Feizouré, who works with Ahdieh Foundation, a Baha’i-inspired organization that promotes community schools in the Central African Republic, adds: “Our approach to development consists above all in developing the capacity of the local population itself to take charge of the education of its children.”
“The approach that we take is completely in the field. It involves us having conversations with the local population about education – about intellectual, spiritual, and moral education. Then the community itself decides to construct its own school, and our role is mostly to help the community develop its capacity by training teachers and accompanying the process of education that is put into place,” he continues.
Mrs. Mkandawire works with a similar initiative, Bambino Foundation, in Malawi. Speaking of the experience there, she says: “With community schools, the community takes responsibility of the education that their children are involved in. The teachers are from the community itself, and they are very dedicated. The community can see the transformation in the children because there is now a unified purpose for both the parents and the teachers to make sure that the children’s education goes well. So, we find that there is a lot of involvement and commitment from the parents to make sure that their children are learning. In most cases, these schools are run by the community itself. The families pay a little just to support the teacher. And the teachers don’t get much, but it’s the service to their community, to their village, that motivates them to teach so that they see some change for the better.”
The organizations that support community schools focus on providing teacher training and improving the quality of education as the school expands. Their experience has shown that premature introduction of funds to an endeavor can create challenges that may lead to dependency on outside support or disunity. Such educational institutions emerge where the spirit of worship and service is pronounced; in these places there is also a heightened consciousness of collective responsibility to the advancement of their community.
Mr. Mokolé, who also works with Ahdieh Foundation in Central African Republic, explains that the experience of this Baha’i-inspired organization with community schools has generated insights that have been useful to the government in its work to provide education throughout the country: “It allowed the government to see a possible way to overcome the question of finances that was the limiting factor in supporting teachers at community schools – an approach focused on raising consciousness and changing the mentality of the parents so that they can themselves take charge of supporting the teachers that are educating their children.”
AGUA AZUL, Colombia — The sacred Baha’i symbol known as the Greatest Name was raised to the apex of the dome inside the local Baha’i House of Worship in Agua Azul, Colombia, on Friday.
A small gathering, including representatives of the Baha’i community, witnessed this significant moment, marking the near-completion of the world’s second local House of Worship. Following the recitation of prayers, the carved teak Greatest Name symbol was raised 15 meters to be placed at the inner apex of the dome.
The Greatest Name is a calligraphic representation of the invocation “O Glory of the All-Glorious.” A version of the symbol is placed in every Baha’i Temple. The Temple’s crowning piece, which rises 18 meters, represents the blooming cocoa flower, an iconic symbol in Colombia.