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Displaying the Baha’i Faith: the pen is mightier than the sword

 

 

There’s a famous saying that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. In other words, ideas have a greater impact, when written down and read, than when they’re spread by force.

Those words were coined by the English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839. He was an exact contemporary of the Persian nobleman Bahá’u’lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, the bicentenary of whose birth is currently being celebrated around the world.

The importance of the written word for Bahá’u’lláh was established in the earliest moments of his religion. During his first spiritual revelation, he heard these words, ‘Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen.’ This was to be a message of peace offered, as a gift to people, only through words and the positive acts of those who believed them.

Here is one of the original pens used by Bahá’u’lláh.

It’s hard to imagine today, when we have the ability literally at our fingertips to share ideas in an instant across the planet, that it was through pens such as this that Bahá’u’lláh set out his vision for one, united human race, in more than 100 volumes of writings. Despite the limitations of the technology, Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings spread, giving rise to a community that now numbers in the millions, established in virtually every country on the planet.

The power of the ‘Word’ has been central to all the world’s great faiths. It has inspired human beings to discover their noblest qualities and create new patterns of life, giving rise to great civilisations. In the case of older religions, it was the spoken sayings of their founders that were heard and passed down by others, captured in texts that have become sacred scripture. For Muslims, the Qur’an was verbally revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The revelation that Bahá’u’lláh received, for some 40 years, was immediately written down, authenticated by him, and shared far and wide. For all of that time, because of his teachings, Bahá’u’lláh endured torture, imprisonment and a series of exiles from his homeland.

Revelation writing

Eyewitnesses left accounts of the extraordinary manner by which Bahá’u’lláh’s writings came into being. Firstly, his secretary, Mírzá Áqá Ján, would have ready a number of reed pens – also on display in the bicentenary display – and stacks of large sheets of paper.

The verses would then seem to flow from Bahá’u’lláh, who spoke rapidly or chanted them aloud. Such was the speed with which his verses had to be captured on the paper that they were only readable by the scribe himself. Seeing this page of ‘revelation writing’ by Mírzá Áqá Ján, it looks almost like a sketch by a 20th-century Abstract Expressionist artist. But these are Bahá’u’lláh’s words, hurriedly captured by his scribe.

Later, Mírzá Áqá Ján would copy out his marks in legible handwriting. Sometimes he could not even read his own writing and he had to ask Bahá’u’lláh to help him decipher what was dictated. Then Bahá’u’lláh would give his seal of approval to the clean copy.

Other followers would then take this version, and write it out again, sometimes bind the verses into books like this one, so they could be transported and shared with people throughout the Middle East, and even as far afield as India, Burma (Myanmar) or China.

The Hidden Words

Bahá’u’lláh himself was also a skilled calligrapher, often transcribing his writings in his own beautiful handwriting that was later illuminated on the page.

Two beautiful examples are also on display of Bahá’u’lláh’s best-known and well-loved collection of writings, The Hidden Words, verses that present the ethical heart of his message and distil the spiritual guidance of all religions of the past. Among the principles conveyed in this example is the teaching of the oneness and the equality of the human race: ‘O Children of Men!’ he writes, ‘Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other.’

Imagine if the handwriting of Jesus Christ were to be discovered, how extraordinary it would be for a Christian today to be able to actually see it! For members of the Baha’i Faith like myself, it’s a very special privilege to be able to experience alongside others, the original handwriting of Bahá’u’lláh. Usually such items are only on display for pilgrims who have made a special visit to see them in the Holy Land. Most of the pieces in the display have been lent specifically from the International Baha’i Archives in Haifa, part of modern-day Israel, close to where Bahá’u’lláh passed away in 1892. The house where he lived for the final years of his life, outside the former Ottoman prison city of Akka, is where a professor from the University of Cambridge, Edward G Browne (1862–1926), went to visit him in 1890.

An English professor meets Bahá’u’lláh

Browne was fascinated by the evolution and rise of the Baha’i religion in his own time. In a unique pen-portrait, he left this description of Bahá’u’lláh:

The face of Him on Whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow… No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain.

During those meetings, Bahá’u’lláh expressed to Browne the hope that:

all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled… Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.

A year later, Bahá’u’lláh sent Browne a pair of reading glasses, originally a gift from a follower in Hong Kong. With them Bahá’u’lláh enclosed a message:

We should like to send them to our true friend. Though by God’s grace, he is endowed with outward and inward vision and has no need of them yet the object in view is a mention of us with him.

These glasses are also a rare and fascinating item in the display.

Today several million Baha’is around the world are working with their friends and neighbours for the spiritual and material prosperity of their communities. But, as this display reminds us, it all started with the markings of a pen on paper.

You can see the display The birth of Bahá’u’lláh: a bicentenary celebration of the Bahá’í Faith’s founder in Room 34 from 7 November 2017 until 22 January 2018

 

Meaning of life and greater bliss

Economic life is an arena for the expression of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and other qualities of the spirit. The individual is not merely a self-interested economic unit, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world’s material resources.

“Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue”, Baha’u’llah avers, “and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.”

And further: “Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest.”

By consecrating oneself to the service of others, one finds meaning and purpose in life and contributes to the upliftment of society itself.

At the outset of His celebrated treatise The Secret of Divine Civilization, ‘Abdu’l-Baha states:

“And the honour and distinction o f the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight.”

The larger the presence of a Baha’i community in a population, the greater its responsibility to find ways o f addressing the root causes of the poverty in its surroundings.

Extracts from the letter of March 1st 2017 The Universal House of Justice

Global campaign launches for imprisoned Baha’i leaders

The seven Iranian Baha’i leaders were imprisoned nine years ago. The campaign “Not Another Year” calls for their release and highlights the gross injustice that has led to their imprisonment and mistreatment. 

 

NEW YORK — The Baha’i International Community is launching a global campaign calling for the immediate release of the seven Iranian Baha’i leaders, unjustly imprisoned now for nine years.

The campaign, which takes the theme “Not Another Year,” raises awareness about the seven women and men unjustly arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for their religious beliefs. This sentence was reduced to 10 years in 2015 after the overdue application of a new Iranian Penal Code.

“Our expectation is that these seven brave individuals will be released in the coming year as they complete their sentences,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“But the reality is that they never should have even been arrested or imprisoned in the first place and that, under the terms of Iranian law, they should long ago have been released on conditional discharge.

“In fact these seven, their families, and, indeed, the entire Iranian Baha’i community are all subject to injustice and cruelty, to oppression and tyranny. They all face unjust policies of economic strangulation, the unabated denial of access to higher education, and unprosecuted and malicious attacks on Baha’is and their properties, not to mention extensive negative propaganda in the official media,” she said.

In a message addressed to the Baha’is of Iran on the occasion of the anniversary of the imprisonment of the seven, the Universal House of Justice states:

“Some of the events of the past year have left no doubt in the minds of the people of Iran and beyond, that the rigid fanaticism and worldly considerations of some among the religious leaders are the real motive for all the opposition and oppression against the Baha’is.”

It further states: “the representatives of the country on the international stage are no longer able to deny that these acts of discrimination are in response to matters of belief and conscience. Officials, lacking any convincing explanation for their irrational conduct and unconcerned at the damage done by their narrow policies to the name and credibility of the country, find themselves unable even to give a plausible answer to why they are so apprehensive about the existence of a dynamic Baha’i community in that land.”

The campaign for the seven imprisoned Baha’is, which begins today, aims to secure the immediate release of the seven, who are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm, the eldest of whom is over eighty years in age.

SLIDESHOW
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The seven Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Tehran in 2008 are pictured with their spouses prior to their arrests. 

Similar to campaigns from previous years, it commemorates the anniversary of the arrest of six of the seven on 14 May 2008. It will be supported by videos, songs, and activities designed to call attention to their plight.

The campaign this year also focuses on all the events they have missed during their nine years in prison, the joys—and sorrows—of day-to-day life with their families and loved ones.

“All seven were married with children and, prior to their arrests, had rich family lives,” said Ms. Dugal. “All seven were also extremely active in working for the betterment of their community—not to mention Iranian society as a whole.

“Further, their long-running imprisonment has meant, among other things, that they have missed out on the birth of numerous grandchildren, the joyous weddings of children and close relatives, and the funerals of family members and dear friends.

“They have been forced to celebrate their national and religious holidays in prison, instead of in the company of their loved ones. And, while in prison, they have been unable to tend to their farms and businesses, which have languished or, in at least one case, been destroyed by the government,” she said.

The Baha’i International Community calls on the Iranian government to immediately release them, as well as the other 86 Baha’is currently behind bars in Iran—all held solely for their religious beliefs.

More background about the campaign can be found at a special section of the website of the Baha’i International Community.

Riḍván 2017 – Message de la Maison Universelle de Justice

Each year on the first day of Ridván the Universal House of Justice addresses a letter to the worldwide Bahá’í community, known as the Riḍván message. These letters touch on many subjects, including the growth and vibrancy of the Bahá’í community, its efforts to contribute to the life of society, and the progress of specific projects and plans.

Message de la Maison Universelle de Justice du 19 Avril 2017

Message of the Universal House of Justice April 19th 2017

 

 

 

 

UN General Assembly rebukes Iran for human rights record

19 December 2016

Empty GA Hall

NEW YORK — Today the international community firmly denounced a wide range of human rights violations in Iran.

By a vote of 85 to 35 with 63 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution expressing “serious concern” about Iran’s high rate of executions without legal safeguards, ongoing use of torture, widespread arbitrary detentions, sharp limits on freedom of assembly, expression, and religious belief, and continuing discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities, including Baha’is.

“The vote today makes clear that the world remains deeply concerned about the way Iran treats its own citizens, while also raising questions about Iran’s genuine willingness to live up to its obligations as a member of the international community,” said Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“Sadly, the list of ongoing human rights violations in Iran is long,” continued Ms. Dugal. “Despite the denials of Iranian officials, signs of progress are difficult to perceive. This is especially true for Iranian Baha’is, who face, among other forms of oppression, a policy of ‘economic apartheid’ from their government, which at every turn seeks to deprive them of jobs, education, as well as the freedom to practice their religion as their conscience dictates.

“In early November, for example, 124 Baha’i-owned shops and businesses were sealed by the government after their proprietors closed for two days to observe an important Baha’i holy day.

“In addition, Baha’is continue to be blocked from freely attending university, and are subject to all manner of other restrictions. They also face arbitrary arrest, detention, and imprisonment for legitimate religious activities,” said Ms. Dugal.

She noted that about 86 Baha’is are currently in prison and that, since 2005, more than 900 Baha’is have been arrested and at least 1100 incidents of economic exclusion have been documented.

“The situation has not improved under the administration of President Hassan Rouhani,” she added. Since he took office in August 2013, at least 185 Baha’is have been arrested and there have been at least 540 incidents of economic exclusion.

Among other things, today’s resolution called on Iran to eliminate “all forms of discrimination, including economic restrictions” against religious minorities in Iran. It also called for the release of “all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group, including the seven Baha’i leaders.”

The resolution was introduced by Canada, and co-sponsored by 41 other nations. It is the 29th such resolution expressing concern about human rights violations in Iran by the General Assembly since 1985.

capture-decran-2017-01-06-a-07-53-33

In favour:
Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kiribati, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Vanuatu, Yemen.

Against:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.

Abstaining:
Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea- Bissau, Guyana, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Zambia.

Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world United Nations

United Nations

Economic and Social Council

Commission for Social Development 

Fifty-fourth session 

3-12 February 2016

Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly: priority theme: rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world 

Statement submitted by Baha’i International Community, a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council*

The Secretary-General has received the following statement, which is being circulated in accordance with paragraphs 36 and 37 of Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.

Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world United Nations N1535736

Certificate in Peace and Interfaith Studies – Registration deadline May 16TH 2015

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Riḍván Messages 2015

The Universal House of Justice

Ridván 2015

To the Bahá’ís of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

The resplendent season of Ridván is at hand, and from the heights to which the community of the Greatest Name has attained, bright prospects are visible on the horizon. A vast terrain has been traversed: new programmes of growth have appeared, and while hundreds more must still emerge in the next twelve months, efforts to set in motion the necessary pattern of activity have already begun in almost every one of the clusters required to reach the 5,000 called for in the Five Year Plan. Existing programmes are gaining in strength, many showing more clearly what it means for the Cause of God to extend further into the social landscape across a cluster and within a neighbourhood or village. The paths that lead to sustained large-scale expansion and consolidation are being followed with firmer footsteps, valiant youth often setting the pace. Ways in which the society-building power of the Faith can find release in various settings are becoming more apparent, and those defining features that must come to mark the further unfoldment of the growth process in a cluster are becoming gradually discernible.

The call to carry out and support this work is directed to every follower of Bahá’u’lláh, and it will evoke a response in every heart that aches at the wretched condition of the world, the lamentable circumstances from which so many people are unable to gain relief. For, ultimately, it is systematic, determined, and selfless action undertaken within the wide embrace of the Plan’s framework that is the most constructive response of every concerned believer to the multiplying ills of a disordered society. Over the last year, it has become clearer still that, in different nations in different ways, the social consensus around ideals that have traditionally united and bound together a people is increasingly worn and spent. It can no longer offer a reliable defence against a variety of self-serving, intolerant, and toxic ideologies that feed upon discontent and resentment. With a conflicted world appearing every day less sure of itself, the proponents of these destructive doctrines grow bold and brazen. We recall the unequivocal verdict from the Supreme Pen: “They hasten forward to Hell Fire, and mistake it for light.” Well-meaning leaders of nations and people of goodwill are left struggling to repair the fractures evident in society and powerless to prevent their spread. The effects of all this are not only to be seen in outright conflict or a collapse in order. In the distrust that pits neighbour against neighbour and severs family ties, in the antagonism of so much of what passes for social discourse, in the casualness with which appeals to ignoble human motivations are used to win power and pile up riches—in all these lie unmistakable signs that the moral force which sustains society has become gravely depleted.

Yet there is reassurance in the knowledge that, amidst the disintegration, a new kind of collective life is taking shape which gives practical expression to all that is heavenly in human beings. We have observed how, especially in those places where intensity in teaching and community-building activities has been maintained, the friends have been able to guard themselves against the forces of materialism that risk sapping their precious energies. Not only that, but in managing the various other calls upon their time, they never lose sight of the sacred and pressing tasks before them. Such attentiveness to the needs of the Faith and to humanity’s best interests is required in every community. Where a programme of growth has been established in a previously unopened cluster, we see how the initial stirrings of activity arise out of the love for Bahá’u’lláh held in the heart of a committed believer. Notwithstanding the orders of complexity that must eventually be accommodated as a community grows in size, all activity begins with this simple strand of love. It is the vital thread from which is woven a pattern of patient and concentrated effort, cycle after cycle, to introduce children, youth, and adults to spiritual ideas; to foster a feeling for worship through gatherings for prayer and devotion; to stimulate conversations that illuminate understanding; to start ever-growing numbers on a lifetime of study of the Creative Word and its translation into deeds; to develop, along with others, capacity for service; and to accompany one another in the exercise of what has been learned. Beloved friends, loved ones of the Abhá Beauty: We pray for you in earnest on every occasion we present ourselves at His Holy Threshold, that your love for Him may give you the strength to consecrate your lives to His Cause.

The rich insights arising from clusters, and from centres of intense activity within them, where the dynamics of community life have embraced large numbers of people deserve special mention. We are gratified to see how a culture of mutual support, founded on fellowship and humble service, has quite naturally established itself in such quarters, enabling more and more souls to be systematically brought within the pale of the community’s activities. Indeed, in an increasing number of settings the movement of a population towards Bahá’u’lláh’s vision for a new society appears no longer merely as an enthralling prospect but as an emerging reality.

We wish to address some additional words to those of you in whose surroundings marked progress is yet to occur and who long for change. Have hope. It will not always be so. Is not the history of our Faith filled with accounts of inauspicious beginnings but marvellous results? How many times have the deeds of a few believers—young or old—or of a single family, or even of a lone soul, when confirmed by the power of divine assistance, succeeded in cultivating vibrant communities in seemingly inhospitable climes? Do not imagine that your own case is inherently any different. Change in a cluster, be it swift or hard won, flows neither from a formulaic approach nor from random activity; it proceeds to the rhythm of action, reflection, and consultation, and is propelled by plans that are the fruit of experience. Beyond this, and whatever its immediate effects, service to the Beloved is, in itself, a source of abiding joy to the spirit. Take heart, too, from the example of your spiritual kin in the Cradle of the Faith, how their constructive outlook, their resilience as a community, and their steadfastness in promoting the Divine Word are bringing about change in their society at the level of thought and deed. God is with you, with each of you. In the twelve months that remain of the Plan, let every community advance from its present position to a stronger one.

The all-important work of expansion and consolidation lays a solid foundation for the endeavours the Bahá’í world is being called to undertake in numerous other spheres. At the Bahá’í World Centre, efforts are intensifying to methodically catalogue and index the content of the thousands of Tablets which constitute that infinitely precious bequest, the Holy Texts of our Faith, held in trust for the benefit of all humankind—this, so as to accelerate the publication of volumes of the Writings, both in their original languages and in English translation. Endeavours to establish eight Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs, sacred Fanes raised up to the glory of God, continue apace. External affairs work at the national level has gained markedly in effectiveness and become increasingly systematic, further stimulated by the release of a document, sent to National Spiritual Assemblies six months ago, which draws on the considerable experience generated over the last two decades and provides an expanded framework for developing these endeavours in the future. Meanwhile, two new Offices of the Bahá’í International Community, sisters to its United Nations Office based in New York and Geneva and to its Office in Brussels, have been opened in Addis Ababa and Jakarta, broadening the opportunities for the perspectives of the Cause to be offered at the international level in Africa and Southeast Asia. Often prompted by the demands of growth, a range of National Assemblies are building up their administrative capacity, visible in their thoughtful stewardship of the resources available to them, their efforts to become intimately familiar with the conditions of their communities, and their vigilance in ensuring that the operations of their National Offices grow ever stronger; the need to systematize the impressive body of knowledge now accumulating in this area has led to the creation at the World Centre of the Office for the Development of Administrative Systems. Initiatives for social action of various kinds continue to multiply in many countries, enabling much to be learned about how the wisdom enshrined in the Teachings can be applied to improve social and economic circumstances; so promising is this field that we have established a seven-member International Advisory Board to the Office of Social and Economic Development, introducing the next stage in the evolution of that Office. Three members of the Board will also serve as the Office’s coordinating team and be resident in the Holy Land.

At this Ridván, then, while we see much to be done, we see many ready to do it. In thousands of clusters, neighbourhoods, and villages, fresh springs of faith and assurance are pouring forth, cheering the spirits of those touched by their reviving waters. In places, the flow is a steady stream, in some, already a river. Now is not the moment for any soul to linger upon the bank—let all lend themselves to the onward surge.

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

This document has been downloaded from the Bahá’í Reference Library. You are free to use its content subject to the terms of use found at www.bahai.org/legal

MUJ-2015-04-21-Message-Ridvan-en-2015