BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Released online today and distributed to delegates at the 12th International Baha’i Convention, a new edition of the publication For the Betterment of the World provides an illustration of the Baha’i community’s ongoing process of learning and action in the field of social and economic development.
The publication, prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Baha’i World Centre, highlights fundamental concepts that guide Baha’i efforts in social action. Among its core premises are that “[a]ll of the earth’s inhabitants should be able to enjoy the fruits of a materially and spiritually prosperous society” and that “every population has the right and responsibility to mark out the path of its own progress.”
Much of the publication is dedicated to providing practical examples of projects undertaken in diverse parts of the world, irrespective of typical dichotomies—rural and urban, “North” and “South.” It describes a sampling of Baha’i development endeavors across a broad spectrum, ranging from grassroots efforts of limited duration undertaken by individuals or small groups, to sophisticated programs of social and economic development implemented by Baha’i-inspired nongovernmental organizations. The publication also explains how, most often, development endeavors emerge and advance within localities that have a pronounced sense of community and a growing collective consciousness.
Baha’i social and economic development initiatives address various aspects of community life, and For the Betterment of the World explores some of these, such as education, health, agriculture, the economic life of communities, arts and media, and the advancement of women. The publication also explores how knowledge is being captured and systematized by organizations and Baha’i institutions at various levels of society, from the grassroots to the international.
Regardless of the specific nature or scale of an initiative, Baha’i endeavors for social and economic development operate on the principle that populations should be the protagonists of their own material, spiritual, and intellectual advancement, not just recipients of aid or mere participants. All Baha’i-inspired initiatives are motivated by a desire to serve humanity and seek to promote the social and material well-being of all people. Taken together, Baha’i social action efforts represent a growing process of learning that is concerned with applying the teachings of Baha’u’llah, along with knowledge accumulated in different fields of human endeavor, to social reality.
This edition of For the Betterment of the World is the third, following versions published in 2003 and 2008. Copies of the new publication have been made available to the more than 1,300 delegates that have arrived for the International Baha’i Convention, which begins on 29 April 2018. A copy of the new edition can also be accessed on Bahai.org.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
19 December 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.