Archive for August, 2007

wendi

Go Not Down to Egypt

Man’s identity or rather his individuality is never lost. His reality as a person remains intact throughout the various states of his development. Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í writings

A couple of days ago I posted a document in Persian. Today it is Arabic. This one explains what is happening to the Baha’is in Egypt. It is another sad tale of persecution for the religious beliefs of a people who want nothing more than to serve humanity,

http://basmagm.wordpress.com/

Or you can read this blog, in English: http://bahai-egypt.blogspot.com/

Here is the situation. Egyptians have to have ID cards and you have to state your religion on the card. Are you with me so far? One might already ask questions of why the card at all and why does one’s religion need to be on it?

The old cards used to be paper and one could simply write in one’s affiliation. No more. Egypt has now come into the 21st century. Its ID cards are computerized. Now one’s religious affiliation is printed on the card.

But here’s the catch! There are only three religions to choose from: Islam, Christianity or Judaism. If a person belongs to any other religion than these three, then he or she has to choose one of these named religions – that is, lie – or go without the card. Interestingly, the application form also clearly states that entering a false statement will lead to imprisonment and a heavy fine.

So what is a Baha’i – or a Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jain or Buddhist, for that matter – to do? Lie and you go to jail; tell the truth and you don’t get an ID card. Without an ID card, a person does not legally exist. Without an ID card, a person has no rights at all in his or her own country. Without an ID card a person cannot access any essential service. Without an ID card a person cannot get a birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate or divorce certificate. Without an ID card a person cannot get a passport. Without these documents, a person cannot be employed, cannot be educated, cannot get health care, cannot get treated in a hospital, cannot buy food from a state market. And I don’t suppose it will surprise you to learn that a person without an ID card cannot vote.

At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1924, Egypt became the first Muslim state legally to recognize the Bahá’í Faith as a religion separate from Islam. Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights says: `Egypt has joined the global march of the international movement of human rights towards its transformation into international legitimacy, and in the drafting of the principles of fundamental human rights and freedoms, set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, into binding international legal rules.’

Really. Must be near the end of the parade then.

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wendi

The Educational Path Blocked

The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying their revelation hath been to educate all men . . . Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

This long bank holiday weekend we’ve been to a couple of social events bringing together family and friends across four generations. The conversations frequently turned to future plans and aspirations. Those born in the 1990s talked about their GSCE grades and what they would be studying at A-level. One person had got excellent A-level results and would be moving on to university. Two or three born in the 1970s and 1980s mentioned that they were thinking about changing their careers or moving to another country to pursue their current one. That they would need to retrain in some way to do this was seen as normal and, though time-consuming, no one thought it would be impossible.

Depressing, then, when I got home last night and opened my emails, to learn that the Baha’i International Community had received a copy of a confidential 2006 letter from Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology instructing Iranian universities to expel any student who is discovered to be a Baha’i. I don’t expect you read Persian but here it is.

Iranian document expelling Baha'i students

This is the 2006 letter, stamped `confidential’, from the Central Security Office of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MSRT), issued by its director general, Asghar Zarei, to 81 universities in Iran instructing them to expel Baha’i students.

So despite statements by Iranian officials claiming that Baha’i students in Iran face no discrimination, here is evidence that they do. Further evidence comes from the fact that more than half of the Baha’i university students enrolled last autumn were gradually expelled over the course of the 2006-2007 academic year.

Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations, noted that `This latest document, which flatly states that Baha’i students should be expelled from universities once they are discovered, proves unequivocally that Iranian authorities remain intent on utterly blocking the development of Iranian Baha’is, despite what they say to the outside world.’ This letter exposes, she says, that the Iranian government `is actually continuing to implement its secret, long-term plan to prevent Baha’i students from obtaining a university education.’ You can read the whole story here: http://www.news.bahai.org/story/575

This has been going on since 1979, since the Islamic revolution in Iran. My own children, half-Iranian, were born just a few years before that. Both took advantage of the excellent higher education provided in the United Kingdom. It depresses me to think that people their own age living in the country of their father’s birth are denied the very thing that has enabled my children to thrive and become contributors to their communities – and denied it not because the country cannot provide it but because these young people belong to a religion that teaches the importance of independent searching for truth for oneself – surely the whole point of education.

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wendi

Journeys in Cyberspace

With every fleeting breath they cover the immensity of space, and at every moment traverse the kingdoms of the visible and the invisible. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

Today was one of those days when I am amazed that I am living in such an incredible age.

First thing this morning, I mentally journeyed back in time 39 years to Haifa, Israel, the Bahá’í World Centre. My first visit – how thrilled and excited I was at just 17 to see such a beautiful place. I arrived at night, saw the Shrine of the Báb all lit up and went to what is now known as the `old’ Pilgrim House. There I met about 50 other young people from around the world. We were all there to serve the Universal House of Justice for three weeks because 2000 Bahá’ís were arriving to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Bahá’u’lláh in the Holy Land in 1868 and there were very few staff members to register them and guide them. Of all the great people I met there that night, one turned out to be very special – my husband.

Later in the day I took a journey through cyberspace. I am currently working on a great book by Denali Knight-Weiler called `Arising: A Year of Service Handbook for Volunteers’ which George Ronald www.grbooks.com will be publishing soon. I was trying to track down the lyric writer (Danny Deardorff) of a piece of music Denali had quoted from the 1979 `Happy Ayyam-i-Ha’ album featuring Hand of the Cause William Sears. I also wanted the actual lyrics and the publisher so I could seek permission to quote them. Googling Danny’s name and the album title brought me to Bahá’í blogger George Wesley, who just happened to have a picture of the album on his blog last year. I contacted him – a long shot – to see if he had any information. Straight away he emailed back with a contact email for Danny and the lyrics. Thanks George!

While I was doing this, I was looking at my Facebook friends and trying to see if any of them might have Danny as a friend. I didn’t see his name but recognized a few others I hadn’t seen in years and added them as friends.

While I was still doing this, my Skype line rang and it was my sister Bambi, skyping me from Mongolia, saying she couldn’t resist because it seemed so unlikely – when we were children Outer Mongolia was the place we thought was as far away from anywhere that you could get. I first went there 16 years ago – by train. Now she is there training the principals and teachers of international schools and talking to me on a computer.

Then I went to lunch in a pub with my new friends. We’ve been meeting every month for about four months now and for me it is like a `home visit’, that is, we have spiritual conversations. I don’t plan them, they just happen.

Today someone asked about life after death and everyone said what they thought. One person talked about reincarnation. Another disagreed, saying that she wanted to believe there was something after this life but couldn’t do it. Life ended, she said, with death and that was that. She seemed very sad about it.

I offered the Bahá’í understanding of the journey of soul, using the analogy of the child growing in the womb, developing what must seem to it to be pretty useless arms and legs and eyelashes and so on. It is only when the child dies to that world and is born into this one that the purpose of the arms and all gradually becomes clear and they become useful. Similarly, the soul in this world has to develop those qualities such as justice and honesty and trustworthiness that can sometimes be undervalued here but which will be the very things it requires when it moves on to the next world. My new American friend seemed to think this was a pretty interesting way to think about life after death.

Coming home, I reflected on how remarkable this age is. We can travel all over the world quickly and meet someone from another country and marry him or her and live in another part of the world. We can find people by just typing their name into a computer. We can know immediately what our friends are up to and see their pictures and videos and hear their voices. We can talk to people thousands of miles away and see their faces. We can pull whole libraries of information out of the air. We can contact total strangers with odd requests for information and get an immediate response. And we can go to a pub, drink water and eat jacket potatoes with new friends and share ideas that are out of this world.

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wendi

Blood in the path of service

It behoveth thee to spend thy life, body and blood in the path of God . . . `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

One summer many years ago I took my children to the `Bahá’í-land Gathering’, in Aberdeen. While there the Bahá’ís decided to offer a service to the city: they would all become blood donors. So off to the blood donation centre we all went – most of us for the first time – and learned how to give blood so that others might live.

That session was the first of many for me and today I went again – not to romantic Aberdeen, unfortunately, but to the rather more prosaic (and closer to home) car park at the Biggleswade Sainsbury’s where the mobile unit attends every month.

While drinking my cold drink (it used to be hot tea, but no more) after donating my pint (I think it is still a pint, even in these metric days) I read the posters about blood. I learned that with my O negative blood I am only 7 per cent of the UK population and am a universal donor – so I have rather special blood that can be shared with anyone, a rather Bahá’í idea.

But mainly I looked at my fellow donors and was, as always, fascinated by the very different people who turn up to give a little bit of themselves to save the lives of strangers. There are a lot of business types in suits and women shopping for the week’s food – people you expect to see. And then there are those you don’t expect to see. Some seem incredibly old to actually have any blood themselves, yet there they are, giving it away. There are the bikers with spiked hair and leathers, an elderly ex-solider with tattoos on every available space who, from his stories, seems to have fought in the relief of Mafeking (although that just can’t be true) and, today, a young man there for the first time, eyeing with equal nervousness the bikers and the blood bags.

But it is the large number of young people who show up to give their blood that most impresses me. Barney Leith in his blog today mentioned how impressed he was by the Bahá’í youth who attended the recent summer school in Bath and how different they are from the image of young people so often portrayed in the media and by adults. I feel the same about these young local people who came today to give their blood at Sainsbury’s – girls chewing gum, kids with ipods, everyone texting away on their mobile phones and laughing at their messages. Relaxed, happy, useful people, each being a real benefit to a person they will never know. As the ad says, they did something amazing today and it made me proud to be a human being.

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wendi

Making Known the Path

Acquaint the people with the holy verses of thy Lord and make known unto them His straight Path, His mighty Announcement. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

I am very fortunate to work for George Ronald, Publisher, which publishes books on the Bahá’í Faith and related fields. This week three of the books I have been working on have been published. Each of them explains the Bahá’í Faith in a different way and each is, in its own way, engrossing.

The first is the latest from well-known lawyer, scholar and author Udo Schaefer: Bahá’í Ethics in Light of Scripture: An Introduction, Volume 1: Doctrinal Fundamentals. cover_ethics_1%20for%20website

This is, he says, his attempt to take a step towards developing a Bahá’í moral theology. As usual, Dr Schaefer has produced a very detailed, well-researched and much-annotated book and it is a very valuable contribution to the literature in this field. It is not, perhaps, a book you could read standing up on the train but it is certainly a whole education in 400 pages.

The second book out this week is completely different. Heather Cardin wondered why a young person at the beginning of the 21st century would be willing to follow a religion that requires a high standard of moral conduct. Why, she wondered, would a young person even believe in God, given the state of the world today? So she asked 45 young Bahá’ís from around the world and compiled their answers into A Warm Place in My Heart: Young Voices on Faith. Some of the responses were very positive, some not so – but together they provide a fascinating and fresh view of the Bahá’í Faith as it is lived.

cover_warm_place%20for%20website

The third book does something I have never seen done before: it corelates economics, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith. Manna from Heaven: From Divine Speech to Economic Science is by economist Dalton Garis. Dr Garis has a deep knowledge of Middle Eastern religions, customs and interests as well as economics and has been able to combine an analysis of these in an accessible and thought-provoking book. You might think it is going to be hard-going but, in fact, the author’s comfortable style carries you swiftly along.

Manna%20cover

I’m working on another batch of goodies soon coming your way – wait and see!

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wendi

Standing for Peace

The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.`Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

These words were, to my amazement and delight, quoted at the end of the maiden speech of incoming president of Soroptimist International Margaret Lobo to an audience of about 1500 women from 136 countries.

Margaret Lobo
Soroptimist International President Margaret Lobo

Margaret’s theme was peace and women and she drew the connection – familiar to Bahá’ís – between the advancement of women, the fact that they are the mothers and would never wish to see their children die in war, and their role in establishing peace. The words of `Abdu’l-Bahá were shown on her power point presentation and received a warm round of applause. Her powerful speech was the penultimate event of the last day of this stunning conference.

The theme of the whole day was `Purpose to Peace’. Ramu Damodaran of the Public Information Service at the United Nations described the UN as HAGGIS: honesty, anger (at injustice), governance, guidance, involvement, sustainability. Author of Rage and co-chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition Simon Conway’s impassioned plea to stop the use of cluster bombs, which can stay active on the ground for 30 years, roused everyone. And Jain peace campaigner Satish Kumar’s words and prayers for peace prepared the conference for the final event: Women Stand for Peace.

At the end of the conference, all 1500 attendees wore white and gathered outside the conference centre for a 30-minute vigil of prayers, poems and statements of peace, including the Soroptimist message of peace for the world:

We are women standing for women

We come from many different lands, we are different colours, creeds and races and together we celebrate our diversity . . .

We hope for a world where tolerance, reconciliation, cooperation and partnership will be realities.

We pledge to work for a world where

* the human rights of all people are respected
* equal opportunities are available to women . . .
* education is accessible to all girls
* poverty and disease are conquered
* all peoples enjoy a safe and healthy environment
* we will all contribute to the peace and prosperity of humankind bu nurturing a spirit of peace, encouraging peace education and supporting a culture of peace.

Peace is our unifying purpose.

Soroptimist Peace Vigil, Glasgow, 2 August 2007

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We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions. Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í writings

Today was a day of impassioned voices at the Soroptimist International Convention in Glasgow. Amazingly powerful speakers Rawwid Baksh, Eve Richings and Zainab Salbi (who spoke about the now-completed joint project between Soroptimists and Women for Women International – Project Independence, Women Survivors of War – exposed the reality of the lives of women who live in poverty, the poverty that comes from decisions made by others remote from the women themselves.

These `others’ usually have agendas that are more concerned with making money or conquering a piece of land or taking what is under the land or having power or imposing some extreme religious or political ideology than with the welfare of female human beings. Whatever the agenda, it is women who wind up partnerless or homeless or raped or penniless or uneducated or beaten or imprisoned or dead – or all of the above. (I am particularly infuriated by religious and political fanatics who think it is OK to overturn every moral, religious, ethical, humane, compassionate, commonsense principle and hurt people so that their particular belief can prevail, as if their religion or political view sustained that position.)

Eve Richings
Eve Richings

Eve Richings spoke eloquently and with deep emotion of the women and girls she had met on her many travels in Afghanistan and elsewhere, showing us what they endured and survived and revealing their courage and fortitude and determination to create a better life. Her eyes and ours filled with tears as she recalled the horrid injustices so many women she had met had experienced.

Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi

Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi, herself brought up in war, talked movingly about the lived experience of war for women – not the battles and tanks and guns but the impossibility of feeding one’s children or having a bath or feeling safe in one’s home.

Rawwida  Baksh
Rawwida Baksh

But it was hearing Rawwida Baksh’s analysis of how things could change that convinced me that it is not just awareness of these issues that will effect change, not just assistance to individuals, important as these are. She said that for real change to take place, systems and structures and institutions must change, as well the hearts and minds of individuals. The communities in which individuals operate must change. We need to do the short term things – provide disaster relief, provide food and shelter and emergency healthcare .But we also need to do the long term things – stop war, make it possible for children and mothers to receive education and – most importantly for me – overhaul outmoded ideas of who women are and what they can do.

I spent the afternoon at the Climate Change workshop – probably the best workshop I have ever attended – and a marvellous evening with the Soroptimists of Paisley. But more of that tomorrow.

My own reflections? No single action will fix everything. The issues are complex. But working together on many fronts, will enable humanity to travel its long road more sustainably. As the theme of the Convention says (a theme my Bahá’í friends will recognize!), `Unity of Purpose, Diversity in Action’.

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