Archive for September, 2007


Travelling to the EBBF Conference

Work done in the spirit of service is worship. `Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i writings

I am off to Depoort Conference Centre in the Netherlands for the Annual European Baha’i Business Forum (EBBF) Conference, so may not get a chance to blog until I get back. We have about 165 registered from all over the world. Our theme this year is `Work: From Survival to Fulfilment’.

EBBF is a professional, non-profit association of women and men who practise and promote moral and ethical values in business.

Why am I going? Have a look at this quotation from `Abdu’l-Baha:

The members of each profession, such as in industry, should consult, and those in commerce should similarly consult on business affairs.

And this one from Baha’u’llah:

Commerce is as a heaven, whose sun is trustworthiness and whose moon is truthfulness.

It’s a great time to meet people from all religions and none who have the same vision `to enhance the well-being and prosperity of humankind’ and who want to do this by promoting ethical values, personal virtues and moral leadership in business and in organisations of social change.

So while I’m travelling, have a look at our website and see what we are up to! And think about joining us. It’s business, Jim, but not as we know it!

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A Fork in the Road

As the East and the West are illumined by one sun, so all races, nations, and creeds shall be seen as the servants of the One God. The whole earth is one home, and all peoples, did they but know it, are bathed in the oneness of God’s mercy. God created all. He gives sustenance to all. He guides and trains all under the shadow of His bounty. We must follow the example God Himself gives us, and do away with all disputations and quarrels. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

Extraordinary letter from the rector of our village (Church of England) church today in the parish magazine. Some Jehovah Witnesses had come to his door and they discussed with him whether the Bible meant anything to people these days. They then `chatted about the current state of society, the materialism that seems to dominate our world and the inability or unwillingness of people to look beyond the trivial and to consider the larger questions that life confronts us with.’ In other words, they had a spiritual conversation.

But the rector felt that had they talked on, it would not have taken them long to discover that they understood their Christian faith in very different ways and that although they had concentrated on what they had in common and had found that they were in some ways bound together, there were real differences between them. And this perplexed the rector. He asks, `So what should the Christian community do? Should we work together with anyone who is vaguely on our side, because we share a common cause with them? Or should we stand by our understanding of the truth and hold out against anything which would dilute this?’ He muses that if they `accommodate everyone’ they could end up with a faith that has no real substance but if they `pursue the truth at all costs’ then they will remain divided as a community.

He writes that the climate at the moment is that they are being `nice to everyone’, where `not causing division’ is the `paramount motivation’ of the church. He says, with some regret it seems to me, `We must not rock the boat, we must not exclude anyone, we must seek what we have in common with people and not look for that which distinguishes us from them. This has been extended into our relations with other faiths too, so we often see these days church leaders quite happy to defend Muslims, Jews and others and to praise the richness of diversity.’

But he goes on, `Is this right? Is this the way forward?’ And then, amazingly, he says, `I just don’t know.’ So his conclusion?

`I’ve decided not to answer the door anymore. It gives me a headache.’

Well, I admire the man for his honesty and I can see that he is probably not up to a home visit but I can’t leave him locked in his rectory, not answering his door for fear of the complications the visitor might bring, so I offer him the words of Bahá’u’lláh as a guide to which fork of the road he should take:

Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.

Consort with all religions with amity and concord, that they may inhale from you the sweet fragrance of God.

They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations. Blessed are such as hold fast to the cord of kindliness and tender mercy and are free from animosity and hatred.

Humanity has usually taken the other road, the road of disunity and hatred, and it has brought us war, misery and destruction. Walk a little way down the road of fellowship and unity and see if it leads to a better destination. If not, we can always go back and choose the other road.

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A dove of the Kingdom takes flight

God has created man in order that he may be a dove of the Kingdom, a heavenly candle, a recipient of eternal life. God has created man in order that he may be resuscitated through the breaths of the Holy Spirit and become the light of the world . . . How glorious the station of man who has partaken of the heavenly food and built the temple of his everlasting residence in the world of heaven! `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

Dr Varqa

It was raining here this morning and right in the middle of the country, not far from here, there were tornadoes. The violent winds ripped through towns and cities. Houses were damaged, a car was flung into the air and a large trampoline was lifted over a fence and into the road.

In contrast, in the Bahá’í cemetery in Haifa, they were laying to rest a remarkable man, a person of such gentleness, dignity and humility that even his name was a symbol of peace: Varqá, `Dove’.

If you had gone on pilgrimage to Haifa in recent years you would have seen him at the Pilgrim House or sitting in his office at the Seat of the House of Justice, working quietly with his door open so that he could greet you as you passed by and welcome you in.

Born in 1912 while his father Valíyu’lláh accompanied `Abdu’l-Bahá on His visit to America, he was given the name `Alí Muhammad by `Abdu’l-Bahá, who, seeing a photograph of the infant, wrote on the child’s arms `Yad-i-Mu’ayyad’ (Confirmed Hand) and named the infant after his martyred grandfather, Mírzá `Alí Muhammad Varqá.

In 1955 he was appointed by Shoghi Effendi one of the Hands of the Cause, special individuals given the particular task of protecting and promulgating the Bahá’í religion. Dr Varqá was also the Trustee of Huququ’llah, the Right of God.

With the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, no more Hands of the Cause could be appointed. One by one the Hands passed away until there was but one left, Dr Varqá.

I was lucky to be born in the time of the Hands of the Cause, to have met many of them, to have heard their stories of earlier times in the Faith of God and to have received their wisdom. In particular I was privileged to have been asked by Dr Varqá to be a deputy trustee of Huququ’llah and to have met with him on many occasions. His eyes were always warm and smiling, his voice gentle, his wisdom immense.

Now there are no more Hands of the Cause. That era has passed. We do not have them but we do have their legacy. In October 2004 Dr Varqá wrote a long letter to those gathered at the UK national festival in which he analysed the current world situation and called upon the Bahá’ís to respond to it:

While the well-wishers, philosophers, leaders of thought and government fail to present effective guidelines for humanity, Bahá’u’lláh gave the privilege to His followers to rise and guide human society with His vivifying teachings and principles . . . We have to arise with devotion and determination and step forward in the arena of teaching.

In bidding farewell not only to Dr Varqá but to the office of Hands of the Cause, let us `step forward’ as he asks and tell the world that Bahá’u’lláh has come for its salvation.

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Wandering in the paths of delusion

And if thou art overtaken by affliction in My path, or degradation for My sake, be not thou troubled thereby. Rely upon God, thy God and the Lord of thy fathers. For the people are wandering in the paths of delusion, bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes, or hear His Melody with their own ears. Thus have We found them, as thou also dost witness. Thus have their superstitions become veils between them and their own hearts and kept them from the path of God, the Exalted, the Great. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

I opened my emails today to discover that last week a Bahá’í cemetery in Iran was bulldozed – the latest in a long series of incidents against the Bahá’ís fostered and led by the present government of that country, a campaign that stretches back now nearly 30 years.

Heavy equipment was used to bulldoze the cemetery near Najafabad between 9 and 10 September and more than a hundred graves were destroyed.

Cemetery destroyed in Najafabad 2007

Bulldozed? Graves were bulldozed? I am shocked and deeply saddened by this horrible event. Can you imagine how traumatizing it mut be to realise that your loved one’s final resting place has been bulldozed? And this is not the first time this has happened. It is the second time in two months that a Bahá’í cemetery has been destroyed in Iran – the Bahá’í cemetery in Yazd was also extensively damaged last July. And some years ago the cemetery in Tehran met a similar fate – a cemetery where some of our relatives were buried.

Lest you think that the present destruction was some sort of accident, know that some 30 Bahá’í families in Najafabad received threatening letters in the days before the cemetery was destroyed.

How can anyone think this is right? How can anyone think that this is what one human being is supposed to do to another? Such people are definitely `wandering in the paths of delusion’.

The human rights violations against Bahá’ís and others in Iran is growing. As Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, said, `This should be a cause for concern among human rights activists everywhere.’

Too right! In the past these kinds of attacks have often been a prelude to campaigns of oppression and violence that are much worse – not just for Bahá’ís but for everyone.

Ms Ala’i noted that recently `the Iranian authorities have been carrying out a widespread crackdown on civil society, targeting academics, women’s rights activists, students, and journalists.’ `Civil society’ is everyone, by the way – you and me.

Read the whole story here, if you can bear to.

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In this most radiant century it has become necessary . . . to seek the new path of fellowship and unity, to unlearn the science of war and devote supreme human forces to the blessed arts of peace. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings


In 1959 the Bahá’ís of the United States initiated the commemoration of a World Peace Day to call attention to the urgent need for the establishment of a lasting peace among the nations of the world. This observance was held on the third Sunday in September.

In 1981 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the third Tuesday in September as International Day of Peace.
In 2002 the UN General Assembly set 21 September as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace.

In establishing the International Day of Peace, the United Nations General Assembly decided that it would be appropriate `to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as of the whole of mankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable way . . . (The International Day of Peace) should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.’

So tonight the Bahá’ís of Barnet, a community on the edge of London, commemorated International Day of Peace. This year they asked representatives of the different faith communities to share views on peace from their religious teachings. And what a remarkable gathering it was, of unity, at-one-ment, and peace.

The chair, Tahirih Danesh, eloquently introduced the evening, reminding those who might think peace impossible of Margaret Mead’s observation that `A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ She asked us to pray, in the beautiful devotional that opened the meeting, for peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, peace in our communities and peace in our world.

Rev. Bernd Koschland represented the Jewish community and asked, considering all the problems in the world today, `Is peace a dream?’ He recalled Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: `To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . . A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace’ and wondered when the time of peace would come, as there are so many obstacles to peace. He offered hope from Micah 4:3-4:

. . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid . . . (Micah 4:3-4)

Rev Adrian Benjamin, representing the Christian view, spoke about `wrestling’ with some of the challenging statements in the Bible, such as Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:34: `Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ He saw such wrestling as necessary to truly understanding the nature of peace, saying that before we can sit under our vine and fig-tree, we must act to forge peace.

Muslim Shakil Ahmed was so moved by the earlier presentations that he abandoned his prepared talk and spoke from the heart about the similarities of all religions, how they all strive for peace and that only a few people want `un-peace’.

And I was privileged to give the Bahá’í point of view. As it happened, my daily reading at the moment is `Abdu’l-Bahá in London and this morning I read `Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk to the Theosophical Society in London in 1911. As I was reading it, I felt I could do no better than to use it as the basis of my talk tonight. His talk, given almost 96 years ago to the day, was one of His first ever. And, amazingly, every point that was raised by the other speakers was touched upon by `Abdu’l-Bahá: that a small group of seekers after truth can make a difference; that there IS a time for everything and today is the time for peace – that peace is not only possible but inevitable; that the causes of `un-peace’ are prejudices and `coldness of heart’; that there are action steps individuals and governments can take now to establish peace; that recognition of the oneness of humanity is that key to peace and that religion is indeed one.

Here is `Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk, a gift for International Day of Peace.

. . . O friends of Truth! The inherent nature of fire is to burn, the inherent nature of electricity is to give light, the inherent nature of the sun is to shine, and the inherent nature of the organic earth is the power of growth.

There is no separation between a thing and its inherent qualities.

It is the inherent nature of things on this earth to change, thus we see around us the change of the seasons. Every spring is followed by a summer and every autumn brings a winter — every day a night and every evening a morning. There is a sequence in all things.

Thus when hatred and animosity, fighting, slaughtering, and great coldness of heart were governing this world, and darkness had overcome the nations, Bahá’u’lláh, like a bright star, rose from the horizon of Persia and shone with the great Light of Guidance, giving heavenly radiance and establishing the new Teaching.

He declared the most human virtues; He manifested the Spiritual powers, and put them into practice in the world around Him.

Firstly: He lays stress on the search for Truth. This is most important, because the people are too easily led by tradition. It is because of this that they are often antagonistic to each other, and dispute with one another.

But the manifesting of Truth discovers the darkness and becomes the cause of Oneness of faith and belief . . .

Secondly: Bahá’u’lláh taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. Therefore all nations and peoples must consider themselves brethren. They are all descendants from Adam. They are the branches, leaves, flowers and fruits of One Tree. They are pearls from one shell. But the children of men are in need of education and civilization, and they require to be polished, till they become bright and shining.

Man and woman both should be educated equally and equally regarded.

It is racial, patriotic, religious and class prejudice, that has been the cause of the destruction of Humanity.

Thirdly: Bahá’u’lláh taught, that Religion is the chief foundation of Love and Unity and the cause of Oneness. If a religion become the cause of hatred and disharmony, it would be better that it should not exist. To be without such a religion is better than to be with it.

Fourthly: Religion and Science are inter-twined with each other and cannot be separated. These are the two wings with which humanity must fly. One wing is not enough. Every religion which does not concern itself with Science is mere tradition, and that is not the essential. Therefore science, education and civilization are most important necessities for the full religious life.

Fifthly: The Reality of the divine Religions is one, because the Reality is one and cannot be two. All the prophets are united in their message, and unshaken. They are like the sun; in different seasons they ascend from different rising points on the horizon. Therefore every ancient prophet gave the glad tidings of the future, and every future has accepted the past.

Sixthly: Equality and Brotherhood must be established among all members of mankind. This is according to Justice. The general rights of mankind must be guarded and preserved.

All men must be treated equally. This is inherent in the very nature of humanity.

Seventhly: The arrangements of the circumstances of the people must be such that poverty shall disappear, and that every one as far as possible, according to his position and rank, shall be comfortable. Whilst the nobles and others in high rank are in easy circumstances, the poor also should be able to get their daily food and not be brought to the extremities of hunger.

Eighthly: Bahá’u’lláh declared the coming of the Most Great Peace. All the nations and peoples will come under the shadow of the Tent of the Great Peace and Harmony — that is to say, by general election a Great Board of Arbitration shall be established, to settle all differences and quarrels between the Powers; so that disputes shall not end in war.

Ninthly: Bahá’u’lláh taught that hearts must receive the Bounty of the Holy Spirit, so that Spiritual civilization may be established. For material civilization is not adequate for the needs of mankind and cannot be the cause of its happiness. Material civilization is like the body and spiritual civilization is like the soul. Body without soul cannot live.

This is a short summary of the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. To establish this Bahá’u’lláh underwent great difficulties and hardships. He was in constant confinement and He suffered great persecution. But in the fortress (Akká) He reared a spiritual palace and from the darkness of His prison He sent out a great light to the world.

It is the ardent desire of the Bahá’ís to put these teachings into common practice: and they will strive with soul and heart to give up their lives for this purpose, until the heavenly light brightens the whole world of humanity.

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Travelling in Unity

The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. Baha’u’llah, Baha’i writings

Like so many people, six years ago today I watched the events in New York and Washington unfold on television. It was a horrible day.

Today, remembering the people who died and were hurt on 9/11, thinking of their families and friends, and recalling all the children around the world who die needlessly, the millions who suffer, the people who are victims of continued injustice, I wonder how it is that we, as a world society, allow this to continue. Why are we still unable to just get along with each other?

Here is a pretty good description of the present situation:

`The recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press; the extension of the influence and activities of those “prophets of decadence” . . . — these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.’

A good description of today’s world – only it was written when my mother was 8 years old, in 1936, by Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha’i Faith at the time.

But pointing out what is wrong is one thing; providing a viable solution is another. If we are not to perish, literally, how can our society be reborn?

Most people are `good’, they do not hate, they want to get along with others, they wish everyone well, they see the need for peace and social justice, they desire happiness and freedom and prosperity for everyone. They just think that these are unattainable goals. But if it is true that most people are like this, then what prevents us from attaining them?

Baha’is believe we need to work on our unity. If we are trying to do a huge task alone, of course it is difficult and probably not achievable. But if we have help, and everyone pitches in, then the impossible becomes much easier. Changing the world for the better is perfectly possible if we work at it together. At the moment, a tiny minority, working together for a common goal of destruction, are making the world un-live-inable. Surely the vast majority can come together to work for a world of peace, security and justice. We have the technology – we just need the will.

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The Road to Understanding

Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

Today I facilitated the Diversity Game on behalf of Bedford Council of Faiths with members of a housing association on whose audit committee I sit. The game was developed by the Suffolk Inter-Faith group to develop a basic understanding of 12 of the faith communities that are found in the UK, from the Bahá’í Faith to the Zoroastrian religion.

The game is played around a big floor mat with spaces that players move along after throwing a die, sort of like Monopoly.

Diversity game

If a player lands on a space with one of the religious symbols on it, he or she can ask a question of the person holding the card of that religion, or the person holding that card can read out a few facts. There are also different `challenge’ spaces, where players have to pick up a challenge card and answer the question on it or discuss the issue the card raises. Sometimes the question is relatively easy and the answer quickly found on the information card (e.g. when is the Bahá’í new year? 21 March) and some are a little tricky (e.g. what religion was Jesus? Jewish). Others focus on attitude and behaviour, e.g.

A Hare Krishna group is processing through town. A neighbour makes a disparaging remark. What might you reply?

You are caring for a patient who believes that their illness is a punishment for something they have done. Would you challenge this?

The questions this group found the most challenging were about travellers, or gypsies. Although not strictly an issue about religion, the game includes several communities that are often the subjects of prejudice. It seems travellers are among the least understood and least accepted, some commenting on how dirty their sites are, that their lifestyle is not `normal’ and that they are thieves and `above the law’. Where did participants get this information? It was common knowledge – anyway, it’s all over the TV and newspapers. On the other hand, people who had actually worked on gypsy sites or worked with traveller children told a very different story, of houseproud women with immaculate caravans, people trying to educate their children and men working hard as farm labourers. This is my own experience of the gypsies who live down the road from us – by and large they are lovely people with warm hearts, beautifully cared-for homes and a strong sense of family and community.

And, basically, this is what we learned from playing this game: The best way to develop understanding and overcome prejudice is to have a direct experience of people, to meet them in their own homes or on their own patch and to invite them into your own. And meeting people from different faith, ethnic and cultural communities is easy if you join something like our Bedford Council of Faiths.

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