Archive for January, 2008

The plain of your hearts hath been illumined by the lights of the Lord of the Kingdom and ye have been led to the straight path, have marched along the road that leadeth to the Kingdom, have entered the Abhá Paradise, and have secured a portion and share of the fruit of the Tree of Life. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

Cherries in Tehran

A friend of mine sent me some lovely pictures of cherry trees. The trees are covered with fruit and, surprisingly, with ice.

They got me thinking. The purpose of the cherry tree is to bear fruit and it does this in a most beautiful way. The fruit is delicious and seeds in the fruit will, if sown, produce more cherry trees and, eventually, more fruit.

But a cherry covered in ice is locked up, frozen. If it can be thawed, it might still be edible but it may well rot. It may look beautiful but its purpose is somewhat thwarted. Its seeds, however, may well be mature enough when the ice melts to take root in some fertile soil and grow, thereby producing more cherries in due course. But if the cherries are frozen when the seeds are immature, then they are unlikely to produce any more trees. A generation of cherry trees may well be lost as a result. This is a disaster to cherry farmers and cherry lovers.

Ironic, then, that the frozen cherry trees were in Tehran, the capital of Iran. Here it is that one of the most beautiful fruits of the country – the Bahá’í Faith – is literally frozen. Its teachings would revolutionize the fortunes of the country, would bring it the peace and stability and honour that it craves, yet it is encased in an icy grip that prevents its young people from entering higher education, its older people from accessing the services they need and all Iranians from tasting the delicious fruit of Bahá’u’lláh’s message of the oneness of humanity, of peace and unity.

As I write, three young Bahá’ís, Ms Haleh Rouhi Jahromi (29), Ms Raha Sabet Sarvestani (33) and Mr Sasan Taqva (32), have been detained by the Ministry of Intelligence in Shiraz since 19 November 2007 and are serving a four-year sentence on charges connected entirely with their belief in and practice of the Baha’i Faith. Amnesty International has issued an `urgent action’ appeal on their behalf. I suspect the Iranian government will pay no heed, though I pray it does.

But in due time, the ice will melt in Iran. Climate change is as inevitable in the political realm as it is in the environment. When the ice melts, the Bahá’í Faith will still be there. Should that Iranian crop of cherries be somewhat diminished by the ice, there are millions of others who are sowing the seeds of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings around the globe and harvesting a new crop.

You can read about this most recent evidence of the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran here.

The Amnesty International appeal can be read in full here and the US Department of State statement on the same subject can be read here.

Evidence that ice around frozen Bahá’í communities can melt comes today from Egypt. You will recall that the Bahá’ís in Egypt were unable to secure the identity cards necessary in that country to access basic services because only three religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – are recognized as religions on the new compulsory electronic official papers. Two cases were brought by Bahá’ís: one by a father trying to secure birth certificates for his twins and a second by a young Bahá’í who was suspended from university because he did not have an identity card. Both were seeking to leave the religious affiliation field blank on official documents.

Today, in a compromise ruling, the Cairo Court of Administrative Justice ruled in favour of two cases, deciding that the Bahá’ís did not need to identify their religious affiliation on official documents, thereby enabling Bahá’ís, and others with the same difficulty, to obtain birth certificates, go to school, take jobs and have access to medical and other services and use banks.

You can read the full story of today’s court ruling here and you can read more about the persecution of Egypt’s Bahá’ís here.

Cherries in Tehran 2

Ice thaws. Cherries blossom.

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Going North

Through the breaths of the Holy Spirit it performs miracles; the Orient and the Occident embrace each other, the North and South become intimates and associates . . . and the canopy of the oneness of the world of humanity is raised on the apex of the globe . . . `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

Bahá’ís do not exactly `celebrate’ the holidays and holy days observed by other religions but we certainly share them, especially when our relatives and friends do commemorate them and when everyone else around us is observing them. This seems to be particularly true of Christmas and New Year here in the UK. Many people have time off work. The Bahá’ís try to arrange various programmes during this period because people are free to attend them. This year I attended two Bahá’í events, both marvellous in their own way.

The first place I went to was Finland. I had been invited by the national governing council of the Bahá’ís of Finland, the National Spiritual Assembly, to present the mains talks at its winter school, which was held over the new year. I jumped at the chance, as I had never been to Finland before and really wanted to see this fascinating country. My mother was visiting, so we went together. Her own mother was born in Norway, so she feels she has an affinity with that part of the world.


The winter school was held in a school building in a village near the small town of Joensuu. It was dark for a good portion of day but snowed only a little, much to the disappointment of the Finns (we, however, were rather relieved, after hearing reports of temperatures dipping to 30 below freezing!)

The Finnish Bahá’ís are wonderful and come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds – Finnish, of course and Sami, but there are also Americans of all kinds and ethnicities and many different Europeans, Iranians, and a Nigerian. There were even two people there who were taught the Bahá’í Faith by my mother’s sister in Arizona! The diversity was unexpected and really powerful – we had been expecting a `monoculture’.

The programme was a little unexpected too. Well, I knew what I was to talk about – marriage and the family – but I wasn’t expecting to see fencing and climbing as workshop possibilities, nor an origami competition (in heats!) as part of the evening entertainment. But perhaps most fascinating for me was the invitation to go ice swimming on new year’s eve. Yes, several people actually went off to swim in the ice covered water – I declined… Instead, my mother and I watched fireworks from the warmth of our hotel room.

I learned a lot from the Finnish experience and from the Finnish Bahá’ís. I loved their workshop on the Bahá’í history of their country, I very much appreciated that every single word was translated for me into English, and I admire them for their hardiness and dedication. I hope to go back – though perhaps in the summer, when I can actually see the outdoors!

The second place I went was the Warwick UK Bahá’í Festival `Writing the Future’. 1600 Bahá’ís from 22 countries (including my nephew Devon Gundry, from the US, who came with the fantastic Dawnbreaker Collective) – amazingly powerful. My favourite events there? Sarah Munro’s one woman show telling the story of George Townshend, and Steven Phelps’s talk at the parallel conference of the Association for Bahá’í Studies entitled `Adversary or ally? The new atheism and the Bahá’í Faith’. And the jazz band. And the three short films at the film festival. And, well, everything.

Oh, and have a look at this link – describing my new role with Bedfordshire PCT.

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Excess Baggage

Our grief was intense when my father left us. He told none of us either where he was going or when he would return. He took no luggage, only a little rice, and some coarse bread. Bahiyyih Khanum, in The Chosen Highway, regarding Bahá’u’lláh’s sudden departure from Baghdad.

You might have guessed from the lack of blog entries that I have been away. In the last month or so I’ve been to several places and thus several airports – in the UK, Israel, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden for a variety of Bahá’í events. Each airport has its own – apparently arbitrary but probably reasonable – rules for baggage.

Today, the UK relaxed its rules about carry-on luggage. For quite some time passengers have been restricted to one small piece of carry-on luggage each. (And liquids in carry-on luggage are limited to 100 ml containers – that hasn’t changed.) But now passengers may take aboard two pieces of carry-on.

But this is not true for every airport and every flight. Some airlines are still restricting carry-on to one item per passenger. And some airports are not yet able to allow passengers two items, even if the airline does not object. Passengers in transit through the UK may find this all very hard to figure out.

The situation is even more complicated than this, as I found out trying to sort out my mother’s travel.

My mother, who is nearly 80, arrived in mid-December for her annual visit to the UK and then South Africa. She travelled on Delta, an American carrier, with two large suitcases, a small suitcase and a handbag — quite understandable, as she is staying for two months in two hemispheres, one experiencing summer and one winter (and she was also travelling to Finland, where the winters are COLD, so boots were required).

Today she travelled to South Africa on British Airways, with one of the large suitcases, the small suitcase and her handbag. She left the other large suitcase with me, to collect on her way back. At Heathrow she wanted to check the small suitcase so she didn’t have to lug it around the airport. But she could only check in one piece of luggage for South Africa, so obviously that was going to be the large suitcase. Fortunately, Heathrow is allowing two pieces of carry-on from today so she could take the small suitcase and her handbag into the cabin with her.

But when she leaves the UK again to go back to the United States at the end of January, she will be leaving from Gatwick. She will have exactly what she arrived with – two large suitcases, a small suitcase and a handbag. She will be able to check in the two large suitcases, as on flights to the US passengers are allowed to check in two pieces of luggage. But Gatwick allows only one piece of carry-on luggage. So she will have to cram her handbag into the small suitcase to pass through security. Once through security, she can have as many bags as she wants to take onto the airplane.

So, travellers to and through the UK, be sure to check with the airline AND the airport before you travel, otherwise you might find yourself having to pay expensive excess baggage costs. Or, of course, you can take the advice of this blog and travel light.

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