Religious Diversity News

A Campaign of Persecution

Author: Benjamin Balint

Source: The Wall Street Journal

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121755160850702963.html

Earlier this summer, Unesco added the Bahai holy places here to its list of World Heritage sites. Bahai officials greeted the announcement with enthusiasm. “[It] highlights the importance of the holy places of a religion that in 150 years has gone from a small group found only in the Middle East to a worldwide community with followers in virtually every country,” said Albert Lincoln, secretary-general of the Haifa-based Bahai International Community. The Bahais, dedicated to the idea that all great religions teach the same fundamental truths about an unknowable God, now number more than five million. Mr. Lincoln added that the group is “particularly grateful to the government of Israel for putting forward this nomination.”

Impressive Bahai houses of worship stand in dozens of cities, from New Delhi, India, to the American headquarters in Wilmette, Ill. But each faces the steep slope of Mount Carmel on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, a 100-acre site that contains the Bahai archives and the Universal House of Justice, a neoclassical building that houses the faith’s elected nine-member international governing body and a staff of more than 600. At the literal and spiritual center of the site stands the shrine of Mirza Ali Muhammad, known as the Bab (“Gate”), the forerunner who in 1844 heralded this youngest monotheistic faith, and who is buried here in a golden-domed mausoleum.

Though the Bab was executed for insurrection and heresy in 1850 in Tabriz, Iran, his followers brought his remains to the Holy Land in the 1880s, and buried them here in 1909, at the instruction of the faith’s founder, Mirza Hussein Ali. The Bahá’u’lláh (“Glory of God”), as the founder is known, himself arrived in the area in 1868 as a prisoner of the Ottomans after he had been banished from Persia, charged with revolutionary activities and of conspiring to assassinate the shah.

These days, the complex attracts over half a million visitors a year, including Bahai pilgrims who come for nine-day visits, and tourists who come to stroll the immaculate curving terraced gardens that set off the shrine — nine above it, and nine below. The terraces, designed by Fariburz Sahba, and completed in 2001, correspond to the 18 original Bahai disciples. They require some 80 gardeners and an annual cost of about $4 million to maintain.

Yet not all goes placidly for Bahaism. For all the benevolence its members enjoy from their Israeli hosts (following an instruction of Bahá’u’lláh issued shortly after his arrival here, the religion neither seeks nor accepts converts in Israel), they suffer miserable persecution in Islamic countries. Nowhere more so than in Iran, the cradle of the faith.

A Diverse Society Rings in the “Season of Tolerance”

Source: Independent

http://www.theindependent.com/stories/120503/opi_letheby05.shtml

On December 5, 2003 the Independent published an article celebrating the diversity of religious holidays that take place during the months of November and December. Some notable holidays include the Day of the Covenant — the last will and testament of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith, the holy month of Ramadan, the birthday of Sikh founder Guru Nanak, Hindu Diwali, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. The article notes that “this is a good time of year to ponder understanding and tolerance, because it is a time of great meaning for us all. For the millions of people of diverse backgrounds, customs and faiths, it is the time of year when bells ring crisper, lights shine brighter and the warmth in hearts can melt away intolerance.”

A Spiritual Journey: Connecticut Christian Embraces Bahai

Author: Peggy Fletcher Stack

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

http://www.sltrib.com/faith/ci_12209648

Jordan Dez loved worshipping at her big, white-steepled Connecticut church. She felt embraced by the liberal United Church of Christ congregation of her youth. It felt natural and right and fit in with her sense of God’s love. She was baptized at 13 because, as she says, everyone around was a Christian.

That was her religious cocoon.

Yet, like many others of her generation, the 27-year-old Dez began in college to seek spirituality beyond the borders of traditional Christianity. While studying anthropology and Spanish at the University of Connecticut, she tried yoga, Buddhism and other Eastern faiths.

During graduate work at the School for International Training in Vermont, she met a handsome, brilliant Iranian student. He was a Bahai.

Jordan Dez had never heard of Bahais, but she was intrigued. There was no lightning moment when her husband-to-be described his faith, and he wasn’t pushy about it. As they courted, though, she found herself increasingly attracted to the Persian-born faith that preaches love for all humanity and God’s unfolding revelations down through the centuries.

“The guiding principle is unity and that was what I already believed. It spoke to me organically without any work,” Dez says now. “It felt like home to me. It was natural to my personality.”

She fell in love, she says, with the Bahai emphasis on gender equality as well as its preaching of harmony among various ethnic and religious groups. She appreciated its acceptance of prophets from different traditions, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Zoroaster, as well as two uniquely Bahai “messengers,” known as the Bab and Baha’u’llah.

“God is God,” Dez says. “And God will not leave us alone. More prophets are coming in the progression of humanity.”

In November, after two years of study, Dez signed a “card,” expressing her commitment to lead a Bahai life. That’s all it took for her to be identified with the faith.

Now prayer and study are a daily part of her life, she says.

A Vortex of Calm in a Tough L.A. Neighborhood

Author: Louis Sahagun

Source: Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-seer13mar13,0,1072659.story?coll=la-home-headlines

The building appears to be just another little white stucco house in one of South Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods, with a used washing machine for sale – $25 – in the frontyard.

But to the people who assemble here from throughout Los Angeles – and even from overseas – the house is the Eagle Wings of Enlightenment Center. Presiding over it is the woman some neighbors simply call “the lady who prays.”

Step inside the house and there stands Sri Natha Devi Premananda in a bright orange sari, cooking soul food while Native American flute music and the smell of incense float into the kitchen from household shrines graced with mini-lights, burning candles, silk flowers and real poinsettias.

She adds a pinch of salt to a steaming pot and says, “God is everywhere. There is no place God is not. We’re all God’s children. Some drink. Some smoke. Some fight. Suffering is not restricted to a particular neighborhood. Never was.”

Actions In Iran Worry Bahais In Fort Collins Area

Author: Jean Spencer

Source: The Coloradoan

http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20090302/NEWS01/903020318

For some, visiting childhood memories is impossible, not because the economy is rocky or because their house was replaced with a new development, but because going back would mean risking their lives.

Roshan Fair, a Fort Collins resident for 21 years, moved to Colorado from Iran in 1978 and said she “can never go back” because she would be in grave danger.

Fair is a follower of the Bahai religion, a monotheistic religion born in 19th-century Persia with the belief that Baha’u’llah was God’s last prophet, not Muhammad.

Since the religion’s inception in 1844, the Bahais have been victims of religious persecution including imprisonment, executions and civil embarrassment, especially in Iran, according to the International Federation of Human Rights.

Recently, Iran has been the target of worldwide criticism for the treatment of its biggest minority demographic because of the incrimination and imprisonment of seven Bahai leaders Feb. 17 for alleged espionage against the state. According to an Islamic Republic News Agency release, the arrest followed an eight-month period of detainment without legal representation and marked a time when officials affirmed that a formal indictment would be issued and the case brought to court.

Now, however, more than a week since that statement, no news of a court appearance or official indictment has been released, leaving some Bahais apprehensive about the safety of their leaders, friends in Iran and other followers of the faith.

“It has made us all very fearful,” Fair said. “The situation really doesn’t look good, does it?”

Acts of Support and Solidarity Following the Backlash

Source: The Baha’i World News

http://www.bahaiworldnews.org

On October 1, 2001, The Baha’i World News reported that “Baha’i communities around the world responded to last week’s terroist attacks…with prayers, voluntary acts of service, donations and messages of condolence…In New York City…members of the local Baha’i community rushed to the site of the world trade center complex and offered help…The New York Baha’i Center, which is located on 11th Street, was inaccesible to the general public for much of the week…However, by Friday, 14 September, that area was opened and the community sponsored a service at the Center as part of a national day of prayer and mourning…In the Baha’i House of Worship for North America, located outside Chicago, 800 people gathered on Friday for a noon prayer service.”

After 9/11, “Building a Community of Togetherness” in Huntsville

Source: The Huntsville Times

http://www.al.com/living/huntsvilletimes/index.ssf?/base/living/115710223399230.xml&coll=1&thispage=1

On September 1, 2006 The Huntsville Times reported, “With Nigerian drummers, Hindu dancers, Christian prayers and Baha’i songs, Interfaith Mission Service leaders have organized a service to celebrate the ability of Americans from different faiths and cultures to work together during crises.

With the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, and the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina just past, that collaboration will be celebrated in an evening service Sept. 10.

‘Building a Community of Togetherness’ will use the traditions drawn from many faiths to reflect the diversity of the Tennessee Valley.

The service will be introduced at 5:40 p.m. by a showing of ‘Baraka’ (Hebrew for ‘blessing’), a wordless movie that shows people in faith celebrations around the world. The 6 p.m. service will feature Nigerian Catholic drummers, American Indian traditional blessings, and prayers, songs and dances from most of the world’s major faith traditions in the Christian context of Wesley Hall at First United Methodist Church… ‘After Katrina and 9/11, it was the faith community of all different stripes, cultures and traditions who came together as first responders,’ said Zara Renander, a member of the core committee of Huntsville Interfaith Mission Service that is planning the Sept. 10 gathering. ‘In our world, which is so dangerous, we can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of saying only one group has truth. We must learn to love each other, and to respect the different revelations of the holy, the sacred.'”

Airdrie’s Bahai Community Speaks Out

Author: Josh Skapin

Source: Airdrie Echo

http://www.airdrieecho.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1586260

With the recently passed anniversary of a painful occasion for the Bahai community and an unfolding development that may escalate matters, Airdrie residents belonging to the faith are speaking out.

According to multiple media reports, seven Baha’i leaders called “the group of friends,” presently jailed in Iran for reasons that the Bahai community are claiming to be unfounded, are now facing charges of espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against Iran, which may result in the death penalty.

Airdrie’s Bahai representatives, who have conveyed their concerns to Wild Rose MP Blake Richards, say there that the lives of innocent people are in danger.

Paymaan Behrouzi, a member of Airdrie’s Bahai spiritual assembly says he is pleased with the active role the Canadian government has taken in the matter, referencing recent comments from Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon, who has called upon Iranian authorities to immediately release the seven Bahai leaders, and to cease harassment of those practicing the Bahai faith.

“Canada continues to urge Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice,” Cannon said in a prepared statement.

“We remain committed to supporting, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran.”

Behrouzi said the Bahai community is grateful for this position by Canadian officials and hopes it can make a difference.

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