200th anniversary sparks thoughtful reflections at BIC celebrations
BIC NEW YORK — The historic 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah is being celebrated around the world at every level from the grassroots to the international.
Recent receptions held by the Baha’i International Community in New York, Geneva, and Brussels to mark the bicentenary allowed for reflections on the challenges facing humanity today and how insights from Baha’u’llah’s teachings have shed light on them.
Addressing the gathering held by the BIC’s United Nations Office in New York, one of the guests of honor, Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations Laura Elena Flores Herrera said: “Baha’u’llah asks each of us to develop a sense of world citizenship, and a commitment to stewardship of the earth. As Baha’is, you have the knowledge that can pave the way for a brighter future for generations to come, and now, more than ever, the voices of the followers of Baha’u’llah need to be heard, and those teachings extended beyond that, which I know you work hard at doing every day.”
“We look forward to your support and collaboration as together we build a world where there is no place for otherness, where peace is no longer an illusion, and in this way, truly achieving Baha’u’llah’s vision for heaven on earth.”
The New York reception on 10 October included a devotional program with excerpts from the writings of Baha’u’llah set to music and a screening of selected clips from a film prepared at the Baha’i World Centre for the bicentenary anniversary.
Azza Karam, a senior UN official, spoke warmly of the strong relationship between the BIC and the United Nations.
“I wanted to share something that I read in the statement that came out of the Baha’i International Community,” said Dr. Karam in her concluding comments. “‘The needs of this day Baha’u’llah has articulated include, but are not limited to, the equality of the sexes, the independent investigation of truth, the harmony between religion and science, and the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty.’ Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the United Nations mandate, in the words of a Prophet. What more powerful words could there be.”
Earlier that day at the BIC UN Office in Geneva, a bicentenary celebration was held at the Hotel de la Paix, where ‘Abdu’l-Baha stayed during his visit to Geneva in 1911. The program included addresses from a number of distinguished guests including Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“One of the first quotes that struck me from the Baha’i Faith is that ‘All human beings have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization,’” said Mr. Salama in his remarks.
“There are two distinct features, I think, in the Baha’i Faith which are crystal clear. One is this commonality that we are all contributing to something. It is a Faith which is open, and that is the first feature of a healthy contribution to humanity. Secondly, it is a community which is very active in world affairs, social affairs, economic affairs, United Nations affairs, not from within a theological standpoint, but from a humane standpoint,” said Mr. Salama.
Joelle Fiss spoke about her earlier exposure to the Baha’i Faith in which she learned about the persecution of Baha’is in Iran. Her comments in the evening addressed the Baha’i idea that religion is progressive in nature, unfolding over time. Speaking of the Baha’i belief in the oneness of humankind, she said, “The idea of universality is striking in the Baha’i Faith.”
Ms. Fiss is a member of the Panel of Experts of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“...we need to show oneness in something real, not only in words, but in practice.”
— Jan Figel
The Brussels BIC Office’s reception on 17 October featured keynote speeches from Mairead McGuiness, Vice-President of the European Parliament, and Jan Figel, the European Union’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief outside of the EU.
A vivid display of excerpts from the writings of Baha’u’llah superimposed on the colorful paintings of a Baha’i artist provided a striking backdrop for the speakers.
“The Baha’i Faith offers a particularly valuable insight into the common spiritual heritage of all people, leaving you open to seek the good in each religion and belief system,” stated Ms. McGuiness. “Recognising our common humanity is something which can lead to better understanding not just between different religious communities, but also beyond national and ethnic barriers. Indeed, this is also the fundamental insight shared by Europe’s founding fathers in the political domain. As your Faith put it: ‘True religion transforms the human heart and contributes to the transformation of society.’”
Jan Figel spoke about Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the oneness of humanity and the universality of these values, which have been enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said, “The role of religion in individual or community life is about transcendence, spirituality, a sense of living, of orientation in life. But it also means how to relate, religare, religione. It’s about linking together. And here I want to underline that the importance is not to separate from others, but through linking with others understand that there is one world, there is one humanity, and there should be oneness in our minds and hearts if we are sincere followers of one truth.”
Speaking of the universal values that bind humanity, he said: “I’m glad that the Baha’i community promotes this approach, because we need to show oneness in something real, not only in words, but in practice.”