2023: Year in Review
BAHÁ’Í WORLD CENTRE — As 2023 comes to an end, the Bahá’í World News Service looks back at glimpses from efforts around the global Bahá’í community to contribute to social progress.
Promoting societal harmony
Amid the turbulence of world affairs and conscious of the world’s suffering, Bahá’ís everywhere opened their hearts to all—mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, neighbors and colleagues—helping to create around them sanctuaries of peace and hope. Together with those around them, they fostered newfound friendships, seeing no stranger but only members of one human family. Even in moments of profound difficulty and unforeseen disruptions, a collective yearning deepened to connect to one another, to uplift every soul, and to contribute to the well-being of our shared society.
In Brazil, the Chamber of Deputies of the National Congress of Brazil the centenary of efforts by the Bahá’í community in that country. Deputy Érika Kokay spoke movingly about the potential of the Bahá’í teachings to inspire greater unity:
“In this Chamber, which has often experienced antagonistic moments, we can listen today to the symphony of peace presented by the Bahá’í community. The Bahá’í teachings remind us daily that humanity is one. This is a song of great courage and the counterpoint to all fears—faith in the ‘other,’ faith in the possibility that all people can live harmoniously.”
This sentiment was echoed in Azerbaijan where discussions at a national conference held by the State Committee on Religious Associations highlighted the important role of neighborhoods in strengthening social harmony.
“Peaceful coexistence starts from the heart of the individual; from inside his or her home; from his or her neighborhood,” said Ramazan Asgarli, a member of Azerbaijan’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs.
A special reception in the United Kingdom marked the centennial anniversary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of that country. The gathering explored efforts to foster social harmony, focusing on the important role of cohesive relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions in cultivating a more unified society.
In the Arab region, discussion forums known as “majalis”—a term in Arabic implying traditional gathering places—have played an important part in bringing diverse people together to build unity of thought on spiritual and material progress and on coexistence.
During a podcast episode from the News Service, Saba Haddad, representative of the Geneva Office of the Bahá’í International Community (BIC), stated: “The more we look at our commonalities, the more we are united, while the more we look at our differences, the more we are divided.”
An essay published in The Bahá’í World highlights the idea that divisions are a result of a crisis of identity, but if we see humanity as one, the seemingly intractable tension between oneness and diversity falls away.
Shahrzad Sabet wrote: “Far from threatening or contradicting the essential diversity of humankind, the Bahá’í writings suggest that a universal human identity is uniquely equipped to ensure the fundamental security and flourishing of our narrower identities, communities, and affiliations.”
Through a deepening sense of oneness, transcending differences, friends are addressing critical issues such as racial justice. In Wilmette, United States, the Bahá’í House of Worship hosted an evening of arts and discussions commemorating Black History Month.
A new statement by the Brussels Office of the BIC explored one of the most pressing questions facing Europe today—how to overcome racial and other forms of prejudice.
The 30th anniversary of the Bahá’í Chair at the University of Maryland provided an opportunity to reflect on long-standing efforts to foster a more harmonious world. In honor of the 30th anniversary, the Mayor of Athens, Georgia, declared World Peace Week, highlighting unity, justice, and human solidarity.
In Kazakhstan, as part of a discussion series titled Promoting the Well-being of Society, artists and the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs explored how the expression of beauty in art brings to mind thoughts of harmony and the upliftment of the human spirit, and how the arts can enable people to perceive nobility in their fellow human beings.
The New York Office of the BIC examined questions concerning human prosperity in a forum at the UN on reshaping the future of work.
Liliane Nkunzimana, BIC representative, stated: “By enriching conversations about work with an exploration of relevant moral and spiritual principles, a deeper understanding can be fostered of the need to not only develop people’s skills and abilities for employment, but also to cultivate people’s commitment to social justice.”
Harmony of science and religion
The growing prevalence of digitization, automation, and artificial intelligence reinvigorated a range of profound questions in public consciousness regarding technology and the harmony between science and religion.
The Jakarta Office of the BIC explored how digital technologies can contribute to social progress. In her remarks at a panel discussion, Desytia Nawris, from the Office, said: “If technology is to be a means for progress, then it must reinforce noble aspirations and principles, such as unity and justice.”
Matt Weinberg, a technologist from the United States, said in a podcast recorded by the News Service: “It’s not just methodology that we need, nor is it just values, it’s methodology and values together. In the Bahá’í Faith, this idea is expressed most directly as the idea of the harmony between scientific and religious knowledge.”
A statement released by the BIC explored why it is essential to integrate diverse perspectives, especially those of women, in the process of designing and distributing digital technologies. Another joint statement from the BIC called on EU leaders to deeply examine systemic challenges in the global food order in light of the principle of the oneness of humanity.
The 47th annual conference of the Association for Bahá’í Studies (ABS) encouraged attendees to correlate spiritual principles with insights from diverse fields of knowledge, seeking to uncover fresh perspectives to address the challenges facing humanity.
A BIC delegation attended the COP28 climate summit in the United Arab Emirates.
The sites of the Bahá’í Houses of Worship in Santiago, Chile, and Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), were host to vibrant discussions on humanity’s relationship with the natural world.
Youth have been at the forefront of social action initiatives this past year, challenging prevalent views that cast them in a negative light and that label them as rebellious or apathetic.
A podcast episode from the News Service explored how the Preparation for Social Action (PSA) program is raising capacity in young people to apply scientific knowledge together with spiritual principles for the development of their communities. In another podcast episode, speaking about the potential of youth, Shirin Youssefian Maanian, member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Europe, said: “Youth have this thirst for knowledge and learning. They want to contribute to a better world. And they also have this passion for justice.”
In Kenya, a group of youth recorded and distributed programs through messaging platforms that weave together insights and perspectives of people from diverse backgrounds, enriching conversations on themes of social progress.
Striving towards equality of women and men
In all these efforts, women and men have been working together side by side to plant the seeds of equality.
In India, the Bahá’í Chair for Studies in Development initiated a discussion series on building a more caring world. Arash Fazli, Assistant Professor and Head of the Bahá’í Chair, said, “The surest way to replace oppressive gender norms is by addressing the concepts and practices instilled in young minds from their earliest years within the family setting.” Dr. Fazli added that there is a need to “raise boys and girls who aspire to build their capabilities in service to humanity and our planet.”
The Addis Ababa Office of the BIC released a short video exploring the important role that women can play in the peace-building process.
At the 67th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the contributions by BIC emphasized the significance of integrating diverse viewpoints and women’s engagement in the process of designing and distributing digital technologies.
In a podcast episode from the News Service, Yevgeniya Poluektova, member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Europe, told a compelling story about the resilience of women refugees in European countries who are participating in Bahá’í moral and spiritual education initiatives, and despite their challenging circumstances, are finding creative ways to enhance the life of their communities.
Ms. Poluektova said: “Irrespective of where you are ... empowerment is not something that an NGO gives you. You have this power inside, and by working together with other people, this power multiplies.”
Well known for promoting the education of young women, the Banani International School in Zambia celebrated its 30th anniversary. The school’s multifaceted educational approach integrates intellectual pursuits with the acquisition of moral understanding and spiritual insights, cultivating a rich learning environment.
The call for equality echoed worldwide in June when the memory of the 10 Bahá’í women who were hanged in Shiraz, Iran, 40 years ago, was honored in numerous ways.
The “Our Story Is One” campaign is resonating with the deepest aspirations of populations around the world to turn to unity rather than division and to see the interconnectedness of our stories.
A video produced by the News Service highlighted the #OurStoryIsOne social media initiative.
This past year saw a number of new beginnings.
In the DRC, the first national Bahá’í House of Worship opened its doors and the Universal House of Justice also announced plans for three new Bahá’í Houses of Worship to be established—local temples in Kanchanpur, Nepal, and Mwinilunga, Zambia, along with a national temple in Canada.
A number of new print and digital publications became available in the last year.
A new edition of the publication titled For the Betterment of the World was released, casting light on the efforts of the Bahá’í community to contribute to material and social progress.
The News Service introduced two new series of video podcasts, one titled, In Conversation, and another titled, Insights from the Field. Episodes of these podcasts explored Bahá’í moral and spiritual education initiatives in communities around the globe, emerging social action endeavors in PNG, and FUNDAEC’s, a Bahá’í inspired organization, agricultural efforts in Colombia.
The Persian language was integrated into the Bahá’í World News Service website, and a new video section was introduced, featuring all BWNS video productions, including short videos, documentaries, and video podcasts, marking a notable enhancement since the News Service was established over two decades ago.
A new section on the Bahai.org website was launched, providing an overview of the Bahá’í calendar and significant dates.
Distinguished publishing company, George Ronald, marked 80 years of bringing out publications on the Faith and stimulating the intellectual life of the Bahá’í community.
13th International Bahá’í Convention
Delegates representing a cross-section of humanity elected the Universal House of Justice at the 13th International Bahá’í Convention, a deeply moving experience that left delegates brimming with inspiration.
A film commissioned by the Universal House of Justice was screened at the Convention.
A special reception brought together dignitaries from Haifa and Bahá’í delegates attending the International Bahá’í Convention.
Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem expressed her profound appreciation for the opportunity to address the diverse group and her longstanding admiration for the Bahá’í Faith. “It is an honor for me to stand here before you as the mayor of Haifa, the city where one of its iconic symbols and one of the most sacred and spiritual places for the Bahá’í community is based. The Bahá’í World Centre, including the Shrine of the Báb and the terraces, is a symbol of the Bahá’í commitment to unity, peace, and equality.”
Within communities around the world, people of all backgrounds found sanctuary in the many Bahá’í endeavors for worship and service.
The gentle call for oneness echoed in the Tanna House of Worship in a gathering of diverse faith communities marking the 2nd anniversary of the temple’s dedication.
A member of the Bahá’í National Spiritual Assembly of Vanuatu stated that “those who pray within the temple walls can feel the motivating force of love, a love that beckons people of all races and backgrounds, so needed in these troubling times.”
Participants at a gathering held at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Santiago, Chile, discussed how religion can contribute to building a more cohesive society.
A podcast episode of the News Service explored insights about how Bahá’í Houses of Worship in Kenya and Uganda are enriching community life.
Members of an emergency desk established in Türkiye following the devastating earthquake that shook that region observed how an orientation toward service and the bonds of friendship that are fostered through Bahá’í community-building efforts have been key factors in responding to the crisis.
Construction of the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
In their efforts, countless people were connected in their immeasurable love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, for whom a Shrine is being constructed.
A short film chronicling the construction work was released at the International Bahá’í Convention. Since then, work has advanced on the trellis—the roof structure that spans the central edifice of the Shrine—passing a major milestone in the project and revealing for the first time the completed concrete body.
Once completed, that sacred structure will serve as a place of prayer and contemplation for visitors from around the world to draw inspiration from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life and work as a herald of peace, as a champion of social justice, and as a shelter for all humankind.