Honoring Queen Elizabeth II and her Golden Jubilee, Baha'is participate in interfaith celebration on the environment

November 13, 2002

LONDON — At a special high-level interfaith gathering held in honor of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, Baha'i representatives joined with the leaders of nine other major world religions to celebrate the significant role that religions can play in caring for the environment.

Held 13 November 2002 in London's historic Banqueting House in Whitehall and titled "Our Place in Creation," the event featured the presentation of a series of environmental projects to Her Majesty the Queen and her husband HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as a program of sacred artistic, musical, and dance performances by representatives of each religion.

Organized by the Alliance on Religion and Conservation (ARC), the event sought to explore religions' understanding of the place of humanity in creation. The Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism were all represented.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who has played a key role in bringing religions into the environmental movement at the international level, explained the purpose of the gathering in a short talk.

"We desperately need the conviction of religious belief to guide us in the way we live on, and use, the planet," said Prince Philip. "We have got to learn to balance the economic and scientific realities against the religious demands for responsibility and consideration for the created world. It is not going to be easy, but I am sure that belief and conviction are very powerful motives to care for our planet with all its diversity."

Among the religious leaders in attendance were: His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, representing Orthodox Christianity; the Rt. Rev. Michael Turnbull, Lord Bishop of Durham, representing Protestant Christianity; Sri Kushok Bakula, representing Buddhism; Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel, representing Judaism, and Ervad Dr Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia, a leading writer on Zoroastrian affairs.

Ms. Guilda Navidi Walker represented the Baha'i International Community. The Baha'i Community of the United Kingdom was represented by its secretary, Mr. Barney Leith.

"The event was quite significant, not only because of the presence of the Queen and Prince Philip, but because of the very senior leadership represented among the faith communities," said Mr. Leith. "And, despite all of the religious hatred and intolerance that sometimes unfortunately seems so prevalent in our world, the event also served to demonstrate that religious communities can work together on important global issues, such as the environment."

For its project, the Baha'i International Community presented the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women. Based in Indore, India, the Institute gives indigenous women training in literacy, agriculture, health, income-generation, and environmental conservation.

Conservation-oriented projects announced by other religions included: a recycling project in all 47 existing Zoroastrian Fire Temples in Mumbai, India; the founding of a Centre for Islam and Ecology at the University of Wales, Lampeter, UK; the planting of some 27,000 tree seedlings in temple and community forests surrounding 14 Buddhist pagodas in Cambodia; and the creation of a major new environmental program by the Batak Church of Sumatra, Indonesia. These are in addition to a series of environmental projects announced in 2000 by ARC, in association with WWF International, in an initiative called Sacred Gifts for a Living Planet.

As the Baha'i contribution to the program of sacred performances, Shiva Ashrafi Cooper chanted one of the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah. Now a resident of the United Kingdom, Ms. Ashrafi Cooper was born in Iran.

Ms. Walker said the quality of Ms. Ashrafi Cooper's singing was intensely moving. "When Shiva arrived and started singing, there was such silence that you could heard a pin drop," she said. "It was an essentially spiritual experience."

In addition to the chanting by Ms. Ashrafi Cooper, the event featured performances by members of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mongolian National Song and Dance Ensemble, the London Adventist Chorale, and others.

The Baha'i International Community has been a member of the Alliance on Religion and Conservation since it was founded in 1995 at a summit meeting at Windsor Castle hosted by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

For more information on the Alliance on Religion and Conservation, visit the ARC website at www.arcworld.org or read a story about ARC's founding at http://www.onecountry.org/oc71/oc7101as.html. For more information about the Barli Development Institute, go to http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story/176 for an accompanying background feature on the Institute or to the Institute's website at http://www.geocities.com/bvirw.