Thriving community builds social unity

February 2, 2005
Higiro Anastase, a brother of the first Bahá'í of Rwanda, Alphonse Semanyenzi, speaking at the Rwandan jubilee celebrations about historical events. Mr. Anastase is a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rwanda, as is Hayede Parsa (left.

KIGALI, Rwanda — The jubilee festivities here were a major victory in the history of the Rwandan Baha'i community, a speaker told the participants at the celebrations.

Uzziel Mihembezo, one of the early Baha'is of Rwanda, said that the event was proof that despite the genocide in 1994, the Baha'i community continues to grow.

Many Baha'is were among the 800,000 to perish during the violence, and many fled the country.

However, the community is thriving, with 28 Local Spiritual Assemblies and Baha'is living in 106 localities.

In a congratulatory message to the Rwandan Baha'is on the occasion of the 50th anniversary celebrations, the Universal House of Justice wrote: "We cannot help but marvel at the progress the Cause of God has made in that land and express our humble gratitude to Baha'u'llah for bestowing His healing Message upon the sorely tried peoples of that country."

One of the speakers at the festivities was a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in Africa, Ahmad Parsa.

"It is a great pleasure that many principles of the Baha'i Faith have been adopted by Rwandans in their struggle to recover from what happened in 1994," Mr. Parsa said.

Through moral and spiritual principles people can learn to avoid dissension and disunity and to create friendship and love, he said.

Some members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rwanda at the Baha'i International Convention, Baha'i World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 1998. Slideshow
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Some members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rwanda at the Baha'i International Convention, Baha'i World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 1998.

The official guest speaker at the festivities, Ndigabo Francois, a government official of Nyagisagara, praised the Baha'i community for its efforts to build unity and understanding between Rwandans of different ethnic background.

Those efforts include a statement in March 2000 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rwanda to the National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation in which the Assembly urged that consideration be given to making the principle of the oneness of humanity the basis for reconciliation in the country.

"Baha'is believe that humankind has always constituted one species, but that prejudice, ignorance, power seeking, and egotism have prevented many people from recognizing and accepting this oneness," the National Spiritual Assembly wrote.

The jubilee celebrations began on 11 December 2004 in Kigali and continued the following day in the village of Nyagisagara, 100 kilometers from the capital city.

The 450 participants at the jubilee celebrations came from different regions of Rwanda, as well as from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zimbabwe.

Journalists from eight newspapers and magazines and from the Rwanda National Radio and Radio Flash FM covered the event. The three main newspapers in the country -- one in French, one in English and one in Kinyarwanda -- published articles about the jubilee.

Baha'i choirs and dance troupes from Cyangugu, Gatenga, Goma, and Kigali performed traditional and modern dances prompting the joyous participants to join them on the stage.

During the event, master of ceremonies Jean Baptiste Habimana, a member of the Auxiliary Board, described the current activities of the Rwandan Baha'i community, emphasizing the regular children's classes, prayer gatherings, and study circles, all of which are open to the public.

In the Kigali region, for example, there are now eight children's classes, 13 prayer gatherings, and 20 study circles.

Among those recounting stories to the gathering about the early days of the Baha'i community were Kitoko Mangili, now the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly, Uzziel Mihembezo, and Isaac Ngwijebose.

Frequently mentioned in such reminiscences were the first Rwandan Baha'i, the late Alphonse Semanyenzi, and a medical doctor, Dr. Ataollah Taaid, who came with his wife, Zahereh, to assist in the development of the Baha'i community.

After becoming a Baha'i, Mr. Semanyenzi worked at Dr. Taaid's clinic in Kigali. In 1972 he was elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rwanda. He also served as an interpreter during the visits in 1972 and 1973 by Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, a Hand of the Cause of God.

Mr. Semanyenzi's brother, Higiro Anastase, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Rwanda, told the participants about the time when the Taaid family first arrived in Rwanda in 1966.

Mr. Anastase said that while Dr. Taaid worked at the clinic, his wife, Zahareh, traveled the country to tell villagers about the Baha'i teachings. (Dr. and Mrs. Taaid, who now live in Belgium, were unable to attend the jubilee.)

The message of the Baha'i Faith was introduced to Rwanda (formerly part of Ruanda-Urundi) in 1953 by Mary Collison and Reginald (Rex) Collison, a retired couple from the United States, and Dunduzu Chisiza, a young Baha'i, from Malawi (then Nyasaland).

For this service Mr. and Mrs. Collison and Mr. Chisiza received the accolade of Knight of Baha'u'llah from the then head of the Faith Shoghi Effendi.