Australian National Assembly marks 75th year; like Iran's, it was first elected in 1934

May 8, 2009
The Baha'i House of Worship in Sydney was the site of a devotional program on 26 April in honor of the 75th anniversary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia. The Baha'i choir performs from a balcony. (Photographs by Rachael Dere)

SYDNEY, Australia — A congratulatory message from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was read to Australian Baha’is as they celebrated the 75th anniversary of their National Spiritual Assembly at an event in Sydney. Participants remembered the Baha’is in Iran, who would be marking the same anniversary if not for the decades of persecution in that country.

Both Iran and Australia elected their first national Baha’i governing councils in 1934.

In Sydney, more than 2,500 people turned out on 25 April for a special anniversary event at the Sydney Convention Centre, followed the next day by a reception on the grounds of the Baha’i House of Worship.

A spokesperson for the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia said at the reception that the Iranian Assembly was dissolved in 1983.

This occurred after the Iranian Prosecutor General called for the dismantling of the Bahá’í administrative structure. Persecution of the Iranian Bahá’ís had intensified in the years immediately following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. During that time all nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran were abducted and disappeared without a trace, assumed to have been killed. Individuals subsequently elected to the same Assembly were then executed along with scores of other Bahá’ís.

The anniversary celebration coincided with this year's national Baha'i convention in Australia. Convention participants are shown here during a break. Slideshow
10 images

The anniversary celebration coincided with this year's national Baha'i convention in Australia. Convention participants are shown here during a break.

About 40 Baha’is are currently in prison in Iran because of their religion, including seven men and women who had a leadership role in helping see to the needs of the 300,000-member Baha’i community there.

Delegates to the annual Baha’i convention in Australia referred to Iran in a message: “We grieve for the 30 years lost to the Bahá’í administration in Iran and salute those who gave their lives as a result of their service to that institution as well as the selfless dedication of the Iranian friends throughout their long oppression.”

Prime minister sends greetings

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sent a message for the anniversary event, read by Member of Parliament Laurie Ferguson.

In his own address, Mr. Ferguson complimented the Australian Baha'i community: “Your organization is in the forefront of tolerance, debate, and rationality."

He said he was particularly concerned by the persecution of Baha'is in Iran.

Also speaking at the reception was Dr. Peter Khan, a member of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha’i Faith.

Dr. Khan said that since its establishment in 1934, the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia had dedicated itself to fulfilling the central mission of the Baha’i Faith – to be a source of harmony, unity, and understanding among diverse people.

The National Spiritual Assembly of Australia is one of 180 such Baha’i governing councils in the world. In virtually all countries, elections are held annually during the festival of Ridvan, which runs from 21 April to 2 May.

Some 90 delegates from throughout Australia attended their national convention – held at the Sydney Baha’i Centre from 24-26 April – and voted in the election for the National Assembly. All Baha’i elections are by secret ballot, without nominations or campaigning.

Australia and New Zealand originally had a joint National Spiritual Assembly, but growth in the number of the Baha’is in both countries led to formation of two separate governing bodies in 1957. New Zealand also celebrated the 75th anniversary during the recent Ridvan period.