Advancing the discourse of gender equality as part of Interfaith Harmony Week

How does our understanding – that the true nature of our reality is spiritual– shape our approach towards advancing the equality of men and women?

On 6 February 2007, together with the Religions for Peace UK Women of Faith Network, the UK Baha’i Community hosted an evening of joyful and reflective devotions and discussions at the UK National Baha’i Centre on the theme of gender equality, as part of the global observance of Interfaith Harmony Week.

Individuals from the Baha’i, Brahma Kumaris, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities came together to share prayers and readings from the world religions, in what one participant described as a “practice for the spiritual well-being of the community”.

Noor and Tom Bell, a married couple from the Baha’i community, opened the evening by singing a Baha’i prayer for handmaidens and shared in their welcome the words of Abdu’l-Baha: “I am happy to be present at a gathering such as this, assembled together to listen to a Divine Message. If you could see with the eye of truth, great waves of spirituality would be visible to you in this place. The power of the Holy Spirit is here for all. Praise be to God that your hearts are inspired with Divine fervour! Your souls are as waves on the sea of the spirit; although each individual is a distinct wave, the ocean is one, all are united in God.”

The friends then broke out into smaller groups where questions on the theme of advancing the equality of women and men were explored and ideas and concepts were shared and reflected upon. Amongst others, the discussions explored the role of education in advancing equality, the recognition that gender inequality fundamentally hinders human progress, and that men too will be held back from manifesting their full potential unless and until the reality of the equality between women and men is fully established and attained.

Reflecting on the great strides that still need to be made in advancing the equality of women and men, Tom Bell reminded those present of the words of the Universal House of Justice, that “Small steps, if they are regular and rapid, add up to a great distance travelled”.  Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, Chair of the Religions for Peace UK Women of Faith Network, as part of her closing comments said that, “A first step towards equality lies in educating ourselves spiritually, and recognising the Divine light in each other.”



As part of the evening, an exhibition titled ‘Restoring Dignity’ was on display, portraying the various faith traditions and reflecting on the role of women in each faith.

Recasting the national conversation

London – Can we change the character of our national conversation and the terms on which we talk to one another?

Recently, the UK Baha’i Office of Public Affairs invited a group of parliamentarians, journalists, academicians, and civil society actors to explore this question.

Read more about this seminar here: Recasting the national conversation

Architects and journalists join UK Baha’i Community to honour the work of Juan Grimm

 

e17107ap_chile_temple_on_mountain-tif_International architects, together with various London-based journalists, joined members of the UK Baha’i Community last week at a luncheon to honour the work of award winning landscape architect, Juan Grimm. Mr Grimm is also the landscape architect for the gardens surrounding the recently inaugurated Baha’i House of Worship in Santiago, Chile. The luncheon provided the opportunity to honour the work of Mr Grimm, as well as to reflect on the most recent dedication of the Bahá’í House of Worship in South America.

The dedication of the Baha’i House of Worship that took place in Santiago, Chile, last month, signified a historic conclusion to a century-long process of raising up continental Baha’i Houses of Worship around the world.

On 14th October the city of Santiago, Chile, witnessed the momentous gathering of close to 5,000 Baha’is and friends from countries all over the world, to celebrate the dedication of the last continental House of Worship, this time by the footsteps of the Andes. Amongst those present were individuals and families from the UK who had undertaken the long journey to Santiago in order to be present for this significant occasion.

chile3

The Chilean Ambassador to the UK, Rolando Drago, sent his compliments to the Baha’is throughout South America, for the inauguration of the House of Worship, stating, “It is a fascinating building that will most certainly become an important spiritual centre for the Baha’i community in Chile. It will also become a relevant landmark in the area of Penalolen where it has been built.”

The program of the dedication was unique in its own way and faithful to the South American identity with music, dance, arts and talks. At the heart of the talks and artistic presentations was the concept of heritage: both cultural as well as spiritual. At all times the friends were reminded of spiritual giants such as Martha Root, May Maxwell and Leonora Armstrong, who were remembered several times, and in particular in a touching dramatization of their lives. The rich diversity of indigenous groups throughout the continent was also celebrated, not only with joyful and infectious dance and music, but also with several presentations from these friends about how the message of Baha’u’llah has transformed their communities. Many times the friends mentioned Abdul-Baha’s promise to the native people of the Americas, that they will become so “radiant as to illumine the world”.

Carmel Momen, who travelled to Santiago from the UK, along with her family, said, “It was a true blessing to stand with believers from all over the world and every walk of life, people who, in different circumstances, we would have nothing in common with, at the foothill of the beautiful Andes mountains and breath in the love, joy and unifying majesty of this newest gift to the world. Pictures cannot do justice to the House of Worships beauty or convey the tranquil feeling of sitting inside its soul healing dome.”

A House of Worship is a pivotal institution of Baha’i community life, ordained by Baha’u’llah as a sacred structure open to all and referred to as “Mashriqu’l-Adhkar”, which translates to “Dawning Place of the Mention of God.”

Although a Baha’i Temple is a universal place of worship, its purpose is not solely to provide a place for prayer and meditation. Rather, Houses of Worship are conceived of as institutions that will contribute to the social and economic progress of the populations for whom they are sanctuaries of peace and reflection. They are expressions of the deep connection between worship and service. Around each House of Worship, essential dependencies will in time emerge, dedicated to social, humanitarian, educational, and scientific pursuits.

chile2

Apart from the priceless gift of witnessing the dedication of the House of Worship, participants were also recipients of two other special gifts. The first one was in the form of ten small prayer books with the purpose of giving them to the people who came across their paths during the dedication. Indeed it was the perfect opportunity to witness the purpose of the House of Worship in bringing together worship and service.

Sahba Saberian, who was also attending from the UK, said: “It was exciting to see the friends (many who did not speak Spanish or English) fearlessly hand these books out to taxi drivers, shopkeepers and Airbnb hosts….In a few days it was even becoming common to be turned down because the person had already been given a book!”

The second gift was that all the friends had the chance to see the blessed portraits of Baha’u’llah and The Bab at the Temple – a gift that was completely unexpected and particularly special for those friends who, for various reasons, find it extremely difficult to go on pilgrimage at the Holy Land.

“Much more can be said about the program of the dedication itself,” Mr Saberian noted, “But what stayed with all the participants is the unique spirit of love, worship and service that permeated the gathering and whose effect, no doubt, was felt across the globe.”