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Seminar highlights links between religious freedom and economic prosperity

— In Iran, the Baha’i community continues to endure intense persecution solely based on religious belief, a blatant violation of a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, throughout the world, freedom of religion or belief is one of the most violated rights.

An emerging body of research is suggesting that ensuring such freedoms within business could not only address a major social ill, but also be an unrecognised asset to economic recovery and growth. On 2 March 2016, a seminar held at the UK parliament, and hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Baha’i Faith, heard that there is a strong correlation between religious freedom, economic freedom, and other civil political freedoms.

“These findings are useful in our discussions with business,” said panelist Professor Brian Grim, President of the Religious Freedom &

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Minister of State at the Commonwealth Office, addressing the Seminar on Freedom of Religion and Economic Prosperity, held at Westminster, 2 March 2016. With intolerance increasing around the world, she said the commitment to freedom of religion and belief is needed more than ever.

Business Foundation. “And there’s a lot that the business world can offer to the human rights community.”

Business leaders and entrepreneurs, it was suggested, might develop a long-term interest in engaging with this area of the international human rights discourse, while their perspectives on these matters might also add an important dimension to the understanding of government and parliamentarians.

“Business is the crossroads of culture, commerce, and creativity. What brings everyone together and produces a successful service, innovation, or production is a common goal,” said Prof. Grim, who highlighted the efforts of one major automobile manufacturer which, realizing it employs people from almost 140 countries, offers an annual award for intercultural and interfaith innovation.

The seminar, which attracted some 70 participants—including parliamentari

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The seminar was opened by Jim Shannon MP. He chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. “Religious freedom is a fundamental component of peace and stability,” he said. “Without religious freedom, talented people are pushed away.”

ans, civil servants, academics, human rights activists, business professionals, and faith community leaders—was opened by Jim Shannon MP, who also chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental component of peace and stability,” Mr. Shannon said. “Without religious freedom, talented people are pushed away.”

The matter needs to move up the political agenda, Mr. Shannon said, to ensure greater economic prosperity, stability, and security.

Also on the panel was Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She said, with intolerance increasing around the world, this commitment is needed more than ever.

“Freedom of religion or belief is not just an optional extra alongside the broad spectrum of human rights. It is a key human right in and of itself,” she said.
“Where freedom of religion or belief is not fully respected, it follows that democratic values and the rule of law are not fully implemented.”
One of the keys to success is education, she said. “We need to ensure that children appreciate from the earliest age that everyone must be valued equally.”

Another panelist, Dr. Nazila Ghanea—Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford—stressed the importance of every individual having the freedom to decide whether or not to adopt a religion or belief.

“The prerequisite to freedom of religion and belief is the freedom to independently investigate the truth and adopt a belief, be it religious or not,” said Dr. Ghanea.

Referring to the Baha’i International Community document Freedom to Believe, Dr. Ghanea quoted, “The primary task of the soul will always be to investigate reality, to live in accordance with the truths of which it becomes persuaded, and to accord full respect to the efforts of others to do the same.”

Dr. Ghanea asked how such values can be advanced, noting that efforts to transfer standards across different cultures can lead to resistance.

“International standards need to be digested in a meaningful way and people need to make them their own,” she said. “Consultation is a very important way of trying to ingrain values in neighborhoods and societies.”

Participatory discussion groups were then held where innovative ideas were explored to enhance awareness, support religious freedom, and equip businesses with tools and ideas.

The seminar is intended to be the first step in a longer process to build a deeper conceptual understanding of issues of freedom of religion or belief in British political life and society.

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Louise Ellman (centre), the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Baha’i Faith, joins in a small group discussion.

UK Bahá’ís Remember The Life of Lord Avebury

London, U.K – 14 February 2016

Lord Avebury

The Bahá’í community of the UK has remembered the life of Lord Avebury with prayers and recollections of his service to the advance of human rights.

Lord Avebury was born Eric Lubbock and came to prominence in British political life when he won the 1962 Orpington by-election.  He was ennobled in 1971 and dedicated much of his time in the House of Lords to his duties as Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group.

In 1999 Lord Avebury became a founder member and officer of the All Party Parliamentary Friends of the Bahá’ís Group. He gave constant and distinguished service to the plight of the Bahá’ís in Iran for the rest of his days, serving as Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the group at various times.

In 2007 the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK felt moved to honour his longstanding service to humanity, and presented the Lady Blomfield Award to Lord Avebury in recognition of his advocacy in support of a wide-range of human rights concerns, including those of Bahá’ís. In addition to commanding great respect across the political spectrum, he was the object of genuine affection and warmth. He was seen as much as a friend as a political leader.

In a letter of condolence to Lady Avebury, the National Spiritual Assembly has cited a quote from Abdul Bahá that seems a befitting tribute to Lord Avebury’s spirit; “…may all your intentions centre in the welfare of humanity, and may you seek to sacrifice yourselves in the pathway of devotion to mankind.”

The National Spiritual Assembly has prayed for the passage of Lord Avebury’s noble soul and remembered his family.
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National Bahá’í Centre hosts interfaith evening to explore the role of religion in building social cohesion

As part of Interfaith Week 2015, the UK Bahá’í community hosted an evening of stories, reflections and music from the different world religions on the theme, “What is the role of religion in building a cohesive society?” This gathering brought together members of different faith groups, interfaith networks and civil society.

The programme consisted of representatives from each faith sharing thoughts – through stories, anecdotes, holy writings, and songs – exploring the role that religion can play in building a harmonious society. Reflections were shared from representatives of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, Sikhism and the Bahá’í Faith.

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Reem Shaheed shares a song from the Baha’i Holy writings about living together in harmony and unity.

In her welcoming remarks, Ferishteh Mazkoori of the Bahá’í community highlighted how religion is the motivating force for the establishment of world unity. She referred to the words of Baha’u’llah where He states that “religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein”.

Many stories were recounted, both ancient and recent, which underscored not only the role religion has played in strengthening social cohesion, but also indicated consensus that religion is imperative in this universal goal. This is partly because religion, by its very nature of universal application, views humanity as one.

Ancient accounts from the time of Krishna, Zoroaster and Jesus Christ were shared to illustrate the power that religion has in bringing people together. This was complemented by more recent personal anecdotes highliging the potential that each individual can play in building unity. Reflections on the oneness of humanity were shared, illustrated through the example of Buddha and Guru Nanak. The important concept of service to others in Sufism and all faiths was highlighted as a means to an end, that end being the unity of mankind. In between reflections, music composed to various holy writings was shared, as was a song in Hebrew, which was taught to all those gathered, the words of which sang: “Behold how wonderful it is when people live together in harmony”. The gathering was characterised by loving fellowship, harmony, mutual respect and a desire to listen and learn from one another.

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Rabbi Jackie Tabick teaches the words of a Hebrew song to all gathered, “Behold how wonderful it is when people live together in harmony”.

The evening came to a close with all those gathered singing together the words of Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of the founder of the Bahá’í faith: “Unite and bind together the hearts, join in accord all the souls, and exhilarate the spirits through the signs of Thy sanctity and oneness.”

 

 

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