As protests and unrest plagues every region of our world, nearly seven million followers of the relatively unknown but seemingly peaceful Bahá’í Faith worldwide celebrated a bicentenary marking the “Herald of a new Dawn.”
As the youngest of independent monotheistic religions, with followers in 200 countries and territories, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural bicentenary celebrated the Faith’s “Twin Luminaries” – the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.” The celebrations called for oneness: humanity as one people, unity of religions, harmony of science and religion, equality of women and men, universal education, abolishing extremes of wealth and poverty, and universal peace.
Tilted World Balance
With our world balance in disarray, Oneness may be the panacea for today’s chaotic, polarized planet. It may help resolve our humanitarian crises and distortions of peace, justice and equality – on social, economic, gender and religious battle fronts around the globe.
Severe food shortages in Haiti are inching the earthquake-ravaged country closer to a total collapse. The five-month long protests in Hong Kong have now turned violent, crippling the economic powerhouse. The resurgence of the ‘Arab Spring’ has resulted in uprisings throughout the Arab world. Warring factions continue to reap havoc throughout Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Following eight months of protests in Algeria, the country’s 82-year-old president was ousted but replaced with a military-backed president, not a civilian one as demanded by protestors. More recently, peaceful demonstrations in Lebanon against rising taxes, failed social services and corrupt government officials led to the resignation of the country’s president after 13 days of unrelenting protests.
Nasser Rohani, a Bahá’í in Portland, Maine explains how they regard all major religions as essentially one religion. How the teachings call for any ideals and institutions that no longer serve mankind’s welfare to be “swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines.” And furthermore, they assert that legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the “interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine.”
On the Shores of Piscataqua
A large group of guests and followers celebrated the bicentenary at the Green Acre Bahai Centre of Learning in Eliot, Maine – where in 1894 its founder Sarah Farmer, had raised the first known Peace flag in the world. Green Acre sits on the shores of the Piscataqua River, where Farmer and four businessmen opened a hotel in 1890. When poet John Greenleaf Whittier visited the place, he named it Green Acre.
Farmer had grown up in a Transcendentalist home that was a way station on the Underground Railroad. She used the hotel to organize conferences on progressive subjects – universal in
scope and open to all races and creeds. After meeting Bahá’u’lláh’s son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on a trip to Palestine, Farmer integrated his teachings into her conferences and played a critical role in encouraging Russian and Japanese government delegations to settle the Russo-Japanese war. She is thought to have been the only woman to have observed the ceremonial signing of the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth that ended that war.
“Sarah Farmer was promoting, over a century ago, the oneness of mankind and the unity of religion,” says Joan Lincoln of Portsmouth, NH, who first learned of the Baha’i Faith from a classmate while studying music at California’s Mills College at age 17. The “concept of Progressive Revelation — the idea that God revealed His religion over time, chapter by chapter through different Manifestations” captivated Lincoln.
Farmer’s “universal outlook and tenacity of purpose at such a time in history” remains an inspiration for Lincoln and those “now working towards similar aspirations, doing best to see humanity come together as one human family.”
Raising three children with her husband, Albert, while living in Europe, Africa and Israel, Lincoln realized “the need for equality and respect between women and men.” Balancing different cultures with her Faith brought the realization that “treating one another with respect and compassion, encouraging and accompanying one another as we move ahead through the tests and challenges of life, is a wonderful way to live.”
It’s no surprise that since 1947 the Baha’is of the U.S./UN Office support the work of the United Nations and efforts towards “the planetization of mankind.” Collaborating with many UN departments and specialized agencies, they work with multiple NGO’s addressing the UN and civil society, faith values in global affairs, and women’s advancement.
Balancing Our Imbalance Through Collective Actions
As our world’s balance tilts in a perilous manner, and at such a critical junction in human history, world leaders for the most part are failing to lead. Most advance self-serving goals over the well-being of their nations. Divisions of religion, culture, national identity and race have polarized even the most progressive of nations.
Would a letter, similar to the one sent in 1867 by Bahá’u’lláh to leaders and rulers of various nations, resonate and realign today’s world leaders towards a common goal? Summoning world leaders to uphold justice, he called upon them to convene an assembly to meet and put an end to wars. Only collective actions like protests can secure lasting peace, he proclaimed.
Similarly, what may resonate with world leaders, is the bicentennial question: “What else will rescue the world but the efforts of countless souls who each make the welfare of humanity their principal, their dominating concern?”
As artist Antony Gormley best expressed, in a recent interview with Christiane Amanpour, we have to realize that “we can’t face the future, we can’t answer any issues of social justice without talking to our neighbors and realizing that our future is their future.”