Friday, 22 September 2017

A sign of hope

This month, the first local House of Worship of the Bahá’í world has opened in Battambang, Cambodia. If anyone had tried to guess which country would be the first, they probably wouldn’t have guessed Cambodia, but the country which has experienced such nightmarish suffering is now leading the way. Battambang was chosen because its thriving Bahá’í community is united and dynamic, and actively shows how worship can involve service to others: “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship,” as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá put it. This new building will be actively used!
Before this there was just one Bahá’í House of Worship for each continent. There are two national ones and four other local ones in the design stage, so this first one to be built will soon be followed by others. Although there are many ordinary buildings being used by local Bahá’í communities, this first local House of Worship represents a huge step forward for the Bahá’í world. Many towns and villages have Bahá’í centres, where the Bahá’ís can meet, and these are often used for the children’s classes and junior youth groups and devotional meetings to which everyone is invited. However, a House of Worship is perceived differently from a functional centre, or from administrative buildings, as its prime function is that of worship – of providing a space where the individual soul, whether or not in conjunction with others, can more quickly connect to God, the Unknowable Essence. To that end, it has to be a building of beauty and meaningful form. In addition, it should lead to the establishment of various charitable institutions in its neighbourhood.
Every Bahá’í House of Worship has nine sides, which symbolise the way that different paths lead us to one common goal, and is open to everyone, whether follower of a faith or not. The architect of this particular building is himself a Cambodian, and he has used innovative construction techniques within a style of building that reflects the traditional architecture of the country. The underlying message here is the preservation and encouragement of valuable local cultural traditions and forms, as an important part of the united global society which is evolving.
The Bahá’í message is essentially one of unity. Bahá’u’lláh said: “The Divine Messengers have been sent down, and their Books were revealed, for the purpose of promoting the knowledge of God, and of furthering unity and fellowship amongst men.” All conflicts, warfare and persecution spring from a state of disunity, and Cambodia has unfortunately had much experience of this. The Universal House of Justice, which is the elected body which leads the Bahá’í community world-wide, points out that, “The pure-hearted people of Cambodia, who have themselves suffered much, are responding with such enthusiasm to the call” of unity. “They are making strenuous efforts to uplift souls through spiritual and material education and are enabling populations to develop their capacity for service.”
The House of Worship was opened to the public in early September 2017, following a two-day conference at which the Deputy Governor of Battambang was present. He said: “Once a barren and very quiet place, which not many people would want to pass through, it has now turned into a beautiful garden, attracting people from all walks of life, day and night. I would like to emphasize that this local House of Worship will be assuming a very important role in unifying all people of different religions."

In a world in which nations, tribes, religions and classes compete for advantage, the need – Bahá’ís believe – is for spirituality and unity. As Bahá’u’lláh stated: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." It may be very significant that a people which has suffered so much, and been trodden down by so many different nations in the past, is now showing the way forward. This is surely a very positive sign of hope.


There is a three-minute video showing highlights of the opening:
In October, 2016, I posted about the opening of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Chile (“And then there were eight”), which was the last continental House of Worship:


Saturday, 16 September 2017

No-one has the right…

Recently, in England, another case has come to light of what is being termed “modern slavery”. A family of eleven individuals were all convicted of having used homeless and vulnerable people as slave labour. The family business, ostensibly respectable, involved removing old driveways and replacing them with new block paving and similar surfaces, using hard labour rather than industrial equipment. Those “employed” were housed in terrible conditions in old caravans. They were kept in place through a system of punishment beatings. They had no sanitation, no running water and received no money. A customer who served as a witness at the trial said that the men had no lunch break, and indeed had no lunch, just the tea and biscuits that he and his wife took out to them, for which they were very grateful. One man had worked for the company for twenty-five years, his family having given him up as dead. Meanwhile the family members themselves lived in expensive houses and took luxury holidays abroad. They have just been sentenced to between 6 and 15 years in prison.

In Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Queen Victoria, He referred to the way in which the British government had abolished slavery: “We have been informed that thou hast forbidden trading in slaves, both men and women. This, verily, is what God hath enjoined in this wondrous Revelation. God hath, truly, destined a reward for thee because of this.” Yet, although slavery has been abolished in every country in the world, it has come to light in new forms: now there is illegal control of others rather than the property arrangements which used to exist. The police are gradually uncovering slave labour of this type in firms doing hard manual work, in domestic service and on farms. The same type of arrangement exists for those left to cultivate plants such as cannabis, used for the production of illegal drugs. These cannabis farms are often hidden inside what look like normal private homes. Another dreadful kind of slavery is forced prostitution. Women are kidnapped, “bought” or tricked in West Africa or in Eastern Europe, brought to the United Kingdom and forced, through physical cruelty, to work as prostitutes.

The British government has declared eradication of modern slavery as its aim, but locating these hidden and demoralised victims is difficult, and getting conviction of the perpetrators even more so. As individuals, we need to be alert for such flagrant abuse of others. No-one has the right to control the lives of others: “O children of men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other.” Every religion teaches that you should treat other people as you would wish to be treated. In the Hindu Scriptures it says: “Treat others as thou wouldst thyself be treated.” Jesus expressed it as, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them.” In Islám we find: “None of you is a believer until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.” Because this same teaching is found in every single one of the world religions, it is often referred to as “The Golden Rule”. Bahá’u’lláh expressed it like this: “Lay not on any soul a load which ye would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for any one the things ye would not desire for yourselves”.

Bahá’u’lláh observed that “the vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land”. As the power of religion has waned, people’s concern for one another is not always as strong as it was. Unfortunately it seems that a small number of people have completely lost any sense of empathy for others, and think they have the right to control others, in order to make themselves rich. No-one has that right.

We all need to bring up our children to care for and respect others. To help with this, Bahá’ís run classes for children to teach virtues such as kindness, honesty and generosity, and also junior youth groups where young people learn how they can contribute to society. Together we need to ensure that slavery of all kinds disappears for ever.


If you want to help in the fight against the evil of slavery, you might wish to visit the website of Anti-Slavery International: