Religious Freedom Walk, Rio 18.9.11
I am really impressed by the solidarity shown by Brazillians of all backgrounds with the oppressed Baha’i community in Iran.
The ongoing persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community featured prominently as 25,000 people from Brazil’s diverse traditions marched to defend the right to religious freedom and call for justice.Established in 2008 by Rio’s Committee for Combating Religious Intolerance (CCIR), the Religious Freedom Walk initially aimed to call attention to the prejudice faced in Brazil by followers of traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Since then, the march has become an annual event, growing from 2,000 participants at the first rally to this year’s record figure. Yesterday, Afro-Brazilian religious leaders were joined by Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Buddhists and Baha’is, all united in their aim to draw attention to intolerance.
Baha’is distributed 1,000 yellow vests bearing the slogan, “Today, we are followers of all religions” – a sentiment that was happily worn by participants from the different communities.
I am very concerned about the recent detention of Abdolfattah Soltani – a leading human rights lawyer in Iran. Mr Soltani has been detained since the 10th September. He is part of a legal team defending a number of Baha’is on trial for providing higher education to their community. He is a brave defender of human rights in Iran and my best wishes and prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.
The last twenty years has seen the world ever more closely linked by trading and financial networks which now seem on the brink of disruption because of years of unfettered greed and mismanagement. In all likelihood as these networks are disrupted there will be a return of nationalism and parochialism as anxious populations seek to find some stability in the economic and social chaos which results.
However the fact remains that we are all one human family and the answer to our problems are to be found in unity and not in division- the unity that comes from knowing that we are all brothers and sisters on one planet- not just buyers and sellers in a global market place. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh
“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”
This month I will be taking part in a meeting celebrating the centenary of the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the United Kingdom.
One hundred years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, arrived in the United Kingdom for the first of two visits. He was 66 years old, in failing health, and had been an exile from Persia since childhood. He and His family had spent forty years imprisoned by the Ottoman authorities in the Holy Land, and it was only in 1908 that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was finally free. He wasted no time in taking His Father Bahá’u’lláh’s message of peace and religious renewal to western societies. British Bahá’ís see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visits as crucial in the establishment of the Bahá’í Faith in the UK. For decades until then, Bahá’ís had been persecuted, imprisoned and executed across Persia and the Ottoman empire. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s journeys to the west were an emancipation. In London, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave public lectures at City Temple, St John the Divine in Smith Square, and elsewhere. At City Temple, He said that, “The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.” At St John, the translation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s remarks was read by the Archdeacon of Westminster, Albert Wilberforce. There are many stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s activities in Britain. His acts of charity at homeless shelters and for the poor; His audiences for hundreds of well-wishers and questioners; His constant emphasis on political reconciliation in the pre-war period; His call for racial harmony and an end to prejudice; all of these episodes set for Bahá’ís an enduring example of a life dedicated to the service of humanity.