international baha’i convention: spiritual democracy in action

international baha’i convention: a global community reflects, May 6, 2013

Every five years, Bahá’ís throughout the world gather together at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, to attend the Bahá’í International Convention, which has been called the world’s “only worldwide election”. The primary purpose of the convention is to elect the Universal House of Justice, the institution which serves as the head of the Bahá’í Faith, in a reverent, joyful process one friend of mine described as “spiritual democracy”.

The global process that results in the election of the Universal House of Justice begins with Baha’is in more than 100,000 cities and villages around the world, from Canada to Vietnam and everywhere in between, who gather at unit conventions to elect delegates from among their localities. These delegates subsequently gather together at national conventions to elect national administrative bodies known as Spiritual Assemblies. Once every five years, members of these National Spiritual Assemblies are then tasked with electing the Universal House of Justice at the international convention.

This last part of the process, which involved more than 1,000 delegates from 157 countries at the last International Convention in 2013, is a truly stunning, beautiful and powerful experience that is worlds apart from the elections that dominate global news cycles. The Bahá’í World News Service expanded on this in an article profiling the Eleventh International Convention:

In a unique electoral process, all forms of campaigning, electioneering and nominations are strictly avoided. Rather, after prayerful reflection, the assembled delegates silently and privately wrote down the names of nine individuals who they felt would be best able to serve on the institution.

For more than three hours, the representatives then filed across the stage to deposit their votes in a simple wooden box. The following day, the result was announced, and the new membership of the Universal House of Justice received a warm and reverent welcome from the gathering.

Photojournalist Shannon Higgins shared a beautiful portrayal of the spiritual atmosphere that reigned at the international convention, a far cry from “regular” elections:

Baha’i elections don’t look like anything else — they have no bells and whistles, no campaigns or electioneering or nominations or candidates. Nine delegates from each nation, themselves elected to serve on the national governing body from the believers of their respective nations, silently pray and meditate and simply write down nine names. They elect those they feel will best serve the international governing body of the Baha’i Faith. […]

Absolutely nobody talks about how they think the votes will go. No one mentions whom he or she voted for — no speculation, no “preliminary reports”, no “buzz”, no “spin-room”… period. For the Baha’is, this election represents a sacred spiritual endeavor, not a popularity contest or a political exercise.

Because the worldwide Bahá’í community has been growing year over year—not just in numbers, but in its maturity and in its capacity for concerted, systematic action—there are always exciting things to talk about. Contributing to the delegates’ consultation during the last convention were the 2013 Ridván Message and the 1 May 2013 message from the Universal House of Justice, as well as a documentary film entitled Frontiers of Learning, which showcased the community development process underway in four different Bahá’í communities in different parts of the world: Norte de Bolivar, Colombia; Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Toronto, Canada; and Bihar Sharif, India.

Male and female delegates standing in a rowFor the long-suffering Bahá’ís of Vietnam, the Eleventh International Convention also marked the first time delegates were able to attend this momentous gathering, as the Baha’i community was only fully recognized by the government in July 2008. The Vietnamese delegates wrote an account of the convention, which was published on a popular Vietnamese interfaith portal. It gives a good overview of the activities that took place at the Convention, and the joy and love with which the Vietnamese friends were welcomed by their fellow delegates: “For the first time,” they recounted, “Vietnam was fully integrated with the international Bahá’í community.”

The Twelfth International Bahá’í Convention will take place next year (2018), and there will be plenty of things to talk about there, too. Since the convention will fall between the two Bicentenary years—the Bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh in 2017 and that of the Báb in 2019—delegates will surely be occupied with reflections on the effects of Bicentenary celebrations on both the Bahá’í community and the wider community throughout the world, along with plans for the following year’s celebrations. The celebrations already seem to have tapped into a wellspring of creativity within the Bahá’í community—who knows what 2019 will bring?

The original post, international baha’i convention: a global community reflects, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photos courtesy of the Bahá’í International Community and the Bahá’í Community of Vietnam.

vietnam at the international baha’i convention, 2013

To follow up on my earlier overview of the 11th International Bahá’í Convention held this year, I’ve put together the following informal translation of an account written by the Vietnamese delegates, which was published on a popular Vietnamese interfaith portal. It gives a good overview of the activities that took place at the Convention, and the joy and love with which the Vietnamese friends were welcomed by their fellow delegates.

The 11th International Bahá’í Convention was held in Haifa/Akka, Israel, from April 25 to May 2, 2013. In document No. 260/TGCP-HTQT, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs approved the application of seven members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam to attend the event, including: Nguyễn Thức; Nguyễn Hoàng Lộc; Nguyễn Thị Lâm; Lê Nhất Phương Hồng; Diệp Đình Hữu; Bùi Phước Kỳ Nam; Nguyễn Đình Thỏa.[1] The delegation from the Bahá’í Community of Vietnam travelled to Israel on April 24, and returned to Vietnam today, May 5, via Turkish Airlines.

Participants from 157 countries registered to attend the Convention. The nine members of National Spiritual Assemblies from around the world acted as delegates to elect the Universal House of Justice. Those who could not attend sent their ballots by mail. […]

The official programme of the Convention lasted four days, from April 29 to May 2. The plan for April 25–27 included registration, orientation, visits to the Holy Places in Haifa and ‘Akká, and prayers in the Mausoleum of the Báb (in Haifa) and the Holy Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh (in ‘Akká), so that delegates might pray and meditate to aid them in casting their ballots to elect the Universal House of Justice in a spiritual atmosphere. […]

Delegates gathered in front of stage in colourful costumes

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international baha’i convention: a global community reflects

haifa foyerOver the past two weeks, I’ve been treated to the unmatched pleasure of following along as friends, family and acquaintances gathered at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel, to attend the Eleventh Bahá’í International Convention—the eleventh edition of what’s been called the world’s “only worldwide election”. As I mentioned previously, the primary purpose of the Convention is to elect the Universal House of Justice, the Institution at the head of the Bahá’í Faith, in a reverent, joyful process one friend of mine described as “spiritual democracy”. The Bahá’í World News Service expanded on that description:

In a unique electoral process, all forms of campaigning, electioneering and nominations are strictly avoided. Rather, after prayerful reflection, the assembled delegates silently and privately wrote down the names of nine individuals who they felt would be best able to serve on the institution.

For more than three hours, the representatives then filed across the stage to deposit their votes in a simple wooden box. The following day, the result was announced, and the new membership of the Universal House of Justice received a warm and reverent welcome from the gathering.

Photojournalist Shannon Higgins shares a beautiful portrayal of the spiritual atmosphere that reigns at the convention, a far cry from “regular” elections:

Baha’i elections don’t look like anything else — they have no bells and whistles, no campaigns or electioneering or nominations or candidates. Nine delegates from each nation, themselves elected to serve on the national governing body from the believers of their respective nations, silently pray and meditate and simply write down nine names. They elect those they feel will best serve the international governing body of the Baha’i Faith. […]

Absolutely nobody talks about how they think the votes will go. No one mentions whom he or she voted for — no speculation, no “preliminary reports”, no “buzz”, no “spin-room”… period. For the Baha’is, this election represents a sacred spiritual endeavor, not a popularity contest or a political exercise.

delegatesThe assembled delegates then began to take counsel together, sharing “their thoughts, experiences and insights as part of a global learning process”. Their consultations, writes Higgins, touch on “community building, on social and economic development projects for the poor and underprivileged around the globe, on the education of the children and youth. They encourage others in their success and struggles, crisis and victories. They focus on the work of Bahá’ís everywhere, making the world a better place for all.” Feeding their consultations was a letter addressed to the convention by the Universal House of Justice, outlining the work that stands before the Bahá’í community “as it strives to contribute to the spiritual and material advancement of civilization”. Also contributing to the delegates’ consultation was a new documentary film entitled Frontiers of Learning, which showcases the community development process underway in four different Bahá’í communities in different parts of the world: Norte de Bolivar, Colombia; Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Toronto, Canada; and Bihar Sharif, India.

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5th baha’i national convention, vietnam

So Quynh and I were so busy with our big trip to Canada this spring (and all the attendant paperwork) that I completely forgot to post anything about the 5th National Convention of the Baha’is of Vietnam, which took place in Hanoi from 28-29 April, 2012. A lot of big things happened this time around, as this year is also the 20th anniversary of the Baha’i Faith in Hanoi. A number of people who helped established the Baha’i community of Hanoi attended, including Mrs. Zabine Van Ness, who was instrumental in enrolling the first Hanoian Baha’i. Blogger Gary Matthews (aka the Astonished Tamale) shares an account of the weekend’s events:

The new National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Vietnam, elected the day before at the annual national convention, was introduced. Among the members is Tahirih Hong Le (the only woman), daughter of Le Loc, a longtime friend of Zabine’s from the Old Days. Le Loc once served as chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of South Vietnam , and later as chairman of the NSA of unified Vietnam. […]

Baha’i Counselor George Soraya of Indonesia gave a rousing keynote speech. He emphasized Baha’i principles of obedience to government, peace, education, loyalty to government, the oneness of humanity, Baha’i non-participation in partisan politics, cooperation with government, non-violence, and obedience to government.

Another moving address was from a beautiful lady [Mrs. Tran Thi Bich] who was the second Hanoi Baha’i, having been enrolled 20 years ago by the first believer, Dr. Dao An Son. Sadly, the latter’s whereabouts are currently unknown, although the National Spiritual Assembly made every effort to find her during the lead-up to the celebration.

Mrs. Bich is very dear to Quynh and I; we spent a lot of time visiting with her and her family while we were in Hanoi getting to know each other. She’s very steadfast, strong and sharp. The Baha’is of Hanoi had to endure quite a lot in the past twenty years, especially before the community was officially recognized, so I can imagine her account must have been very moving.

Naturally, the media reported on the event, in their usual telegraphic style. Nhân Dân, the official “Voice of the Party” in Vietnam, had this to say about the proceedings in an English-language article:

More than 300 Baha’i dignitaries and followers across the country attended the fifth National Congress of the Vietnam Baha’i community in Hanoi.

The event was held on the occasion of Ridvan and the 20th anniversary of Hanoi’s Baha’i religion.

The Vietnam Baha’i community, which was recognized as a religious organisation by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs in 2008, has made great contributions to the development of the community and society. In recent years, the organisation has held many charitable activities and educated its followers on healthy spiritual values.

The Congress discussed and approved the directions on the community’s development from now until 2013, as well as elected the Baha’i Religious Spiritual Council in Vietnam for the 2012 – 2013 term.

What really struck me this year, of course, was how foreigners were welcomed into the proceedings. The video below shows Michael and Selena Orona and their three children performing two Baha’i songs at the 20th anniversary celebration for Hanoi’s Baha’i community. Michael is a diplomatic advisor on human rights and religious freedom with the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.

Read more about past conventions in Vietnam, including last year’s in Phan Thiet, or the 3rd annual convention in Can Tho. I should really write something up about the 2nd annual convention that happened in Da Nang in 2009, but let’s just say I was very busy at the time…

4th baha’i national convention, vietnam

The Bahá’ís of Vietnam have just finished electing their new Spiritual Assembly at the National Convention in Phan Thiet, in the southern province of Binh Thuan. Quynh, Nu and Lam were there, along with 300 other Bahá’í friends. Quynh and Lam travelled on the overnight train from Da Nang, and friends came from as far away as Hanoi, all the way in the country’s north, to be there. Apparently it was amazing and a joy to attend. Quynh got to meet with several Vietnamese government representatives and members of Bahá’í institutions responsible for Southeast Asia. The Vietnamese press dutifully covered the convention too, with an item on the evening news (aired twice) and a number of news articles. I was surprised to see that the news was available online almost immediately after the convention, not only in Vietnamese (2, 3), but also in English and French. It looks as though one article was written by the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) and reprinted in a number of places, like the English press would do with AP or Reuters stories. Here’s the English article:

The Baha’i Community of Vietnam held its fourth National Congress in Phan Thiet city, the southern province of Binh Thuan, on April 23 and 24.

More than 300 Baha’i dignitaries and followers nationwide attended the congress, which also saw the participation of representatives of the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs and the Baha’i advisory board for Asia and the Board of Trustees of Huququ’llah for Southeast Asia.

The congress elected a nine-member religious council of the Baha’is of Vietnam for the 2011-2012 term.

It also set forth key tasks with the emphasis on mobilising Baha’is to live up to the motto of “living well in one’s life and one’s faith” and strengthening the nation’s great unity and solidarity with other religions.

Introduced into Vietnam in 1954, the Baha’i community now has more than 7,000 followers in 43 cities and provinces, mostly in central and southern regions.

The Baha’i Community of Vietnam has been recognised as a religious organisation by the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs in July 2008.

This article—a short one to be sure—isn’t a direct translation of the Vietnamese one, nor is the French article. The original reads something more like the article on the Can Tho convention in 2010 I blogged last year, with a lot more references to the Baha’i Faith being completely lawful and being in full accordance with regulations, etc. Despite not saying much, of course, the English article’s at least correct. I’m mostly just surprised they included the word “Huqúqu’lláh”.

Anyway, as soon as I get a little more time, I’ll take a stab at translating the Vietnamese and French articles for a little comparative coverage. Keep your eyes peeled. And if you’re interested in reading more articles like this, then why not follow me on Twitter and let me know?

Read about last year’s Baha’i National Convention in Can Tho.

iranian situation of deep concern to bahá’ís at canadian convention

From the Canadian Baha’i News Service (CBNS), about the Canadian National Convention:

Iranian situation of deep concern to Bahá’ís at Canadian convention

TORONTO, ON, 27 April 2006 (CBNS) — Bahá’í delegates from across Canada will gather on Friday morning in Toronto for the 57th annual Bahá’í National Convention. The convention runs until Sunday, April 30th. Elected by their fellow believers across Canada, now numbering more than 30,000, the delegates will begin the convention with prayers for the safety of Iran’s Bahá’í community, that country’s largest religious minority.

Read the entire article.