sharing a common faith

world religion day in vietnam, January 21, 2013

One of the fundamental principles revealed by Bahá’u’lláh is that of the oneness of religion: The idea that all the world’s great religions are, in fact, one religion that has been revealed progressively over time by different Manifestations of one and the same God. The fact that the messages they taught seem to differ is not because they came from different Gods, but because they were revealed at different times to peoples with different experiences and capacities.

That said, other differences have appeared between the great religions we see today: Differences that arise from the additions—and even alterations—that human beings have made to the essential spiritual messages they were given. Re-interpretations of Scripture made by religious scholars and clergy, blind imitation of the past, superstitions arising from ignorance and misunderstanding… all of these have compounded the differences that now exist between the world’s religions.

For the nation of Vietnam, the differences between Buddhists and Catholics deepened a chasm that the Cold War had opened. And who ended up being there to try and bridge the divide? The Bahá’ís. From its earliest days, the Vietnamese Bahá’í community championed the cause of inter-religious harmony. World Religion Day, spearheaded by the Bahá’ís and observed in Vietnam every year between 1962 and 1975, gathered representatives of many different religions to deliberate on weighty themes: “Mankind must, and are able to achieve religious unity”; “Religion must be the cause for unity of mankind”; “The purpose of religion is to establish unity and harmony”; and so on.

In 1963, the Buddhist Crisis broke out, the result of the prejudicial policies of the South Vietnamese President Ngô ?ình Di?m, a Catholic, against the country’s Buddhist majority. The crisis ended six months later in a military coup and Di?m’s assassination. At no time in the country’s history was inter-religious cooperation more needed. Only months following the climax of the Buddhist Crisis, the Bahá’ís called for the creation of a “Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony” to be comprised of two representatives from each religion, “to signify a sincere and genuine effort on the part of the two major Religions of their often proclaimed belief that they desire only equality and harmony among the faiths.” This sentiment was echoed by major interfaith groups, as well; a prominent interfaith youth group in Saigon urged the formation of a council to bring together Buddhists and Roman Catholics, and asked that “a leader of the Bahai World Faith be invited” as well, “since even in the past the Baha’is have been urging the establishment of such a Council for Inter-Religious harmony and have also by their efforts demonstrated their belief in both the Buddha and Christ and shown their essential Divine Unity.”

In September 1964, the newly elected Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam formally issued a bold, yet practical four-point appeal for national religious unity which developed the ideas advanced during the previous year:

  1. Religious leaders should establish “a Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony consisting of two representatives from each Faith dedicated towards establishing complete unification between the religions and which should be delegated with the power to be the final arbitrator of any misunderstanding or strife that may arise between the various religions”;
  2. Government should officially recognize this Council as “the supreme body for arbitrating on problems concerning religious persecution and religious strifes”;
  3. Leaders and followers of every religion, “without the slightest discrimination and with complete respect and love”, should “visit the holy places of worship of every religion and publicly proclaim their acceptance of the various Divine Teachers as absolutely equal in every way”;
  4. Government should “foster Religious Harmony by encouraging the peoples and religious leaders and proclaim one day of the year World Religion Day and declare it a public holiday dedicated to the goal of Religious Unity on which day the followers of every faith may visit each others pagodas, churches, temples to pray to the Divinity of all the Prophets”.

This audacious appeal, which struck at the core of religious prejudice, must have been dismissed by many as being too fanciful or unrealistic—after all, it called on “the Venerable leaders of Buddhism in Viet Nam” to “publicly proclaim that they Believe that Lord Christ is endowed with the same Divinity and Spirituality as Lord Buddha and identical with Him”, and on Christian leaders to “proclaim likewise that the Lord Buddha is in every way equal and identical to the Lord Christ in His Spiritual and Divine Glory”. What kind of self-respecting clergyman would agree to eat humble pie in such a dramatic fashion?

But to the Bahá’ís, these acts were necessary to achieve true unity and prevent nationwide calamity: “Only then can we make the Buddhists and Christians of our sad nation rush into each others’ arms and eliminate any maneuvers to direct them instead at each others’ throats.” Moreover, the Bahá’í appeal was consistent with the belief that all religions are, in fact, reflections of the same message from one and the same God, revealed progressively throughout the evolution of mankind—that all human beings, whether or not they realize it, are in fact following many different representations of one common faith, which is “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future“.

History repeats itself, and mankind rejects and ridicules God’s Messengers as They reveal themselves, denying the life-giving messages They bear. As a result of their rejection and ridicule, civilizations are reduced to rubble, destroyed by their own corruption, their blind imitation of the past, their clinging to ways of thinking, acting and governing that no longer meet the requirements of an ever-evolving humanity. “Unfortunately,” as a Vietnamese Bahá’í representative wrote of the difficulties inherent in their interfaith work, “it seems that human beings act only in response to terrible crisis… and hence have to endure great suffering.”

The original post, world religion day in vietnam, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. With files from Mr. Jamshed Fozdar and Wikipedia. Photos courtesy of Mr. Le Loc.

world interfaith harmony week in cornwall

World Religion Day isn’t the only holiday that promotes interreligious harmony: since 2010, the world has also celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week, an event whose purpose is “to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people” of all faiths. It falls on the first week of February, shortly after World Religion Day. The Canadian Bahá’í News Service just posted nationwide highlights of Bahá’í participation in World Interfaith Harmony Week, and I thought I’d highlight this interesting tidbit from Cornwall, a town not too far from Ottawa:

In Cornwall on the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, the event took place in Knox–St. Paul’s United Church, organized by the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership, and was attended by approximately 90 people from many different backgrounds.

The event began with socializing over a meal prepared and donated by a Partnership member and his family, and was followed by the screening of a video about a “Charter for Compassion” project that aims “to advance the spirit and practice of the Golden Rule.” A workshop then explored three questions to help participants examine and eliminate the roots of inter-religious conflict: 1) Did you learn something in the film that surprised you?; 2) Are there beliefs or practices about other groups that make you feel uncomfortable?; and 3) Do you have any idea where these feelings come from – that is, where do you get information or how are your assumptions formed?

The 10 core members of the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership come from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bahá’í and unaffiliated backgrounds, and almost all have considerable experience in small-group facilitation; other associated members belong to the Hindu and Sikh communities. In its functioning, the Partnership tries to model the values of unity, respect and community action that it seeks to promote in the wider community.

Reverend Donald Wachenschwanz, the minister of the church hosting the event, said that the gathering was “awesome,” with many participants insisting that such events should be held in Cornwall every three months out of a deep yearning to see the various seemingly antagonistic religious communities come together in harmony and friendship.

I love that last part especially, about insisting that these events should be held every three months, out of a yearning to see different religious communities come together. Sounds like a step in the right direction—in fact, gatherings to promote harmony between people of different religions and nations should be happening every month, even every week. There are so many opportunities for antagonism and hatred in the world. It just makes sense to take every chance we can to create opportunities for fellowship and love.

world religion day in vietnam

In reading through the storied past of the Vietnamese Bahá’í community, I’ve been particularly impressed by its interfaith work. It seems evident that no other community worked more tirelessly for interreligious understanding during the war years than did the Bahá’ís. One of the early contributions to this work was the organization of national and local commemorations of World Religion Day, an interfaith observance, initiated in America in 1950 and thereafter celebrated worldwide, on the third Sunday in January each year. Its purpose is now as it was then: to call attention to the essential harmony of the spiritual principles underlying the world’s religions, and to emphasize the role of religion as a unifying force for humanity. Observed for over a decade prior to the end of the Vietnam War, it became, according to observers, “by far the most important inter-faith event in Vietnam”.

The first observance of World Religion Day, or Ngày tôn giáo Hoàn c?u, in Vietnam took place on January 21st, 1962, at the Bahá’í Centre at 193/1C Cong Ly Street, Saigon. “For the first time in Viet Nam,” the papers announced, “representatives of seven of the world’s religions will meet to discuss ‘the fundamental oneness of religion’ on the 13th annual World Religion Day…” Representatives of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity (Baptist), Islam, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and the Bahá’í Faith were in attendance, and addressed the crowd regarding the fundamental tenets and principles of each of their religions. “We are for a world where every one will see his neighbour as his own brother, and we are working toward the day when affection will make the boundaries between states useless,” the Bahá’í representative, Nguyen Ke Tong, declared. His words must have struck a chord with the listeners, as Vietnam itself was at the time bisected by one of these boundaries, one that had torn families apart and turned brothers, cousins and friends against each other, as they separated into North and South.

The observance of World Religion Day provided a much-needed forum for interreligious dialogue to address the enmity that had developed between the country’s Buddhist and Catholic communities as a result of the prejudicial policies of South Vietnamese President Ngô ?ình Di?m. Hoping to address this growing conflict, the Bahá’í speaker at World Religion Day in January 1963 publically appealed to the leaders of Vietnam’s faith communities to establish an Interfaith Council that would work towards unity, reconciliation, and the protection of the rights of all religious communities in Vietnam. The need for such an institution was undeniable, but the injustices perpetrated by Di?m’s government against the Buddhist community—forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas—had become too great to bear. When a rarely enforced law was invoked to prohibit Buddhists in the city of Hu? from flying flags on Buddha’s birthday in May 1963, protests broke out, which were met with live fire from the police and army. The Buddhist Crisis broke out, which would end six months later in a military coup and Di?m’s assassination.

Continue reading

muslims defend baha’i rights

In a remarkable and laudable display of interfaith solidarity, Muslim bloggers and interfaith activists have banded together to create The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights, a website supporting the right of Baha’is across the world to freedom of religious practice, and expressing their concern at the treatment of Baha’is throughout the Middle East. Recent blog posts have examined the worrying situation of the Baha’is of Egypt and the Baha’is of Iran. You should definitely give the website a visit—and if you’re interested in the subject of interfaith blogging, you should also discover the Middle East Interfaith Blogger Network, which covers interfaith issues throughout the Middle East.

interreligious marriages on the rise

While waiting for the bus on my way to work last Tuesday, a headline in one of the local free news dailies (that is, reuters/cp/torstar repeaters) caught my eye. “All they need is love”. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be the following Canadian Press story about the rise of interreligious marriages. Hmm. That’s a pretty cheesy title. Maybe “Interreligious marriages on the rise” was too bland. Anyway, the story’s based on a study published by Statistics Canada. Check it out.

Interreligious marriages on the rise: study
By LORRAYNE ANTHONY

TORONTO (CP) – Tina Verma wore a traditional red sari when her bridegroom placed a wedding band on her henna tattooed hand. It was the picture perfect Hindu wedding for a girl born in New Delhi – unless the guests took into account the man beside her.

The groom, a Canadian Christian, wore a black western suit. A few minutes after the Hindu ceremony, the two were married by a United Church minister. Then they walked down the aisle as guests threw flower petals on the newly married couple for good luck – a Hindu tradition.

As Canada becomes more culturally diverse, nuptials involving individuals from different denominations and faiths are also becoming more common, a new study finds.

While only 15 per cent of married or common-law couples were interreligious in 1981, by 2001 such unions had grown to 19 per cent, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

Of the 14.1 million Canadians in couples, nearly 2.7 million had a partner from a different religious group, the study based on census data finds.

Read the whole article.

Bonus Question: Would you marry someone who practices a religion other than your own? Why or why not?

tsunami memorial

From the Canadian Bahá’í News Service:

Religious communities in Canada honour victims of tsunami disaster

TORONTO, ON, 07 January 2005 (CBNS) — A national memorial service held in Ottawa on Saturday, 8 January 2005, to honour those lost or missing following the earthquake and tsunamis in South Asia drew the support of a number of religious organizations, including the Bahá’í Community of Canada.

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Prime Minister Paul Martin took part in the ceremony, along with representatives of nine world religions, consisting of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, Native Spirituality, and the Bahá’í Faith. The Bahá’í Community of Canada was represented by Ms. Susanne Tamas, Director of Governmental Relations and member of the National Spiritual Assembly, the Bahá’í Community of Canada’s national governing council.

Bahá’ís around the world have shared the sadness and deep distress at the loss of life that has motivated a worldwide response to this natural disaster. The international governing council of the Bahá’í International Community, the Universal House of Justice, made a contribution to the United Nations relief efforts, and Bahá’í communities in the countries most affected by the disaster have also made contributions to national relief organizations. Individual Bahá’í believers have, to the extent possible, provided various kinds of personal assistance in those countries. Bahá’í institutions have encouraged believers in other countries to make donations directly to reputable international or national organizations that are actively seeking relief funds.

The tsunami memorial was broadcast on CBC Newsworld, CTV, and CBC Radio at 12:00 noon ET.

The following prayers, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, were read in both official languages during the nationally televised service:

Thou art He, O my God, through Whose names the sick are healed and the ailing are restored, and the thirsty are given drink, and the sore-vexed are tranquillized, and the wayward are guided, and the abased are exalted, and the poor are enriched, and the ignorant are enlightened, and the gloomy are illumined, and the sorrowful are cheered, and the chilled are warmed, and the downtrodden are raised up. Through Thy name, O my God, all created things were stirred up, and the heavens were spread, and the earth was established, and the clouds were raised and made to rain upon the earth. This, verily, is a token of Thy grace unto all Thy creatures.

Ô mon Dieu, tu es celui dont les noms guérissent les malades, soignent les infirmes, désaltèrent les assoiffés, apaisent les âmes tourmentées, guident les égarés, relèvent les humiliés, enrichissent les pauvres, instruisent les ignorants, réconfortent les désespérés, consolent les affligés, raniment les coeurs glacés et soulagent les opprimés. Ô mon Dieu, par ton nom, toute chose créée s’anima, les cieux se déployèrent, la terre fut créée, les nuages se formèrent, la pluie se déversa sur la terre. Ce sont, en vérité, des signes de ta grâce envers toutes tes créatures.

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The one true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words. Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can ensure the protection and security of all mankind. This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations.

La parole de Dieu est une lampe dont la lumière tient dans ces mots : Vous êtes les fruits d’un même arbre, les feuilles d¹une même branche. Que vos relations avec vos semblables soient toujours empreintes d’amour et d¹harmonie, de l’esprit le plus amical et le plus fraternel. Celui qui est l’Étoile du Matin de la vérité en porte témoignage ! Si puissante est la lumière de l’unité qu’elle peut illuminer toute la terre. Le seul vrai Dieu, Celui qui connaît toutes choses, rend lui-même témoignage à la vérité de ces paroles. Efforcez-vous d’atteindre cet état transcendant et sublime par lequel peuvent être assurées la protection et la sécurité de l’humanité tout entière. Un tel but dépasse tous les autres, une telle aspiration est la reine des aspirations.

O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord.

Ô mon Dieu ! Ô mon Dieu ! Unis les coeurs de tes serviteurs et révèle-leur ton grand dessein. Puissent-ils suivre tes commandements et observer ta loi. Aide-les, ô mon Dieu, dans leurs efforts et accorde-leur la force de te servir. Ô Dieu, ne les abandonne pas à eux-mêmes, mais de la lumière de ta connaissance, guide leurs pas et de ton amour, réjouis leur coeur. En vérité, tu es leur Soutien et leur Seigneur.

On this note, have you seen We Are One yet? It’s also linked on Martin’s website.