Universal House of Justice: Ridvan Message 2011

Here is this year’s Ridvan message from the Universal House of Justice.

The House starts by acknowledging the culmination of the renovation of the Shrine of the Bab and the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’is visit to the United States. The recent political turmoil in the Middle East is cast as the expression of the twin processes at play on the world stage; the first, the disintegration of the old order and the second, the constructive maturation of the Baha’i Faith. The UHJ asks Baha’is to be inspired by the example of Abdu’l-Baha as they share their Faith with others.

Omid Djalili Talks About His Faith With BBC Radio

The actor and comedian Omid Djalili sat down to discuss his faith and upbringing with with Joan Bakewell, the host of BBC Radio 3’s program “Belief”. The radio program features “artists, scientists and thinkers and asks them about what they believe and why”.

The Imperishable Dominion by Udo SchaeferOmid beings by saying that instead of being proud to be Iranian, as a Baha’i, “he glories in this that he loves his kind”.

Although Djalili is a 5th generation Baha’i, his parents did not teach him about the Baha’i Faith at all. In fact because of how they earned their livelihood, they would dissimulate being Baha’is! As a result, he didn’t declare when he was 15, his mother unbeknownst to him signed his declaration card on his behalf!

As an adult he re-discovered the Baha’i Faith and he credits Udo Schaefer’s The Imperishable Dominion as a major influence. Djalili’s independent ‘rediscovery’ of the Faith is strikingly similar to the experience of US comedian, Rainn Wilson. I’m sure there is a lesson in there somewhere for Baha’i parents.

Currently Djalili plays “Habib” a quirky character written for him in the new US television series “The Paul Reiser Show”.

Baha’u’llah & “The Subject of Boys”

The following contains mature content of a sexual nature so if you are squeamish, a prude or a minor, please move along. Maybe check out some kittehs or bunnies.

The subject of homosexuality continues to be a difficult topic within Baha’i theology. For many it presents an insurmountable challenge to accept the Baha’i Faith and for believers it is a topic of seemingly endless polemics.

There are many approaches we can take to attempt a better understanding of this issue. One of the most basic is to go back to the source and try to understand exactly what the Baha’i writings say.

If we search Baha’u’llah’s writings, we find something quite remarkable. Nowhere in Baha’u’llah’s writings is there an explicit mention of homosexuality (and neither by Abdu’l-Baha). Arguably, the only reference we have is an extremely brief mention in the Aqdas (more on that a bit later).

To understand why there is no wider mention of homosexuality and what exactly Baha’u’llah was referring and what Shoghi Effendi translated to the seemingly cryptic words, “the subject of boys”, we have to take a few steps back.

Sexual dynamics and mores differ greatly between cultures and time periods. What may be accepted sexual behavior at one point in time or within a specific society may be completely unknown or unacceptable in another time or place.

For example, the Sambia of Papua New Guinea believe that ingestion of semen is necessary for a boy to reach full maturity. To that end, starting at age 7, Sambia boys orally stimulate their adolescent peers (14-18) and ingest their semen. Upon reaching puberty, they then provide their semen so that the younger boys can reach full sexual maturity and become men.

To the Sambia, semen is a precious substance which is being gifted from the older generation to the younger to assure their development. The act is done not to derive pleasure but to give a nourishing substance that the Sambia believe is as necessary as mother’s milk. While to us this may seem to have homosexual overtones, to the Sambia this is a natural and necessary part of a boy’s development and has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality. In fact, the Sambia view homosexual acts to be as taboo and socially undesirable as incest.

Of course, because we all fall prey to the recency effect, what we see in our present culture is what we consider to be ‘normal’. But actually, ‘normal’ is rather subjective.

The way that we understand and define homosexual relationships today simply did not exist during Baha’u’llah’s time in the Middle East. That is, there was no recognition or allowance for a mutually consensual, exclusive relationship between two adult women (or men) living together and raising children together as a family. Therefore, since this model of family life did not exist, it is not reasonable to expect that the topic be given explicit treatment. Just as we don’t expect Baha’u’llah to have explicitly written about cloning or stem cell research.

That does not mean however that homosexuality did not exist at all in one guise or another during Baha’u’llah’s time. Homosexuality, after all, has been observed in nature among hundreds of species as well as throughout human history. So while the current definition of homosexual relationships may not have existed, there certainly have always been some forms of homosexuality in human society, just as there have been many other acceptable sexual expressions, beyond the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.

So to understand the extremely limited or non-existent Baha’i treatment of homosexuality, we have to first understand the sexual traditions prevalent in the Middle East during the 1800’s. These would be the norms that Baha’u’llah would be familiar with.
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Renovation of the Shrine of the Bab Complete

The comprehensive restoration work of the Shrine of the Bab has been finished ahead of schedule. The total cost of the project was $6 million USD.

You can view pictures of the ongoing restoration of the Shrine here as well as a slideshow of the original building construction.

The restoration was cosmetic as well as structural. The structural additions reinforced the structure from top to bottom to be able to withstand an earthquake. The cosmetic changes were myriad. The most visible change was the installation of new tiles atop the famous golden dome of the building.

As with the other buildings on Mount Carmel, the harsh Haifa air, heavily laden with corrosive salt and other chemicals from the refinery and industrial complexes in the Haifa bay area had damaged the golden glazing of the tiles at the top of the Shrine.

The official press release from the Baha’i News Service includes this about the cause of the restoration:

More than 50 years of exposure to Haifa’s climate and environmental conditions had taken their toll on the superstructure’s stonework and dome…

According to Mr. Saeid Samadi, the architect and project leader based out of California, the new gold glazed tiles sourced from Portugal are manufactured to be able to withstand the harsh conditions of the Haifa bay. His estimation is that they will last from 200 to 300 years.

Below is a slideshow of the unveiling and the newly restored building:

As well as being a holy site for Baha’is, the Shrine of the Bab is a major tourist attraction and a designated world heritage site by UNESCO.

Renovation of National Baha’i Center in Suriname

The National Baha’i Center in Suriname requires renovation and the Universal House of Justice has assigned the task of raising the necessary funds (€13,000 or appx. $18,000 Canadian dollars) to two National Spiritual Assemblies: Netherlands and Canada.

The choice of the Netherlands is understandable considering that Suriname was claimed as a colony by the Dutch in 1667 and only gained its independence on November 25 1975. Dutch is still their official language.

The choice of Canada however is puzzling. There is no connection between the two countries other than Canada being a wealthier nation that can afford to support the renovation effort.

But if that is the only criteria that makes sense, the Universal House of Justice could have easily asked any number of countries that are wealthy to send them the funds. Why not the US? Japan? Germany?

Bahai Center in Paramaribo Suriname

Suriname is a tiny country (the smallest in South America) with less than half a million citizens which live mostly in Paramaribo – the capital city along the North coast.

It would even make more sense to ask a country in the same continent. For example, Brazil or Venezuela. Or Chile (oh, right, they’re kind of busy with their own project).

Perhaps the Universal House of Justice is keeping close tabs on the financial state of the Baha’i community in Canada and knows they can easily afford it.

For more information, here is the website of the Baha’i community of Suriname.