One summer morning I woke up in the bright city of Chicago, near the cornfields of Indiana. I went out to grab breakfast with two of my close friends and on our way back home, we stopped by the Bahá’í temple in Wilmette. This magnificent temple is a house of worship that stands for light and unity. Designed by the French-Canadian architect, Louis Bourgeois, the temple neither looks eastern nor western and its design transcends any specific culture, forming a unique structure and space where all peoples of the world regardless of their religion, ethnicity or color can come and be united in prayer.
In May 2009 the Sentinel Project initiated its first Situation of Concern to assess the threat of genocide to members of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran. The Bahá’í Faith is an independent world religion founded in Persia (now Iran) by Mirza Husayn-Ali (1817-1892), also known as Bahá’u’lláh, meaning “the Glory of God.” This faith is practiced throughout the world by more than 5 million people attracted by the belief that we all belong to one human race, that all religions share a common source and aim and that the long-awaited era of peace promised by God in the world’s sacred scripture is now within reach.
As we walked into the temple, we discovered 18 quotations from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, engraved into the entrances and alcoves. Above the entrance read:
“The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me.
My love is my stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure.
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.
Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.
I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?
Make mention of me on My earth, that in My heaven I may remember thee.
O rich ones on earth! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust.
The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His glory.”
And the nine Alcoves read:
“All the Prophets of God proclaim the same faith.”
“Religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold.”
“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.”
“So powerful is unity’s light that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
“Consort with the followers of all religions with friendliness.”
“O Son of Being! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee.”
“O Son of Being! Walk in My statutes for love of Me.”
“Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home is reunion with Me.”
“The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun.”
In the center of the dome, (a symbol of the unity of all people and religions under God) is an arrangement of the Arabic words Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá, a prayer meaning, “O Glory of All the Glorious” that illuminates in natural light. Outside the temple are beautiful gardens that form a single, sacred space where all people are invited to pray to God and meditate in an atmosphere of beauty and light that creates a vision for the renewal of civilization.
What makes the Bahá’í Faith unique is its progressive revelation whose manifestations of God represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of civilization and the belief that throughout history, God has revealed Himself and His teachings to humanity through a series of Divine Messengers that stretch back to the times of Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh is regarded as the latest of these Divine Messengers. From this impromptu visit, I learned from the social interactions, repertoire of the activities of people coming in and out of the temple and from the writings on the walls of the temple that the Bahá’í Faith is a religion of unity. Its core principles include the elimination of all forms of prejudice, equality between men and women, harmony of science and religion, world peace upheld by a world government, spiritual solutions to economic problems and a universal education.
However, regardless of how noble, progressive or peaceful the Bahá’í Faith might sound to you or how you may feel about the Bahá’í Faith, today, the Bahá’í community in Iran is systematically persecuted by its own government. Recent trends analyzed by the Sentinel Project confirm the arbitrary arrest of Bahá’í teachers, the raiding of Bahá’í homes, discrimination of Bahá’í students in Iranian public schools, abductions of human rights activists by plain-clothes agents, an increase in Baha’i imprisonment, human rights abuses and executions of Iranians in general. As History would tell, such unnerving tendencies have often preceded past genocides. The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention will continue to closely monitor these trends and give early warnings but as my kinsmen would say, “Musavauraya.” Please, do not kill them.