Across Australia, hundreds of celebrations took place marking the 200th anniversary of the Birth of Baha'u'llah, Prophet and Founder of the Baha’i Faith. These formed part of a series of celebrations in thousands of locations, stretching to almost every corner of the globe.
To inaugurate this period, the Australian Baha’i Community hosted two events for national dignitaries, inviting representatives of State and Federal government, diplomatic representatives, civil society and religious organisations, thought leaders and journalists.
One held in Australia’s National Parliament House, Canberra, on 16 October was co-hosted with Senator Zed Seselja, the Assistant Minister of Social Services and Multiculturalism. Another took place on 15 October on the grounds of the Baha’i House of Worship in Sydney. The receptions featured a traditional Welcome to Country, followed by addresses from members of State and Federal Parliament, representatives of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia and the reading of messages from the Governor-General, Prime Minister and New South Wales Premier.
In her address to guests in Sydney, speaking about this auspicious time, Ida Walker, representative of the Australian Baha’i Community shared that “the celebrations taking place across Australia, and around the globe, in neighbourhoods, villages, cities and at national levels, reveal a rich tapestry of expression for the effect that Baha’u’llah and His teachings have had on the lives of people everywhere. It has brought each of us here, representing a wide cross-section of Australian society, to further strengthen relationships and a vision we all share, that of labouring together for the emergence of a peaceful, united and prospering world.”
The theme of these two events was Baha’u’llah’s vision for the oneness of humanity, encapsulated in His statement “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established” and was highlighted by all speakers and the messages addressed to these events. Mathew James, representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia, noted of Baha’u’llah’s vision that “its central feature is the oneness of humankind, which has implications on the transformation of those essential relationships that bind us together.”
The teachings and Writings of all religions speak to a single truth, that they are related to one another by a common origin and a common purpose: to transform humanity’s inner life and outer conditions. In recent years, the Australian Baha’i Community has been participating in an ongoing conversation, alongside leading thinkers and actors from all sectors of society, in exploring the role of religion in public life. One aspect of this conversation has been to re-cast the understanding of ‘religion’ and its role in fostering a cohesive society in light of Australia’s increasing ethnic and religious diversity. For the Australian Baha’i Community, these national bicentennial events are seen as a continuation of a process of collective consultation that is taking place amongst key actors in various discourses. This dialogue also seeks to reinforce the shared commitment needed for effective and lasting social change.
Mr Jason Falinski MP, representing the Prime Minister, read the Prime Minister’s message stating, “This is a time for great celebration of Baha’u’llah’s life and His teachings of unity, friendship, and goodwill. Ideas of love and acceptance should be cherished and upheld by all Australians, as they are values upon which our nation has become a beacon of harmony and tolerance.”
A message from the Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Bill Shorten MP, conveyed, “The central vision of your faith is that all people are equal members of one human family. In times when we see and hear so much violence, let us all remind ourselves of our shared vision of a united global society, founded on justice and production of peace.”
The Sydney celebration concluded with a procession of the 140 dignitaries and guests towards the Baha’i House of Worship for an interfaith service composed of readings from the world’s major religions.
The Hon Natasha MacLaren Jones MP, representing the New South Wales Premier, read the Premier’s message, which acknowledged the history of the Baha’i community in Australia since 1920, and its “outstanding” commitment to “interfaith dialogue and a harmonious multicultural society”. The Premier further recognised that “Sydney is privileged to be home to one of eight continental Houses of Worship” and thus “holds an important connection to the Baha’i Faith and community worldwide.”
Ms Sophie Cotsis MP, speaking on behalf of the New South Wales Leader of the Opposition, recognised, in her own remarks, how the core principles of the Baha’i Faith are embodied by the Sydney House of Worship “with nine doors opening onto the grass at equal angles, marking the unity of the world’s religions.”
The Australian Bahá’í Community collaborates with a number of people to help develop contributions to thinking around issues of social concern.
This article represents some of the thinking that is helping to inform our community and its participation in Australian public discourses. This is not a position paper or official statement from the Bahá’í community, but rather a set of reflections on an event that draws insight from the Bahá’í teachings and the experience of the community as we seek to apply them to the betterment of society.
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