The Earth is One Country and We All Are Its Citizens
By Dr Amineh Hoti
“One World. One People Please”
“The Earth is One Country and Humankind its Citizens”. This was the powerful message which emanated from a conference in Islamabad on the 13th of September 2017 celebrating the 200th birthday of the founder of the Baha’i faith, Hazrat Baha‘u’llah.
Organized by a female member of parliament at the Pakistan Ministry of Religious Affairs, the conference was a unique opportunity to honor the Pakistani Baha’i community and its message of unity. In an asymmetrical world of power that brings us daily news of terrorism, and genocide, and the unjust labeling of innocent victims as terrorists, this message of human unity holds great importance.
Here in Islamabad, representatives of the Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Christian, Parsi and other religious and ethnic communities had collected to speak and celebrate diversity. Attendees came from all across Pakistan, including Sialkot, Lahore, Peshawar and represented a wide array of linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions. The event was also attended by young Mr Forrest Graham, Political Officer, from the US embassy.
Speeches throughout the conference honored the legacy of Baha‘u’llah, who struggled against all forms of oppressive regimes to unite people and work to promote peace. Member of National Assembly (MNA) Asiya Nasir, a Christian Pakistani, discussed how violent extremists are a minority in Pakistan and everywhere else in the world and how “we” – peacebuilders – are a majority and that we will overcome extremism and terrorism. She added that Islam’s and the Quran’s core teachings are that the killing of one person is like killing all of humanity and saving one life is like saving all of humanity.
Several days after President Trump issued his controversial remarks about Pakistan as supporting terrorism, Asiya sent out a clear message on behalf of Pakistan:
“We firmly condemn all extremism and terrorism.”
Dr Seema Farzad from the Baha’i community spoke gently, but powerfully, in articulate Urdu and English, about the message of her faith. She said respectfully, Hazrat Baha‘u’llah, born in 19th century Iran, suffered tremendously at the hands of the regime because of his message and protest for peace. Underlining that Hazrat Baha‘u’llah’s only aim was to unite humanity, Dr Farzad stressed that we must respect and love each other and that our vision should be world embracing. She added that Pakistanis are peace-loving people.
Mr Isphanyar Bhandara, philanthropist and MNA for minority communities spoke on behalf of the Parsi faith, or Zoroastrianism. The Parsi faith, originating in Iran, is one of the oldest monotheist faiths of the world. The faith’s founder, Prophet Zoroaster, taught “good thoughts, good words and good deeds” and belief in One Wise Lord. Mr Bhandara said that he wanted to see the imams who are here today in the conference and others across the region teaching and preaching the same tolerance and love for others in their schools and madrassas. He also emphasized that he wanted to see a positive change in the curriculum where all faith communities have fair representation.
Chand Sahib from the Hindu community of Pakistan said he wanted all the priests from his own community preaching tolerance at mandirs, Christian priests preaching the message of Jesus, that is, tolerance and love, from churches, and the imams teaching the message of mercy and tolerance as delivered by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in mosques. He quoted an example from the life of the Prophet when one non-Muslim community came up to the Prophet (pbuh) and said they had no place to pray. The Prophet (pbuh) asked them to pray in his mosque in Madina the way they would in their own place of worship. The diverse, but mainly Muslim, audience in the hall who clearly supported pluralism, enthusiastically applauded.
I had the privilege to speak last and share my own findings from my work building bridges across faiths and my current research on the diverse faith communities of Pakistan. I remarked how after teaching at the University of Cambridge, I now have the privilege to learn about faith communities in this region that has an incredibly rich history. In this book project, I have been able to visit a Sikh gurdwada in Mardan, meet two compassionate, educated Parsi ladies, Professors Rati and Perin, one of who has an amphitheatre named after her - Professor Perin Boga at Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore. I met the “untouchables” from the Hindu community. My journey of discovery continues and my aim is to take the readers along with me.
The young teenagers of the Pakistani Baha’i community (picture above) concluded the program by taking up their guitars and singing:
We are living in a dream of ‘One World’, hoping everyone will love as they were meant to love.
We are living in a dream of ‘One World’, hoping everyone will live as they were meant to live.
A world of love and unity!
One planet. One people please.
Please God may we achieve it: a world of different countries living in peace and harmony.
Here was a powerful hopeful message calling for peace from young Baha’i Pakistanis. It served as a poignant conclusion for a wonderful and warm gathering and a number of students from across the faiths and other senior members of different faith communities came up to me after the talk in appreciation of the idea of diversity in Pakistan and celebrating it together. Over a lunch and polite etiquette that is typical of this region, we made many new friends. Here was a wonderful mix of very diverse people, in their faiths, clothes and languages and from different regions of our world, but who were united in the idea of celebrating and working towards ‘One World, One Humanity’.
Finally, I want to share these prayers and sayings of Baha‘u’llah, who the Baha’is call,
“O thou Kind Lord! Unite (us) all. Let…all the nations…see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home…”
“You (humanity) are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch.”