Building Bridges – Thoughts on Building Unity

Sharon Bird

A generic of Sharon Bird as she reads her commission as Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education during the swearing in at Government House in Canberra on Monday, March 5, 2012. AAP: Alan Porritt

Towards promoting greater understanding between people and strengthening religious harmony in the community, Wollongong Bahá’ís are organising and hosting an interfaith event on the theme of “Building Bridges – Thoughts on Unity” on Friday 20th November, 7:15 pm, at Wollongong Bahá’í Centre of Learning, corner of Bellambi Lane and Princess Highway, Russell Vale.

Sharon Bird, MP will open the event. As part of the program, members of the Illawarra Women’s Interfaith Network (I-WIN), from Christian, Buddhist, Brahma Kumaris, Islamic and Bahá’í backgrounds will make a 5-minute presentation sharing thoughts on unity from their Faith perspectives.

The Illawarra Women’s Interfaith Network (I -WIN) aims to bring together women of different faith traditions who meet and work to promote harmony, understanding and respect among the followers of the various world faith traditions, and stand together as a sign of solidarity among people of faith.

All are welcome to attend.

Youth Gathering in Wollongong

Youth gathering photo

Youth gathering in Wollongong

From the 27th – 29th of June, 34 people attended a youth conference held at the Wollongong Baha’i Centre with attendance from the Illawarra, Macarthur and Wentworth regions to study, reflect and plan at the gathering. Under the guidance of the Supreme Body for the Baha’i Faith, The Universal House of Justice, the focus was on how they can serve their neighbourhoods, communities and society, especially by caring for those younger than themselves. Themes were explored through discussion, expression of the arts and videos and songs.

“To every generation of young believers comes an opportunity to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life. For the present generation, the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance.”(The Universal House of Justice)

Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Vahid Tizfahm

Mr. Vahid Tizfahm, 42, is an optometrist and owner of an optical shop in Tabriz, where he lived until early 2008, when he moved to Tehran.
He was born 16 May 1973 in the city of Urumiyyih. He spent his childhood and youth there and, after receiving his high school diploma in mathematics, he went to Tabriz at the age of 18 to study to become an optician. He later also studied sociology at the Advanced Bahá’í Studies Institute (ABSI).
At the age of 23, Mr. Tizfahm married Furuzandeh Nikumanesh. They have a young son, who was in the third grade when he was arrested in 2008.
Since his youth, Mr. Tizfahm has served the v community in a variety of capacities. At one time he was a member of the Bahá’í National Youth Committee. Later, he was appointed to the Auxiliary Board, an appointed position which serves principally to inspire, encourage, and promote learning among Bahá’ís. He has also taught local Bahá’í children’s classes.

(Photo from Bahá’í International Community)

Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Behrouz Tavakkoli

Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, 63, is a former social worker who lost his government job in the early 1980s because of his Bahá’í belief. Prior to his current imprisonment, he has also experienced intermittent detainment and harassment and, in 2005, he was jailed for four months without charge, spending most of the time in solitary confinement.
Born 1 June 1951 in Mashhad, Mr.Tavakkoli studied psychology in university and then completed two years of service in the army, where he was a lieutenant. He later took additional training and then specialized in the care of the physically and mentally handicapped, working in a government position until his firing in 1981 or 1982.
Mr. Tavakkoli married Ms. Tahereh Fakhri Tuski at the age of 23. They have two sons.
Mr. Tavakkoli was elected to the local Bahá’í governing council in Mashhad in the late 1960s or early 1970s while a student at the university there, and he later served on another local Baha’i council in Sari before such institutions were banned in the early 1980s. He also served on various youth committees, and, later, during the early 1980s he was appointed to the Auxiliary Board, an appointed position which serves principally to inspire, encourage, and promote learning among Bahá’ís. He was appointed to the Friends group in the late 1980s.
To support himself and his family after he was fired from his government position, Mr. Tavakkoli established a small millwork carpentry shop in the city of Gonbad. There he also established a series of classes in Bahá’í studies for adults and young people.
He has been periodically detained by the authorities. Among the worst of these incidents was in 2005 when he was held incommunicado for 10 days by intelligence agents, along with fellow Friends’ member Fariba Kamalabadi. He was then held for four months and during that confinement developed serious kidney and orthotic problems.

(photo from Bahá’í International Community)

Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Saeid Rezaie

Mr. Saeid Rezaie, 57, is an agricultural engineer who has run a successful farming equipment business in Fars Province for more than 20 years. He is also known for his extensive scholarship on Bahá’í topics, and is the author of several books.
Born in Abadan on 27 September 1957, Mr. Rezaie spent his childhood in Shiraz, where he completed high school with distinction. He then obtained a degree in agricultural engineering from Pahlavi University in Shiraz, attending with the help of a scholarship funded from outside the country.
In 1981, he married Ms. Shaheen Rowhanian. They have three children, two daughters and a son.
Mr. Rezaie has actively served the Bahá’í community since he was a young man. He taught Bahá’í children’s classes for many years, and served the Bahá’í Education and Baha’i Life Institutes. He was also a member of the National Education Institute.
A scholar and an author, he has served as an academic adviser to Bahá’í students.
During the early 1980s, when persecution of Bahá’ís was particularly intense and widespread, Mr. Rezaie moved to northern Iran and worked as a farming manager for a time. Later he moved to Kerman and worked as a carpenter and at other odd jobs in part because of the difficulties Baha’is faced finding formal employment or operating businesses.
In 1985, he opened an agricultural equipment company with a Bahá’í friend in Fars Province. That company prospered and won wide respect among farmers in the region.
He has experienced various forms of persecution for his Bahá’í belief, including an arrest and detention in 2006 that led to 40 days in solitary confinement.

(Photo from Bahá’í International Community)

Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Afif Naeimi

Mr. Afif Naeimi, 53, is an industrialist who was unable to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor because as a Bahá’í he was denied access to a university education. Instead, he diverted his attention to business, one of the few avenues of work open to Bahá’ís, taking over his father-in-law’s blanket and textile factory.
Mr. Naeimi was born on 6 September 1961 in Yazd. His father died when he was three and he was raised in part by his uncles. While still in elementary school, he was sent to live with relatives in Jordan and, although he started with no knowledge of Arabic, he soon rose to the top of his class.
He has long been active in volunteer Bahá’í service. He has taught Bahá’í children’s classes, conducted classes for adults, taught at the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education, and been a member of the Auxiliary Board, an appointed position which serves principally to inspire, encourage, and promote learning among Bahá’ís.
He married Ms. Shohreh Khallokhi in the early 1980s. They have two sons.

(photo from Bahá’í International Community)


Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Jamaloddin Khanjani

Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, 81, is a once-successful factory owner who lost his business after the 1979 Islamic revolution because of his belief in the Bahá’í Faith – and who then spent most of the 1980s on the run under the threat of death from Iranian authorities.
Born 27 July 1933 in the city of Sangsar, Mr. Khanjani grew up on a dairy farm in Semnan province and never obtained more than a high school education. Yet his dynamic personality soon led to a successful career in industrial production – and as a Bahá’í  leader.
In his professional career, he has worked as an employee of the Pepsi Cola Company in Iran, where he was a purchasing supervisor. He later left Pepsi Cola and started a charcoal production business. Later he established the first automated brick factory in Iran, ultimately employing several hundred people.
In the early 1980s, he was forced to shut down that factory and abandon it, putting most of his employees out of work, because of the persecution he faced as a Bahá’í. The factory was later confiscated by the government.
In his career of voluntary service to his religious community, Mr. Khanjani was at various points a member of the local spiritual assembly of Isfahan, a regional level Auxiliary Board member, an appointed position which serves principally to inspire, encourage, and promote learning among Bahá’ís. In the early 1980s, he was elected to the national governing council of the Baha’is of Iran – a group known as the “National Spiritual Assembly.” Several years prior to his election, the entire membership of the Assembly had been abducted and never heard from again. That was in 1980. Their successors were arrested and executed in 1981. Mr. Khanjani was thus a member of the so-called “third” National Spiritual Assembly, which later saw four of its nine members executed by the government in 1984.
In the 1990s, Mr. Khanjani was able to establish a mechanized farm on properties owned by his family. Nevertheless, authorities placed many restrictions on him, making it difficult to do business. These restrictions extended to his children and relatives, and included refusing loans, closing their places of business, limiting their business dealings, and banning travel outside the country.
Mr. Khanjani married Ms. Ashraf Sobhani in the mid-1950s. They have four children.His wife passed away in March 2011 while he was in prison. Authorities refused to furlough Mr. Khanjani even to attend her funeral.
Mr. Khanjani was arrested and imprisoned at least three times before his current incarceration. After years on the run, he was arrested and imprisoned for two months in the late 1980s. During this period of detention, he was intensely questioned. During those interrogations, however, he was able to make considerable headway in convincing authorizes of the non-threatening nature of the Baha’i Faith and he, along with many others, were subsequently released.

(Photo from Bahá’í International Community)

Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Fariba Kamlabadi

Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, 52, is a developmental psychologist and mother of three who was denied the chance to study at a public university as a youth because of her Bahá’í belief. Before her current incarceration, she had been arrested twice before, and was held for periods of one and two months respectively, all due to her volunteer work for the Bahá’í community.
Mrs. Kamalabadi was born in Tehran on 12 September 1962. An excellent student, she graduated from high school with honors but was nevertheless barred from attending university. Instead, in her mid-30s, she embarked on an eight-year period of informal study and ultimately received an advanced degree in developmental psychology from the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE), an alternative institution established by the Bahá’í community of Iran to provide higher education for its young people.
Mrs. Kamalabadi married fellow Bahá’í Ruhollah Taefi in 1982. They have three children, the youngest of whom was only 13 when she was arrested in 2008.
Mrs. Kamalabadi’s experience with persecution extends beyond her immediate situation. Her father was fired from his job as physician in the government health service in the 1980s because he was a Bahá’í, and he was later imprisoned and tortured.

(Photo from Bahá’í International Community)

Seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of the Yaran: Mahvash Sabet

Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, 62, is a teacher and school principal who was dismissed from public education for being a Bahá’í. For the last 15 years, she has been director of the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education, which provides alternative higher education for Baha’i youth. She also served as secretary to the Friends in Iran, before becoming a member of the group.
Born Mahvash Shahriyari on 4 February 1953 in Ardestan, Mrs. Sabet moved to Tehran when she was in the fifth grade. In university, she studied psychology, obtaining a bachelor’s degree.
She began her professional career as a teacher and also worked as a principal at several schools. In her professional role, she also collaborated with the National Literacy Committee of Iran. After the Islamic revolution, however, like thousands of other Iranian Bahá’í educators, she was fired from her job and blocked from working in public education.
It was after this that she became director of the BIHE, where she also has taught psychology and management.
She married Siyvash Sabet on 21 May 1973. They have a son and a daughter.
While the other members of the Friends were arrested at their homes in Tehran on 14 May 2008, Mrs. Sabet was arrested in Mashhad on 5 March 2008. Although she resides in Tehran, she had been summoned to Mashhad by the Ministry of Intelligence, ostensibly on the grounds that she was required to answer questions related to the burial of an individual in the Baha’i cemetery in that city.

(Photo from Bahá’í International Community)

Local community joins the global campaign to free Bahá’í leaders

7 day 7 prinsoners

The Wollongong Bahá’í  community is participating this month in a week-long global campaign which has a direct connection with their city.

Members of the Bahá’í  Faith worldwide are calling for the release of seven Bahá’í leaders whose imprisonment in Iran for the past seven years has been condemned worldwide as unjust.

The theme of the campaign is “Seven Days in Remembrance of Seven Years for Seven Baha’i Leaders”.

The Wollongong Bahá’í community is hosting a public devotional gathering in support of the leaders on Friday 15th May, 7:30 pm at Wollongong Bahá’í Centre of Learning, corner of Ballambi Lane and Princess Highway, Russell Vale.

The five men and two women were members of the ad hoc leadership group for the Baha’i community, Iran’s biggest non-Muslim religious minority. They were arrested in coordinated raids in 2008 and subsequently sentenced to 20 year prison terms in a sham trial.

Immediate family members of some of the seven live in Australia.

The Secretary for the Wollongong Bahá’í Community, Mrs Allison Atkinson, said it was shocking in today’s world that religious prejudice could lead the Iranian authorities to lock up the seven leaders.

“It is very pleasing that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, like her predecessor Bob Carr, has called for the release of the seven Baha’i leaders,” Mrs Atkinson said.

“We were also very pleased to see a bipartisan motion in the House of Representatives recently which called for an end to the persecution of Bahá’ís  in Iran,” Mrs Atkinson said

“As a community with Bahá’ís  from many cultural backgrounds, we feel great sympathy for the oppressed Bahá’ís  and other victims of human rights abuse in Iran.

“We call on those who feel similarly to make their views know and urge Iran to free the seven leaders, to live up to its commitments in the human rights conventions which it has signed, and to adhere to the widely accepted norms of justice.”

(Photo from Bahá’í International Community)