Ever since the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran (known as the “Yaran”, meaning friends) were taken against their will in May of 2008 and have since been imprisoned and sentenced to ten years on false charges, Baha’i communities around the world have held prayer gatherings on their behalf. Most recently the Baha’is of Louisville requested to their Local Spiritual Assembly (but remember to take out the Bahai.us at the beginning of the url) that a 24-hour prayer vigil be held. Upon consultation, the Local Assembly realized that the best date to hold that vigil was also World Religion Day, and the plans grew from there.
The observance began Saturday evening, January 15. Various members of the Louisville Baha’i community pledged to be at the Baha’i Center during that 24-hour time period to offer their prayers for the Baha’i prisoners in Iran. The gathering was open to the public and individuals from all faith backgrounds were invited to join in saying prayers for people of their faith or any others who are being persecuted around the world because of their religious beliefs.
To conclude the full day of prayers, there was a program Sunday evening at 7:00pm, which was attended by approximately thirty people, including two women who heard about the event from an article that was published in The Courier-Journal that morning and a man who heard about the program at another interfaith activity he attended earlier in the day. “And one woman who had been studying the Baha’i Faith came and presented her Baha’i registration card to an Assembly member,” shared Nancy Harris, member of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Louisville.
The program featured Terry Taylor, executive director of Interfaith Paths To Peace, who spoke on “Reclaiming Religion and Freedom of Conscience.” Mr. Taylor used the comparison of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of unity with the struggles for religious freedom. He included examples of religious persecution around the world of various religions and emphasized the importance of starting at the local level to become acquainted with people of other religions, noting that it is fear rather than repressive people that lies behind religious oppression. Taylor further noted,
“We must challenge friends, family members and colleagues if they use language or tell jokes that disparage or make fun of followers of any religion. At the same time, let’s look deeply into our own hearts and, searching for evidence of religious prejudice, be mindful of the words we use in talking about other religions. If you see yourself as tolerant of other religions, make an effort to move beyond mere tolerance to respect. We should celebrate what we have in common with other religions, but we should also celebrate, respect, and honor the individuals who practice each religion. Perhaps most importantly, we must speak out on behalf of those whose lives and livelihoods are threatened because of their religious practice, regardless of whether they live in Teaneck, New Jersey, or Tehran.”
Selections from the letter sent by the Baha’i International Community to the Head of the Judiciary of Iran were read and the evening included a musical performance and three video screenings: Tracy Chapman’s music video “Would You Change?”, a presentation of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran and a presentation on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
“Our community was happy with the event. There was a very open and welcoming spirit,” said Harris.