Ridvan 2021 MESSAGE

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE  

Riḍván 2021  

To the Bahá’ís of the World  

Dearly loved Friends,  

The final words in a most memorable chapter in the history of the Cause have now been  written, and the page turns. This Riḍván marks the conclusion of an extraordinary year, of a  Five Year Plan, and of an entire series of Plans that began in 1996. A new series of Plans  beckons, with what promises to be a momentous twelve months serving as a prelude to a nine year effort due to commence next Riḍván. We see before us a community that has rapidly  gained strength and is ready to take great strides forward. But there must be no illusions about  how much striving was required to reach this point and how hard-won were the insights  acquired along the way: the lessons learned will shape the community’s future, and the account  of how they were learned sheds light on what is to come.  

The decades leading up to 1996, rich with advances and insights of their own, had left no  doubt that large numbers of people in many societies would be ready to enter under the banner  of the Faith. Yet, as encouraging as instances of large-scale enrolment were, they did not equate  to a sustainable process of growth that could be cultivated in diverse settings. Profound  questions faced the community which, at that time, it had insufficient experience to answer  adequately. How could efforts aimed at its expansion proceed hand in hand with the process of  consolidation and resolve the long-standing, seemingly intractable challenge of sustaining  growth? How could individuals, institutions and communities be raised up that would be  capable of translating Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings into action? And how could those who were  attracted to the teachings become protagonists in a global spiritual enterprise?  

So it was that, a quarter of a century ago, a Bahá’í community that could still count three  Hands of the Cause of God in its front ranks embarked on a Four Year Plan, distinguished from  those that came before it by its focus on a single aim: a significant advance in the process of  entry by troops. This aim came to define the series of Plans that followed. The community had  already come to understand that this process was not just the entry into the Faith of sizeable  groups, nor would it emerge spontaneously; it implied purposeful, systematic, accelerated  expansion and consolidation. This work would require the informed participation of a great  many souls, and in 1996, the Bahá’í world was summoned to take up the vast educational  challenge this entailed. It was called to establish a network of training institutes focused on  generating an increasing flow of individuals endowed with the necessary capacities to sustain  the process of growth.  

The friends set about this task aware that, notwithstanding their previous victories in the  teaching field, plainly they had much to learn about which capacities to acquire and, crucially,  how to acquire them. In many ways, the community would learn by doing, and the lessons it  learned, once they had been distilled and refined by being applied in diverse settings over time, 

Bahá’í World Centre • P.O. Box 155 • 3100101 Haifa, Israel  Tel: +972 (4) 835 8358 • Email: secretariat@bwc.org  

To the Bahá’ís of the World 2 Riḍván 2021 

would eventually be incorporated into educational materials. It was recognized that certain  activities were a natural response to the spiritual needs of a population. Study circles,  children’s classes, devotional meetings, and later junior youth groups stood out as being of  central importance in this regard, and when woven together with related activities, the dynamics  generated could give rise to a vibrant pattern of community life.

And as the numbers  participating in these core activities grew, a new dimension was added to their original purpose.  They came to serve as portals through which youth, adults and whole families from the wider  society could come into an encounter with the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. It was also becoming  apparent how practical it was to consider strategies for the work of community building within  the context of the “cluster”: a geographic area of manageable size with distinct social and  economic features. A capacity for preparing simple plans at the level of the cluster began to be  cultivated, and out of such plans, programmes for the growth of the Faith arose, organized into  what would become three-month cycles of activity.

An important point of clarity emerged early  on: the movement of individuals through a sequence of courses gives impetus to, and is  perpetuated by, the movement of clusters along a continuum of development. This  complementary relationship helped the friends everywhere to assess the dynamics of growth in  their own surroundings and chart a path towards increased strength. As time went on, it proved  fruitful to view what was occurring in a cluster both from the perspective of three educational  imperatives—serving children, junior youth, and youth and adults—as well as from the  perspective of the cycles of activity essential to the rhythm of growth. Part-way into a twenty five-year endeavour, many of the most recognizable features of the growth process we see  today were becoming well established.  

As the efforts of the friends intensified, various principles, concepts and strategies of  universal relevance to the growth process began to crystallize into a framework for action that  could evolve to accommodate new elements. This framework proved fundamental to the  release of tremendous vitality. It assisted the friends to channel their energies in ways that,  experience had shown, were conducive to the growth of healthy communities. But a framework  is not a formula. By taking into account the various elements of the framework when assessing  the reality of a cluster, a locality, or simply a neighbourhood, a pattern of activity could be  developed that drew on what the rest of the Bahá’í world was learning while still being a  response to the particulars of that place. A dichotomy between rigid requirements on the one  hand and limitless personal preferences on the other gave way to a more nuanced understanding  of the variety of means by which individuals could support a process that, at its heart, was  coherent and continually being refined as experience accumulated. Let there be no doubt about  the advance represented by the emergence of this framework: the implications for harmonizing  and unifying the endeavours of the entire Bahá’í world and propelling its onward march were of  great consequence.  

As one Plan succeeded another, and engagement with the work of community building  became more broadly based, advances at the level of culture became more pronounced. For  instance, the importance of educating the younger generations became more widely  appreciated, as did the extraordinary potential represented by junior youth in particular. Souls  assisting and accompanying one another along a shared path, constantly widening the circle of  mutual support, became the pattern to which all efforts aimed at developing capacity for service  aspired. Even the interactions of the friends among themselves and with those around them  underwent a change, as awareness was raised of the power of meaningful conversations to  kindle and fan spiritual susceptibilities. And significantly, Bahá’í communities adopted an   

To the Bahá’ís of the World 3 Riḍván 2021 

increasingly outward-looking orientation. Any soul responsive to the vision of the Faith could  become an active participant—even a promoter and facilitator—of educational activities,  meetings for worship and other elements of the community-building work; from among such  souls, many would also declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh. Thus, a conception of the process of  entry by troops emerged that relied less on theories and assumptions and more on actual  experience of how large numbers of people could find the Faith, become familiar with it,  identify with its aims, join in its activities and deliberations, and in many cases embrace it.  Indeed, as the institute process was strengthened in region after region, the number of  individuals taking a share in the work of the Plan, extending even to those recently acquainted  with the Faith, grew by leaps and bounds. But this was not being driven by a mere concern for  numbers. A vision of personal and collective transformation occurring simultaneously, founded  on study of the Word of God and an appreciation of each person’s capacity to become a  protagonist in a profound spiritual drama, had given rise to a sense of common endeavour.  

One of the most striking and inspiring features of this twenty-five-year period has been  the service rendered by Bahá’í youth, who with faith and valour have assumed their rightful  place in the forefront of the community’s efforts. As teachers of the Cause and educators of the  young, as mobile tutors and homefront pioneers, as cluster coordinators and members of Bahá’í  agencies, youth on five continents have arisen to serve their communities with devotion and  sacrifice. The maturity they have demonstrated, in the discharge of duties upon which depends  the advancement of the Divine Plan, is expressive of their spiritual vitality and their  commitment to safeguarding humanity’s future.

In recognition of this increasingly evident  maturity, we have decided that, immediately following this Riḍván, while the age at which a  believer becomes eligible to serve on a Spiritual Assembly shall remain twenty-one, the age at  which a believer may vote in Bahá’í elections shall be lowered to eighteen. We have no doubt  that Bahá’í youth everywhere who are of age will vindicate our confidence in their ability to  fulfil “conscientiously and diligently” the “sacred duty” to which every Bahá’í elector is called.  

We are conscious that, naturally, the realities of communities differ greatly. Different  national communities, and different places within those communities, began this series of Plans  at different points of development; since then, they have also developed at different speeds and  have attained different levels of progress. This, in itself, is nothing new. It has always been the  case that conditions in places vary, as does the degree of receptivity found there. But we  perceive, too, a swelling tide, whereby the capacity, confidence and accumulated experience of  most communities are rising, buoyed by the success of their sister communities near and far. 

As an example, while souls who arose to open a new locality in 1996 lacked nothing for  courage, faith and devotion, today their counterparts everywhere combine those same qualities  with knowledge, insights and skills that are the accumulation of twenty-five years of effort by  the entire Bahá’í world to systematize and refine the work of expansion and consolidation.  

Regardless of a community’s starting point, it has advanced the process of growth when it  has combined qualities of faith, perseverance and commitment with a readiness to learn. In  fact, a cherished legacy of this series of Plans is the widespread recognition that any effort to  advance begins with an orientation towards learning. The simplicity of this precept belies the  significance of the implications that follow from it. We do not doubt that every cluster, given  time, will progress along the continuum of development; the communities that have advanced   

To the Bahá’ís of the World 4 Riḍván 2021 

most quickly, relative to those whose circumstances and possibilities were similar, have shown  an ability to foster unity of thought and to learn about effective action. And they did so without  hesitating to act.  

A commitment to learning also meant being prepared to make mistakes—and sometimes,  of course, mistakes brought discomfort. Unsurprisingly, new methods and approaches were  handled inexpertly at first because of a lack of experience; on occasion, a newly acquired  capacity of one kind was lost as a community became absorbed in developing another. Having  the best of intentions is no guarantee against making missteps, and moving past them requires  both humility and detachment. When a community has remained determined to show  forbearance and learn from mistakes that naturally occur, progress has never been out of reach.  

Midway through the series of Plans, the community’s involvement in the life of society  began to become the focus of more direct attention. The believers were encouraged to think of  this in terms of two interconnected areas of endeavour—social action and participation in the  prevalent discourses of society.

These, of course, were not alternatives to the work of  expansion and consolidation, much less distractions from it: they were inherent within it. The  greater the human resources a community could call on, the greater became its capacity to bring  the wisdom contained in Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation to bear upon the challenges of the day—to  translate His teachings into reality. And the troubled affairs of humankind over this period  seemed to underline how desperate was its need for the remedy prescribed by the Divine  Physician.

Implied in all this was a conception of religion very different from those holding  sway in the world at large: a conception which recognized religion as the potent force  propelling an ever-advancing civilization. It was understood that such a civilization would also  not appear spontaneously, of its own accord—it was the mission of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers to  labour for its emergence. Such a mission demanded applying the same process of systematic  learning to the work of social action and engagement in public discourse.  

Viewed from the perspective of the last two and a half decades, the capacity for  undertaking social action has risen markedly, leading to an extraordinary efflorescence of  activity. Compared with 1996, when some 250 social and economic development projects were  being sustained from year to year, there are now 1,500, and the number of Bahá’í-inspired  organizations has quadrupled to surpass 160. More than 70,000 grassroots social action  initiatives of short duration are being undertaken each year, a fifty-fold increase.

We look  forward to a continued rise in all these endeavours resulting from the dedicated support and  stimulus now provided by the Bahá’í International Development Organization. Meanwhile,  Bahá’í participation in the prevalent discourses of society has also grown immensely. Besides  the many occasions when the friends find they can offer a Bahá’í perspective in conversations  that occur in a work or personal context, more formal participation in discourses has  significantly advanced. We have in mind not only the much-expanded efforts and increasingly  sophisticated contributions of the Bahá’í International Community—which in this period added  Offices in Africa, Asia and Europe—but also the work of a vastly augmented, greatly fortified  network of national Offices of External Affairs, for whom this area of endeavour became the  principal focus; in addition, there were insightful and notable contributions made by individual  believers to specific fields.

All this goes some way towards explaining the esteem, appreciation  and admiration which leaders of thought and other prominent figures at all levels of society  have again and again expressed for the Faith, its followers and their activities. 

To the Bahá’ís of the World 5 Riḍván 2021 

In reviewing the entire twenty-five-year period, we are awed by the many kinds of  progress the Bahá’í world has made concurrently. Its intellectual life has thrived, as  demonstrated not only by its advances in all the areas of endeavour already discussed, but also  by the volume of high-quality literature published by Bahá’í authors, by the development of  spaces for the exploration of certain disciplines in the light of the teachings, and by the impact  of the undergraduate and graduate seminars systematically offered by the Institute for Studies in  Global Prosperity, which, in collaboration with the institutions of the Cause, now serves Bahá’í  youth from well over 100 countries. Efforts to raise up Houses of Worship have very visibly  accelerated.

The last Mother Temple was erected in Santiago, Chile, and projects to build two  national and five local Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs were initiated; the Houses of Worship in  Battambang, Cambodia, and Norte del Cauca, Colombia, have already opened their doors.  Bahá’í Temples, whether newly dedicated or long established, are increasingly occupying a  position at the heart of community life.

The material support offered by the rank and file of the  believers for the myriad endeavours undertaken by the friends of God has been unstinting.  Simply viewed as a measure of collective spiritual vitality, the generosity and sacrifice with  which, at a time of considerable economic upheaval, the critical flow of funds has been  maintained—nay, invigorated—is most telling. In the realm of Bahá’í administration, the  capacity of National Spiritual Assemblies to manage the affairs of their communities in all their  growing complexity has been considerably enhanced. They have benefited in particular from  new heights of collaboration with the Counsellors, who have been instrumental in systematizing  the gathering of insights from the grassroots across the world and ensuring they are widely  disseminated. This was also the period in which the Regional Bahá’í Council emerged as a  fully fledged institution of the Cause, and in 230 regions now, Councils and those training  institutes they oversee have proved themselves indispensable for advancing the process of  growth.

To extend into the future the functions of the Chief Trustee of Ḥuqúqu’lláh, the Hand  of the Cause of God ‘Alí-Muḥammad Varqá, the International Board of Trustees of Ḥuqúqu’lláh  was established in 2005; today it coordinates the efforts of no less than 33 National and  Regional Boards of Trustees that now compass the globe, which in turn guide the work of over  1,000 Representatives.

The developments which occurred at the Bahá’í World Centre during  this same period are many: witness the completion of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb and  two buildings on the Arc and the commencement of the construction of the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l Bahá, not to mention a host of projects to strengthen and preserve the precious Holy Places of  the Faith. The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and the Shrine of the Báb were recognized as World  Heritage sites, places of inestimable significance for humanity. The public flocked to these  sacred locations in their hundreds of thousands, approaching one and a half million in some  years, and the World Centre regularly welcomed hundreds of pilgrims at once, sometimes more  than 5,000 in a year, along with a similar number of Bahá’í visitors; we are delighted as much  by the raised numbers as by the scores of different peoples and nations represented among those  who partake of the bounty of pilgrimage.

The translation, publication and dissemination of the  Sacred Texts has also been greatly accelerated, in parallel with the development of the Bahá’í  Reference Library, one of the most notable members of the growing family of websites  associated with Bahai.org, which itself is now available in ten languages. A variety of offices  and agencies have been established, situated at the World Centre and elsewhere, charged with  supporting the process of learning unfolding across multiple areas of endeavour throughout the  Bahá’í world. All this, our sisters and brothers in faith, is but a fraction of the tale we could  recount of what your devotion to Him Who was the Wronged One of the World has brought  forth. We can but echo the poignant words once voiced by the beloved Master when, overcome  with emotion, He cried out: “O Bahá’u’lláh! What hast Thou done?” 

To the Bahá’ís of the World 6 Riḍván 2021 

From the panorama of a pivotal quarter century, we now direct our focus to the most  recent Five Year Plan, a Plan quite unlike any that has gone before in a variety of ways. In this  Plan we urged the Bahá’ís of the world to draw on all that they had learned in the previous  twenty years and put it to full effect. We are delighted that our hopes in this regard were more  than met, but while we would naturally expect great things from the followers of the Blessed  Beauty, the character of what was achieved through their herculean efforts was truly  breathtaking. It was the capstone to an accomplishment twenty-five years in the making.  

The Plan was especially memorable for being trisected by two sacred bicentenaries, each  of which galvanized local communities the world over. The company of the faithful  demonstrated, on a scale never previously witnessed and with relative ease, a capacity to  engage people from all sections of society in honouring the life of a Manifestation of God. It  was a powerful indicator of something broader: the ability to channel the release of tremendous  spiritual energies for the advancement of the Cause. So magnificent was the response that in  many places the Faith was propelled out of obscurity at the national level. In settings where it  was unexpected, perhaps unlooked for, marked receptivity to the Faith became apparent.  Thousands upon thousands upon thousands were transported by their encounter with a  devotional spirit that is today characteristic of Bahá’í communities everywhere. The vision of  what is made possible by observing a Bahá’í Holy Day was immeasurably expanded.  

The achievements of the Plan, simply in numerical terms, quickly eclipsed those of all the  Plans that had preceded it since 1996. At the start of this Plan, the capacity existed for  conducting just over 100,000 core activities at a given time, a capacity that was the fruit of  twenty years of common endeavour. Now, 300,000 core activities are being sustained at once.  Participation in those activities has risen above two million, which is also close to a threefold  increase. There are 329 national and regional training institutes in operation, and their capacity  is evidenced by the fact that three-quarters of a million people have been enabled to complete at  least one book of the sequence; overall, the number of courses completed by individuals is now  also two million—a rise of well over a third in five years.  

The increased intensity with which programmes of growth around the world are being  pursued tells an impressive story of its own. In this five-year span, we had called for growth to  be accelerated in every one of the 5,000 clusters where it had begun. This imperative became  the impetus for earnest endeavour throughout the world. As a result, the number of intensive  programmes of growth more than doubled and now stands at approximately 4,000. Difficulties  involved in opening up new villages and neighbourhoods to the Faith in the midst of a global  health crisis, or expanding activities that were at an early stage when the pandemic began,  prevented an even higher total from being reached during the Plan’s final year.

However, there  is more to tell than this. At the outset of the Plan, we had expressed the hope that the number of  clusters where the friends had passed the third milestone along a continuum of growth, as a  consequence of learning how to welcome large numbers into the embrace of their activities,  would grow by hundreds more. That total then stood at around 200, spread across some 40  countries. Five years on, this number has risen to an astonishing 1,000 in nearly 100  countries—a quarter of all the intensive programmes of growth in the world and an  achievement far surpassing our expectations. And yet even these figures do not reveal the  loftiest heights to which the community has soared. There are over 30 clusters where the  number of core activities being sustained exceeds 1,000; in places, the total is several thousand, 

To the Bahá’ís of the World 7 Riḍván 2021 

involving the participation of more than 20,000 people in a single cluster. A growing number of  Local Spiritual Assemblies now oversee the unfoldment of educational programmes that cater  to practically all the children and junior youth in a village; the same reality is beginning to  emerge within a few urban neighbourhoods. Engagement with the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh  has, in notable instances, transcended individuals, families and extended kinships—what is  being witnessed is the movement of populations towards a common centre. At times, age-old  hostilities between opposing groups are being left behind, and certain social structures and  dynamics are being transformed in the light of the divine teachings.  

We cannot but be overjoyed at advances so impressive. The society-building power of  the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is being manifested with ever more clarity, and this is a firm foundation  upon which the coming Nine Year Plan will build. Clusters of marked strength, as had been  hoped, have proven to be reservoirs of knowledge and resources for their neighbours. And  regions where more than one such cluster exist have more easily developed the means to  accelerate growth in cluster after cluster. We feel compelled to stress again, however, that  progress has been near universal; the difference in progress between one place and another is of  degree.

The community’s collective understanding of the process of entry by troops and its  confidence in being able to stimulate this process under any set of circumstances have risen to  levels that were unimaginable in decades past. The profound questions that had loomed for so  long, and which were brought into sharp focus in 1996, have been convincingly answered by  the Bahá’í world. There is a generation of believers whose entire lives bear the imprint of the  community’s progress. But the sheer scale of what has occurred in those many clusters where  the frontiers of learning are being extended has turned a significant advance in the process of  entry by troops into a momentous one of historic proportions.  

Many will be familiar with how the Guardian divided the Ages of the Faith into  consecutive epochs; the fifth epoch of the Formative Age began in 2001. Less well known is  that the Guardian also made specific reference to there being epochs of the Divine Plan, and  stages within those epochs. Held in abeyance for two decades while local and national organs  of the Administrative Order were being raised up and strengthened, the Divine Plan conceived  by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was formally inaugurated in 1937 with the commencement of the first stage of  its first epoch: the Seven Year Plan assigned by the Guardian to the North American Bahá’í  community. This first epoch closed after the conclusion of the Ten Year Crusade in 1963,  which had resulted in the banner of the Faith being planted across the world. The opening stage  of the second epoch was the first Nine Year Plan, and no less than ten Plans have followed in its  wake, Plans that have ranged in duration from twelve months to seven years.

At the dawn of  this second epoch, the Bahá’í world was already witnessing the earliest beginnings of that entry  into the Faith by troops that had been foreseen by the Author of the Divine Plan; in the  succeeding decades, generations of devoted believers within the community of the Greatest  Name have laboured in the Divine Vineyard to cultivate the conditions required for sustained,  large-scale growth. And at this glorious season of Riḍván, how abundant are the fruits of those  labours! The phenomenon of sizeable numbers swelling the activities of the community,  catching the spark of faith and swiftly arising to serve at the leading edge of the Plan has moved  from being a forecast sustained by faith to a recurring reality. Such a pronounced and  demonstrable advance demands to be marked in the annals of the Cause. With elated hearts, we  announce that the third epoch of the Master’s Divine Plan has begun. Stage by stage, epoch  after epoch shall His Plan unfold, until the light of the Kingdom illumines every heart.  

To the Bahá’ís of the World 8 Riḍván 2021 

Beloved friends, no review of the five-year enterprise that concluded the second epoch of the Divine Plan would be complete without special reference to the upheavals that accompanied its final year and which persist still. The restrictions on personal interaction that waxed and waned in most countries over this period could have dealt the community’s collective efforts a severe blow, recovery from which might have taken years, but there are two reasons why this was not the case. One was the widespread consciousness of the duty of Bahá’ís to serve humanity, never more so than in times of peril and adversity.

The other was the extraordinary rise in capacity in the Bahá’í world to give expression to that consciousness. Accustomed over many years to adopting patterns of systematic action, the friends brought their creativity and sense of purpose to bear on an unforeseen crisis, while ensuring that the new approaches they developed were coherent with the framework they had laboured in successive Plans to perfect. This is not to overlook the serious hardships being endured by Bahá’ís, like their compatriots in every land; yet throughout severe difficulties, the believers have remained focused. Resources have been channelled to communities in need, elections went ahead wherever possible, and in all circumstances the institutions of the Cause have continued to discharge their duties. There have even been bold steps forward. The National Spiritual Assembly of São Tomé and Príncipe will be re-established this Riḍván, and two new pillars of the Universal House of Justice will be raised up: the National Spiritual Assembly of Croatia, with its seat in Zagreb, and the National Spiritual Assembly of Timor-Leste, with its seat in Dili. 

And so the One Year Plan begins. Its purpose and requirements have already been set out in our message sent on the Day of the Covenant; this Plan, though brief, will suffice to prepare the Bahá’í world for the Nine Year Plan that is to follow. A period of special potency, which opened one hundred years after the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, will soon close with the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, marking the conclusion of the first century of the Formative Age and the start of the second. The company of the faithful enter this new Plan at a time when humanity, chastened by the exposure of its vulnerability, seems more conscious of the need for collaboration to address global challenges.

Yet, lingering habits of contest, self-interest, prejudice and closed-mindedness continue to hinder the movement towards unity, despite growing numbers in society who are showing in words and deeds how they, too, yearn for greater acceptance of humanity’s inherent oneness. We pray that the family of nations may succeed in putting aside its differences in the interests of the common good. Notwithstanding the uncertainties that shroud the months ahead, we entreat Bahá’u’lláh to make the confirmations that have sustained His followers for so long more abundant still, that you may be carried forward in your mission, your composure undisturbed by the turbulence of a world whose need for His healing message is ever more acute. 

The Divine Plan enters a new epoch and a new stage. The page is turned.

Leave a Reply