Afraid of what you may see?
Added: Saturday, 7 June 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

Picture this: You park your car and rush towards a restaurant, which you're running late getting to. A parking attendant starts chasing after you.

-"I'll pay you later! My God!"

Finally he catches up and you turn around, annoyed at his persistence.

-"Ma'am, you dropped your wallet".

Has this ever happened to you? It's happened to me a bunch of times: the bag-lady in the street who stopped me not for money or a job, but because she needed help switching on her brand new cell phone; the man on the street corner who asked me to roll down my window, not because he wanted petty cash, but because he needed to know the time...

It's a real wake up call every time that happens. And it happens a lot in South Africa. The other day I was stuck in traffic, watching a man selling his magazines in the cold winter air. Despite literally shivering, he had a warm, gentle smile on his face. But people ignored him. Some get busy with their cell phones, others stretch out their arm; "talk to my hand", and one man remained absolutely motionless. He was in the car in front of me, so I had a good view of his features in his own rear-view mirror. The man did not move a muscle, not even to acknowledge the presence of a human being gazing through his window. It was cold. It was telling.

How thick is the glass that separates our hearts?

I learned from a friend of mine to always try and make eye-contact, show appreciation and respect for the presence of another human being. It doesn't mean buying things from him. It means rolling down your window or simply smiling through it. Asking "How are you today? Hope your days goes well..."

We're so afraid of that eye-contact, because deep down we know Who's standing before us:

"O SON OF MAN! Deny not My servant should he ask anything from thee, for his face is My face; be then abashed before Me."

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13 May 2008


This video embodies the spirit of unified action. It comes from a campaign run by the Times of India called - Lead India - a contest to find the leaders of tomorrow.
The user who sent us this link sent it with the following quote:

"The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds...."'--Bahá'u'lláh, cited in The Advent of Divine Justice pp.24-25

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What you plant in your heart
Added: Monday, 3 March 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

My first two children's classes with the kids down the road have been awesome, amazing and challenging at the same time. Our first lesson revolved around "unity" – we defined it, learned what it is in Zulu (si hlangene!) and talked about some of its implications. We also sang a song about unity, played a game around it and drew pictures depicting what unity can be like in a family setting.

When they came in the next week singing "we are drops of one ocean, leaves one tree..." I thought I had made some real progress. So I was all the more shocked when I asked them if they loved all the people in the world and they replied "Yes, except for Maria!"

I realized in that moment how much I still have to learn about children and their young, tender hearts and minds. So I took a deep breath, sent a telegram to God asking for assistance and for patience and began the next lesson, talking about "how do we create unity?" We looked at what it means to look for the good in people, no matter how hard it may seem. They explained that Maria is a jealous girl who is arrogant and makes fun of them at school. I asked them whether they had ever asked her to be their friend? Did she have friends at all? Maybe she was alone? We thought long and hard to search for the one good quality that she might have. And the kids agreed it would have to be her talent for mathematics. That was a start. So I suggested we don't try to combat darkness with darkness, but rather with light. Let's try and shed some light on her heart, no matter how nasty and mean she can be and see if we can't slowly help her be a more pleasant person? They got excited by that. We made a drawing to the quote: "O Friend, In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love", and wrote Maria little letters expressing what we thought was great about her. To further deepen on the quote, we planted a sapling in some earth to see if it grows. We realized we would need to feed it water and love over a long period of time to see results. And that's what it's like to plant the rose of love in your heart. It takes time and patience.

We ended the lesson with a jump in the pool and while the girls were having fun, I thought of the weighty task that child-rearing is. I teach them about loving, forgiving and being selfless, but at the same time they are children, young girls at that. And so I also need to teach them about justice, about confidence and standing their grounds. About knowing their worth, their boundaries and protecting them. People could take advantage of them. What a balancing act!

If we spent the money that goes into wars and armaments on the education our children, both morally, spiritually and "secularly" – we would see results within two generations, and probably solve most of the problems we're trying to solve with guns right now. It's just about what you plant in their fertile young hearts that will eventually flourish and rule: guns or roses?

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21 February 2008

Architecture of Unity

Download a hi-resolution version of this video.

Once upon a time, societies formed and lived around structures and institutions of public welfare and spirituality. Communities clustered around city centers that were comprised of churches, town halls, and other places that brought people together. Much has changed and today our city centers reflect the disunity and disintegration of our inner lives. The edifices that now dominate our infrastructures are buildings that exclude; exclusive boutiques, banks, stock exchanges and real estate that is designed to invite a few, and keep out many. The Baha'i concept of architecture seeks to remedy this division. Baha'i houses of worship are designed to re-claim the center of attention, offer a place of spirituality, comfort and unity. They are temples of the soul that connect peoples of all religious, social and racial backgrounds.

Directed by: Vicente Adorno
Screenplay: Flávio Rassekh and Vicente Adorno
Screenplay consultant: Luiz Henrique Beust
Art director: Flávio Rassekh
Director of Photography and Camera Operator: Valdir Rodrigues de Souza
Off line Editor: Cesar Mellão
Edition Coordinator / Executive Producer: Lina Murano
Production trainees: Lívia Corulli, Mariana Ferreira Gonçalves, Mariana Oliveira
File footage Documentation Department – Father Anchieta Foundation
Documentaries Manager: Pedro Vieira
Head of Network, Expansion and Documentaries: Marco Antonio Coelho Filho
NUDOC/ TV Cultura / Father Anchieta Foundation / São Paulo, Brazil
English Voice Over: Leyla & Ryan Haidarian

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A love story
Added: Monday, 18 February 2008

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Picture a piano. Imagine a Steinway, dark, shiny, noble, sitting in a beautiful room. Behold the keys, black and white, ebony and ivory, interwoven, playful, dancing, loving. Feel the symphony rising in you, through you, and above you. Listen to the multitude of notes in perfect harmony. If I say the keys are in love, you'll agree.

But what if they weren't? What if, instead of loving each other they "co-existed" or "tolerated" each other? What would this piano sound like?

When we talk about peace in the Middle-East or the harmony of women and men, the equality of races or religions, our highest aspiration thus far seams to be "tolerance" and "co-existence". With such an aim, what tones do we expect to produce? Sure, it sounds better than if the keys were, in fact, at war with other, but perhaps silence is better than a piano whose keys endure each other. Especially since they're intricately connected. When one key strums, they all vibrate.

It's just like the fingers of a hand or the parts of a body. If your heart tolerated your kidneys, tolerated your lungs, tolerated your liver would you be healthy? Or if your fingers co-existed with each other or with your hands, would you be functional?

You get the picture. Love is the force of attraction. Cohesion is the physical manifestation of this spiritual force. Cohesion holds together the very molecules of our physical realities as well as the macro-structures, the planets, our solar system, our universe. Love is integration and functionality. Lack of love and cohesion is tantamount to fragmentation and disintegration.

Baha'u'llah says "O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee..." Love is the foundation of everything, the reason religions appear. And yet we take religion and pervert it so badly that it causes Baha'u'llah (in The Hidden Words) to bewail the state of those criminals who call themselves pious:

O YE THAT ARE FOOLISH, YET HAVE A NAME TO BE WISE! Wherefore do ye wear the guise of shepherds, when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon My flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition."

It's hard not to think of Iran – one of many places in this world where crime has been and is committed in the name of love. And yet Iran, this place of confusion, hurt, paradoxes and fragmentation is the cradle of the biggest love story of recent time. In 1844 in the city of Shiraz this story began. A message of love was born that was to be the most all-embracing love humanity had ever seen thus far. This was the love of no single person, people, no single religion, race, culture, tribe, political conviction, gender or nation. This was the love of humanity. This was the love of the notes of a symphony, of the members of one organism. This limitless love was born on the holy land of Iran and its people have yet to own it and be its ambassadors.

Until Iranians discover this love they will not rise to the grandeur that is theirs as the safe keepers of this love story. If you look at Iran's history, a nation that brought forth the first declaration of human rights, a nation with so much passion, pain and love that its art and culture bleed with longing, you realize that it has been groomed as the setting for such a love since time immemorial. The Iranian who embraces this love of humanity is the greatest patriot. The Iranian who resorts to the small-mindedness of his narrowly defined and limited forms of love is, I believe, its greatest enemy.

In the words of Abdul-Baha, one of Iran's greatest lovers:

O people of Persia! The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love, adorn it with the coronal of pure intent, until the sacred honor, the abiding greatness of this illustrious nation may shine out like the true morning in an auspicious heaven. This handful of days on earth will slip away like shadows and be over. Strive then that God may shed His grace upon you, that you may leave a favorable remembrance in the hearts and on the lips of those to come. "And grant that I be spoken of with honor by posterity."

Happy the soul that shall forget his own good, and like the chosen ones of God, vie with his fellows in service to the good of all; until, strengthened by the blessings and perpetual confirmations of God, he shall be empowered to raise this mighty nation up to its ancient pinnacles of glory, and restore this withered land to sweet new life, and as a spiritual springtime, array those trees which are the lives of men with the fresh leaves, the blossoms and fruits of consecrated joy.

And how I'm inviting my guarded neighbor
Added: Monday, 21 January 2008

watch original V-Blog in Persian

When I started out blogging it was one way for me to inspire people to think about living purposefully and independently of prevalent trends. So I hope that in each blog I've included some new perspectives on life and its facets. The other day my sister-in-law called me and said: 'I like it when it's more about you. And give me some cliffhangers!' I get what she means. She's talking about the application of my insights.

Truth is, I find myself uninteresting in so far as I have nothing to offer of my own except my independent and gradual discovery of awe and wonderment about the revelation of Baha'u'llah. Which, I guess, is my story. And of that I can never stop telling.

I checked out several Iranian blogs (Iran is the number one blogging country in the world) and what I found was really intriguing. It seems that for the most part though, people love to be cynical. When you're cynical, dark and tortured your blog becomes popular. Persians especially, love to complain and point fingers at everyone: all the governments of the world, the 'ignorant Iranians' who fled the revolution and spent the last 30 abroad and have 'no idea of the actual realities and issues in the country', the ignorant Iranians within Iran - even the mountain people of Nicaragua get blamed...And there is certainly a huge emphasis on personal struggles and sometimes an over indulgence in one's own life. But nobody takes a long hard look at themselves and the role they are playing in perpetuating the fragmentation that is going right now. And more importantly nobody is asking: how do we get out of this mess?

While I find all of these blogs amazingly interesting and testimonies of the time we're living in, I'm trying to inspire us to lift our heads and look around. Unless you stand on higher ground, you're not going to get the bigger picture. But I agree that this should start with me.

So I'm ending my blog with an introspective and proactive note in honor of my big sis. What can Leyla do today to make the world a little better? I'm going to try and invite my neighbor over for cake and coffee. She's an old widow who lives on her own. We've only ever talked over the fence. Our conversations have revolved around dogs, real estate prices and her sentiments of not fitting into the new South Africa as a white person. She also complains about the foreigners who come here and take over (except for me of course) and she feels left out of her own country. She says that there is reverse-apartheid now. Although I might not agree with her views and although they may bug me - those are sentiments I cannot ignore or write off. In fact, on some level I can identify with them. I'm considered an outsider in Iran, because of my Faith, I'm considered an outsider in Austria, because I'm half Iranian, I'm considered an outsider in South Africa because people think I'm American and Americans are not popular right now. So let one 'homeless' soul invite another in a quest for love and I'll tell you about it all next time!

Growing by the grace of others
Added: Tuesday, 8 January 2008

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When you grow up as an Iranian Baha'i outside of Iran, you often sub-consciously shy away from Moslem Iranians. Considering the history of persecutions of Baha'is in Iran, this might be understandable, but not excusable.

Our Faith teaches us the uncompromising love and acceptance of all faiths and peoples of the earth. We believe that the world's collective salvation depends on the very unity of all the world's people. But as a kid, vulnerable, incomplete and striving (as I am now) to be a Baha'i, I had fear of being rejected by Moslems if they knew I was a Baha'i. This has been greatly remedied by an amazing Moslem family that I've gotten to know over the last 2 years. They have been the catalyst for us coming together, they have initiated social get-togethers, nourished our friendship and accepted and loved us despite our shortcomings - and we have many. My husband and I, being quite "westernized" in our upbringing, have many habits that come across as insensitive towards Persians, and yet they have dealt with us, always, with a sin-covering eye. Now if that is not a sign that there is great hope for the people of Iran, then I don't know. Here is a perfect example of people who sacrifice so much to show us love. They have tried to create an atmosphere in their home where we feel comfortable. I'm am deeply touched and this makes me feel super hopeful for Iran's future.

On a side note: I want to acknowledge a few other people who are of different Faiths, but have been agents of unity and love, reaching across cultural and religious boundaries and deep into my heart: I have a welter of Born-Again Christian friends at the African Children's Choir who have worked with me and have also been amazingly loving. They never make me feel like I'm not going to heaven ☺ - they make me feel like I'm already there. My friend Rebby, who is a devout Catholic, and has loved and shared with me our mutual love of Christ and of God since childhood, my friends in Tel Aviv who are Jewish Iranians and who's generosity and love for peace and unity has been indescribably inspiring to me, my Hindu friends Yashika and Sadhna, my Buddhist friend Alyna, my Sikh friend Kuldeep and his generous family and my Zoroastrian friends that I've met in Austria and who's wisdom and patience has tenderized many a heart.

The world is falling apart!
Added: Friday, 4 January 2008

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So last year this time I was in Nairobi, Kenya and life was real good. A year later and there's mayhem. What happened? Are Kenyans instable, unreasonable and incapable of democracy? Is Africa in trouble with all its reports of corruption, crazy dictators and economic instability? And did you think that you, in your cushy home in Vienna, LA, or London are safe from such inexplicable spurts of violence and chaos? And do you think that countries where things 'go wrong' have nothing to do with you? That the people there have problems and issues, which must be solved so we can achieve a peaceful world?

I'd venture to disagree. At the moment, the world is under the illusion that war, crime, corruption, poverty, abuse, inequalities and every other conceivable ill can and must be remedied before the world can come together and peace and stability can be established. Do you agree with that? Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Now I want you to imagine that sound you hear in Jeopardy when the answer is wrong. Because: 'rrrr', it's wrong! The fallacy that most people subscribe to is that all these ills are individual, isolated problems that can be tackled by an NGO, a religious group, a corporate social investment program, community engagement or a government scheme. That's wrong. These ills are nothing but symptoms of a much grander, underlying disease. The disease is disunity amongst the peoples of this world and it affects each and every one of us. Its only remedy is unity.

Consider your own body or your mind. If you're in disequilibrium, that is, if any parts of your body or mind are ailing and in disunity, then you're in an unnatural, unhealthy condition that keeps you ill and weak. You need to bring things back into equilibrium in order to heal. So if you're mind is not at ease, because you've been acting (or thinking) contrary to your principles, then correcting your actions will bring peace. Trust me, I've tried it. It's the unity of your principles with your actions that brings about this peace. The same is true for the body and its health when the unity of its parts is restored. No use trying to get that fever down with foot baths, if you're still feeding the patient poison! The prerequisite of healing all of our societal ills lies in the creation of unity; an honest, sincere, deep and loving unity that renders us one human family and citizens of this world.

And how does that affect you? Well for me it means I have to bring myself to account each day, examine my prejudices (passed down and self-made) and actively work to change them. It means that until I am personally an active agent of unity and love amongst all peoples, nations and religions, I'm contributing, directly or indirectly to the disease that is killing our world and which erupts randomly like a giant sore, such as it is currently doing in Kenya. What I'm talking about is not the cheap, lip-service kind of love and tolerance (I hate the word tolerance) for all the peoples of the earth. It's easy to accept people as noble and equal in theory, but it's a great challenge to live it out. To love, without being hypocritical, people you consider prejudiced, careless, lazy, selfish, primitive, barbaric, violent, offensive, strange, crazy and unreasonable, heathens, ungodly people, fanatically religious people, stupid people, passive people....is difficult. But unless we wake up to the fact that we are one human organism that is ailing from the disease of disunity (=lack of love and cohesion), then we are contributing to the darkness that can take over a nation like Kenya from one day to the next. So even your decision not to invite that 'different' person to your party because it's easier to be amongst your own kind; or that thoughtless, humorous but hostile comment last night at dinner is contributing to the disease. And this I promise you: the side-effects of the disease will, if they haven't already, assuredly spill into your cushy life.

Edmund Burke said, "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". And did you know it, most people are good - they just don't do much to get out of their comfort zone and change this world. Most of us chose to stay 'happy', or numbed, in our "pastime paradise" that Steve Wonder so poignantly sings about. We spend most of our lives in it, blaming others for the chaos and oppression in the world. It's never us – we've got an alibi, we were watching MTV. But that's not enough. We must get up and work hard to spread love with a sin-covering eye, teach our children to love every human being regardless of their outer labels, cease to slander and gossip, look for the gems in others and actively create unity in diversity.

This simple formula is the fundamental cornerstone Baha'u'llah's teachings that are, each and all, intended to heal the ills of this world:

"The wellbeing of mankind, its peace and security, are both unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established".

-I'd like to recommend H.B Danesh's academic work: UNITY, the creative foundation of PEACE

South Africa celebrates a victory
Added: Tuesday, 23 October 2007

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The other night my husband, Ryan, and I received an invitation to go and watch the rugby world cup at a friend's house. We battled about the rugby portion, because neither of us gets too excited about sports usually, but hanging out with friends and eating burritos sounded great enough. Before we could swallow our dinner, the kids screamed from the TV room that the game had begun...

Because the stakes were so high, Ryan and I got into the game pretty quickly. After all, this was the world cup and we were playing England! Normally I'd advocate against nationalistic feelings taking over our sense of love for humanity, but that night I was quite happy to root for South Africa for more than one reason :-). But as the game advanced, one of the reasons overshadowed all others: the necessity of South Africa uniting for one common goal. All over the nation, people were following the game in front of the TV sets, in bars, restaurants, on the streets and it didn't matter weather you were black, white, colored, purple or blue, we all rooted for our country and it was an amazingly unifying experience for a country that was painfully divided for so long!

The players teared up as they sang our beautifully diverse national anthem in three of South Africa's 11 official languages – mirroring millions of South Africans who did the same back home.

After an exciting game during which both sides played out their hearts, I admit that I felt bad for the losing team; our world operates on a system where one man's victory is another man's loss. But the victory that South Africa achieved that night was one that unified hundreds of tribal, racial, social and religious groups and that was worth every bit of it.

A lot of people mention the fact that the South African rugby team is mostly made up of white Afrikaaner players. My guess is that in rugby size is quite important, and you just don't find that many large men in South Africa other than in the Afrikaaner community. Another is probably opportunity. But it turned out beautifully, because the most meaningful moment was when this predominantly white team picked up their black President on their shoulders so he could hold up the South African trophy! It was meaningful on so many levels and it caused a ripple of cheers and emotions across the nation and beyond its borders.

The South African team remembered God in prayer after the game, and Ryan and I left our friend's house honking all the way home. The streets were filled with South African who randomly hugged, cheered, smiled and shared the victory. This was a meaningful feat and transcended sports in so many ways.

Blessed the day when the whole world may celebrate its unity with such fervor.

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