The Bahá’í Community of Canada
The Bahá’í Community of Canada is made up of some 30,000 Canadians from backgrounds that are truly representative of Canada’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity. There are French-speaking and English-speaking Bahá’ís, and more than 18% of Canadian Bahá’ís come from First Nations and Inuit backgrounds; another 30% are recent immigrants or refugees. Canadian Bahá’ís live in every province and territory and are spread among 1100 localities. Their economic and social backgrounds are as diverse as their cultural and religious heritage.
The Bahá’í Faith, founded in Iran in 1844 and adhered to today by more than five million members worldwide, was introduced to Canada in 1898. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, the national governing council of the Bahá’í Community of Canada, was incorporated by an Act of the Canadian Parliament in 1949. The Canadian Bahá’í National Centre is located in the Toronto area.
Bahá’ís feel at home in Canada in large part because so many of their central Bahá’í values are shared by their fellow Canadian citizens. Unity in diversity is the Bahá’í watchword, just as it is in Canada itself. World-mindedness, the importance of justice, the rule of law, human rights and responsibility for others, fairness and equity, consideration for minorities, and the value of freedom and world citizenship are values that Bahá’ís share with Canadians.
Though Bahá’ís in nearly 200 countries are devoted to the task of contributing to a global community that upholds these values, still, local community life, the importance of the family, the dignity of the individual, and the elimination of prejudices of all kinds animate Bahá’ís in their daily life. They see service to others as the touchstone of what genuine spirituality and religious faith is all about.
Loyal to government, devoted to the common good, free of superstition and exclusivity, Bahá’ís strive to eliminate injustice, suffering, and human deprivation. The equality of women and men, education for all, the training of the mind, cultivation of the arts, and the creation of a moral culture in which everyone has the opportunity to give expression to the gifts of her or his particular spirit, these are the hallmarks of the Bahá’í ethos.
Canadian Bahá’ís have the unassailable conviction that "the future of Canada, whether from a material or spiritual standpoint, is very great." Not merely the result of the Bahá’í experience in Canada, this forecast of Canada’s promising future is a part of Bahá’í sacred text, written in what Bahá’ís refer to as The Tablets of the Divine Plan, which was penned by one of the three Central Figures of their Faith, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who visited Montreal in 1912, a few years before He wrote those words.
Canadian Bahá’ís have contributed enormously to the growth and development of the worldwide Bahá’í community. A Montrealer, Mary Maxwell (1910-2000), was married to the Head of the Bahá’í Faith, Shoghi Effendi. After the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, Mary Maxwell, or Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, as she is known to the five million Bahá’ís around the world, undertook an extraordinary series of travels throughout the world, stretching over four decades. She wrote letters and books, wrote and directed two major film documentaries, and contributed enormously to the consolidation and growth of the Bahá’í Faith. Her father, William Sutherland Maxwell, a prominent Montreal architect, designed in the 1950s the well-known Bahá’í Shrine that graces Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.
Earlier in the century, the French-Canadian architect Louis Bourgeois designed the "mother temple of the Bahá’í world," the Bahá’í House of Worship, now protected as an American historical site, which rests on the shores of Lake Michigan just north of Chicago. In recent years, two other Canadian architects have designed world-famous buildings. Fariborz Sahba, now living in Toronto, designed the famous "Lotus Temple" in New Delhi, India, now the most visited building on the planet (according to CNN), as well as the Bahá’í Terraces that cascade one kilometre down the side of Mount Carmel in Israel. Hossein Amanat, a Vancouver architect, designed the administrative seat of the Universal House of Justice as well as several other edifices at the Bahá’í World Centre, in addition to the South-Pacific Bahá’í House of Worship in Samoa. Another Canadian Bahá’í architect, Siamak Hariri of Toronto, is now working to see that his dramatic design of the "Mother Temple" of South America is built in Chile.
For its part, Canada, through its government, has done much to assist the Bahá’í Community, notably by welcoming and helping to settle several thousand Bahá’í refugees following the revolution in Iran (the birthplace of the Bahá’í Faith) in 1979, which brought to power a fundamentalist regime that turned with ferocity on the Bahá’í community, Iran’s largest religious minority. Canada’s government has continued to play a leading role in calling the world’s attention to the plight of the Bahá’ís, specifically by co-sponsoring resolutions at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the U.N. General Assembly for more than 12 consecutive years. Canada’s international development agency, CIDA, has worked closely with the Bahá’í Community of Canada on international development projects in India, Central and South America, and several countries in Africa.
Canadian Bahá’ís are guided by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. Central Bahá’í principles include the oneness of humanity and the oneness of God. Bahá’u’lláh taught that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin and one in their essential message of love. Each of the revealed religions provides fundamental spiritual and moral guidance as well as social teachings appropriate to successive stages in the history and spiritual evolution of humanity.