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Swiss Baha'is celebrate 100 years of contribution to world civilisation

 

Swiss Baha'i Centenary Logo

Baha'is gathered in Interlaken

First Swiss Baha'is

Auguste Forel

First Italo-Swiss National Spiritual Assembly

4 Generations

Zurich Baha'i Choir

 

 

 

People from all corners of Switzerland and 26 countries converged on the small mountain town of Interlaken to celebrate the Centenary of the establishment of the Bahá'í Faith in this country. Guests included many people from abroad who have been closely associated with the development of this community.

The choice of the mountain town of Interlaken for the event was motivated by its dearness to the heart of Shoghi Effendi, the spiritual Head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1921 until his passing in 1957. He had cherished and nurtured the Swiss community throughout those important formative years and had personally found in the nearby mountains rare moments of respite from his heavy load.

The very first Baha’i to reside in Switzerland was a French-American, Miss Edith McKay (1879-1959). She had learned of this religion in Paris through a young American, Miss May Bolles, and immediately decided that this message of world unity was the one that would guide her life. That was in 1900. While on vacation in the Rhone valley in Switzerland in 1902 she met her future husband, a local dentist, Dr Joseph de Bons (1871-1959), who also accepted this new message. The de Bons couple [photo] visited ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, in Palestine in 1906, when he was still a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire. Attending the event in Interlaken was the granddaughter of Dr and Mrs. MacKay who movingly related the story of her grandparents.

One of the earliest Bahá’ís in Switzerland – and no doubt its most distinguished member so far – was Professor August Forel [photo]. A world-renowned psychiatrist and philosopher, Professor Forel accepted this Faith in 1920. In his will he wrote:
"[…] in 1920, I first came to know of the supraconfessional world religion of the Bahá’ís, founded in the East more than seventy-five years ago by the Persian Bahá’u’lláh. This is the true religion of human social good, without dogmas or priests, uniting all men on this small terrestrial globe of ours. I have become a Bahá’í. May this religion live and prosper for the good of mankind; this is my most ardent wish.

Forel’s granddaughter, Annemarie Kruger, who was born in Forel’s house in the small village of Yvorne (Switzerland) in 1918, was also present at the celebration. She had made the trip to Interlaken from Sofia, Bulgaria, where she has participated in the development of the Bulgarian Bahá’í Community for the past two decades. She was also the first Bahá’í to take this religion to Moldavia, for which she earned the title of "Knight of Bahá’u’lláh."

A noteworthy contribution of Switzerland concerns its role during World War II. When the Bahá’í Faith was outlawed in Nazi Germany, the small handful of Bahá’ís in Switzerland represented a fortress for this message of peace in Central Europe. They continued to publish Bahá’í literature in German, such that when the war was over, there was a stock of publications in German ready to replenish the Bahá’í literature that had been confiscated and destroyed under the Nazi regime. Among that handful of Swiss believers at that time was Fritz Semle who had also experienced the horrors of World War I and who, learning of this religion in 1920, immediately accepted it and devoted his life to this message of world peace, in part through the foster home he set up with his wife. His son, Nils (Fritz Jr.) was in Interlaken to share the memories of his father and honour his life of service to the Bahá’í Faith in Switzerland and to the moral development of generations of children and youth.

The Bahá’í community of Switzerland is now established in some 220 localities throughout the country. The work is coordinated and guided nationally by a democratically elected national council, but the organisation is largely decentralised. Firmly established at the local level, the grass roots of the community is composed of members from different cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. In fact, the Swiss Bahá’í Community today includes people from over 60 different nations and major territories of the world. This diversity contributes to the richness of community life. It is, however, not a one-way intermingling of cultures, as Bahá’ís from Switzerland have also travelled to over 160 different countries and territories to assist their brothers and sisters in the development of local and national communities throughout the world.

One of the distinctive characteristics of the Swiss Bahá’í community has been its commitment to the equality of women and men. In fact, the Chancellor of the Swiss Federal Government, Mrs. Annemarie Huber-Hotz, at a recent reception on the occasion of the Centenary, congratulated the Bahá’í community, saying : "… in your religion equal rights of women and men are, and always have been, a matter of principle and you have translated those principles into everyday life."

The Swiss community’s commitment to equality and to the advancement of women was illustrated by two highlights of the weekend celebration:

Attending the event was Mrs. Renée Bahy-Vuichet, who joined the community in 1949. Shortly thereafter, she moved with her husband to southern Iran where she was active in promoting the education of children - boys and girls - and the advancement of women. Returning to Switzerland in the 1960s to insure the education of her own daughters, Mrs. Bahy was among of the founding members of the Swiss Association of Bahá’í Women. At Interlaken with Mrs. Bahy were her two daughters, four granddaughters and 1 great-grand-daughter [photo].

Another evidence of the accomplishments of the Swiss Bahá’í community in the field of equality of women and men is found in the role women have played in the 9-member national elected council (Assembly) of the Bahá’í religion. Already in 1953, when the first council was elected, there were 4 men and 5 women [photo], including the daughter of Edith de Bons, the first Bahá’í in Switzerland. The current members of this elected body comprise 6 women and 3 men, coming from the 4 language areas of the country. Of the 57 people who have served on this institution throughout its 50-year history, 29 have been women and 28 men. Such a remarkable result is not the consequence of any artificial system of quotas or forced equality. Rather, it is the natural outcome of a particular democratic electoral process where there are no candidates, no electoral campaigns and no propaganda. Voters cast their ballots in an atmosphere of prayer for those whom they consider the most capable; and those elected willingly accept to serve the community in a spirit of service.

In its closing remarks of this historic weekend, the National council called on the participants to draw inspiration and strength from those who have gone before and to render great and lasting services to the world of humanity, each according to his or her capacities.

More images of the Centenary Celebrations

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

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