Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam
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The introduction of the Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam first occurred in the 1920s, not long after French Indochina was mentioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá as a potential destination for Bahá'í teachers. After a number of brief visits from travelling teachers throughout the first half of the 20th century, the first Bahá'i group in Vietnam was established in Saigon in 1954, with the arrival of Shirin Fozdar, a Bahá'í teacher from India. The 1950s and 1960s were marked by periods of rapid growth, mainly in South Vietnam; despite the ongoing war affecting the country, the Bahá'í population surged to around 200,000 adherents by 1975. After the end of the war, Vietnam was reunified under a communist government, who proscribed the practice of the religion from 1975 to 1992, leading to a sharp drop in community numbers. Relations with the government gradually improved, however, and in 2007 the Bahá'í Faith was officially registered, followed by its full legal recognition a year later. As of 2012, it was reported that the Bahá'í community comprised about 8,000 followers.
- 1 French Indochina (pre-1954)
- 2 South Vietnam (1954–1975)
- 3 Communist Vietnam (post-1975)
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes and references
- 6 External links
French Indochina (pre-1954)
‘Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan
The earliest association of Vietnam with the Bahá'í Faith was a brief mention of French Indochina—of which the country was then a part—as a destination for Bahá'í teachers in ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan. The specific tablet in question was written on 11 April 1916, but was delayed in being presented in the United States until 1919, after the end of World War I and the Spanish flu. These tablets were translated and presented by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab on 4 April 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on 12 December 1919.
"The moment this divine Message is carried forward by the American believers from the shores of America and is propagated through the continents of Europe, of Asia, of Africa and of Australasia, and as far as the islands of the Pacific, this community will find itself securely established upon the throne of an everlasting dominion..., if some teachers go to other islands and other parts, such as the continent of Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, also to Japan, Asiatic Russia, Korea, French Indochina, Siam, Straits Settlements, India, Ceylon and Afghanistan, most great results will be forthcoming."
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had at one time seriously considered a voyage to India and Indochina, as reported by Shoghi Effendi in 1919, although whether such a voyage would have included the territory that would become known as Vietnam is not known.
The first Bahá'í to visit Vietnam is likely to have been Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney, one of the first Bahá'ís of France, who undertook a number of travels around the globe at the request of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. After an initial planned visit was aborted in 1914 due to the outbreak of World War I, Dreyfus-Barney arrived in what was then French Indochina in 1920, visiting Saigon and Hanoi. Four years later in May 1924, prominent Bahá'í travelling teacher Martha Root paid a week-long visit to Saigon. During her stay, she promoted the message and principles of the religion to a number of newspapers, making friends with one Madame Boeuf, editor of an English section in "L'Information de l'Extrême Orient". Boeuf was sympathetic to the principles of the Bahá'í religion, and published a number of favorable French-language articles. Several other newspapers also printed articles describing Bahá'í principles, in French, Chinese and Vietnamese. A public lecture was arranged with the help of the Governor, who, when approached, "himself telephoned the President of the largest school" to communicate his approval. Besides these initiatives, Root made calls to nineteen schools, societies and individuals in Saigon.
In 1951, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India, Pakistan and Burma adopted the goal of sending pioneers to a number of cities throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, including Saigon, in response to the summons of Shoghi Effendi, then head of the Bahá'í Faith. In a letter to an individual in September of that year, Shoghi Effendi reported that there were Bahá’ís in Indochina at that time, although their settlement seems to have been short-lived; a March 1952 report stated that Indochina remained unopened to the Baha'i Faith.
South Vietnam (1954–1975)
Following nearly a decade of war between colonial France and the communist Viet Minh, which ended in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, both sides met at the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954. A provisional division of Vietnam was made at the 17th parallel, creating the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the State of Vietnam (later the Republic of Vietnam) in the south. Much of the development of the Bahá'í Faith during the following period took place in South Vietnam; the first Bahá'í groups in the north would not be established until 1992, long after the country's reunification.
Establishment and early growth (1954–1963)
In February 1954, Shirin Fozdar, a Bahá'í from India who had been a member of the National Spiritual Assembly there, went to Saigon to establish the religion in Indochina. On March 15, she gave a public introduction to the Baha'i Faith in a lecture at the Norodom theatre, which was given significant coverage in the Vietnamese press. During this time, Pham Huu Chu, a professor living in Saigon, became the first Vietnamese Bahá'í. Jamshed and Parvati Fozdar, members of Fozdar's family, arrived to take her place in the summer, settling into an apartment at 88 Bonard St (now Le Loi St). By the following year, there were enough Bahá'ís in Saigon to elect the country's first Local Spiritual Assembly there, on 21 April 1955. The Assembly was officially recognized by the government of South Vietnam on 20 September. Promotion of the religion in Central Vietnam led to the establishment of Vietnam's second Spiritual Assembly in the village of Trừng Giang, Quảng Nam province, in April 1957. Eight more Spiritual Assemblies were established in 1958, bringing the total to ten. Of these, most were in Central Vietnam, including those of Da Nang and Quang Ngai. Also established in that year was the Bahá'í community of Phuoc Long, where the first Bahá'í school of South Vietnam was established; several other schools were established in Central Vietnam.
In 1958 Tuskegee Airman Dempsey Morgan and his wife Adrienne, both Bahá'ís, came to Vietnam, and over succeeding years helped establish administrative procedures among the Local Spiritual Assemblies of Vietnam. During their stay in Vietnam, the Morgans also identified Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'ís Faith, with the Maitreya Buddha, who in the Buddhist tradition is the successor to Gautama Buddha and who is to appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma. During this period of growth a number of Buddhist monks also become Baha'is. The Morgan family left Vietnam for Thailand in 1959, staying for two years before continuing to Phnom Penh. They were able to visit Saigon when Rúhíyyih Khanum visited in 1961 and were able to move back to Saigon before the end of the year. There was also a local newsletter the Baha'i News in publication by then.
From 1957 to 1963 the Bahá'í community in South Vietnam had more than tripled (including among the Koho, Thổ, Annamese, and Cham peoples) and several schools were established. In 1957 the Bahá'í marriage certificate was recognized in Vietnam. In 1962 16 Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies formed, and by 1963 there were more than 40 (and perhaps over 100) Spiritual Assemblies in South Vietnam. By 1963 there were also 6 local Bahá'í Centers or Haziratu'l-Quds, including in Saigon and Da Nang, and more lands had been bought for future centers. As the number of Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies increased, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Vietnam was established in 1964. One report estimated over 20,000 Bahá'ís nationwide by mid-1964, giving it the "third largest membership among the major religions" in South Vietnam at that time.
Although the Bahá'í community held a generally positive relationship with the government of Ngô Đình Diệm, there is evidence of sporadic opposition at different levels during this period. One account describes government harassment of the Vietnamese Bahá'ís around 1958–59, including the imprisonment of the entire Spiritual Assembly of Saigon. On 21 April 1963, Bui Van Luong, then Diệm's Interior Minister, formally prohibited Bahá'ís from pursuing "any religious activities in Central Vietnam and the mountainous provinces." Seven months later, the Diệm government was overthrown, and the prohibition of Bahá'í activities was annulled. An account reported in a Swiss Bahá'í newsletter in February 1964 claimed that Bahá'ís in Vietnam had been subject to harassment for over seven years leading up to Diệm's ouster.
Post-Diệm era (1963–1975)
As the Vietnam war continued, there were a number of American Bahá'ís who were stationed in Vietnam, but following the Bahá'í teaching of the sacredness of all life and of obedience to one's government, Bahá'ís would request to avoid being placed in a position to take the life of another, and thus American Bahá'ís served as clerks and medics as non-combatants. By April 1973, 687 Local Spiritual Assemblies had been formed, and Bahá'ís could be found in 1,685 localities. By 1975, there were an estimated 200,000 Bahá'ís in South Vietnam, and the Bahá'í community and its institutions were still experiencing growth.
Communist Vietnam (post-1975)
In the chaos following the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the Bahá'í community was severely limited logistically. Contact had already been lost with members in outlying areas, and the national convention scheduled for that time was cancelled; the National Spiritual Assembly was instead elected via mailed-in ballots. In a 1978 report, the Universal House of Justice noted that
"In the latter part of the period under review [1973-1976] circumstances beyond the control of the Bahá'ís have hindered the completion of the goals. An administrative committee has been appointed to function on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly.
For a time, the incoming communist government seemed to tolerate Bahá'í activities; Bahá'ís in the newly renamed Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon) were allowed to hold a commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Báb in July 1976, and following the setbacks of the previous years, a meeting was held the following year to elect a National Spiritual Assembly.
Beginning in 1978, open practice of the Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam was officially proscribed. Bahá'ís were forbidden to meet or to practice their religion, and Bahá'í properties throughout the country were closed or confiscated. Two members of the National Spiritual Assembly who were present when the national headquarters in Ho Chi Minh City was confiscated were arrested and sent to reeducation camps. In a message sent a year later, the Universal House of Justice reported that Vietnam was among "those countries where the Bahá'í Administration cannot operate or has had to be disbanded". Community numbers dropped sharply during this time as thousands of Bahá'ís fled the country, arriving as refugees in the United States and other countries, where efforts were made to contact and integrate them into local Bahá'í communities. Bahá'ís in a number of countries throughout the world began sending support to those Bahá'ís who remained in Vietnam, regularly sending parcels of medicine, clothes and other necessities; some were able to visit the country and meet with Bahá'ís personally. The Bahá'ís who remained in Vietnam made appeals to the government requesting the permission to practice their religion and the return of confiscated properties, although progress was limited. At the same time, appeals for the release of Bahá'í prisoners continued, through the Bahá'í International Community and a number of governments and independent agencies. In March 1986, a copy of the Universal House of Justice's statement, The Promise of World Peace, was delivered by a messenger to Mr. Bui Xuan Nhat, the Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations.
The 1990s and early 2000s saw conditions improve gradually. In 1990, H. Collis Featherstone, a Hand of the Cause, visited Vietnam, focusing his efforts on "reinvigorating" the Bahá'ís there. Beginning in 1992, Bahá'ís were allowed to meet in unofficial meeting halls to practice their religion quietly, and the first Bahá'í group was established in Hanoi. In 1996, the Universal House of Justice sent a message to Bahá'ís in a number of Southeast Asian countries, particularly calling "the sorely tried, steadfast and devoted friends" in Vietnam to demonstrate to the authorities and to their leaders that "Bahá'ís, obedient and loyal to their governments, desire but the prosperity of their nations and the upliftment of their peoples."
In 2000, Bahá'ís in Da Nang were reportedly unable to obtain approval of an application for registration of official religious activities, and in 2001, the Vietnamese government reportedly turned down an attempt by the national Bahá'í community to register its activities because they "had not yet met the administrative criteria for registration." The difficulties encountered by the Bahá'í community were far from unique. While Vietnam had ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) which has provisions for religious freedom (Article 18), and its own Constitution upholds religious freedom, the U.S. State Department reported in its 2001 International Religious Freedom Report that the Vietnamese government "continued to restrict" certain organized activities of religious groups, noting that "many of these restrictive powers lie principally with provincial or city people's committees, and local treatment of religious persons varied widely."
End of proscription and recent developments
With time, the fortunes of the Vietnamese Bahá'í community continued to improve. Bahá'ís in Ho Chi Minh City were allowed to hold a quiet ceremony in May 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Baha'i Faith in the country. By 2006, Bahá'í community leaders reported having "good relations with authorities", and that the Bahá'ís "appeared to be able to practice their faith without significant harassment." In November of that year, the US State Department reported that restrictions were being eased. Finally, after many years of progress, the Bahá'í community was officially registered in early 2007, receiving a certificate of operation from the governmental Committee for Religious Affairs. Following a year-long probationary period, its nine-member National Spiritual Assembly was elected and its charter adopted on 21 March 2008, at a national congress in Ho Chi Minh City coinciding with the Bahá'í holy day of Naw-Rúz. The event was attended by over 250 delegates and visitors. The National Spiritual Assembly received its certificate of national recognition in July 2008, setting the stage for Local Spiritual Assemblies to be registered as well.
With previous restrictions relaxed, the Vietnamese Bahá’í Community has continued to achieve marked progress, returning to a normal pace of activities and showing signs of growth in size, in freedom, and in institutional capacity. Soon after their community's recognition, Vietnamese Bahá'ís were granted permission to attend a major regional conference in Battambang, Cambodia, attended by over 2,000 of their co-religionists from Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. National conventions, held annually in various regions, continue to gather delegates and observers in the hundreds for the election of the National Spiritual Assembly. The fourth national convention, held in April 2011 in the southern city of Phan Thiet, gathered more than 300 Bahá’í members. The Vietnamese government also allowed members from other nations in the region, including representatives from the Bahá’í Advisory Board for Asia and its Board of Trustees for Southeast Asia, to join the event and actively participate for the first time. In May 2012, government officials granted 20 Bahá’ís permission to participate in their first collective pilgrimage to the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa, Israel. The nine-day pilgrimage allowed them to visit religious shrines and meet with fellow believers. In August of the same year, the Bahá’ís of Hanoi celebrated the 20th anniversary of the religion's establishment in that city with a day-long public celebration, attended by nearly 100 followers from the northern area of the country, 20 foreign Bahá’ís representing countries in the region, and government officials. In May 2013, Vietnamese Bahá’ís were able to send delegates to represent their country at the 11th International Bahá'í Convention in Haifa, where they participated in the election of the Universal House of Justice. Later in the same year, a number of Vietnamese Bahá'í youth joined their counterparts in Cambodia at a youth conference in Battambang.
Although the 2005 World Christian Database estimated the Bahá'í population of Vietnam well above 300,000, the U.S. State Department estimated the Bahá'í population at around 8,000 in 2012. Regardless, the 2015 estimate from the World Religion Database, the direct successor to the World Christian Database, was of 413,000 Bahá'ís.
Notes and references
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- "Small Baha'i And Muslim Communities Grow in Hanoi" (Diplomatic cable). Embassy of the United States of America in Vietnam. 12 September 2007. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (14 September 2007). "International Religious Freedom Report — Vietnam". United States State Department. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2012). "International Religious Freedom Report—Vietnam". United States State Department. Retrieved 2013-07-12.
- Abbas, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (April 1919). Tablets, Instructions and Words of Explanation. Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (trans. and comments).
- The Universal House of Justice (1978). The Bahá'í World. 16. Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre. pp. 536–537. ISBN 0853980756.
- "Hippolyte Dreyfus, apôtre d'Abdu'l-Bahá" [Hippolyte Dreyfus, Disciple of 'Abdu'l-Bahá]. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of France. September 2000. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
- M. R. Garis (1983). Martha Root: Lioness at the threshold. Baha'i Publishing Trust. ISBN 0877431841.
- Root, Martha (May 1924). "A Trip to Indo-China on a Cargo Boat". Star of the West. 15 (2): 40.
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- "Japan Will Turn Ablaze!". Bahá’í Publishing Trust of Japan. 1992. Retrieved 2012-09-24.
- "Bahá'í Newsletter" (58). National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India, Pakistan and Burma. March 1952.
- Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, Allan M. Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana. The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume (6th Edition). New York: Longman, 2007.
- Sarwal, Anil (1989). "Shirin Fozdar: An Outstanding Pioneer". Bahá'í Digest. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
- "Vai tro Phu-nu trong trat-tu moi theo Ton-giao BA-HAI". Saigon Moi. 18 March 1954. p. 1,3.
- "Bahá'í News". National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States. February 1962: 14. ISSN 0195-9212.
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- Now Hoà Giang village, Điện Trung commune, Điện Bàn District, Quảng Nam province.
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- Effendi, Shoghi (1971). Messages to the Bahá'í World, 1950–1957. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 107. ISBN 0-87743-036-5.
- Compiled by the Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land (1964). The Bahá'í Faith 1844–1963. p. 91.
- Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land. "The Bahá'í Faith: 1844–1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953–1963". pp. 22, 46.
- "Le Vietnam Nouveau". 1964-07-07.
- "Buddhists March in VN; No Violence Is Reported". The Bangkok Post. 19 (115). 21 May 1963.
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- "Bulletin d'Informations Bahá'íes de Suisse" [Switzerland Bahá'í News Bulletin]. February 1964: 7.
- Hatcher, John (1996). "Child and Family in Baha'i Religion". In Coward, Harold G. Religious Dimensions of Child and Family Life: Reflections on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. pp. 141–160. ISBN 978-1-55058-104-1.
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- Baha'i Community of Vietnam 2004, p. 30-31,55.
- The Universal House of Justice (1986). The Bahá'í World. 18. Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre. pp. 96–97. ISBN 0853982341.
- Momen, Moojan; Smith, Peter (1989). "The Baha'i Faith 1957–1988: A Survey of Contemporary Developments". Religion. 19: 63–91. doi:10.1016/0048-721X(89)90077-8.
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- "The citizen shall enjoy freedom of belief or religion; he can follow any religion or none. All religions are equal before the law. The places of worship of all faiths and religions are protected by the law. No one can violate freedom of belief and of religion; nor can anyone misuse belief and religion to contravene the law and State policies." Article 70, Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. 1992.
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- "Only religions that have been officially recognised have legal rights. To be authorised, the group must obtain Government approval of its leadership and overall scope of its activities. Failure to comply leads to persecution. The Government retains supervisory control of authorised religions. All religious organisations have to be affiliated with the Communist Party of Vietnam and an organisation called the Patriotic Front [i.e. Vietnamese Fatherland Front]. Government permission is required for many religious practices, including general meetings, charitable activities, operation of schools and ordination and promotion of clergy and travel outside the country. Religious training must be approved by the State and must promote the policy of “socialism”. State approved churches are also required to promote Government policies on a wide range of issues." Stoyles, Lyndall J. (November 2004). "View on Vietnam". Uniya Jesuit Social Justice Centre. Archived from the original on 9 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
- Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2006). "International Religious Freedom Report — Vietnam". United States State Department. Retrieved 2012-09-25.
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- "Nation's Baha'i community gets religious recognition". Hanoi, Vietnam: Viet Nam News, Vietnam News Agency. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
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- Vietnam News Agency (26 July 2008). "Baha’i community recognised as religious organisation". VietNamNet Bridge. VietNamNet Bridge. Retrieved 2008-0-27. Check date values in:
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- Battambang Youth Conference. Bahá’í International Community.
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- Brian Grim; Todd Johnson; Vegard Skirbekk; Gina Zurlo, eds. (2016). Yearbook of International Religious Demography 2016. Yearbook of International Religious Demography. 3. Brill. pp. 17–25. ISBN 9789004322141. doi:10.1163/9789004322141.
- Lược Sử Tôn Giáo Baha'i Tại Việt Nam: 50 Năm - Một Chặng Đường, 1954-2004 [The History of the Baha'i Faith in Vietnam: 50 Years - One Way, 1954-2004] (in Vietnamese). Baha'i Community of Vietnam. 2004. p. 76.
- Lê Lộc (1972). Baha'i Là Gì? [What Is Baha'i?] (in Vietnamese). National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Vietnam. p. 248.
- Baha'i Community of Vietnam (in Vietnamese)
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