User:Dragfyre/Sandbox/Bahá'í Faith in Cambodia

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A sign in Battambang, in an area with a high concentration of Bahá'í followers.

The introduction of the Bahá'í Faith in Cambodia first occurred in the 1920s, not long after French Indochina was mentioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá as a potential destination for Bahá'í teachers.[1] After a sporadic visits from travelling teachers throughout the first half of the 20th century, the first Bahá'i group in Cambodia was established in Phnom Penh in 1956, with the arrival of Bahá'í teachers from India.[2][3] During the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, all effective contact with the Cambodian Bahá'ís was lost.[4] The efforts of Bahá'í teachers working in Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand led to the establishment of Local Spiritual Assemblies among the survivors of the Khmer Rouge's campaign of genocide.[4] The Bahá'í community has recently seen a return to growth, especially in the city of Battambang; in 2009, the city was host to one of 41 Bahá'í regional conferences, and in 2012, the Universal House of Justice announced plans to establish a local Bahá'í House of Worship there.[5][6] According to a 2010 estimate, Cambodia is home to approximately 10,000 Bahá'ís.[7]

‘Abdu'l-Bahá and the Tablets of the Divine Plan[edit]

The earliest association of Cambodia 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.[1] The specific tablet in question was written on April 11, 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 April 4, 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on December 12, 1919.[8]

"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."[1]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had at one time seriously considered a voyage to India and Indochina, as reported by Shoghi Effendi in 1919,[9] although whether such a voyage would have included the territory that would become known as Cambodia is not known.

The first Bahá'í to visit Cambodia 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 'Abdu'l-Bahá's request.[10] 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 Phnom Penh.[11] Four years later in May 1924, prominent Bahá'í travelling teacher Martha Root paid a brief visit to the country.[12] After these early visits, there was a long period of quiescence that would end with the inception of the global Ten Year Crusade in 1953.

Establishment and early growth[edit]

At the start of the Ten Year Crusade, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, assigned to the Bahá'ís of India, Pakistan and Burma the responsibility to consolidate the nascent Bahá'í community of Indochina.[13] The first person to answer this call was Shirin Fozdar, an Indian Bahá'í who had been a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of India, who departed for Indochina in February 1954. She arrived first in Saigon, continuing on to Phnom Penh soon afterwards for a short visit to that city. There she met with the royal family, including King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, who helped her arrange public lectures to promote the Bahá'í religion, and presented her with "The Order of Merit" and a gold medal for her "distinguished services to the Cause of Humanity."[14][15][16]

Several more Bahá'ís arrived in Cambodia in the following years, including Arden Thur and K. D. Chaudhuri, who both settled in Phnom Penh in 1956. Chaudhuri began hosting weekly meetings in his home soon after arriving.[2][3] In 1958, a Mr. and Mrs. Shia, among the first Bahá'ís in Macau, joined them. During that year, they recorded the first Bahá'í enrollment in the country.[17] Cambodian believers were present at the 1958 International Conference in Singapore, held in September of that year.[18] By April 1959, the Bahá'í community in Phnom Penh had grown large enough to establish its first Local Spiritual Assembly during the Ridván Festival.[19]

Tuskegee Airman Dempsey Morgan and his wife Adrienne came to Cambodia in July 1961, after spending time in Saigon and Bangkok. They were forced to return to Vietnam in November of that year due to mounting conflicts between Cambodia and Thailand, but they were able to return later, in July 1963.[20] Hand of the Cause Amatu'l-Bahá Ruhíyyíh Khánum visited Phnom Penh during her journey through Southeast Asia in September–October 1961.[21]

By the conclusion of the Ten Year Crusade in 1963, Bahá'ís were known to reside in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, with a functioning Local Spiritual Assembly present in Phnom Penh.[22] A report from June 1964 counted over 300 Bahá'ís throughout the country, most of whom were Khmer.[23] Meanwhile, the Bahá'ís in neighbouring South Vietnam, where the religion had been able to spread rapidly, had been able to elect their National Spiritual Assembly, headquartered in Saigon. This new institution was given jurisdiction over the Bahá'ís of Cambodia by the Universal House of Justice, along with a number of tasks to fulfill in the years that followed: the establishment of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Cambodia; the acquisition of a national administrative centre and of a site for a House of Worship in or near Phnom Penh.[24]

Among these goals, at least one was met: in June 1965, the American periodical Bahá'í News published a photograph of the "first Bahá'í Center of Cambodia" in Phnom Penh, also noting that the Royal Government had "officially recognized the Faith as well as this Center".[25] The Universal House of Justice remarked on the Government's recognition in its 1965 Ridván message, stating that Cambodia would be "destined to have its own National Spiritual Assembly" by the end of the Nine Year Plan (1973).[26]

In its 1966 Ridván message, the Universal House of Justice called for the establishment of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Cambodia during the Festival of Ridván in 1967. Less than a year later, however, the Universal House of Justice reported that the situation had changed—possibly referring to the growing political instability within the country[27]—and that the formation of the Cambodian National Spiritual Assembly would have to be postponed.[28]

Khmer Rouge years and humanitarian crisis[edit]

From 1967 through 1975, Cambodia became more and more unstable politically, as it became embroiled in the war in neighboring Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge began to rise in prominence as an insurgent group. Then-Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a 1970 coup, and Vietnamese and American forces were increasingly drawn into a deepening conflict with the Khmer Rouge and its supporters, which led to a growing humanitarian crisis. After five years of savage fighting, during which around 200,000 to 300,000 Cambodians died,[29] the Khmer Rouge defeated government forces and proclaimed the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea. During the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian genocide took place, resulting in the deaths of between one to three million people, or around 25% of the country's population.[29]

During the Khmer Rouge years, only a few thousand Cambodians were able to escape Cambodia and take refuge in Thailand. In December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, ousting the Khmer Rouge and establishing a pro-Vietnamese government. With this, the floodgates were opened and Cambodians attempted to cross into Thailand in large numbers.[30] By the end of 1979, Vietnamese offensives and the threat of an approaching famine had forced 750,000 people to the Thai border, where most remained in makeshift camps and holding centers.[31] Many of the Cambodians in the refugee and border camps remained there for years, fearful of returning to their country and desiring resettlement abroad. A total of 260,000 Cambodians would be resettled between 1975 and 1997, mostly in the United States and France.[32]

Bahá'í refugees[edit]

Bahá'í activity in Cambodia is believed to have ceased with the establishment of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975. Initial reports received by the Universal House of Justice showed continued activity for a time, but soon afterwards contact with the Cambodian Bahá'ís was lost.[33][34] Following the fall of the regime, Bahá'ís in Thailand and other countries reached out to the Cambodian refugees.[35] Kenneth Morais, an American Bahá'í and veteran of the Vietnam War, was particularly active in helping Cambodian refugees. He was reportedly "so moved" by the humanitarian crisis in Cambodia that he quit his job in Korea, moving to Thailand to help provide humanitarian assistance. During this time, he also assisted with efforts to translate the Bahá'í Writings into the Khmer language. His services were memorialized by the Universal House of Justice after His death in 1981.[36] Through the efforts of Morais and others, Local Spiritual Assemblies were eventually established within the refugee camps.[37]

Many Cambodian Bahá'ís joined with the flood of refugees that dispersed around the world following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, resettling in places such as Canada and the United States, where special efforts were made to contact them and incorporate them into local Bahá'í community life.[38]

Reconstruction and modern community[edit]

The efforts of the Bahá'ís of Thailand helped contribute to the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Cambodia during the Ridván Festival in 1994. Amatu'l-Bahá Ruhíyyíh Khánum was present for the event, which took place in Phnom Penh on April 23-4. [39][40] A centre was also established on Phnom Penh's 51 St.[40]

"The friends in Thailand may draw courage from the success of their efforts to help re-establish the Bahá'í community of Cambodia and resolve to turn with the same vigour and determination to the tasks of expansion and consolidation in their homeland. There they have proved themselves capable of teaching among many strata of society and of bringing into their ranks people of diverse cultural and educational backgrounds. Setting aside all hesitation, and with unity of thought and purpose, let them dedicate the coming four years to the unflagging pursuit of a clearly defined course of action traced for them by their institutions."[41]

"In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, where possibilities for growth exist in varying degrees, the sorely tried, steadfast and devoted friends need to demonstrate to the authorities and leaders of their countries that Bahá'ís, obedient and loyal to their governments, desire but the prosperity of their nations and the upliftment of their peoples. Through the spiritual enrichment of families in Vietnam, through the programme of deepening in small groups now initiated in Laos, and through systematic plans for expansion and consolidation and for social and economic development in Cambodia, where the friends enjoy greater freedom, each of these communities can achieve substantial progress within the parameters defined for them by prevailing social and political conditions."[41]

"Children and youth came in record numbers to a Cambodian Baha'i festival which attracted high praise from government officials. 'In the previous year only 400 children attended the festival but this year we decided to invite 300 more,' said Mr. Kanna Baran, one of the organizers of the Festival held on 30 March 2003 at the Psar Leur Baha'i Center in Battambang. 'Eventually, however, some 1050 arrived,' he said."[42]

On January 31st, 2009, Cambodian Bahá'ís hosted a major regional conference in Battambang, attended by over 2,000 of their co-religionists from Laos and Thailand, and Vietnam.[43][44]

On April 21st, 2012, the Universal House of Justice announced plans to erect a Baha'i House of Worship in Battambang.[45]

In 2013, two Bahá'í youth conferences were held in Cambodia: one in Battambang from 10-12 September, which gathered 500 people including youth from Vietnam, and one in Kampong Thom from 20-22 October, which gathered 900 people including youth from Thailand.[46][47]

Contribution to development[edit]

As their community grew, the Bahá'ís of Cambodia began to promote interreligious harmony through events such as World Religion Day. A 1966 report, for example, describes a celebration of World Religion Day held in the national Bahá'í Center in Phnom Penh, featuring speakers representing the Bahá'í, Buddhist, and Roman Catholic religions.[48]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c `Abdu'l-Bahá (1991) [1916-17]. Tablets of the Divine Plan (Paperback ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 40–42. ISBN 0877432333. 
  2. ^ a b Messages of Shoghi Effendi to the Indian Subcontinent: 1923-1957. Bahá'í Publishing Trust of India. 1995. p. 403. ISBN 85-85091-87-0 Check |isbn= value: checksum (help). 
  3. ^ a b "Teaching and Assembly Development Conference for Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand". Baha'i News Letter. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India, Pakistan & Burma (85). 1956-12.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ a b Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "hassrfap" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Abbas, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1919). Tablets, Instructions and Words of Explanation.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  9. ^ Rabbani, R. (1969). The Priceless Pearl (Hardcover ed.). London, UK: Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 2000. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-870989-91-6. 
  10. ^ The Universal House of Justice (1978). The Bahá'í World. 16. Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre. p. 536-537. ISBN 0853980756. 
  11. ^ "Hippolyte Dreyfus, apôtre d'Abdu'l-Bahá". National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of France. 2000-09. Retrieved 2012-09-24.  Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ M. R. Garis (1983). Martha Root: Lioness at the threshold. Baha'i Publishing Trust. ISBN 0877431841. 
  13. ^ Messages of Shoghi Effendi to the Indian Subcontinent: 1923-1957. Bahá'í Publishing Trust of India. 1995. p. 355. ISBN 85-85091-87-0 Check |isbn= value: checksum (help). 
  14. ^ Sarwal, Anil (1989). "Shirin Fozdar: An Outstanding Pioneer". Bahá'í Digest. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  15. ^ Shirin Fozdar (1954-04-04). "My Trip To CAMBODIA". Jam-e-Jamshed. 
  16. ^ "King's Order of Merit to a Baha'i Lady". Baha'i News Bulletin. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of India, Pakistan & Burma (70). 1954-07.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  17. ^
  18. ^ p.332
  19. ^ Baha'i News, Aug 1959, p. 17
  20. ^ Etter-Lewis, Gwendolyn (2006). Lights of the Spirit: Historical Portraits of Black Bahá'ís in North America 1898-2000. Baha'i Publishing Trust. pp. 113–119. ISBN 1-931847-26-6.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  21. ^ p.379
  22. ^
  23. ^ Baha'i News, Jun 1964, p.9
  24. ^ Baha'i News, Aug 1964, p. 4
  25. ^ Baha'i News, June 1965, p. 10
  26. ^
  27. ^ "...[G]rowing political instability and the devastation of war and civil war may have convinced the Baha’is to delay the establishment of a separate administration." The Universal House of Justice and the Baha’i World, Peter Smith. p.60.
  28. ^ Wellspring of Guidance, p.98. Cablegram, September 1, 1966: "Changed situation Cambodia requires postponement formation national assembly that country."
  29. ^ a b Heuveline, Patrick (2001). "The Demographic Analysis of Mortality in Cambodia." In Forced Migration and Mortality, eds. Holly E. Reed and Charles B. Keely. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  30. ^ Thompson, Larry Clinton "Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982 Jefferson, NC: MacFarland Publishing Company, 2010, pp. 177-178
  31. ^ Thompson, Larry Clinton "Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus, 1975-1982 Jefferson, NC: MacFarland Publishing Company, 2010, pp. 200
  32. ^ Robinson, W. Courtland, Terms of Refuge London: Zed Books Ltd., 1998, Appendix 2
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Baha'i activities have been suspended and there is no contact with the friends in Kampuchea. Refugees from that country, however, are being approached by the Baha'is in Thailand and other countries and are given Baha'i literature in Khmer." p.96
  36. ^ In Memoriam, published in Bahá'í World, Vol. 18 (1979-1983), pages 610-825
  37. ^ "Inspiring, too, was the demonstration of the capacity for renewal that is inherent in the Cause and which emerged in Cambodian refugee camps along the Thailand border. Through the heroic efforts of a handful of teachers, Local Spiritual Assemblies were established among people who had survived a campaign of genocide almost beyond the capacity of the human heart to contemplate, who had lost countless loved ones as well as everything they possessed in the way of material security, but in whom still burned the longing of the human soul for spiritual truth." Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p.106
  38. ^ p.131
  39. ^
  40. ^ a b
  41. ^ a b
  42. ^ Festival attracts crowds of children
  43. ^
  44. ^ Cambodia hosts 2,100 Baha’is at historic gathering
  45. ^ Plans to build new Houses of Worship announced. Baha'i World News Service.
  46. ^ Battambang Youth Conference. Bahá’í International Community.
  47. ^ Kampong Thom Youth Conference. Bahá’í International Community.
  48. ^ Baha'i News, April 1966, p. 11

External links[edit]