Sunday, 15 January 2012


Today (the third Sunday in January) is World Religion Day.

Established in 1950 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, World Religion Day has been increasingly taken up in other countries - at first by national and local Bahá'í communities in different parts of the world, although it has also become an event widely recognised and keenly celebrated by people of other faiths too. Its purpose is:

  • to bring together people of various faith communities
  • to celebrate the unifying power of religion
  • to promote inter faith understanding
  • to encourage religious leaders and adherents to acknowledge the similarities between their faiths and work together for the common good.

In the United States, 16 January is National Religious Freedom Day, officially proclaimed each year by an annual statement by the President of the United States. I can't say whether it's more than just a happy accident that these two dates are observed so close together, but hopefully, there's a mutual reinforcement of the positive message of the unifying power of religion, that it can illumine hearts and minds with its own positive light.

There's no celebration of World Religion Day in Leicester today - again. I'm sorry to be saying that for the third year in a row. You'd think it'd be just the kind of thing Leicester would take to, wouldn't you, faithful reader? Bit of a no-brainer really - like other anniversaries, events and occasions that we could celebrate each year (but don't) such as Golden Rule DayWeek of Prayer for World Peace or any number of United Nations international days and observances. Even World Interfaith Harmony Week, established in 2010 by King Abdullah of Jordan.

We do manage to get it together for Inter Faith Week (est. 2009) and for Holocaust Memorial Day (est. 2001) of course, which shows what can be done when we put our collective shoulder to the wheel. At the age of 62, World Religion Day is the grand dame of such events. You'd think it would have had sufficient time to establish itself. How come it's so neglected?

I think that, in common with other occasions such as Golden Rule Day (for example) no one feels ownership of World Religion Day. Even though it was established by Bahá'ís, still it hasn't really gained a foothold in the Bahá'í community in the UK. Firstly, it was set up by Bahá'ís in the US and may be seen as more of an American thing. Secondly, perhaps its age is working against it. Maybe it's been around so long that it seems a bit tired now - as if it were trying to fight a battle that's now been won. After all, back in 1950 when World Religion Day was established, inter faith dialogue, encounter and relations was neither  the everyday experience or the major concern that it is today.Thirdly -and, to my understanding, most importantly - it may be considered an extraneous bolt-on, hitching a ride on the Bahá'í calendar without properly being part of it. Bahá'ís are more essentially committed to the goals of World Religion Day than any other faith community (obviously, since they invented it) but maybe, where this occasion has been successful, Bahá'ís may have done too good a job in selling it to other agencies, communities, group or organisations to see it as still being something for which they hold greatest responsibility.

Take Holocaust Memorial Day, for example. While that has deliberately expanded its appeal in relation to other communities, faith-based or not, still it is the Jewish community that drives it forward more than any other. 

Considering how exhausted I felt at the end of Inter Faith Week last year and how long it took me to get over it, maybe I shouldn't be thinking of another event that I can throw myself into, so soon.  All the same: someone or other should get their act together for this event when it rolls round again next year. It's an open goal, isn't it? Custom-made for an organisation like ours, you'd think. I'm sure we could reap considerable reward without very much effort.

In the meantime, I wouldn't World Religion Day 2012  to pass unmarked, so here it is in the blog – again (although admittedly it’s a poor show that it should be a case of all words, no action – again).

There’s a good collection of tweets about World Religion Day, many of which show what's happening in other places around the world. Just search #worldreligionday. There's some very good stuff out there, including information about ways of celebrating World Religion Day that could easily be adapted here.

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