The Bahá’ís of Tunisia are marking a century since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent an Egyptian Bahá’í named Sheikh Muḥyí’d-Dín Sabrí to Tunisia with a message of peace and unity.
In what turned out to be a pivotal moment in the history of the Bahá’ís of that country, Sheikh Muḥyí’d-Dín Sabrí encountered a group of young people in the main boulevard of Tunis who became inspired by the Bahá’í Faith’s vision of a peaceful world founded on spiritual principles, such as humanity’s essential oneness. Shortly thereafter, these youth fully embraced the Bahá’í teachings, dedicating their lives to serving their society.
One hundred years on, the Bahá’ís of Tunisia are pursuing that same vision, most recently holding a discussion panel on peaceful coexistence on that same boulevard where people go for friendly conversations with others just as people did then.
The gathering was held by the country’s Bahá’í Office of External Affairs, bringing together some 50 journalists, academics, religious leaders, and civil society representatives to explore in particular how societies can overcome violence.
Mohamed Ben Moussa of the Office of External Affairs explains that the issue of violence in contemporary society has to be addressed in many different contexts on the path of social progress, including in the context of the family, education, media, and sports.
“It’s important to identify the root causes of violence,” he says. Reflecting on this idea, Mr. Ben Moussa explains that confronting violence begins at the level of thought.
Drawing on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s writings, he states: “When a thought of war comes, we have to oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”
This topic in particular was of great interest among journalists at the gathering, who discussed the impact of media on peoples’ perceptions of their society. Rim Ben Khalife, a journalist at the gathering, spoke of the vital role of media in promoting a culture of coexistence and acceptance of differences. “The media, in a frenetic search for larger audiences and under financial pressures, can sometimes lose sight of its social and cultural role in increasing awareness and consciousness, and can itself sometimes become an inciter of violence.”
Ms. Ben Khalife spoke further about the desire of growing numbers of journalists to overcome these challenges and foster a media environment that inspires professionals in that field and society in general to become more accepting of differences.
Afifa Bousarirah bin Hussein, a member of the Bahá’í community of Tunisia, echoed this sentiment, stating: “In order to not only transcend our differences but to build a peaceful society, we have to devote ourselves to the principle of unity in diversity. This homeland shelters all.”
The gathering, attended by some 20 journalists, was covered in major newspapers in Tunisia and included a screening of two short films exploring the Bahá’í community’s contributions to greater coexistence in that country over the last 100 years.