The Bahá'í Faith in Finland began with contact between traveling Scandinavians with early Persian believers of the Bahá'í Faith in the mid-to-late 19th century while Finland was politically part of the Russian Empire. In the early 20th century `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, requested Bahá'ís from the United States and Canada consider Scandinavian countries and Russia among the places Bahá'ís should pioneer to. Later, after Finland gained independence from Russia, Bahá'ís began to visit the Scandinavian area in the 1920s. Following a period of more Bahá'í pioneers coming to the country, Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assemblies spread across Finland while the national community eventually formed a Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly in 1962. Some estimates in 2003 of the Bahá'ís in Finland number about 500 Bahá'ís including a winner of human rights award and a television personality.
The first mentions of the religion among Scandinavians happened in the era when Finland was politically united with the Russian Empire; the first mention of the Báb, who Bahá'ís view as the herald to the founder of the religion, Bahá'u'lláh, was published in accounts of Persian travels by Scandinavians in 1869, and the first mentions of Bahá'u'lláh were made in 1896.
`Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of the Divine Plan
`Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, wrote a series of letters, or tablets, to the followers of the religion in the United States in 1916-1917; these letters were compiled together in the book titled Tablets of the Divine Plan. The seventh of the tablets was the first to mention several countries in Europe including beyond where `Abdu'l-Bahá had visited in 1911-12. Written in April 11, 1916, it was delayed in being presented in the United States until 1919 — after the end of the First World War and the Spanish flu. The seventh tablet was translated and presented by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab on April 4, 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on December 12, 1919.
"In brief, this world-consuming war has set such a conflagration to the hearts that no word can describe it. In all the countries of the world the longing for universal peace is taking possession of the consciousness of men. There is not a soul who does not yearn for concord and peace. A most wonderful state of receptivity is being realized.… Therefore, O ye believers of God! Show ye an effort and after this war spread ye the synopsis of the divine teachings in the British Isles, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, Rumania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, San Marino, Balearic Isles, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, Malta, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands, Hebrides and Orkney Islands."
Shoghi Effendi, then head of the religion, visited Finland in 1926. Josephine Kruka, Knight of Bahá'u'lláh, entered Finland and later, in 1938, Pastor Väinö Rissanen became the first Bahá’í of Finland and the first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly of Finland was formed in Helsinki in 1953.
In 1957 Finland, Denmark, and other Scandinavian countries formed a regional Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly. In 1959, Brigitte Hasselblatt moved to Turku from the Shetland Islands and married Milton Lundblade. After living some years there she moved to the United States but returned again to Finland to Salo in the summer of 1984 (in the mean time their first son Laurence Lundblade would later be one of the initial authors of the e-mail client Pine.) For 1957 through 1962 Finland Bahá'í institutions were part of the regional National Spiritual Assembly of Scandinavia and Finland. In 1960, Hand of the Cause Adelbert Muhlschlegel visited in Finland. In 1962 Sweden, Finland, and Norway each elected their own National Spiritual Assembly. The members of the National Assembly who participated in the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 were Quentin Hamilton Farrand, Godratollah Bidardel, Jeanne Welsh Farrand, Greta Sofia Jankko-Badeau, Rafael Garcia, Aminda Josephine Kruka, Elsa Maria Cubilla de Garcia, Mozaffar Namdar, Marco Antonio Martinez S., Gudrun Ofstegaard, Marcia Isabel Matamoros, Maija-Liisa Ravola, Mauricio Hernandez Munoz, Sirkka Inkeri Salmi, Josd Marfa Padilla, Mailis Kaarino Talvenheimo, Gabriel Torres S., and Habibu'llah Zabihian. By the end of 1963 there were local spiritual assemblies in Helsinki, Lahti, Tampere, Turku, and groups of Bahá'ís in Kaaresuvanto and isolated Bahá'ís in Hämeenlinna, Kilo, Koski, Rovaniemi, and Vartsalo.
Following this period of largely internal development, the Bahá'í Faith in Finland began to be involved in regional developments. In the 1970s and 80s Finland Bahá'ís helped translate Bahá'í literature into Estonian, Lithuanian and Latvian. Finland was among the national communities that responded to a survey on status of women in the community which was tabulated and summarized for the 1974 Statement to the 25th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In the mid 1960s in Alaska Angeline Giachery conceived of a plan to spread the religion across the circumpolar area and the idea received attention at the Intercontinental Conference in Helsinki in 1976 which was also attended by Hand of the Cause Ugo Giachery. Roma Raciulyte became a Bahá'í during a trip to Finland in the 1970s and is generally considered the first Lithuanian Bahá'í in recent times.
Diverse involvements of the modern community
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. Since the 1980s the Bahá'ís of Finland have greatly diversified their endeavours. In the late 1980s a group of Bahá'í musicians based in Naantali composed an album, Pohjantähti (North Star) simultaneously in Finnish and English out of a quest to be culturally creative instead of merely translating foreign interpretations of the religion into song. In 1990 Alaskan Bahá'ís visited Finland as part of a circumpolar campaign to spread the religion especially among indigenous peoples. In January 1998 Dr. Sylvia I. Karlsson lead the Finnish Bahá'í community national convention on a full day seminar on ethical dimensions of Agenda 21 and sustainable development by giving the key note talk as well as preparing parallel workshops on various chapters of Agenda 21 and summarizing the discussions. The position of the Bahá'í Faith in Finland reached national acknowledgment when in 1999 the educational authorities in Finland included courses mentioning the Bahá'í Faith in the curricula of primary and secondary schools. This relationship between national and civic events continued when in 2002 the Bahá'í community of Lappeenranta registered their regularly held public meeting for World Religion Day. This discussion was on the subject of world peace with participants of local Christian, civic and Muslim groups building on a decade of efforts. In 2003, Iranian Bahá'í émigré Melody Karvonen was awarded the 2003 Human Rights Worker of the Year by the Finnish League for Human Rights. The same year the government of Finland co-sponsored a resolution of the United Nations which was passed by a vote of 73 to 49, with 50 abstentions, by the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly expressing "serious concern" over continuing violations of human rights in Iran—and mentions specifically "continuing discrimination" against Bahá'ís and other religious minorities. (see Persecution of Bahá'ís.) Most recently, in 2003, the play The Seven Valleys was premiered at the Naantali Theatre and reviewed by Pentti Narvanen of the newspaper Rannikkoseudun sanomat. Based on the work of the same name by Bahá'u'lláh, the play has since been shown at other venues including in Lappeenranta. Aram Aflatuni is a Bahá'í TV talk show host of Härkää Sarvista, or "Grab the Bull by the Horns", which aired in Finland in 2007 with a 20 percent of the TV audience for its time period with a format that emphasizes using a panel of experts and cooperative discussions to try to solve it. Hartmut Grossmann was born in Germany, was a lecturer and head of the German Department of the Translators' Training Institute at University of Joensuu in Savonlinna. He has served on the National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá'ís of Germany and of Finland and then ultimately on the Universal House of Justice. After retiring in 2008, he and his wife, Ursula, moved back to Finland.
While no statistics on the numbers of Baha'is have been released, the Finland Census reports about 0.9 - 1.2% of the population as religious but non-Christian. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland estimates the 2004 population of Bahá'ís to be approximately 500. Operation World, another Christian organization, estimated 0.01%, also about 500 Bahá'ís, in 2003.
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