Young religion lacks tradition but inspires devotion
Students who belong to the Baha’i Faith will be honoring the birth of their founding prophet, Baha’u’llah, on Saturday, Nov. 12, said Gwen Smith, a junior English major and secretary for the Baha’i Campus Association.
Baha’i students will gather at the Baha’i center in Lafayette to celebrate the prophet’s birthday with prayers and reflection, Smith said.
She said the celebration will have prayers and readings, but there are “not many traditional things in the Baha’i Faith,” which, among world religions, is relatively new.
Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah, a man born in Tehran, Persia in 1817, is a human manifestation of God who revealed the religion based on principles including the “equality of men and women,” the “elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty,” and the “elimination of prejudices of all kind,” Smith said.
Aaron Glasenapp, a sophomore math major, said he has been a Baha’i his whole life and joined the CU group, Baha’i Campus Association (BCA), as soon as he got to CU.
“I found the BCA pretty quickly here,” he said. “It’s a great way to connect with everyone.”
Glasenapp said the group recently did a service project helping people with mental disabilities. The group also works on many projects involving unity and diversity, which he said are key principles of the Baha’i Faith.
Smith said the Baha’i community at CU has about 15 members, and not all of them are Baha’i.
“The Baha’i community is extremely welcoming,” Smith said. “They were friends with someone in the group and now they’re part of us (although they still don’t consider themselves Baha’i.)”
Sophomore anthropology major Eleanor Johnson is one of the non-Baha’i students who participates in the group.
“I’m interested in the Baha’i Faith, and I figure the best way to learn about it is to be in the group,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she doesn’t claim any religious beliefs as of now. Her family sometimes went to a Unitarian Universalist church when she was growing up, and she occasionally attended mass with her Roman Catholic grandmother.
“I believe in something, but I’m not sure what it is,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she likes the Baha’is’ acceptance toward other religions, but isn’t sure if she wants to identify as Baha’i because she doesn’t know if she likes all of their specific beliefs.
“I like that Bahs’is don’t believe that just because someone isn’t Baha’i they’re going to hell.” Johnson said. “It still has a specific set of beliefs, and I’m not sure if I believe in that. I’m not sure that I believe God is this separate entity (that Baha’is believe in.)”
AN EVOLVING COSMOLOGY
The Baha’i faith is founded on the principle of the unity of humanity and believes that all world religions of the past carry the same basic moral principles, Smith said. Native religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were revealed in their own appointed times when humanity was ready for them, and the Baha’i Faith holds itself to be the next religion in that lineage. Revelation is to continue beyond the Baha’i Faith, as the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah predicted that the next prophet would come in “no less than 1,000 years” to bring the next revelation, Smith said.
“Baha’u’llah’s teachings are designed for a specific time because that’s what humans are ready to accept,” Smith said.
While the whole of humanity progress gradually through time, Baha’is believe that individual souls continue to progress after death, rejecting a concept of a permanent heaven or hell, Smith said.
“We believe the soul exists eternally,” Smith said. “The next realm is a spiritual realm, and the soul will be always progressing toward God.”
Bahai’s believe actions in this life determine where the soul will stand in the next life. While a person can control his or her progress in this world, progress in the next world is “at the mercy of God,” Smith said.
The religion has no clergy. Instead, it is lead by nine anonymously elected members in a “Spiritual Assembly” in every Baha’i community, Smith said. Baha’is meet in a community member’s home to read scripture and discuss issues. They do not have a church. But some communities have Baha’i centers, and each continent has a House of Worship, which Smith says is “the Baha’is gift to humanity.” This is where non-Bahai’s are invited to visit and pray. Smith said North America’s House of Worship is in Chicago.
A RELIGION OF INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT
Smith said Bahai’s have no baptism, and a person joins the religion by first coming to classes and reading writings to learn about the religion.
“One of the principles of the faith is individual investigation of the truth,” Smith said. “When you want to become a Baha’i you have a declaration card that says you believe Baha’u’llah is who he said he was.”
The card is only a formality so that the National Spiritual Assembly, a nine-member group of elected leaders in each country, can keep track of membership. However, “the real declaration is in your heart,” Smith said.
Baha’is over the age of 15 are obligated to pray and read Baha’u’llah’s writings every day, and should give a portion of expendable income to a fund that builds schools and “social development projects” around the world, Smith said.
Bahai’s also follow prayer cycles resembling the Muslim Call to Prayer five times a day. Baha’is can choose between saying one long prayer at least once in a 24-hour cycle, three medium prayers three times a day, and one short but powerful prayer between noon and sunset. Before praying, Baha’is are expected to wash their hands and face as part of the ritual, Smith said.
Some young Baha’is go on a “year of service,” traveling somewhere in the world to do humanitarian work, Smith said.
“I went to Zambia, in Africa, and worked at a Baha’i inspired school for girls,” Smith said.
She said many others go to the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel, where Baha’u’llah died and the Baha’is headquarters sit.
Baha’is are expected to refrain from drinking alcohol and doing any drugs, and must ask for their parent’s permission before getting married, Smith said.
Smith said getting permission from parents to get married can be difficult, and she has friends and family members whose parents initially refused to let them marry who they wanted. She said the rule is intended to foster family unity, just as the religion stands for unity in the world. She said both sets of parents must agree unanimously, even if one person’s parents are not Baha’i.
“Parents aren’t supposed to say no because of their own prejudices,” Smith said, “But if they do say no you have to abide by that.”
In some cases, when parents refuse to give permission to marry, the couple can wait for years hoping their parents will change their minds, Smith said. But usually, if their son or daughter seems happy, the parents will give permission.
“I just got engaged in September, and both our parents were OK with that,” Smith said.