Baha'i News -- Seeking unity

Seeking unity

Members of Baha'i faith are making a difference in Utah

By Lynn Arave
Deseret News staff writer

      Their numbers are few in Utah, and proselyting is not in their repertoire. Still, that hasn't stopped members of the Baha'i faith from making a difference in the local community — something that is part of their repertoire.
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Nahzaneen Aghdassi, 13, watches as Rahz Saeed, 14, lights a candle. Each May 22, Baha'is gather shortly after sunset to celebrate the coming of the Bab.

Johanna Workman, Deseret News
      Worldwide, there are about 5 million Baha'i members. In the Salt Lake area, there are some 250 members with a few dozen more scattered around the state.
      "It (the Baha'i faith) isn't too well known," said Glenn Booman, a Salt Lake Baha'i.
      The central theme of the Baha'i faith (pronounced "buh hi") is that humanity is a single race and the time has come for its unification into one global society. The goal of the Baha'i faithful is to make that unity possible.
      During the 2002 Winter Olympics, that goal was well represented by Jan Saeed, chairwoman of the interfaith roundtable group that was a unifying presence during the Games for both athletes and spectators — especially the world travellers seeking a little bit "home-away-from-home" through their faith communities.
      Saeed, a devout Baha'i helped pull together representatives from numerous faiths and congregations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to provide a diverse, but balanced spiritual base for the visitors.
      Baha'is do not see themselves as Christian, Muslim or any other traditional faith. They instead draw on the leaders of many faiths including Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus Christ and Muhammad.
      "It's (the Baha'i faith) the most recent of the revelations from God," says Wiley Rinaldi, another Salt Lake Baha'i. "All religions are really part of one ongoing process."
      The faith traces its roots to a young man known as the Bab (pronounced "Bob") who announced the imminent appearance of the messenger of God on May 23, 1844, in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran). That date is recognized as the "Declaration of the Bab."
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Katherin Rinaldi prays at the Baha'i house in Salt Lake City. Followers met to commemorate the coming of the Bab.

Johanna Workman, Deseret News
      Bab means "the gate," and his quest to prepare man for the messenger's advent led to swift persecution, imprisonment and finally death on July 9, 1850. Some 20,000 followers in Persia were also killed. The Bab's remains are entombed at Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel.
      Each May 22, Baha'is gather shortly after sunset to celebrate the coming of the Bab.
      Baha'u'llah followed the Bab as God's messenger of humanity in the mid-19th century. In 1863, he declared he was the one promised to come in all religions. Thousands supported his cause, but he, too, was banished to Iraq. His son, Abdu'l-Baha'i took over leadership of the Baha'i faith, and when he died in 1921, a grandson, Shoghi Effendi, took over. Effendi left no heir at his passing in 1957, and leadership fell to the spiritually guided men and women elected by the faithful to carry on the Baha'i work.
      Booman said the faith places much emphasis on overcoming racial prejudice.
      The Baha'i church in America has issued "The Vision of Race Unity," challenging the country to address racism — what it considers the country's largest issue. The statement reads:
      "In no other country is the promise of organic unity more immediately demonstrable than in the United States, because it is a microcosm of the diverse populations of the earth. Yet this promise remains largely unrealized because of the endemic racism across the nation. The economic, social and spiritual development of this nation depends on the individuals comprising it to have a change of heart."
      The Baha'i faith recently issued "The Destiny of America and the Promise of World Peace." The one-page document asserts that America will evolve through tests and trials to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership and a champion of justice and unity among all nations and peoples.
      "May this American Democracy be the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the unity of mankind. May it be the first to unfurl the standard of the most great peace," it states.
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Organizer Rebecca Hendryx, right, and Mojdeh Ebrahimi speak at the observance ceremony of the Bab at the Baha'i house in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Johanna Workman, Deseret News
      While the Baha'i faith draws from the teachings of great religious leaders, it has no official view concerning LDS leaders, including founder Joseph Smith. There is, however, at least one Internet site that attempts to draw some correlations between Baha'i and LDS beliefs.
      "We have no official position on Joseph Smith," said Booman. "But there is a commonality of moral values between the Baha'is and the Mormons . . . Our relations with the LDS Church have been tremendous."
      The Utah Baha'is have spiritual assemblies in Salt Lake City, Sandy, West Jordan and Ogden.
      Booman describes the Baha'i faith as "the second most widespread religion in the world" but notes its growth comes from members sharing information, not organized missionary work.
      Members of local assemblies meet once a year and elect leaders by secret ballot. National delegates are also elected annually.
      Growth in Utah isn't spectacular, Booman said, but it is comparable to other states.
      Many of the refugees from Iran, where the faith began, who have come to Salt Lake City in recent years are members of the Baha'i faith. There are also some Tongan Baha'is in Salt Lake City.
      Booman said the faith follows a 19-month calendar and holds a worship service at the beginning of each month.
      For more information on the Baha'i faith, go to www.bahai.org, or call 582-2026 in Salt Lake City, or 1-800-228-6483.


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