Baha'i News -- At Picnic, Keeping the Faith

At Picnic, Keeping the Faith

Bahá'í voice belief that tolerance will triumph

By Indrani Sen

June 10, 2002

Members of the Bahá'í faith believe that all religions worship one common God. This God, they say, is bringing the world toward a universal civilization in which all races and faiths will be united in harmony. And all human beings, the Bahá'í contend, are essentially and fundamentally good.

It's been a tough year. But yesterday, at their annual picnic to celebrate what they have called Race Unity Day, Bahá'í from all over Long Island professed their optimism that tolerance will eventually reign on earth, despite the seeming prevalence today of terrorism, war, ethnic conflict and religious violence.

"These forces that try to keep us apart, ultimately, will not succeed," said Marc Hensen, 43, of Smithtown, a member of the Bahá'í Race Unity Committee of Long Island. "We are all members of one human family. There are going to be forces that work against this for reasons of prejudice, sectarianism and bigotry, but ultimately, those forces will fail. We will come together."

The Bahá'í faith is based on the writings of a 19th-century Persian nobleman, Bahá'u'lláh, who taught that humanity is a single race and that Moses, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, among others, were messengers from the same God. The Bahá'í International Community, based in Haifa, Israel, estimates that there are 5 million Bahá'í worldwide. There are 130,000 in the United States, and 300 to 330 on Long Island, said organizers of yesterday's picnic.

Black, white, Asian and Latino, old and young, the 60-odd Bahá'í and their guests sat in the shaded picnic area of Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon, munching on an array of international delicacies brought by the faithful and singing songs of peace accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

Here, togetherness seemed easy to achieve. But members acknowledged that the challenges they face in the outside world every day are not so simple.

Alexandra Hanson, 12, of Rockville Centre, described the lunchroom of her middle school. "People sit at different tables," she said. "Whites sit at one table, Hispanics sit at another, and blacks sit at another. It's very rare that they all sit together."

At the Bahá'í devotional meetings, feast days, and other events Alexandra attends with her family, however, "there are people from every place, instead of just one place," she said.

Committee member Debby McKeever, 56, of Smithtown attended a conference in Islandia on racism and said she was saddened but not surprised to hear that Long Island has been called the nation's most segregated suburb. Segregation is one of the things her group is trying to counteract, she said, by bringing people together at their international potluck feasts and candlelight vigils.

"We know we're small," she said. "Because of our numbers and the lack of money, obviously we're not able to do all that we'd like." But she said she takes comfort in her belief that the majority of Long Islanders, and of people everywhere, truly want unity and peace.

"Maybe that's why I don't get discouraged," she said.

©Copyright 2002, Newsday

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