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Dead UK scientist opens window on Baha'i faith

By Gideon Long

LONDON, Sept. 2 With its emphasis on the unity of science and religion and its staunch support of the United Nations, the Baha'i faith fitted British weapons expert David Kelly like a glove.
Kelly, whose suicide in July has thrown Prime Minister Tony Blair's government into crisis, converted to Baha'i in 1999 while in the United States.

       ''It really was a spiritual revelation for him,'' his widow Janice recalled this week at an inquiry into Kelly's death. ''He...was perhaps becoming gentler in his ways.''

       Baha'i describes itself as the youngest of the world's independent religions. Its world headquarters are on Mount Carmel in the city of Haifa, northern Israel.

       Founded in the late 19th century by a Persian nobleman, its central tenet is that humans should work for a global society.

       The world's five million Baha'is regard the faith's founder, Baha'u'llah, as the most recent in a line of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mohammad.

       The faith calls for an end to prejudice, full sexual equality and the eradication of extremes of poverty and wealth.

       Baha'i teaching condemns suicide but stops short of castigating those who, like Kelly, take their own lives.

       ''The act of suicide is strongly condemned but we in Baha'i do not take a condemnatory attitude to those that do it,'' Barney Leith, head of the Baha'i faith in Britain, told Reuters ahead of testifying to the inquiry on Tuesday.

       ''It's not for us to judge,'' said Leith, who knew Kelly personally. ''We would have great sympathy if people are overwhelmed by some pressure. As Baha'i our attitude would be one of great sympathy and to pray for the progress of his soul.''

       Leith said the scientist had enjoyed praying with fellow Baha'i in his Oxfordshire home and even sent an e-mail to them on the day he took his ''fateful'' walk and ended up dead.

       Baha'i would have appealed to Kelly's keen scientific mind.

       ''Religion and science are the two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights,'' Abdul Baha, Baha'u'llah's son and successor wrote in a key text.

       ''Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, while on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.''

       As a former UN weapons inspector, Kelly would also have appreciated Baha'i's support for the United Nations.

       ''Believing that the United Nations represents a major effort in the unification of the planet, Baha'is have supported its work in every possible way,'' according to the group's official website

©Copyright 2003, Reuters/MSNBC

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