Bahai News - Small, close-knit Princeton Baha'i community provides social support
Small, close-knit Princeton Baha'i community provides social
Updated 12:00 PM ET March 6, 2000
By Emma Soichet
The Daily Princetonian
(U-WIRE) PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton sophomore Amanda Henck spent 10
years learning about the Christian gospels at her Lutheran school in
Henck -- who, other than her siblings, was the only Baha'i at the
predominantly Christian school -- said the school's environment was
tolerant but not free from religious hostility.
"It was a very international school, but the most vocal people were the
group of Pentecostal Christian youth," she explained. "Basically they told
me I was damned and was going to hell. But we believed that we believe in
the same God as the Jews and Christians."
Not until her senior year -- when she and friends congregated to conduct
an interfaith religious service at the school -- was Henck able to bring
her beliefs as a Baha'i into the decidedly Christian religious environment
in which she was educated.
"For this interfaith service we got people from smaller religions to
speak about how religion had affected them," she said. After several
religion teachers emotionally broke into tears at the service, Henck said
she discovered that they had attempted a similar service 10 years before,
but had been told by the school it was inappropriate.
Senior David Nawi was also the only Baha'i at his high school in
Norwood, N.J., where he said he depended largely on the cluster of Baha'i
in his local community for support.
"By the time you get to college, you have had to explain yourself and
your religion over and over again, and in having done so are more
comfortable with what you believe," said Nawi, who is now president of
Princeton's Baha'i Club. "But it's difficult in high school because you
are much more reliant on peer criticism and peer support -- and when you
have a 'weird' religion, it's harder."
With her past experience, coming to Princeton's small but close-knit
Baha'i community has proved a welcome change for Henck.
"I never had a community growing up with a lot of Baha'i youth," Henck
said. "It was great having this instant group of friends."
Princeton's Baha'i Club numbers eight undergraduate and graduate
students -- a disproportionately large number considering that just
120,000 of 250 million US residents are Baha'i -- and relies, in part, on
the Baha'i community outside Fitz Randolph gate.
On campus, the club primarily brings together Baha'i students for
social events and meetings. During the religion's yearly 19-day fast, the
club gathers each morning before sunrise in different members' rooms --
from the Graduate College to Butler College -- to break fast.
In addition, every 19 days the community holds an event called the
Feast to signify the start of a new month of its calendar. Over a meal,
the Baha'i socialize, handle administrative tasks and pray.
Once per month, club members also join Baha'i youth from across New
Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware for a social gathering at Mona Mahboubi
'01's house outside Philadelphia. Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware for a
social gathering at Mona Mahboubi '01's house outside Philadelphia.
"It's a really different environment from Princeton," Henck said of
the gatherings with youth from outside Princeton. "People are psyched to
have someone they don't know sit down next to them."
The Baha'i faith claims to be the world's newest religion, arising from
Islam in 1844, and currently claims to have about six million adherents
worldwide. The faith rests on tenets and rules set up by its founder,
Baha'u'llah -- Persian for the 'Gate of God' -- who, after proclaiming
himself a prophet in 1863, was persecuted and exiled by Muslims as a threat
to orthodox Islam.
The religion's inclusive explanation of the succession of prophets sets
it apart from other faiths. Those who embrace the Baha'i faith believe
that God has revealed himself and will continue to speak through a line of
messengers -- of which Baha'u'llah was the last, following Abraham, Moses,
Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed and the Bab.
Last year, members of the Baha'i Club presented a statement and petition
to President Shapiro condemning the persecution of the Baha'i in Iranian
higher education -- where many Baha'i have been prohibited from attending
university, according to Nawi.
"We asked him to write a letter to the
Iranian Ministers of Education and to sign a petition," Mahboubi said, "but
he said no because since he represents the University, he could never sign
something as an individual."
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