Bahai News - Growing faith breathes life

| March 19, 1999 | Vol. 125 | Number 141 |

Growing faith breathes life

BY ANDREA BOYLE

Staff Reporter

On March 21, New Year's Eve will be more somber and thought-provoking than ever. But for members of the Bahá'í faith, they wouldn't have it any other way.

Since March 2, Bahá'í's have only been able to satisfy their hunger and thirst in the hours between sunset and dawn.

Approximately 5 million Bahá'í live in 235 countries prepare to celebrate the arrival of the New Year at the spring equinox four days from now.

At the heart of the faith's belief lies the idea that humanity is united and shares a common destiny.

In the words of the prophet-founder, Bahá'u'lláh, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."

Azar Majidi, the faculty advisor of the campus Bahá'í club, says Bahá'ís strongly promote unity and the abolishment of all forms of prejudice.

Unlike some religions, which attempt to preserve the social ideals of the past, Bahá'í beliefs promote major social changes, a practice which began upon the faith's origination in the 19th century.

These social issues include a common world government, racial unity, gender equality and world peace. Also, unlike many other religions, Bahá'ís embrace the findings of science.

Junior Amanda Murphy says she is passionate about being Bahá'í because she enjoys the unity and diversity of the faith.

The Bahá'í faith maintains stringent rules for its followers.

All Bahá'ís are required to abstain from alcohol, drugs and premarital sex.

Bahá'í's must also participate in the nine holy days of the year as set forth by their religion.

In addition, they must fast 19 days a year, pray every day, and attempt to make a pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel, where the faith was founded, to visit the Bahá'í World Center, and a shrine to one of the religion's prophets and the houses in which the religion's founder lived.

Typically followers of the Bahá'í faith, unlike some followers of many other religions, strictly adhere to these regulations, even though there exists no policing of the rules.

As Majidi explains, "The vast majority of teachings are for personal spiritual growth."

A Bahá'í makes decisions for himself or herself as to whether or not to abide by the rules.

Andres DeCos, a local Bahá'í sophomore, converted from Christianity at age 16. On his own, he switched to the faith because it seemed very modern and grounded.

"It made perfect sense," he says.

Bahá'í is currently the second most widespread independent religion in the world.

As a testament to the faith's popularity, throughout the world there exist 205 significant communities of Bahá'ís in different countries and territories -- second only in number to Christianity with 254, a religion established close to 1,800 years earlier.

The Bahá'í Club meets every Wednesday night at 7:30 in the Williamson Room of the Perkin Student Center, and invites everyone, including non-Bahá'í's, to attend.

Last semester the club hosted speakers on such topics as the environment and racial equality. So far, they have no concrete plans for events this semester, but may host a celebration in honor of the New Year, which Bahá'ís call Naw-Ruz.

Naw Ruz falls on the first day of the Bahá'í calendar which consists of 19 months, each with 19 days and four (five in a leap year) extra days termed Ayy'a'm-I-Ha'.

In these four days, Bahá'ís exchange gifts and prepare for the month of fasting ahead.

Murphy explains fasting is a time of spiritual renewal.

"The purpose is to spend the extra time working on the spiritual side rather than the physical side," he says.

As Bahá'ís in the United States prepare to ring in the New Year, followers in other countries across the globe do not share the same privilege.

Since 1980, the government of Iran has been attempting to destroy the 300,000-member Bahá'í community that exists there.

The government has been forcing Bahá'í children to obtain an Islamic education, removing adult Bahá'ís from positions of power and influence and refusing Bahá'í students admission to colleges.

Most recently, the Iranian government shut down the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education, the only establishment for higher learning where Bahá'í scholars could study.

Despite such restrictions on following their faith, the Baha'I community continues to grow throughout the world.

In the next few days, these hungry Bahá'í's will be reflecting on their own spirituality, as well as how they can positively influence the world as a whole.

And that's a lot to chew.


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