Baha'is see all people as one
Yonat Shimron: Baha'is see all people as one
Question: Hue Huynh of Durham asks, "What is the Baha'i faith?"
Answer: The Baha'i religion calls itself a
universal faith. It teaches that all the world's people form one race
and that the purpose of religion is to overcome divisions of race,
gender and class.
The faith was founded by a 19th century
nobleman from Teheran, Iran, named Mirza Husayn Ali. In 1863, he became
convinced he was a messenger following in the tracks of Moses, Buddha,
Jesus and Muhammad, and he took the name "Baha'u'llah," or "Glory of God."
The Baha'u'llah shunned regionalism and
division and declared what he found to be a central truth that, "The
earth is but one country and all mankind its citizens."
This principle of world unity extended to religion, as well. The
Baha'u'llah believed all religions share a Golden Rule, something like
the Christian ethos of "Do unto others as you would have others do unto
you." Once people recognized the essential oneness of the world's
faiths, they would drop their prejudice and work together, the
His ideas, however, did not find favor with leaders in Iran or
the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Middle East. He was exiled to
Baghdad, Iraq, and eventually to Palestine, now Israel, where he died in
1892. The world headquarters for the new faith was established in Haifa,
a northern city in Israel. In the past century, many have converted to
There are an estimated 5 million Baha'is, or followers of
Baha'u'llah, including about 1 million in India. There are an estimated
130,000 followers in the United States, many of whom live in California.
During the height of the civil rights movement, many Southern
blacks converted to the faith, largely because of its emphasis on racial
reconciliation. South Carolina has the second-largest Baha'i community
in the United States with about 17,000 followers. North Carolina has
some 4,500 Baha'is.
"It's one thing to say we're all created equally but when you
find yourself in an all black or white congregation, then you're not
really dealing with the issue," said Eric Johnson, the chairman of the
Raleigh Spiritual Assembly and a composer. "Baha'is are spiritually
obligated to deal with the issue of racism. We're not allowed to
separate along racial lines."
Wake, Durham and Orange counties have seven Baha'i communities.
The faith has no clergy. Each community elects nine elders who form a
"local spiritual assembly."
The religion draws a mixture of liberals and conservatives. Most
believers are civil rights champions. But Baha'is believe that abortion
is forbidden as a method of controlling conception, though individual
decisions are left in the hands of believers. The faith forbids
homosexual relations and approves of capital punishment.
The nine-member Universal House of Justice, based in Haifa, has
developed into a central organization that controls all matters of
faith, say academics who have studied the religion.
"There's a strong emphasis on obedience to the central
administration," said Juan Cole, a professor of history at the
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "It's my perception that the
leadership is moving to the right."
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