Bahai News - One God, one human race is belief at The Bahá'í Center
Photograph by Jacqueline Ramseyer
Welcome Center: Every Bahá'í
member who walks through the door of the Bahá'í Center in
Willow Glen is greeted with a hug, kiss or warm handshake.
One God, one human race is belief at The
Religion's SJ center is located in Willow
By Moryt Milo
For most of the Willow Glen community, the little church sitting on Willow
Street, a few blocks east of Lincoln Avenue, is a mystery. The sign out
front says The Bahá'í Center, but many people still wonder
what Bahá'í, the world's youngest religion, is.
What it's not is a sect or outgrowth of another religion. Although its
prophet, Bahá'u'lláh, and early followers came from Islamic
society, the Bahá'í faith is a separate religion with its own
laws and scriptures, and a following of more than 5 million people
The fundamental principle of the Bahá'í faith is unity and
oneness of humanity. The main elements of its teachings are the belief
in one God and one human race, the elimination of extremes between
poverty and wealth, full equality of the sexes, elimination of all forms
of prejudice, universal education, a balance between science and nature
and an acceptance that "all world religions have been stages in the
revelation of God's will."
"One of the biggest misconceptions about the Bahá'í faith
is you can keep your religion and join, like a club," says Greg Weiler,
47, the center's youth workshop director.
Weiler, who was raised Catholic and considered joining the priesthood
says, "The reason so many people from different religions join the
Bahá'í faith is because they found there aren't any
conflicts. They don't have to give up what they learned as a Christian
or Jew to become Bahá'í because we teach all other
religions. It has a very ecumenical feel."
To study and understand all religions is a fundamental principle in the
Bahá'í faith. It is taught to children in Sunday school
and studied among followers. Weiler says the faith is trying to bring
about changes in people's hearts throughout the world.
"I think that's the basic goal of all religions," he says. "But in the
Bahá'í faith it is much more in the forefront of who we
are and what we are all about."
The Bahá'í Center in San Jose, 945 Willow St., has 300 members,
some coming from as far away as Redwood City, Fremont and Milpitas.
Julia Carranza, a Bahá'í member from Redwood City whose
children attend Sunday school and the youth workshop, says, "It is
important to have that spiritual connection with the community."
She says many of the members' children are from households that are
"I am from England and my husband is from Peru," Carranza says. "Our religion
teaches unity and diversity. It is a tough lesson, but important in
One of the Sunday school teachers, Willow Glen resident Jean Quinn, 40,
says the Bahá'í faith spiritually fulfills her in ways
Catholicism didn't, which is the reason she converted. She and her
husband had difficulty accepting Catholic doctrine and its philosophies
that she says can condemn non-Catholics, so they went "church shopping."
It was the credibility of the Bahá'í faith, as the only
religion that can authenticate the written word of its prophet,
Bahá'u'lláh, which she says aided her decision to become a
Photograph courtesy of the Bahá'í
Young Faithful: Members of the Bahá'í Youth Workshop at
the San Jose Bahá'í Center pose in the center's
This young religion first emerged during the mid-1800s through a
doctrine that broke away from the Islamic faith. This doctrine was
called the Bábí Faith, founded by a young merchant born in
1819, who took the name "Báb" meaning "gate" or "door" in Arabic.
The Báb came from a wealthy merchant family, yet he was
recognized for his generosity to the poor and his integrity within the
business community. He was seen as extraordinarily wise and, at age 25,
announced he'd been chosen to help prepare the way for the second
messenger of God--in many religions known as the Messiah. He told
followers this messenger would be greater than himself and bring forth a
new era of peace and prosperity.
His message spread rapidly throughout Persia--what is present-day
Iran--and religious opposition and persecution followed.
The Báb replaced certain Muslim laws with new tenets that
included equity for women and the poor and the promotion of education,
useful science and a high moral standard. It was a message Persian
society anxiously embraced, as it looked for ways to break out of
philosophies that discriminated against women and the poor and didn't
value learning and science.
As the Báb's following grew stronger, the established religions
called him a heretic and ordered his execution. On July 9, 1850, he was
sentenced to death. In a recorded account by a British foreign officer
and according to Bahá'í religious texts, the Báb
and one of his followers were suspended by ropes against a wall and shot
at by 750 Armenian soldiers. When the smoke cleared, the follower was
"uninjured and untouched," and the Báb was found back in his cell
giving "final instructions to one of his followers," according the
The Báb, having completed his instructions, was taken out a second
time, with his first companion, to be executed. The Armenian troops refused
to fire, and a Muslim squad was ordered to shoot. Although the bodies of
the Báb and his follower were shattered, their faces remained
untouched, according to Bahá'í texts.
For almost 60 years, the Báb's body was secretly transferred to
different locations to prevent its theft. In 1909 it was interned on
Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, on what is now the main Bahá'í
headquarters--the exact spot pointed out by the Báb's predicted
It was the teachings of the Báb that lead the way for the prophet
Bahá'u'lláh, who was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1817. The
son of a wealthy government minister, the Bahá'u'lláh was
brought up as an aristocrat but chose not to follow in his father's
footsteps. Instead he devoted himself to philanthropy. By the 1840s he
became known as "the father of the poor" and a leading advocate for the
After the Báb was executed, the Bahá'u'lláh was
arrested and brought to Tehran. The only thing that saved him from
executionwas his family's political status and Western protesters. He was
locked up in the infamous "Black Pit" prison in Persia, where authorities
hoped he would die. Instead, the "dungeon became the birthplace of a new
religious revelation," according to Bahá'í historical accounts.
Four months later the Bahá'u'lláh was released and banished
from his native homeland. Although he initially lived in Baghdad, he left
and went into a two-year seclusion in the mountains of Kurdistan. At the
urging of his Bábí followers, he returned to Baghdad. But as
his teachings of unity, equality and appreciation of human diversity spread
amongst Persian citizens, the government authorities felt threatened and
forced him out of their country.
For 40 years he was persecuted and forced to wander. He was then sent to
the penal city Acre, where he lived the remaining 24 years of his life.
During his time at Acre, he created what his followers consider his most
important work. It was during this period that he outlined the central
laws and principles of the Bahá'í faith.
Bahá'u'lláh passed away in May 1892, and his remains rest
in a restored mansion outside the city of Acre.
Various Voices: Bahá'í member
Zohreh Samadani sings a Persian prayer at a Wednesday evening prayer meeting.
At any typical Bahá'í gathering, prayers are read by members
in a variety of languages--English, Spanish, French and Vietnamese.
Bahá'u'lláh's fundamental principles of unity and
appreciation of diversity are still viewed as a threat to the political
structure in Iran. Several teenagers in the Sunday Bahá'í
youth workshop said their families, while living in Iran, either
practiced their faith in secret, were executed for their beliefs or
escaped persecution by fleeing the country.
In addition to the religion's progressive spiritual philosophies, it
also has a unique governing system. Unlike most Judeo-Christian
religions which have clergymen, the Bahá'í faith has none.
On a local and national level, nine individuals are voted in annually to
a body called the spiritual assembly. There is no campaigning or
nominations. The only requirement is the individual be over 21 and
receive the most votes. These individuals have administrative duties and
also provide counsel to members.
"You could have a Ph.D., a ditch digger and a doctor all serving together,"
says Jim Jam, one of the spiritual assembly members from the San Jose
Bahá'í community, who has served for more than 30 years.
Jam also says that donations and funding are received differently in the
Bahá'í faith. They do not accept any money from
non-Bahá'í--all money comes from Bahá'í only, so
they are not obligated to anyone. The amount and the individual always remain
anonymous, which maintains their ideal of universal participation.
"When you give in the Bahá'í community," Jam says, "it is
between you, the treasurer and God."
When the Bahá'í headquarters, located in Haifa, Israel,
was being planned, donations were sent from all over the world. In 10
years, the Bahá'í collected more than $250 million but "no
one knew if the money came from selling chickens in Africa or through
large checks," Jam says.
Members prefer the term "devotional" when referring to services at their
interfaith gatherings. On Wednesday evenings, Bahá'ís gather
in the Willow Glen center and walk up to the podium to read prayers and
scriptures. On Sundays, the children and adults gather from 10 to 10:30 a.m.
to listen to music, devotional readings and announcements. Then the children
and adults go to classes where various issues and topics are discussed. The
youth also have workshops on Sunday afternoons.
Mei-Ling Leong, a 28-year-old workshop coordinator who is Chinese and
Australian, calls her workshop youth an "army of justice upholders."
"Workshop is an amazing tool not only for the youth to come together,
but to understand what they would like society to be," she says.
The Bahá'í's holiest days are the anniversary of the
birthday of the Báb, Oct. 20, and the anniversary of the birth of
the Bahá'u'lláh, Nov. 12. They also celebrate the Day of
the Covenant near Thanksgiving.
Rollins Winslow, a Bahá'í member and converted Catholic,
offered the following story as an example of the faith.
"There was a young boy who passed away in Israel. His mother was
Christian but his father was Jewish. The father wanted to bury his son
in a Jewish cemetery, but according to Jewish law he was not allowed
because the boy's mother was not Jewish. The Orthodox Christians gave
him permission to bury the boy in their cemetery but only if he had a
Christian burial, which the father did not want. So he buried the boy in
a Bahá'í cemetery where the father was allowed to bury his
son as he wished."
Interfaith devotionals are held at the center on Wednesday
evenings from 7:15-8:30 p.m. For more information, call 408.277.0510 or
The Power of Race Unity, a Bahá'í documentary
showing different races working together, will be aired on KNTV/Channel
11 Oct. 12 and Nov. 8 at 1:30 a.m.
©Copyright 2001, Willow Glen Resident
Page last updated/revised 101101
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