Hello everyone. I'm brand new here. I discovered Baha'i recently and accidently. I recently got back in touch with God and I have been trying to find a way to worship him. Basically, I need a religion for stability.
These are some good questions -- it's great that you are investigating and I really hope you find what you are looking for. I'll try and answer some these
I've had sex outside of marriage in every relationship I've been in. I am willing to stop for my God. Will I be penalized for this? Will this hinder my conversion to Baha'i in any way?
Baha'is do not hold a very traditional view of "sins," that you might be thinking of. Matters like this are entirely personal and in the Faith its actually prohibited to "confess" for example to a Priest like in some denominations of Christianity in order to pardon yourself. Things that you may have done in the past wont hinder your being able to declare yourself a Baha'i. It's great that you are willing to make that sacrifice for your Faith, and I encourage you to just reflect on your actions yourself and to God. God is the only one who can grant you forgiveness, so you are not going to be judged in any way.
The Writings say that if a man has ten good qualities and only one bad one, to look at the ten and forget that one; if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at that one and forget the ten.
Can a Baha'i marry a non-Baha'i?
In the Baha'i Faith, not too many restrictions exist for marriage. Marriage is highly recommended given it is a highly spiritual and fruitful union. Marrying a non-Baha'i is certainly permitted according to the Baha'i Writings.
For all Bahai marriages however, Baha'is are asked to receive full approval from all the parents involved. This is one of many ways that unity may be promoted and sources of friction be avoided.
When children are born, are they automatically Baha'is or do they declare their faith when they get older?
As you might know, the Baha'i Faith emphasizes heavily its tenet of individual investigation of truth. The writings say:
"God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another's ears nor comprehend with another's brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God."
So, Baha'i believe very strongly in avoiding dogmatic or coercive forms of religion which are dangerous and unproductive. When raising children, it is encouraged to raise them with strong morals and values, nurture and educate them. However, the age of maturity in the Baha'i Faith is 15, and one may only become a Baha'i at that age. It's very important for the child himself to be aware of the teachings and obligations that are part of being a Baha'i and truly decides for him/her self.
Do Baha'is celebrate holidays such as Christmas or Easter?
I'm not certain, but I don't think the writings specifically prohibit such celebrations. It is, like many things, a personal choice, as long as you take caution in not creating perceptions that your not in fact a Baha'i. Other than that, there's little wrong with getting in the holiday spirit and strengthening bonds between friends, family, and loved ones.
To answer your question though, there are 9 annual holy/special days on the Baha'i calendar. If you're interested I can specify
I've been tossing the idea of hijab around for about a year now and I wear it on and off. (I like the moral behind it). Is hijab forbidden in Baha'i or is it more of a personal choice?
I'm almost certain that wearing a hijab is not forbidden in the Baha'i Faith.
However, to better understand it's position you can read about the concept of progressive revelation. At the core of the Baha'i teachings is the oneness of religion. Baha'u'llah, the prophet and founder of the Faith, explains that all revelation is relative. Progressive revelation refers to this by explaining that all previous revelations in the forms of different religions (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc) have all be revealed to humanity from one God relative to the specific spiritual and social station/capacity of mankind in that time. In this way, many of the social: dietary, behavioral, etc guidelines have specific reasons for them, but do not necessary represent the essence of the faith. This is why religions have changed many of these guidelines.
Knowing this, I think its best that you personally reflect on the reasons for the hijab in the time Muhammad made his revelation. They were certainly a strong form of protection in a very dangerous and corrupt time. In today's society, maybe it's not as necessary. But again, it is probably a more personal matter. If the writings do object to wearing a hijab then please somebody correct me.
Finally..how do I find Baha'is in my area? I live in Southern New Jersey and I don't drive. I heard I could call a number to find Baha'is in my area. Is this true??
That's wonderful that you'd like to get in contact with the local community-- I'm not familiar with the community in your particular area but I'm sure they'd love to meet you and invite you to events and activities! If you call [1-800-22-UNITE] you'll be able to get in contact with somebody who can help you
Keep asking more questions if you have any