A unique faith: Rice Baha'i
Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith, once said that "the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."
The Rice Baha'i Association strives to increase awareness of global issues and to reawaken a sense of compassion and responsibility within the Rice community. The Baha'is dedicate themselves to teaching the principles of the Baha'i faith, and their events are designed to promote unity, equality and cultural and religious understanding.
The central principles of the Baha'i faith are the oneness of humanity, which signifies that all people have come from the same god and are essentially members of one family; the oneness of god; and the oneness of religion, which means that all religions worship this same god.
The Baha'i Association holds an informal discussion, or "fireside," every Thursday evening in Blair Lounge in the Student Center. The meetings, which usually include dinner, have covered topics such as education, happiness, the environment, love and marriage, tests and afflictions and a variety of spiritual and global issues.
Lovett College senior David Wells has attended a few meetings even though he is not a member of the Baha'i faith. "I started going to the meetings because I was intrigued by the ideas of the faith," he said. "Baha'i was closer to what I believe in than any other religion I've encountered." Wells said he has enjoyed the meetings he has attended.
Baha'i Association chair and Will Rice College junior Naisohn Arfai believes that the association has helped the faith to grow.
"When I first got here, Aimee [Vafaie] and I were the only Baha'is at Rice. The university is a center of thought, full of fresh minds -- people are thinking, evaluating life. We formed the club because we wanted to share the idealism and hope we have for the world," Arfai said.
"The firesides are a medium of discussion, but with the faith as a focus. They are a way to introduce people to the Baha'i faith. They facilitate every individual's investigation for truth, and they also provide a social setting for people to come together and enjoy each other's company," he said.
The Baha'i teachings on world peace always fascinated Jones College sophomore Jessica Zenker, who became a Baha'i when she was 15. "Baha'is are working for world peace based on unity of all races and religions. This world peace is not just for Baha'is but for the whole world," she said.
Brown College sophomore Stephanie Taylor became a Baha'i in January shortly after she began attending the firesides. "Everything was so different from the religion I had known. I was used to not being allowed to question anything, and here they examined and discussed everything. I was amazed at how sincere everyone was."
This year, the Baha'i Association has sponsored many activities on and off campus. University of Maryland Professor Suheil Bushrui, an expert on the life and works of the poet Kahlil Gibran, gave a lecture last September. Also in September, the association accompanied a few Rice students to the Ninth Annual Baha'i Peace Dinner hosted by the local Baha'i community which was open to the public and featured a talk on global peace issues. In January, the Rice Baha'is sponsored the play The Kingfisher's Wing, about a Baha'i martyr. The Baha'is set up a display and information booth outside of Fondren Library on Nov. 20 for Universal Children's Day.
On March 21, the International Day for Elimination of Racial Prejudice, the Baha'i Youth Workshop, which involved junior high and high school students from around Houston, performed dances outside of Fondren. The dances represented unity, love and the harm caused by ignorance and prejudice.
According to literature provided by the Baha'i International Community, Baha'u'llah taught that there is one God who progressively reveals his will to humanity. Each of the great religions brought by the messengers of God -- Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammed, Zoroaster -- represent a successive stage in the spiritual development of civilization. Baha'u'llah, who lived in the 19th century, is the most recent messenger in this line. He brought teachings that address the moral and spiritual challenges of the modern world.
Other principles emphasized by Baha'u'llah include elimination of prejudice, independent investigation of truth, universal education, equality of women and men, protection of cultural diversity and harmony of science and religion.
The Rice Baha'i Association also distributed the documents "The Prosperity of Humankind" and "Turning Point For All Nations" to about 70 professors on campus.
According to an accompanying letter written by Arfai, "These two documents, produced by the International Baha'i Community, express a uniquely holistic perspective on the problems which plague humanity. ... They offer concrete, practicable solutions that challenge common conceptions of human nature and redefine the purposes and functions of social and political institutions."
Anyone interested in the association can view its Web page at http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~turtles/ricebahais.html or attend any Baha'i Association meeting. "It's very open and friendly," Zenker said. "Everyone is welcome, and non-Baha'is are encouraged to attend."
Steve Schuessler, Lovett College senior David Wells and Will Rice
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