Baha'i religion embodies peace, love and diversity
by Lauren Comander
The Daily Northwestern
More than 5 million people have climbed the 44 steps that lead to the main floor of the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette.
Looking up 138 feet to the apex of an ornamental dome, one sees what resembles white lace but is actually a mixture of quartz and white cement. Flowers, shrubs and fountains encircle the white temple.
Everyday several Northwestern students focus their sights on this landmark and jog one and a half miles to reach it on the corner of Linden Avenue and Sheridan Road, just past the Evanston-Wilmette border.
Once they reach the temple, runners collect their thoughts, take in the beauty and prepare for the run back home.
"It's so nice to sit on the steps and think about everything," CAS freshman Natasha Phillips said. "I feel so elevated when I sit on the steps. It's so serene."
As the only Baha'i House of Worship in North America, the structure symbolizes the fundamentals of the 154-year-old religion for the United States' nearly 110,000 Baha'i members, which includes 13 NU students.
"Sitting there staring up at the dome makes me feel at ease with myself," said Laila Yazhari, a Music sophomore and a Baha'i. "Sometimes I think, 'Who am I to be sitting in such a beautiful place?' I sit in there and forget it's so beautiful because it's so peaceful and allows you to go into your thoughts."
One of the tenets of Baha'i, the belief in the unity of religion, is reflected through the number nine, which represents completeness.
The nine ribs in the nine-sided dome represent the hands of religiously diverse people coming together. Nine entrances at the main level welcome people of all religions to worship at the Baha'i temple.
The temple, a combination of Arabic, Roman and Byzantine architecture, was designed by Louis Bourgeois, who later converted to Baha'i. The building was completed in 1953, nearly 40 years after the project began.
Out of the seven Baha'i Houses of Worship in the world, the temple in Wilmette is given special consideration because it was overseen by the Prophet-Founder, Baha'u'llah. His son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, broke ground on the North American temple about a century after the Baha'i religion was founded.
"His (Baha'u'llah's) mission has fulfilled my views of the Baha'i religion, and I feel in my heart that he is a manifestation of God," said Mary Lou McLaughlin, the coordinator of volunteer services. "Another Baha'i may tell you differently."
Baha'is are encouraged to give up their prejudices and recognize mankind as the children of one loving God. For this reason, there is no clergy or priesthood. Baha'is are encouraged to find meaning in the scriptures through meditation, study and community work.
Yazhari loves everything about her religion, especially its diversity.
"In New Jersey I lived in an upper-middle class, mostly white, homogeneous neighborhood, so my only encounters with people outside the white race was with through the Baha'i faith, and it was all positive," Yazhari said. "Here at Northwestern there are a lot of encounters between blacks and whites and some of it is negative."
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