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February 29, 2000

Baha'i believers bring tradition coupled with awareness

Aliya Mathews, Staff Writer

Before, there were eight, including Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammed, and Zoroaster. Now, according to the Baha'i, there is a ninth: Baha'u'llah. Although there is one God in the Baha'i Faith, the Baha'i are perhaps best known for their last Prophet Baha'u'llah (Glory of God), the Founder of the Faith.

A religion that originated in the Middle East in the nineteenth century, it is supported at Bryn Mawr and Haverford by the Baha'i Club, which has an extensive history in the bi-college community of approximately 15 to 20 years. Although the club has seemed to dwindle recently, members have continued to remain active in the greater Baha'i community of Philadelphia. Since the Baha'i do not believe in missionaries or converting others to their religion, but rather the independent investigation of Truth, they have brought the principles of their Faith to the wider community in other ways. In past years, speakers and artists have been invited to the Bryn Mawr campus to show how they incorporate their spirituality into daily life.

The circumlocuter of Baha'i spirituality, Baha'u'llah, was born in 1817 to a patrician family in Persia, which guaranteed Him a comfortable life and a place in the royal court. Rather than accept such a life, Baha'u'llah turned His back on the position at court. He became known for generosity and kindness to others. He traveled throughout much of the Middle East spreading the message of the Bab. In 1863, He announced Himself as the One promised by the Bab and was then persecuted and sent to prison. While in jail, he sent letters to leaders of countries throughout the world encouraging them to reconcile their differences until his death in 1892.

Followers of Baha'i believe that Baha'u'llah represents the last of the nine Prophets through whom God has been revealed throughout history. Perhaps His most famous teachings include the idea of a global society, in which the barriers of racial prejudice are broken. For this reason, there is no face that represents the Baha'i; there is no country that claims the followers of Baha'i alone. The Baha'i Faith, the second most widespread religion in the world after Christianity, claims followers from 235 countries and territories around the world. There are 5, 000, 000 followers worldwide, with over 2100 ethnic, racial and tribal groups represented.

The Baha'i Faith is an independent world religion, although it is often misunderstood as a sect of Islam. Baha'i, established in 1844, officially began when the Bab, forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh, received his message from God.

Some basic principles of the Baha'i Faith include: the independent search of Truth, oneness of the human race, unity of religion, harmony of science and religion, equality of the sexes, compulsory education, a universal language, abolition of extreme wealth and poverty, universal peace, and the elimination of prejudice. Like most other world religions, followers of the Baha'i faith are expected to engage in daily contemplation of the teachings of God and to engage in an annual fast. For followers of Baha'i the Fast occurs for the nineteen days from March 2 to 20 every year.

For nearly 30 years, the Lower Merion Township's Baha'i Community has been in existence, helping to organize activities and speakers for the bi-college Baha'i Club. Some recent speakers include a local Philadelphia artist who was invited to discuss how his religion influenced his artwork, and a psychologist from Franklin & Marshall College who spoke about spirituality and the mind, as well as how his religion has influenced his profession. In addition, Baha'i children from Philadelphia were invited to an open party on campus for Nawruz, the Baha'i New Year.

Other activities allow members of the club to protect and celebrate the faith. They have written to the Iranian government regarding the persecution of Baha'i followers in Iran, and the Philadelphia Baha'i Center in Overbrook is giving classes every Sunday morning in order to provide information and more understanding about the Baha'i Faith. There is a dinner every second Saturday for the Baha'i of the Tri-State area; deepening is provided in West Chester every month. Fire Side is provided in Lower Merion, where there is food to accompany discussion of issues surrounding the faith.

In short, Baha'i seek to increase awareness of their Faith and promote unity and spirituality among all. They believe that the world is a global community, compromised of a unified humanity, in which individual differences are valued as qualities of one God. Perhaps it is for this reason that the Baha'i Faith has flourished, spread and endured.

For more information, please contact Dean Balthazar, Religious Advisors Liaison (jbalthaz@brynmawr.edu) Felicia Munion (fmunion@brynmawr.edu) or Jessa Munion (jmunion@brynmawr.edu).


©Copyright 2000, The Bi-College News, Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges
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