Botetourt Baha'I Center Drew Hardly A Blink
Publication date: 2000-08-27
Used to be, to drive into Botetourt County on U.S. 220 at Daleville was to experience a sort of classic Southern Americana.
There was the high school, the post office, grove after grove of apple and cherry trees, cattle grazing in extensive pastures.
And, of course, there were the symbols of our faith: the Baptist church, the Brethren church, the Methodist church.
In a way, life in this rural enclave was a reflection of our history and at the same time a sometimes deceptive image of homogeneity. We were never really all alike, even though it may have seemed that way.
As this part of southern Botetourt has become more and more a suburban extension of the Roanoke metropolitan area, those differences have become more and more evident. Former city dwellers who moved to "the country" often wanted more services than rural counties used to provide. It became important to have "conveniences" - like lots of gas stations - and residential development began to flood into the orchards and pastures.
Considering the pace of the growth and changes, it probably isn't surprising that the sign announcing the establishment of a new Baha'i center in an office building along 220 in Daleville drew hardly a blink.
Lots of folks have a vague understanding that "Baha'i" is the name of a religion, but they're not really sure what it means.
Because followers of the Baha'i faith don't engage in proselytism, or evangelism, it remains a mystery to many.
There isn't room in this column for an extensive explanation of the faith (you can check out www.bahai.org on the Internet for detailed information). In a nutshell, however, the Baha'i religion was founded in Persia - now Iran - in the mid-19th century by Baha'ullah. Adherents believe Baha'ullah is the most recent in a long line of "messengers of God" - including Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammed. They use titles for him such as "Lord of Lords" and "King of Kings," which Christians also use for Jesus, but Baha'ullah - while revered as both human and divine - is not seen as identical to God.
Baha'ullah taught that all the world's great religions have been revelations of the same God. Teaching the universality of humankind, Baha'ullah said a mature human race is now ready to help God institute a peaceful, global society. Among its goals are the elimination of all forms of prejudice, full equality of women with men, recognition of the unity of all religious truth and elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth.
Testimony to faith
Rooted in Islam, Baha'is have been persecuted - sometimes jailed and killed - as heretics in fundamentalist Islamic states, such as Iran.
In the United States, Baha'is have enjoyed the same freedom of religion as everyone else, although - as is true for many religious minorities - they are sometimes the object of suspicion and misunderstanding.
Last weekend, under a cheerful sun, Baha'is from throughout the Roanoke Valley joined their Botetourt neighbors to dedicate the first Baha'i Center in the area. It is a modest set of rooms in the lower floor of a small office building.
Baha'is will use it for their monthly feasts (they have 19 months each year in their religious calendar), for worship and celebrations. But they also will make the space available to other groups in the community as a service to their neighbors.
And a Baha'i presence will take its place alongside its more traditional Baptist, Methodist and Brethren neighbors.
The peaceful - indeed cooperative - integration of this "new" religious movement into an established, fairly conservative community, is another joyful testament to the brilliance of our ancestors who guaranteed the freedom for us all to worship as we please.
Cody Lowe can be reached at 981-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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