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Faith's believers promote ideal of world unity, brotherhood

by Violet Law

While talk of war has reverberated over the airwaves and preoccupied most Americans preoccupied most Americans since Sept. 11's terrorist attacks, a central Arkansas faith group preaches world peace.

The Little Rock Baha'i Community celebrated the United Nations International Day of Peace on Tuesday night. The believers prayed, danced and exhorted to promote their ideal: that the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.

The International Day of Peace has been observed each year on the opening day of the regular session of the United Nations General Assembly, typically the second Tuesday of September, by ringing the Peace Bell at the U.N. headquarters in New York. This year the ritual was postponed until last Friday.

Although Baha'i organizers said the celebration was two months in planning, it came at a poignant point in the country's history, when most citizens are still reeling from terrorism and bracing for possibly more violence.

"Violence and terrorism must be relegated to history," said Jesse Hargrove, the featured speaker and chairman of Philander Smith College's department of education. "The world community is torn. Everyone has the responsibility to build consensus, to mend relationships in a torn community."

The hour-long event at the college's M.L. Harris Fine Arts Auditorium attracted nearly 40 people, mostly followers of the faith.

Founded in the 19th century in Persia, modern-day Iran, the Baha'i faith is the youngest of the world's independent religions. It later spread within the Ottoman and Russian Empires and to northern India. Though some early believers were of Jewish and Christian backgrounds, the majority had been Muslims. The original Baha'i followers drew their ideas from the Koran.

However, today's Baha'i believers, called the Baha'is, represent varied races and cultures and use multimedia to convey their message.

As part of Tuesday's observance, Ameria Jones, a dancer and choreographer, mixed pop songs, monologues and the soundtrack of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech to convey the importance of fighting hate and fostering mutual respect.

Worldwide there are estimated 5 million Baha'is. Central Arkansas has more than 100 active members, said organizer Maurice Lantier.

Jason Sminchak, 27, of Little Rock said he has been researching the faith for the past two years, but last week he decided to get involved.

"After last week's tragedy, I never found more need for world peace than before," he said.

©Copyright 2001, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (page 3B)

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