Sunday, January 6, 2002
Bahai call Americans, world to unite
By GARY J. REMALStaff Writer,
AUGUSTA - At a time when most Americans feel their nation is more at war than at peace, a small religious sect sees the present world situation as an opportunity to bring people together despite their bellicose reactions.
Members of the Bahai faith nationally sent out a call in the New York Times for the United States to take what Bahai believe to be its rightful place as the world's unifier, even at a time when Americans are looking for vengence for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Bahai carry an unfettered sense of optimism as part of their spirtuality, Dennis Cline explained Saturday. Despite the rise in world tensions since the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, members of his faith believe the current conflicts offer an even greater opportunity for peace and their vision of a united world in which racial and gender differences melt away.
We think there are twin processes going on at once," said Cline, a member of the Augusta Bahai Local Spritual Assembly, a sort of religious board of directors set up in any community with nine or more Bahai. "An old world order is being rolled up and a new one is being rolled out, and there is a lot of turmoil to that. We think there is an adolescence to mankind as a whole when mankind does crazy things."
Cline said that Bahai all over the United States are responding to the step their national leaders took in placing the high-profile ad in the New York Times by hosting local discussions in their own communities. Bahai hope to involve their members as well as their neighbors in looking for the best in their nation. They also hope that Americans will lead the way into a new age of peace and human understanding, he said.
That's a tall order, particularly for a religion with fewer than 1,000 followers in Maine and only about 140,000 across the nation. But, Cline said, Bahai followers are confident that the tenets that formed the United States will become the foundation on which world peace will be based.
"The American nation, Bahai believe, will evolve through tests and trials to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership, a champion of justice and unity among all peoples and nations, and a powerful servant of the cause of everlasting peace," the text of the Times ad said.
The current world conflicts, Cline said, are a wake-up call to find the way to world peace.
"This is a time for the unification of the planet," Cline said. "This is the time that we need to be involved with the rest of the planet and our own race, the human race, to work for the equality of women and men, and eliminate the extremes of wealth and poverty."
The Bahai faith was founded in 1844 by Persian merchant Sayed Ali-Muhammad, who came to be known as the "Bab," in what is now Iran. He was followed by Mizra Husayn-Ali, who is called "Bahaullah" fulfilling the Bab's prophecy.
The founders of the religion were Muslims. Cline said they founded the new faith in much the same way that Christianity was founded by Jews.
"We have been praying for peace for a long, long time," Cline said.
More than a dozen Bahai gathered at his home Saturday, sharing a potluck meal as well as their spiritual thoughts with each other. Practioners of the faith came from much of the state.
Carol Feurtado, a longtime Bahai, traveled from Dexter to attend because there are too few Bahai in her hometown to support a local assembly.
Feurtado says the values upheld by her religion have provided her with support in her own life, and she believes they have benefited mankind in general, even at times when the Bahai faith and its teachings are not widely recognized.
"They made a difference, not just to identified Bahai, but for the whole world, whether the world realized it or not," she said. "We try to be very happy, positive and upbeat. ... Personally, I have no idea where in the world I'd be if I was not a Bahai, but it certainly wouldn't be good."
Cline said the terrorist attacks on Americans in September have brought home to the citizens of this country what people around the world have lived with for many years. And rather than hardening Americans to the rigors of war, he said, proponents of his religion hope it will instead help their neighbors better understand their neighbors around the world.
"Now we've felt some of the pain, and in that way we can be more empathetic," he said. "In that cloud of dust and debris is a silver lining, and that is alerting people to realize some of this."
Gary Remal - 623-3811, Ext. 518
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