At Picnic, Keeping the Faith
Bahá'í voice belief that tolerance will triumph
By Indrani Sen
June 10, 2002
Members of the Bahá'í faith believe that all religions worship one common God. This God, they say, is bringing
the world toward a universal civilization in which all races and faiths will be united in harmony. And all
human beings, the Bahá'í contend, are essentially and fundamentally good.
It's been a tough year. But
yesterday, at their annual picnic to celebrate what they have called Race Unity Day, Bahá'í from all over Long
Island professed their optimism that tolerance will eventually reign on earth, despite the seeming prevalence
today of terrorism, war, ethnic conflict and religious violence.
"These forces that try to keep us
apart, ultimately, will not succeed," said Marc Hensen, 43, of Smithtown, a member of the Bahá'í Race Unity
Committee of Long Island. "We are all members of one human family. There are going to be forces that work
against this for reasons of prejudice, sectarianism and bigotry, but ultimately, those forces will fail. We
will come together."
The Bahá'í faith is based on the writings of a 19th-century Persian nobleman,
Bahá'u'lláh, who taught that humanity is a single race and that Moses, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, among
others, were messengers from the same God. The Bahá'í International Community, based in Haifa, Israel,
estimates that there are 5 million Bahá'í worldwide. There are 130,000 in the United States, and 300 to 330 on
Long Island, said organizers of yesterday's picnic.
Black, white, Asian and Latino, old and young, the
60-odd Bahá'í and their guests sat in the shaded picnic area of Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon,
munching on an array of international delicacies brought by the faithful and singing songs of peace accompanied
by an acoustic guitar.
Here, togetherness seemed easy to achieve. But members acknowledged that the
challenges they face in the outside world every day are not so simple.
Alexandra Hanson, 12, of
Rockville Centre, described the lunchroom of her middle school. "People sit at different tables," she said.
"Whites sit at one table, Hispanics sit at another, and blacks sit at another. It's very rare that they all sit
At the Bahá'í devotional meetings, feast days, and other events Alexandra attends with her
family, however, "there are people from every place, instead of just one place," she said.
member Debby McKeever, 56, of Smithtown attended a conference in Islandia on racism and said she was saddened
but not surprised to hear that Long Island has been called the nation's most segregated suburb. Segregation is
one of the things her group is trying to counteract, she said, by bringing people together at their
international potluck feasts and candlelight vigils.
"We know we're small," she said. "Because of our
numbers and the lack of money, obviously we're not able to do all that we'd like." But she said she takes
comfort in her belief that the majority of Long Islanders, and of people everywhere, truly want unity and
"Maybe that's why I don't get discouraged," she said.
©Copyright 2002, Newsday