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One-world creed: Carmel Momen, 27

I didn't kiss until I was 24

By Bonnie Estridge, Evening Standard
23 July 2003

I have mixed feelings about my faith becoming the focus of attention. The death of the scientist Dr David Kelly, who was one of our members, is so very sad. Despite being eager for people to find out what Baha'i is all about, no one would have wished for it to happen in this way.

Unlike Buddhism or Kabbalah we do not have a celebrity following, but there are six million Baha'is throughout the world, and 6,000 in the UK. Until now, though, few people had even heard of us.

I was something of a curiosity as a child, even though I looked like a typical teenager in my grungy clothes and DM boots.

Although modesty is asked of us, I was not adverse to showing my midriff occasionally. I went to local schools in Roehampton and mixed with children of all faiths. The one time I recall being teased was one Christmas when I hadn't been given any presents. Our present-giving time, Inter-Calary, isn't until February and I did feel left out.

I am proud of the Baha'i doctrine and now work as the public information officer at our London headquarters in Knightsbridge. Our faith developed out of an Islamic reformist movement in the mid-19th century in Persia, now Iran, and is the youngest of the world's independent religions.

We believe that all the great faiths have the same God, that humanity is one race and that we must be a united world which lives in peace. People tend not to be born into our faith, but find out about us by word-of-mouth. It attracts all sorts of people from lawyers to builders.

My father is a GP, and he moved to Britain from Iran with his parents in the Fifties. He met my mother, an American book editor, during a visit to the Baha'i world centre in Israel.

My brother and I were brought up to respect its teachings, though they never forced it down our throats and my brother later left the religion.

My faith means that I never touch alcohol or drugs, but the most difficult issue was staying chaste until marriage. As a teenager this was challenging, as not even kissing is allowed.

But unlike Hindi couples, you are allowed to be alone in a room with a man; you are your own guide, what you do is between yourself and God. And because we believe we are all the same race, we are never discouraged from marrying outside our faith.

I went out with boys from all backgrounds and a few couldn't accept that they were not allowed to kiss me. It was a relief when I fell in love with Ashley, a surgeon and a fellow Baha'i.

We had been childhood friends and started dating when I was 23. A year later when he proposed our lips hadn't even touched. As Baha'i has no place of worship such as a church or synagogue, we had a civil ceremony in a register office followed by the Baha'i service and a party.

Of course, Ashley and I were both extremely nervous on our wedding night, but we had waited so long and loved each other, so it was very special.

Contraception was never a problem, as you can use the Pill and any full barrier method. Because our teachings dictate that life and soul begin at conception, we are against abortion, the morning after pill and even the coil.

I am now four months pregnant. We will bring our children up in the Baha'i faith but encourage them to have knowledge of all religions.

We don't have formal celebrations such as a christening - just a good old party like everyone else, but minus the alcohol.

©Copyright 2003, The Evening Standard (London, UK)

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