What does a Baha'i look like? Look around you
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011-09-30
I recently had breakfast with a colleague who was surprised to learn I was a Bahá'í when our conversation turned to religion.
"Aren't you a little pale to be a Bahá'í?" he asked. I'm guessing his off-colour comment stemmed from the fact he knew another Bahá'í of a slightly darker complexion and, knowing the Bahá'í faith has its roots in the Middle East, perhaps he assumed most Bahá'ís were the same as her.
I told him that my parents were Bahá'ís since before I was born, and so I had been raised in a Bahá'í family.
A similar experience happened to me during my studies in English at Brock University. One of my professors for modern fiction was of East Indian descent. During a conversation in her office, the fact came up that I was a Bahá'í and she began to look a little confused.
"But you're not African!" she exclaimed. "All the Bahá'ís I have met are African!"
Though there are many Bahá'ís throughout the African continent, I am not one of them. No, my religious roots stem from Canada.
It was in the early 1970s that my father was a quality control manager at a factory in Oakville. Of all the workers on the floor, one French Canadian woman appeared to be particularly cheerful in her work routine.
He mentioned this observation to her and she responded with, "Perhaps it's because I'm a Bahá'í."
When he got home that night, he told my mother about the conversation he had and said that his co-worker was a member of the Bahá'í faith. My parents met more Bahá'ís while attending what are called firesides — informal meetings open to anyone who wishes to learn more about the Bahá'í faith — and, after some time investigating the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, they decided that they were Bahá'ís, too.
Taking account of the fact that the Bahá'í faith is the second most widespread religion in the world, one can understand how an assumption may be made about where Bahá'ís are from.
For example, given that the incorporation of the Bahá'í community of Canada's national governing council was established through an Act of Parliament in 1949, some may assume that the Bahá'í faith began in Canada.
Though an incorrect assumption, the Canadian Bahá'í community still has an exceptionally rich history here.
Others may assume that the Bahá'í faith originated in the United States, given the matchless beauty of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill., designed by the French Canadian architect, Louis Bourgeois.
To do so, however, means they would have to overlook the Bahá'í Houses of Worship in countries such as Uganda, Australia, Germany, Panama, Samoa, and India. The Bahá'í faith began in the land of Persia, now Iran, but the spread of Bahá'u'lláh's message shows that His teachings are not confined to the interests or races of one country — it is a message meant for the hearts of all humanity.
Any careful consideration of the conflicts making headlines around the world confirm the need for Bahá'u'lláh's teachings at this time — "Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship … So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."
It is of no concern to me when someone is surprised that I am a Bahá'í. Having its beginnings close to 170 years ago, one can expect some misunderstandings and assumptions associated with a relatively young world religion and its followers. The key point I remember, though, is that the origins of the Bahá'í faith, and all world religions, are insignificant when compared to the global influence and positive renewal their founders have brought about — renewal that is needed now more than ever.