Re: What is the meaning of "culture" in a Baha'i Context

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Posted by Omid ( on December 16, 2003 at 13:14:16:

In Reply to: What is the meaning of "culture" in a Baha'i Context posted by Jon Paul Duvall on December 15, 2003 at 20:01:20:

WOW those were all really good questions! I have often wondered the same thing. If I may relate some thoughts...Coming from a Persian culture on one side and an English/French culture on another, I can totally relate to what your questions adress.

Speaking from personal expereince culture is something that groups of people tend not easliy to forget. For example, at most Baha'i gatherings here in the west, there is a large Persian culture. Baha'is in the west have grown to love certain aspects of the Persian culture, such as food and chanting. Others, have a little concern about how Persians sometime are "too Persian" and not enough Baha'i. Being half Persian and half American, I can see it both ways. In most cases in the Baha'i culture we welcome diversity of different languages, cultures, places etc...If its good and healthy. Thats what makes Baha'i meetings all over the world so different but so the same. Each feast still has the 3 parts, spiritual, administrative and social...the social part often welcomes food and chit chat among the friends...Personally I have only been to Baha'i gatherings in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and the Holy Land...all pretty much the same. I often wonder what the Baha'is of the Amazon do in thier meetings. Perhaps culture will be the one thing that makes the Baha'i world so neat...Its wonderful and diverse where ever you may go...I highly doubt that the Baha'is in Papua New Guinea still eat other people as canibalism is part of that culture...I think that culture no matter where it is will be purged of what is bad or undesirable or if I may say, what is not "Baha'i like". So in short different cultures will keep the wonderful things about them and get rid of what might be "anti-Baha'i".
I often hope that the Persian Baha'is will give up gossiping and backbiting. it is part of the Persian culture for example to talk about these kinds of things...However, there are many Baha'i writtings contradicting this very act. In another light chanting the Arabic writtings with a Persian accent intentionally is another part of Persian tradition when it comes to the Faith. if you ever hear an Arab chant prayers in Arabic it is much different. being that the central figures were Persian and spoke Arabic I can see where this tradition came into play. I make a personal effort when I read Arabic and try to chant that I do so with an Arabic accent. If I am reading Persian I'll do it with a Persian accent.

I think this brings up another point. If Baha'is are cultured enough to be able to know other cultures and adapt so when in given areas or regions where a certain culture is dominant, one has complimented the host with learning their norms and ways. It brings a smile to many Persian friends face's to see the western friends speaking a few words in Persian or learning the language all together.

Basically to cut my rambling short, I think that certain cultures will purge themselves of what could be contradicting to Baha'i writtings and keep what could beautiful and diverse. If this means giving up backbitting as a norm, it will happen. I think when certain things like dress and hairsityle come to question, in wont be so big of a deal...At large Baha'i gatherings for example Congresses and international conventions each representative wears his or her native dress while voting or going in front of the audiance to represent their country. I think that is a wonderful example in unity in diversity. Moreover, I think that if a person is offended by a certain cultural aspect of another...thats their problem and should exercise understanding and tolerance and not be so narrow minded. Some parts of the world people dont wear much clothing...Is there Baha'is there? Oh yes.

When teaching the faith to a people whose culture might not take to well to certain parts of the writtings or Baha'i law for example it is common practice to NOT say what they are doing wrong and what they most stop doing in order to be Baha'is. If I am correct, the Baha'i way is to share what is in common, and what might be appealing to the seeker. it is common practice for example that college students are party animals and sexual machines (at least on my campus) so when I bring up the faith I dont say "well you drink and are permiscuous therefore stop what you are doing and then I will tell you about my faith". I doubt we would get any results if it was like that. At the other end of the spectrum, young people these days like HIP HOP and it has become a sub culture for students in the west. If HIP HOP gets peoples attention, use it in a Baha'i way to get some more attention. This is common practice among Baha'i youth workshops and dance teams. There are many Baha'i youth that have become Baha'is after seeing the HIP HOP dances on racism and other subjects. I think that is the great thing about this faith, it is fluid and when appropriate it CAN adapt and fit where it might have a greater influence...anywhere at anytime.

Here is something from a talk given by Dr. Khan, I think it might relate to this subject of Baha'is and cultures.

"Another new attitude in one of the messages of the House is the development of a new culture, one in which there is a natural expectation of growth, just like children. A culture with natural expectation of growth will have an effect on growth. In this culture there is a universal approach of learning thinking about things taking action reflecting and modifying = process of learning.

We need communities, which are going to make mistakes; this is an evidence of learning take a step and learn. Don't make the same mistake over again but new ones otherwise it will become too boring. A culture that is critical, reflecting, uniting in diversity. Allow for diversity to exist. A culture of balance between individual initiative and community (collective action). If only individual, things will not continue and if only collective, people will become anti. Individual is creative and collective is enduring".

I have my own idea of what it means but I think anyone can understand that he is talking about the Baha'i culture in general about how we as Baha'is must be united and at the same time takes things step by step and avoid trying to do and understand things all at once.

my two cents,
Omid Jiveh

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