1. What is the Baha’i Faith?
Thank you for this opportunity to respond. I’m tempted to give Louis Armstrong’s classic reply, “Man, if you don’t know, I can’t tell you,” but you might get an idea that it’s some kind of jazz heaven, which actually may not be too far off. Baha’is believe in Progressive Revelation, meaning that from time to time God raises up Messengers to educate humanity, such as Buddha, Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad and that the latest one arrived in the 19th century and is named Baha’u’llah – meaning “ Glory of God” in Arabic. He lived and taught mostly under exile and in imprisonment in Middle Eastern lands such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey and what is now Israel. These Messengers reiterate the eternal spiritual truths that are the foundation of all world religions, but also give social teachings for the age in which They appear. This age particularly needs guidance for an emerging global consciousness; ethics and morality for international travel, finance, ecology, communication, science and technology; and the realization that the entire globe and its inhabitants are in the same boat traveling together. (As Baha’u’llah stated, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”)
Humanity on its own has no hope of solving the colossal challenges besetting it today. One of the most remarkable elements of this Revelation is that it gives not only a vision of the new World Order, but actually gives a blueprint of how to achieve it. So Baha’is worldwide are endeavoring to establish this order right in the midst of the crumbling of one human institution after another. Baha’u’llah has given the believers this directive: “It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action,” and emphasized that we all have a part to play: “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”
2. What are some the basic teachings of the faith?
Every major world religion teaches the same basic things, those being the nature of God and Truth, morality and virtue, prayer and worship. The emphasis is different, according to the needs of the times: Judaism emphasized the law, Christianity focused on love and good works and Islam concentrated on submission to the Will of God. The Baha’i Faith’s overriding value is unity: God is one, His Messengers are one, religion is one, humanity is one. Therefore the thousand-year mission of the Baha’is is to effect the organic unity of the entire human race, for it is written “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” Principles that accompany this central mission are removal of prejudice, gender equality, universal education, universal systems of governance, justice and currency, and a language through which the whole world can communicate. One other very important Baha’i principle is that mankind has progressed to the point where each individual’s spiritual progress is his or her own responsibility; therefore it behooves every person to independently investigate Truth and reality for him or herself. Ergo, there is no clergy in the Baha’i Faith.
3. How does the Baha’i community view and interact with other faiths?
Baha’is regard all humanity as their brethren. The Founder proclaimed, “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” They tend to spearhead and are often over-represented at interfaith gatherings. . Just once I would like see a Baha‘i jump up and yell, “All you heathens are going to Hell!” but (sigh) it just isn’t going to happen. (This is just kidding, of course.)
4. For our readers who may have not have heard of the religion before now, is there a fictional character in television or film that embodies the ideals of the faith?
Ha ha. I consulted some of my Baha’i friends on this one and got suggestions such as “McGyver,” since he used non-violent technological ingenuity to solve problems, the humble Frodo Baggins on his glorious quest of faith or “Star Trek” with its multi-ethnic co-operation boldly braving the final frontier.
5. What holidays do Baha’is observe?
There is a calendar of 19 months of 19 days each, with a few extra Mardi-Gras-type celebratory days at the end to round out the solar year. And the faith has holy days celebrating the births and deaths of the central figures, as well as a few others, such as the Day of the Covenant, Nov. 26, celebrating the fact that God does not leave humanity adrift without guidance. Individually, believers tend to celebrate just about any festival of any religion or culture with other friends – we love a party!
6. What is the biggest misconception, if any, about the religion?
The Baha’i Faith is not, nor ever was, a sect of Islam. It grew out of an Islamic environment, as did Buddhism out of Hinduism or Christianity out of Judaism. Also, since it is so all-embracing, some get the idea that it is eclectic and syncretistic, drawing from the good points of bygone traditions and philosophies, or that it accepts all faiths as being equally true and valid. In actuality, the Baha’i Faith regards all major world religions as one Faith of God, “eternal in the past, eternal in the future” and itself as simply the latest stage in this unfolding faith of the one God Who has been called by many names. Its principles and beliefs have been divinely revealed in the same way as the Ten Commandments, the Vedas, the Dhammapada and the Qur’an have.
7. According to www.religionfacts.com, Dizzy Gillespie, Carole Lombard and Rainn Wilson were/are all Baha’i. Would you be offended if I said that was really cool?
Many distinguished people are Baha’is, but they don’t get obnoxious, obsequious or obstreperous about it. They found universities, establish socio-economic projects and are inventors and innovators. The head of state of Samoa is Baha’i, as was Queen Marie of Romania and other royalty. The faith has attracted great minds such as Tolstoy to Tagore to Khalil Gibran. It has even been rumored that President Woodrow Wilson got the idea for the League of Nations from his Baha’i daughter! Another Khalil, Khalil Green, shortstop of the San Diego Padres, is perhaps the most well known Baha’i presently in popular culture. In America, the duo of Seals and Crofts (“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine . . . . “ c’mon sing it with me now) spread the faith by giving talks after their concerts in the 1970s. Other Baha’is include K. C. Porter (producer to Santana and Ricky Martin) and British funnyman Omid Djalili (remember him from Whoopi’s sitcom?) Cool! Hot!
8. Do you care to comment on the plight of the Baha’is in Egypt?
The Baha’is in Egypt are a fairly small community, but have been placed in a quandary. They are required to carry ID cards that identify their religion. They have no problem with this, as Baha’is in every country are obedient and loyal to their governments. But Baha’is in Egypt have only three choices: Christianity, Judaism or Islam. It’s like those dating sites or online questionnaires where you only have a limited number of responses, none of which apply. But there is no “other” option, and it will not let you skip the question or continue without answering. Baha’is cannot lie about their religion, and without these ID cards they have no access to education, medical services, employment or many other basic services. So they are continuing to work to get the Baha’i Faith official recognition so they can have legal status just like other Egyptian citizens. This Baha’i blog has a lot of information about the situation: http://bahai-egypt.blogspot.com/.
9. Where can I go to learn more about the religion?
Even though there are only about 5 million Baha’is worldwide, we are spread like a thin film over the entire planet, including in such unlikely places as Greenland, North Korea, the Faroe Islands, Tasmania, Alaska, Mongolia, Madagascar, Botswana and virtually every island in the Pacific. So with a little checking in phone books or word of mouth, a human representative of probably the most hospitable community in the world can be found. But beware: You will be plied with tea and sweets and all the literature on the faith you’d ever want. Baha’is, however, do not proselytize. Since it purports to be the most truly international and universal expression of spirituality, it is not surprising that Baha’i sites abound. A couple of main ones are www.bahai.org and www.bahai.us. You are most welcome to contact this author at email@example.com.
10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question?
This is confusing, but if I read it correctly, you want me to ask you a question. Okay, I’ll be brief, I mean boxer. I see that you love feasting at the salad bar of heavenly delights, but do you ever get spiritual indigestion?
Bio of Geza Farkas:
Geza (rhymes with amaze-a) Farkas, the Funky Flutist of Faith, became a Baha’i in 1997 after a lifetime of study of the works of the world’s great mystics, saints, and seers, since he sensed that in it appeared that which has never appeared before, namely a blueprint by which all of human civilization can be spiritualized, and not just a few special individuals. Hungarian by birth, Canadian by nationality, and Indian in spirit, he has recently emigrated to Chicago and lives near the Baha’i House of Worship for the North American Continent in Wilmette, known as the “Mother Temple of the West.”