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Sometimes when I mention the Baha’i Faith to people, they respond: “Oh yeah, this city has a synagogue.”
I try to kindly point out that they are thinking of B’nai B’rith, an international Jewish organization.
In the 1970’s I briefly mentioned the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah to a coworker. Her one word response: “Strange.”
We’ve all heard the expression, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The same can be applied to religion–don’t judge a religion by its name. For example: when Jesus announced his revelation, the title “Christ”—which means “the anointed one”—became the name of the religion “Christianity,” which meant “followers of the anointed one.” That probably sounded very strange to the Jewish majority at the time.
When people hear of a religion they don’t know about or cannot relate to, they may respond in a skeptical or even humorous way. They may show no interest or have very negative feelings about it, or they may even feel frightened by it.
The truth is that the words “Baha’i” and “Baha’u’llah” might seem strange to those of us living in the Western Hemisphere. When some people hear those words for the first time, they can conclude, “Oh a new foreign Faith from the East” and suddenly lose interest.
As an example, here was my first reaction to the word “Baha’i”: It was early October, 1965. I was a sophomore at the University of Kansas. The Student Union was going to have their annual Student Union Activities Carnival, which enabled campus clubs to attract new members.
I was curious, and I always enjoyed being in the Union because it had great places to eat. So I decided to attend the Carnival, held in the Union Ballroom. As I entered the Ballroom, I saw many booths all around. At the opposite end was a map of the world elevated high enough that everyone could see it. On top of the map was a very strange word: “Baha’i.” It didn’t say “Baha’i Club.” It didn’t say “Baha’i Faith.” Just “Baha’i.”
I thought to myself: “Oh, a new country in Africa.” I didn’t go near the booth because I wasn’t interested in new African countries.
A month later, I met a student named D.J., who was studying the Baha’i Faith for himself and told me about it. Even then, I did not immediately associate the word “Baha’i” with the booth at the Carnival or with the “Baha’i Faith” because of my erroneous conclusion that “Baha’i” was a new country in Africa. But very soon thereafter I did put two and two together and realized “Baha’i” is the “Baha’i Faith.”
My purpose in sharing all the above is to convey that just because the name of a religion sounds strange or unfamiliar, we should not unhesitatingly reject it. On the contrary, we should strive to be open to the possibility that it might contain truth. We should at least consider investigating it to discover if indeed it does contain truth. For if it does, we might be missing out on something that can greatly improve our lives!
An open mind and open heart are essential. Otherwise, we cannot be truly objective in our investigation.
Likewise, our investigation must be independent—we must not allow other people’s opinions to get in the way. After all, what difference does it make what other people think? In the last analysis, we must all reach our own conclusions and make our own decisions, even if other people disapprove or don’t understand.
O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. – The Hidden Words, pp. 3-4.
Baha’u’llah wrote letters proclaiming his mission to all the rulers and ecclesiastical leaders of his time, including Queen Victoria. Her reported response is noteworthy: “If this is of God, it will endure; if not, it can do no harm.” – quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day Is Come, p. 66.
Her granddaughter, Queen Marie of Romania, became the first royal and head of state to become a Baha’i. Here is one of her many powerful personal testimonials:
… It is a wondrous Message that Baha’u’llah and his son Abdu’l-Baha have given us. They have not set it up aggressively, knowing that the germ of eternal truth which lies at its core cannot but take root and spread.
There is only one great verity in it: Love, the mainspring of every energy, tolerance toward each other, desire of understanding each other, knowing each other, helping each other, forgiving each other.
It is Christ’s Message taken up anew, in the same words almost, but adapted to the thousand years and more difference that lies between the year one and today ….
If ever the name of Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha comes to your attention, do not put their writings from you. Search out their Books, and let their glorious, peace-bringing, love-creating words and lessons sink into your hearts as they have into mine.
One’s busy day may seem too full for religion. Or one may have a religion that satisfies. But the teachings of these gentle, wise and kindly men are compatible with all religion, and with no religion.
Seek them and be the happier. – The Toronto Daily Star, May 4, 1926.
So no matter how strange the words “Baha’i” and “Baha’u’llah” may sound at first, and no matter how unfamiliar you are with the Baha’i Faith, “Search out their Books, and let their glorious, peace-bringing, love-creating words and lessons sink into your hearts as they have into mine.”