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We were all socializing ahead of an interfaith meeting when I overheard several women discussing their plans for a panel discussion among members of the Abrahamic religions about Mary, mother of Jesus.
We’re all members of a suburban interfaith group of women that also includes some recent Turkish immigrants for whom Mary is an important religious figure. I’d met these women when one of them had contacted me personally to ask if I’d educate them about the Baha’i Faith. We got together at the Baha’i Center, and they spent two hours asking questions. So when I heard them talking about Mary that morning, I suggested that the Baha’i Faith’s ties with the Abrahamic religions is usually overlooked and that I’d be pleased to speak, if they’d allow me. They said, of course.
The talk was hosted by the Islamic Center, where several of the women in our interfaith group belonged. Before the meeting began, everyone sat at tables in a large lecture hall. The Imam took a seat next to my husband, and when he heard us referred to as Baha’is, made the point that “Muhammad is the last prophet” a statement we’re well aware of. We didn’t mention Baha’u’llah’s explanation of Quranic verses and prophecies since we were there to create bridges, not argue about religions. At that time, this particular Imam hadn’t been involved in any of the local interfaith collaborations where the focus is to respect each other’s religions and focus on our shared beliefs.
There were about forty people in the audience, and I was the first speaker. In my talk I made the case for why the Baha’i Faith is closely connected with the Abrahamic religions. The Bab, the messenger who inaugurated the Baha’i era, was a direct descendent of Muhammad, who descended from Abraham by his wife Hagar. Baha’u’llah was descended from Abraham on his father’s side via Abraham’s wife Sarah and on his mother’s side by Abraham’s wife Keturah.
Besides the genealogy, I explained that Baha’is acknowledge and uphold the teachings of the Old Testament; the divine inspiration of the Gospel; the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ, and the reality of the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary. Baha’u’llah called Christ the “Spirit of God,” the One Who “appeared out of the breath of the Holy Ghost” and extolled him as the “Essence of the Spirit.” Baha’u’llah’s Book of Certitude discusses the plight of the Virgin Mary whom he calls, “That veiled and immortal, that beauteous countenance.” I shared the following passage from the Book of Certitude where Baha’u’llah quotes the Surah of Mary from the Quran:
Reflect upon the state and condition of Mary. So deep was the perplexity of that most beauteous countenance, so grievous her case, that she bitterly regretted she had ever been born. To this beareth witness the text of the sacred verse wherein it is mentioned that after Mary had given birth to Jesus, she bemoaned her plight and cried out: ‘O would that I had died ere this, and been a thing forgotten, forgotten quite!’.
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Baha’u’llah explained that God tests humanity to distinguish the sincere from the false, and that Mary’s condition was such a test while Jesus was in the world. He points out that Christ was rejected by those who said, “How could Christ have been an important person when His father is unknown?” Similarly, he mentions the situation of Moses, whose station had been questioned because he was known to have committed murder. Such conditions become barriers for people, as Baha’u’llah pointed out, again quoting the Qur’an:
Such consternation of soul, such despondency, could have been caused by no other than the censure of the enemy and the cavilings of the infidel and perverse. Reflect, what answer could Mary have given to the people around her? How could she claim that a Babe Whose father was unknown had been conceived of the Holy Ghost? Therefore did Mary … take up her Child and return unto her home. No sooner had the eyes of the people fallen upon her than they raised their voice saying: ‘O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of wickedness, nor unchaste thy mother.’
Other panel participants were a Lutheran and a Catholic as well as a Jewish representative who talked about the importance of the name Miriam. The Imam read the entire surah of Mary in both Arabic and English, so he read the same passage from the Surah of Mary that I’d previously quoted.
A year after this event, my husband and I received an invitation to an “influencers’ dinner” at that same Islamic center along with other guests, including the local chief of police and the mayor. There had been recent anti-Islamic activities in the previous months and when the Imam greeted the audience he said that he’d come to appreciate that all religions need to work together. Now when we see him at other events we greet each other as friends.