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Imagine a group of your friends gathering together in a home or on the beach in an informal setting, talking about teachings of a religion and why they’re important for the modern world.
Baha’is around the world, especially on college campuses, have had many of these gatherings to discuss things like world peace, equality of women and men, racism, and so many more topics that are important to defeat ignorance. Baha’is call these gatherings “firesides”—warm, informal gatherings and discussions about the Baha’i teachings:
The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 129.
The Baha’i teachings tell us that all religions are one and that all religions come from one place—God. Firesides are intended for individuals who are interested in getting a deeper understanding of the Baha’i Faith and its teachings, since Baha’is believe that religion should bring people together in harmony rather than drive them apart.
I recently had a fireside at my home, where over sixty of my college friends attended. I took several steps to ensure this gathering would reach as many interested individuals as possible—I created posters that had my personal number for any questions and spread them around the Pepperdine University campus, and I also invited a well-versed Baha’i to guide the discussions.
My friends had only heard of bits and pieces about the Baha’i Faith through other friends or religious classes they took at school. The gathering was initially supposed to last for an hour, but everyone was so engaged that they wanted to continue the conversations. These started with the introduction to the Baha’i Faith, and ended with an open discussion on the Baha’i view of life after death and prayer and service to others.
After the talk, my friends joined in fellowship for tea and sweets. Many individuals felt spiritually awakened and educated. It was wonderful to see people from many different religious and cultural backgrounds in a room together. Not only did students from my university attend, but several professors who taught topics like math, science, and religion attended as well. The professors, like the students, were intrigued by this new religion and the similarities and differences that it shares with their own faith practices. Everyone there wanted to know more:
First, it is incumbent upon all mankind to investigate truth. If such investigation be made, all should agree and be united, for truth or reality is not multiple; it is not divisible. The different religions have one truth underlying them; therefore reality is one. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 105-106.
As the Baha’i teachings tell us, it is imperative for everyone to learn for themselves, making their own independent study of religion. This independent investigation of truth is also one of the primary principles of the Baha’i Faith. I held this fireside to give individuals the chance to learn about a religion that they may have not known existed. My only hope as a fellow human being is to create opportunities for individuals to increase their capacity of knowledge.
Why did I arrange and hold this Baha’i fireside? Well, this advice from Baha’u’llah prompted me:
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93.
This quote explains the outcome that I hoped to get from the fireside that I held—to engage students and professors from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and atheist backgrounds in meaningful conversations about the non-material aspects of life. The students saw each other as strangers prior to the event, but at its end, they saw one another as friends whom they could trust and relate to.
Both during and after the fireside, the joy and happiness in my home was so strong that it felt like a magnetic pull. This pull finally allowed the students and professors to reach the conclusion that there is still hope for humanity—hope that one day, we will look at each other with bright and friendly faces and respect and love one another as neighbors who all inhabit and share one world.
The students who attended the first fireside asked if more discussions like this could continue on Pepperdine’s campus. With the help of a university professor and the university chaplain, we were able to reserve rooms and invite different clubs from campus. We named the gatherings “intimate discussions,” where the format was very similar to firesides but became more personal, and the students chose what aspect of the Baha’i Faith they wanted to talk about.
It has now been more than a year since I held my first fireside, and the participation in the ongoing gatherings has been phenomenal. The new school year will begin soon, and I am pleasantly surprised to find that many of my friends are excitedly anticipating the great spiritual discussions we have planned for the upcoming months.
Baha’is have gatherings like these just about anywhere people live in the world, and you’re invited.