A Young Baha’i.
Cynthia Bifolchi meets with a young member of the Baha’i faith…
The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion that accepts the validity of all faiths. Although it falls in the category of ‘lesser known’, the Bahá’í Faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. It is the youngest of the world’s independent religions with a thriving community, in Ireland and abroad. It has 560 members currently living in Ireland, with 111 of these aged under 21.
Bahá’í members believe their founders and prominent figures are messengers of the one God. Bahá’í teaching of ‘progressive revelation’ affirms these messengers bring religious truth cyclically over time with teachings tailored to meet the needs of the time and place of their appearance. Bahá’ís regard the religions founder Bahá’u’lláh as the most recent Messenger of God whose previous counterparts include Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna and Buddha.
Serena, a 17-year-old Irish Bahá’í who speaks proudly of her religion, says it is important to look to religion to promote equality: “The first step for people is to believe in one God. This way we are announcing our recognition of the human race as equal. We were made the same, develop the same, share the same biology. It is inarguable.”
Religious faith is often considered to be the territory of an older generation. Serena, however, believes that religion comes naturally to the old and young alike. For her, having faith is far more than listening to boring sermons or constant preaching about vengeful gods and sin.
“This view of God as a punisher was created to control people. Religion is not a priest, confession or guilt. It is our spirit and our souls. You are your soul and your mind, and religion is a celebration of this soul. Praying makes your soul richer. Prayer is hope. It is people gathering together in unison. No one is perfect but practising religion gives you the commitment, vision and responsibility to become a good, loving person.”
Serena says that the education system in Ireland has a lot to answer for – having fallen short of cultivating the moral, spiritual and intellectual capabilities of young people. “The way we are taught religion is ridiculous. As Bahá’ís we are taught that education is the key to everything, which is why Bahá’ís are so involved in teaching. I attended children’s classes when I was younger and now I hold Junior Youth classes myself. Spiritual teaching is the most important thing in the world, more important than any other subject we will ever be taught in our lifetimes but in school this sort of teaching is pretty much non-existent.”
Bahá’ís believe that young people are the spearhead of the faith. At 15 you are considered most spiritually rich, thus have the option to decide for yourself if you want to continue in the religion. As well as teaching others, Serena also attends a spiritual empowerment youth group regularly, enabling her to constantly learn more about her own faith.
Although Bahá’ís cannot be affiliated with any political party, followers contribute to social progress and human rights. Bahá’í writings foresaw the advent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations, and Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and leader of the faith upon his death, recognised these implementations as a natural part of humanity’s evolution. Matthew Weinberg, programme director of the Bahá’í Internet Agency, says that these writings “attest to the period of collective maturity which humanity is now entering”.
Serena adds that although we currently live in a technological age, humankind is still in an early stage. “We are constantly developing. Even though we think we know it all, this is the time that we need faith and spiritual enlightenment more than ever. We have an information overload so we have forgotten about these most basic needs.”
Bahá’ís agree that society is on its way to greater spiritual development and global peace. The faith views war and other calamities of the human race as a natural phase in an organic process which will eventually end in harmony and cooperation. They see conflicts as part of humanity’s turbulent adolescence and through conscious choice believe we will eventually ‘come of age’.