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6. I’M LAYLA AND I’M A BAHAI

October 18, 2007

Mrs King walked into her 10am Religious Education class. The class stood up, desks and chairs grating. She routinely threw her handbag onto her table and addressed her pupils.

 

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

 

As soon as her index finger indicated forehead for Father, year 9 joined in, caught up and murmured along.

 

“Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.”

 

Everyone sat down.

 

“Right. We have a very special guest today. We’ve brought Layla in from the cold, as they say, to give us an understanding of her religion – the Baha’i Faith. Afterwards you can ask her a few questions if you like. Layla, the floor is yours. And Joel, nice to see you here today too! Hmmmm. A new found interest in the Catholic Weltanschauung?

 

[Joel]:
“For sure, Mrs King. I’d like to find out what that is.”

 

Mrs King took History and RE. Her undergraduate degree was in History which was fair enough but she had largely fallen into RE by default. Her husband had spent a long time at the seminary and the principal surmised that some of that training must have rubbed off over the last 20 years. To her credit she was particularly interested in interfaith dialogue and regularly shored up the Catholic component at Wimmera Interfaith Network meetings. She had once met a Baha’i at a WIN evening; a middle-aged Iranian gentleman. He was very well-dressed in a suit and tie. Mrs King had liked that. He was very enthusiastic and had urged a number of items to be placed on the agenda. Unfortunately he never came back to pursue them.

 

 

Layla, who had taken a seat in the middle of the class, stood up. She first made sure she had room to turn. Then, she circled once making sure to connect with everyone in the room. And still revolving she began.

“Baha’is believe in Jesus. Baha’is believe in God. Just as Christians are followers of Jesus Christ, Baha’is are followers of Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh …that’s a difficult name isn’t it? Slowly it is – ba – ha – o – law. Anyway, Bahá’u’lláh was born in Tehran, Iran in 1817 and passed away in Acre then Palestine, now Israel, in 1892. That’s just a bit over 100 years ago. Bahá’u’lláh means Glory of God. Bahá’u’lláh is the return of Jesus Christ.”

 

Cue outbreak. Of loud incredulous laughing. Of furrowed concerning. Of jump-started jolting.

 

Layla was still moving around. She was like a mirror. Depending on whose attention she struck, she was holding her sides laughing, sheepishly ‘mea culpa’ing or throwing her body back in horror.

 

“For fucks sake. That is completely fucking stupid”

 

Mrs King jumped in.

 

“Daniel. That is not acceptable language here. Do not reoffend. Now Layla, I’ll have to call a halt to this if you can’t be at least a little considerate.”

 

Layla’s turning had reached Daniel.

 

“Did I say Jesus Christ? I meant Batman. No, just joking, I did mean Jesus Christ. Just forgot for a minute.

 

Please excuse me Mrs King. It was a bit of misplaced fun on my part. And Daniel, I understand what you are saying. Indeed, you may be right. Baha’is may be completely stupid. Could be all a con. But you know, some of it is very interesting, some of it very beautiful. At least I think so.”

 

The turbulence was definitely winding down and Layla looked ready to speak again. Certainly, everyone was listening. And Layla, with open arms.

 

[to Daniel]:
“Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart.”

 

[to Joel]:
“Love Me, that I may love you. If you don’t love Me, My love can’t reach you.”

 

[to Catherine]:
“Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? And what seeker finds rest away from his heart’s desire?”

 

[to Mrs King]:
“Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor.”

 

[to Annabel]:
“Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for you; therefore I created you, have engraved on you Mine image and revealed to you My beauty.”

 

“Bahá’u’lláh wrote a lot. I’ve just recited some verses from a little book called ‘The Hidden Words”. He describes this book as a summary of all religious revelation.

 

Bahá’u’lláh teaches that God sends Messengers to this world. There have been lots of them, many not now known. Some will be familiar to you – Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muhammad brought Islam. Maybe more surprisingly there’s also Buddha and Krishna.

 

All these Messengers bring spiritual teachings that are eternal and unchanging. Essentially the same. Often they bring social teachings that are suitable for that time and place. Bahá’u’lláh is the latest Messenger. He brings divine revelation for today.

 

The main message of Bahá’u’lláh is of the oneness of humanity. His famous quote is ‘The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens’.

 

The main principles and ideas of the Baha’i Faith follow from this message of oneness:

  • Elimination of all forms of prejudices
  • Equality of men and women
  • A common world language
  • World peace upheld by a World Government
  • Independent investigation of the truth
  • Harmony of science and religion
  • World-wide compulsory education
  • Elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty

 

That’s the sort of thing that occupies the minds of Baha’is. There’s about 3 to 5 million world-wide and maybe a touch under 10,000 in Australia. Not too many at all in Horsham.

 

Bahai’s have Holy days, obligatory prayers, at least monthly meetings and a time for fasting. There’s a funny calendar that has 19 months of 19 days with 4 or 5 extra to make up a year.

 

There’s no official clergy but there is a strong organizational side to the Faith. The headquarters is in Haifa, Israel. There are many national structures and within them many local and regional structures. Most of the administrative positions are voted in, though some are appointed.

 

My mom and dad are Baha’is. I was born in Haifa but came to Australia as a young baby. The age of maturity for Baha’is is 15. I’ll be 15 in a couple of months and I get to decide if I want to declare myself Baha’i or not.

 

And that about wraps it up! Which is just as well because I’m beginning to get dizzy.”

 

Layla swooned dramatically back to her seat.

 

[Mrs King]:
“That’s so interesting Layla. Very interesting. So, you’re not yet a Baha’i. Will you ‘declare’ or not?”

 

“Look, it’s kind of expected that Baha’i kids will declare at 15. It’s like a rite of passage after which you have to start doing adult things like fasting and praying. I feel very connected to the ‘one humanity, one world’ message but I don’t know whether I will declare and become part of the whole institution of religion. I might want to exercise my ‘independent investigation of the truth’ card.”

 

[Daniel]:
“That was great Layla, but the Second Coming right? That’s what you were talking about. To get back to it. From what we learned as Catholics, Jesus will return when all the Jews recognize him and just before that the Antichrist will appear, then the end of the world will come and Jesus will come down to defeat the evil Antichrist and hold Judgement Day where everyone ever born will be accountable and it isn’t pretty if you haven’t accepted the grace of Jesus. Something like that. Are you sure this guy wasn’t the Antichrist?

 

 

 

“Pretty sure Daniel. I think Arnie Schwarzenegger played that role.
Sorry mate! Being serious, it really doesn’t have that Antichristy feel. But I’m sure Daniel, on the Day of Judgement, if I’m in the wrong religion you’ll make sure I don’t have a fiery end won’t you?”

 

[Daniel]:
“I’ll pull out all the stops to get you over the line Layla, don’t you worry about that.”

 

Mrs King had some concerns about the motives of this Baha’i Faith. In fact it sounded like a new age, hippy thing. And World Government? That was rich. Lots of furtive goings on around midnight no doubt! It could be closer to the Antichrist than even Daniel thought. Then again, it was such a small, powerless sect that you couldn’t really even give it that elevated status. Of course it could be a small cog in the continuing global pattern that is advancing the process that will lead to the Antichrist. Poor girl. So pretty and bright. Poor girl. Sigh.

 

[Mrs King]:
“Daniel, you must remember that Jesus will judge, not anyone else. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

 

[Layla]:
“That’s what Bahá’u’lláh says Mrs King. Our progress in the next life depends entirely on the grace of God. But if there’s any wiggle room I’ll shout for everyone here.

 

Really, I see religions in a race for virtues. Where the Baha’i Faith, Roman Catholic Church or the AOG Joel, encourage people to be productive rather than destructive, loving rather than hating and inclusive rather than exclusive, that’s where they reflect God’s will. Mrs King, wouldn’t it be great for the Catholic Church to win that gold medal.”

 

 

[Mrs King]:
“Indeed it would Layla. Maybe you’d think about joining the relay team!
And thanks again Layla, well presented. Right class, next week we’ve got the bishop in.”

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