(The author is a junior living in Lowell House. She is a member of the Baha'i Faith and secretary of the Baha'i Association at Harvard and Radcliffe.)
"...Yes, a new voice calling. You can hear it if you try.
And it's growing stronger, every day that passes by.
There's a brand new morning rising clear and sweet and free.
There's a new day dawning that belongs to you and me.
There's a new world coming, the one we've had visions of.
Coming in peace, coming in joy, coming in love." --Mama Cass
The Baha'i Faith began 128 years ago in Iran when a young Persian, called the Bab proclaimed that his mission was to herald the coming of one whose advent would fulfill the prophecies of all the great religions and usher in a new age. The Muslim clergy looked upon the Bab and his growing body of followers as heretics and began to persecute them; within six years, thousands of the Bab's followers had been killed and the Bab himself was martyred in public in 1850.
Among the followers of the Bab was the son of a government minister, Mirza Husayn 'Ali. He became the Bab's staunchest adherent and was subsequently imprisoned. Exiled from Persia, he announced in Baghdad in 1863 that he was the one foretold by the Bab. He was called Baha'u'llah, meaning, the "Glory of God"; most of the Bab's known as Baha'is. Further exile took Baha'u'llah to Constantinople, Adrianople, and finally to the Turkish penal colony of Akka (in present day Israel) where he remained a prisoner until his death in 1892.
'Abdul'l-Baha, the son of Baha'u'llah, shared his father's exile and imprisonment but was finally released in 1908. During 1911-12, he traveled throughout Europe and across America, proclaiming the message of Baha'u'llah and elucidating its fundamental principles, a task which had been assigned to him alone in Baha'u'llah's will. One of the points stressed many times in his talks in America was that the black race and the American Indians would eventually arise to become the spiritual leaders of America. The "most challenging issue" facing America, he said, was that of racial unity. "If this matter remaineth without change, enmity will be increased day by day, and the final result will be hardship and may end in bloodshed."
Baha'u'llah claims--and Baha'is believe--that he is the Messenger or Prophet of God for this age. The Essence of God is unknowable, but his will is made known periodically through his chosen "Manifestations". Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad, The Bab, and Baha'u'llah are the ones most known about in history. Baha'u'llah also claims to be the Promised One, fulfilling the prophecy of all past religions and inaugurating a new era of civilization concerned with developing mankind to spiritual maturity. In a thousand years, according to his writings, there will be another Manifestation.
Since the time of Baha'u'llah, the Baha'i Faith has spread over the globe. In the United States, the name of Baha'u'llah was first mentioned in Chicago in 1893. The first Baha'i group was formed there in 1894. Today the national center is in Wilmette, Illinois; there stands the only American Baha'i House of Worship, dedicated to the oneness of mankind, and open to all.
People hear about the Baha'i Faith in many different ways. One way that a person can investigate it is by attending "firesides"--informal gatherings held by Baha'is wherever they live. In this area, for example, firesides are held each week in Cambridge, Boston, Somerville, Brookline, and in many surrounding towns. A short talk by a Baha'i is always followed by informal discussions, sometimes lasting well into the night.
The Baha'is in this area come from many different backgrounds. Some were Protestants or Catholics; others were Jews, Hindus, or Muslims. There are high school and college students, housewives, retired people, and many who work at a variety of jobs, professional and non-professional; there is a lady in Cambridge who knew 'Abdu'l-Baha when he came to this country. Some come originally from other parts of the United States or the world--Iran, India, Thailand, and Samoa. Many of them were Baha'is in their native countries but a few first heard about the faith when they came to this country.
The differences among the Baha'is here reflect the growing diversity of the faith on a national and world level. In recent years, rapid expansion has occurred in many parts of the world. The United States community has doubled itself in the last year; this growth has come significantly among youth and among numerous minorities, including blacks, Chicanos and American Indians.