Bahai members quietly pursue their faith


Posted by the Asbury Park


When Jeanene Peterson saw South African civil rights leader Nelson Mandela talking on television recently, his message was more than a little familiar.

"He was saying we are all one family and it doesn't matter what color you are," she says. "Those were Baha'u'llah's words, too. And those were Christ's words, and that's what Mohammed taught."

While most know who Christ is and also recognize Mohammed as the prophet of Islam, the name Baha'u'llah (pronounced bah-ha-oo-lah) may not be as well known, unless you are one of more than 5 million people in the world who are members of the Bahai (bah-hi) faith.

Bahai members don't have a public gathering spot or a clergy. Instead, they meet for devotional prayer sessions, primarily in each other's homes, every 19 days. Their unique calendar is divided into 19 months, each 19 days long.

The Bahai faith can be traced to 1844, when Bab, a young merchant in Iran, says he was God's universal messenger. The Bab (pronounced bob, meaning gate or door) wrote a book called "The Bayan," which talked of the arrival of a second messenger who would be much greater.

That man, according to Bahai believers, was Baha'u'llah, a Persian nobleman from Tehran who in the mid-19th century traded his comfortable life for one of persecution in the name of God. He is said to be the most recent in a succession of divine messengers, who include Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed.

The essential message of Baha'u'llah is there is only one God, one human race and that all religions in the world represent different stages of God's will and purpose for humanity.

In little more than 150 years, the Bahai faith has grown from an obscure movement in the Middle East to become the second-most widespread of all independent world religions. The Bahai World Centre is located in Haifa, Israel, where Baha'u'llah was exiled in 1868 and later died in 1892.

An American house of worship is located in Wilmette, Ill. There are only seven houses of worship globally.

Peterson, who was baptized Methodist and converted to Lutheranism after marriage, first came across the Bahai faith two years ago at a county fair in Mariposa, Calif., while attending to her father who was ill.

"I am a very logical person and besides the very deep connection it has, which I feel in my heart, it all makes so much sense to me," she says.