I wanted to introduce a new segment to my blog, which I will delightfully call “Bahá’í moments.” In such blog posts, I hope to hone in on general aspects of Baha’i teachings, and explore how those ideas are exercised in the lived experiences of the community that I am visiting. One of the challenging aspects of my research project is that I am trying to best understand these general aspects of Bahá’í life alongside my specific studies of the music. I predict the greatest appreciation of the musical culture will come about with an accurate understanding of what life and faith means to Bahá’ís. As with all research in the Academic Study of Religion, there is great danger in generalizations, as no two practitioners will have identical understandings of the faith, and this is where religious stereotyping and xenophobia often arises. All people, regardless of religious background, can be thought of as a balanced expression of their innate biologies and constructed cultures within a moment in time. Moreover, a 19th century, European Jewish woman may conceive and act upon life in a vastly different way than a 21st century Indian, Bahá’í boy due to a culmination of their respective internal and external experiences. These blog posts are not looking to evaluate any religious practices against my own conception of religion or to prescribe a necessary way of Bahá’í life. Rather, I hope to document my gradual understanding of the faith, as it is exposed to me in my interaction with each community and through studies on Baha’i teachings. So without further ado, here is the first “Bahá’í Moment.”
As appropriate for the #1 Bahá’í moment, I wanted to discuss what I have found to be a central idea of Bahá’í teachings: oneness. This theme manifests itself as the oneness of God in Bahá’í belief and the oneness of humanity in the practical goals of the Bahá’í movement. Generally speaking, the Bahá’í faith can be categorized as a monotheistic belief system (believing in a single God, one ultimate source of Divinity); the founder of the faith, Bahá’u’lláh, saw great unity between the Holy scriptures of the major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam. He viewed the leading prophet figures from each religion (Krishna, Buddha, Elijah, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, etc.) as different manifestations of the same eternal Divinity, explaining that the evolving humanity needed new teachers at different times of great worldly chaos, hatred, and injustice. One of Bahá’u’lláh’s quotes engraved on the North American Bahá’í Continental House of Worship is “All the prophets of God proclaim the same faith.” This outlines the fundamental Bahá’í belief of Progressive Revelation, this cyclical manifestation of Divinity in different sacred figures throughout the course of human history. Given this notion, all peoples are essentially practicing the same religion and therefore praising the same Divinity. This suggests an inevitability for the unification of humanity: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” and consequently, Bahá’í teachings tend to promote equal treatment of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, social status and religious background. Bahá’u’lláh’s philosophy encourages practitioners to actively work toward world peace and global concordance, which have been exercised on the larger, institutional dimension, such as the Bahá’í World Congresses in 1963 and 1992, on the local community dimension, such as the Bahá’í Sommerfest in Langenhain, and on the individual practitioner dimension, such as the suggested year of service for Bahá’í youth.
From what I have observed, there are strong emphasises on both community and individuality within Bahá’í practice. Religious hierarchy is largely reduced, if not completely disregarded; there is no Bahá’í equivalent of the Pope or the Dalai Lama or even a structural system of priests, rabbis, shaman, for example. This accents the importance of individual commitment to the fulfillment of worldly oneness. Nonetheless, seeing as the organization of community often requires at least some leadership to be taken, Bahá’í institutions, such as the Universal House of Justice, National Spiritual Assemblies (NSA), and Local Spiritual Assemblies (LSA) exist to create platforms for Bahá’ís to come together. If one were to regard the peaceful formation of a diverse community as a fulfillment of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings, the weekly devotional meetings in a community member’s house, Ruhi study circles at Baha’i community centers, or less formally organized time spent with one another becomes Baha’i worship itself. This past week, I have attended various Bahá’í community events in both Langenhain and Frankfurt: devotional meetings and study circles, which both featured delicious food and a warm environment. (I was even taken by a lovely group of Bahá’í youth in Frankfurt to an open-air pool, which was something like a low-key Water Country, after a devotional meeting. It was great fun and so interesting how this casual outdoor activity became a continued exercise of worship through community!) At such events, all individuals are given equal opportunities to voice their opinions and contribute to the divine community atmosphere; for instance, in devotional meetings, each member has the opportunity to recite a passage of Holy scripture of his or her choice. Bahá’í teachings empower the oneness of the individual to witness the oneness of humanity, and eventually work toward the oneness of the world. I hope to discuss at length how this aspect of Bahá’í teachings influences choral practices within Houses of Worship.
Schönen Tag noch,
Baha’i Universal House of Justice. “The Faith of Baha’u’llah: A World Religion.” Haifa, Israel. 1 July 1947. https://www.bic.org/statements/faith-bahaullah-world-religion
Faizi, Gloria. The Baha’i Faith: An Introduction Baha’i Publishing Trust. New Delhi, India. 2003