By Robert Blecher, public information officer for the Baha’i Community of Oak Park
In this time when many politicians and pundits are trying to create divisions between different groups of people, it is increasingly important that we not lose sight of our unity. Some Oak Parkers do that through the Baha’i Faith, an independent, monotheistic religion that focuses on oneness and equality for all humanity.
The Baha’i Faith was founded in the mid-1800s by Baha’u’llah (“Glory of God”), a Persian nobleman by birth, who taught that all religions are one and derived from the same God. Among these religions are the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. Each represents progressive stages in the revelation of God’s will, leading to the achievement of a unified and peaceful world society.
The Baha’i Faith is currently the second-most-geographically widespread religion in the world, after Christianity, with significant Baha’i communities in more than 240 countries and territories. It is estimated that, in the world today, more than 7.5 million people call themselves Baha’is.
Baha’u’llah, who lived from 1817 to 1892, is considered by Baha’is to be the most recent divine Messenger, or Manifestation of God, in a line of great religious figures that includes Abraham, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Krishna, Moses, Muhammad, Zoroaster, The Báb (another important figure in the Baha’i Faith), and others. Baha’u’llah was born in Tehran in present-day Iran, and passed away near Acre, in what is now Israel. Because of his religious views, Baha’u’llah was subjected to 40 years of exile and imprisonment. It was during these years that Baha’u’llah revealed a series of books, tablets, and letters that today form the core of the holy writings of the Baha’i Faith.
The Baha’i teachings focus on love and unity–the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of the human race. Baha’u’llah, who wrote more than one hundred volumes during his lifetime, laid down principles for the creation of a new pattern for human society. These principles include:
- the independent investigation of truth by each person
- the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
- a spiritual solution to economic problems
- the unity of all peoples
- the elimination of prejudice of any kind
- the equality of women and men
- the harmony of science and religion
- universal education
- establishment of a universal auxiliary language
The Baha’i Faith has no clergy. An integral part of the religion is its administration, laid down by Baha’u’llah and based on freely elected bodies of nine individuals at the local, national, and international levels. Elections are conducted according to specific guidelines that forbid nominations and campaigning, and instead require those casting ballots to vote, with a prayerful attitude, for individuals “of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.”
On an individual level, the Baha’i Faith emphasizes personal spiritual growth, service to others, and work as a form of worship. Baha’i Law forbids gambling, drug abuse, the drinking of alcohol, gossip and backbiting, as well as participation in partisan politics. Baha’is believe each person has a soul that survives the physical body after death and throughout eternity, continually progressing in the worlds of God.
The Baha’i Faith’s international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, is based in Haifa, Israel. U.S. offices are located in Evanston, Illinois, and the first Baha’i House of Worship in North America was opened in Wilmette in 1953 (you may have seen this beautiful building when driving along the Wilmette lakefront). All Baha’i Houses of Worship have nine sides and a central dome, and are open to people of all religions for the worship of God. Devotional programs are simple, consisting of prayers, meditations, and the reading of selections from the sacred scriptures of the Baha’i Faith and the other world religions. There are no sermons or rituals.
At the local level, Baha’is have been in Oak Park since early in the twentieth century. Some localities, like Oak Park, maintain a Baha’i meeting center. Ongoing local activities include devotional gatherings, children’s classes, programs for pre-teens and teens, study circles, and fireside discussion groups.
The Baha’i Center of Oak Park is located at 126 N. Oak Park Ave., lower level. An “Hour of Prayer” takes place every Sunday morning, followed by children’s classes, youth programs, and study circles for adults interested in pursuing their own spiritual growth. For more information, please visit opbahai.org, join “Oak Park Baha’is and Friends” on Facebook, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.