Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
Carl Marshall, a Bahá’í gentleman from Detroit, Michigan, moved his coffee across the table. “We are in the middle of a fasting month—or actually at the very end of it—so I should probably stop eating. I think the sun rises at 7:35 today.”
The Bahá’í calendar has nineteen months with nineteen days in each month. During the last month of the year, which falls between March 2nd and March 21st, members participate in a fast very similar to Ramadan.
My first encounter with the Baha’i faith was with a gentleman that sat next to me on a plane from Orlando to Detroit. We first started talking about the book I was reading, but once I learned what religion he was a part of (how this happened, I have no idea) I asked him all sorts of questions and we talked for the remainder of the flight. It was one of the most wonderful and fascinating conversations I’ve ever had.
Carl grew up as a Christian in Detroit his mother attending Reverend C.L. Franklin’s church. He eventually moved to the Hawaiian Islands, where he became a Baha’i in 1973.
About Progressive Revelation
Carl was reading a book about comparative religion, and he said that the world’s religions seemed separate, compartmentalized, and without connection to each other. But then he met some Bahá’í s and they explained the concept of Progressive Revelation.
“What that means is that it’s just one God and one Religion, and every thousand years or so, God sends forth a new messenger, and these messengers have been the founders of the world’s great religions.”
Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í religion, is the most recent messenger and is the Promised One of all the religions. “So I saw the unity there, where everything is not coming from a different source, but just a different messenger that’s giving a newer revelation of the previous religion.”
The interesting thing about Progressive Revelation is that it gives The Bahá’ís the ability to learn about and appreciate each of the world religions because they are all part of a greater movement through time. “In the Bible you have the Old and New Testament. In the Bahá’í faith, Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation consist of the New Testament, and all the previous religions are accepted as the Old Testament.”
They believe in all the major figures of religions across the world: Moses, His Holiness Christ, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, and Mohammed because they are all key messengers with a holy book from God. Because he is The Promised One of all religions, Bahá’u’lláh is believed to have fulfilled the prophecies that were given throughout all of the different holy books. “Bahá’u’lláh didn’t come to belittle any religion but to unify, connect and fulfill the previous dispensations.”
Carl says that this is what the world really needs right now, and in another thousand years there will be another messenger to address the next millennium’s needs, which will occur approximately in the year 2852 AD. “It has to be that way because society advances. So, for example, Moses unified the tribes; Jesus, the church and state; Mohammed, a nation; and now Bahá’u’lláh has come to unify the world.”
Beliefs of the Bahá’í Faith
Many of the spiritual principles that govern Bahá’í conduct are contained in the book called, “The Hidden Words” of Bahá’u’lláh. There are twelve main principles of the Bahá’í faith. One is the elimination of prejudice, and another is the equality of men and women. “It’s not just lip service; it’s one of the founding principles of our faith, and we live by that,” Carl says. There is no clergy or priest hood in the Bahá’í Faith. However elections are held on the 21st of April of each year to elect 9 individuals who consult of the teaching, and administrative affairs within their city. Individuals are elected on the basis of their service, purity of heart, and firmness in the covenant.
The 9 individuals elected form what is known as the local Spiritual Assembly. Often times women outnumber the men on local spiritual assemblies. “I believe that one reason for this, and this is my own personal opinion, is that women are more spiritually evolved than men. They suffer more and have more test and trials. The equality of women began with the Bahá’í faith. The Bahá’í faith recognized that women have just as much to offer in the way of teaching and spiritual growth as men.
So how do the Bahá’ís practice their faith on a daily basis? Carl says that Bahá’u’lláh came to renew religion and remove ritual from faith. However, they are required to fast during the last month of the Bahá’í calendar (called ‘Ala), are required to pray and read from the holy writings in every morning and night.
“So, for instance, today I got up, I read from the writings and I prayed,” Carl says that according to the research department in the Holy Land the revelation of the Bab, the prophet herald of Bahá’u’lláh, contains almost five million words. In relation to Bahá’u’lláh, the role of the Bab was similar to the role of John the Baptist to Christ. The revelation of Bahá’u’lláh however, contains over six million words which is equivalent of more than 100 volumes.
“Being a Bahá’í is not something you do on Sunday; it’s a way of life. Since I live from a set of spiritual principles, every time I encounter someone it’s a test, as far as how you react and respond to them.” The Bahá’í faith is one based on love. When you meet someone, Carl says that you try to show them—depending on their age and sex—the kind of love you would give to a brother, sister, father or mother.
Regarding daily life, Abdu’l-Bahá (the son of Bahá’u’lláh and the perfect Bahá’í) said “Should any one of you enter a city, he should become a center of attraction by reason of his sincerity, his faithfulness and love, his honesty and fidelity, his truthfulness and loving-kindness towards all the peoples of the world, so that the people of that city may cry out and say: ‘This man is unquestionably a Bahá’í, for his manners, his behavior, his conduct, his morals, his nature, and disposition reflect the attributes of the Bahá’ís.’”
One misconception about the Baha’i faith is that it’s a cult. Cults are usually small groups that are governed by a radical leader who tries to isolate the group from society and tries to keep them from listening to anyone else. Yet, one of the twelve principles of the Bahá’í faith is the independent study and vetting of your faith. So, in other words, Bahá’u’lláh says that his books are open and that you should not believe something because someone tells you to, but because you’ve investigated and discovered the faith for yourself.
Also the Bahá’í faith is not a division of any previous religion. It is a new and independent revelation from God. The revelation of Bahá’u’lláh consist of over 100 volumes which are located on God’s holy mountain: Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel.
One of the things Carl loves about being a Bahá’í is the fasting because it has nothing to do with losing weight. “It’s designed to purify the heart and cleanse the soul. And so what happens when you fast is you become detached and it increases your spiritual awareness, which allows for the other thing I love about it, which is the understanding of religion in general. You reach a point of certitude where you understand how everything is connected together. Things have a deeper meaning.”
The way his faith has helped Carl through difficult times in his life is by strengthening his faith. “Basically, a ‘difficult time’ is a test. So, say for instance someone was saying something mean or inappropriate to me. I can react the old way or the Baha’i way. Bahá’u’lláh says there is always a choice. The Bahá’í way is to forgive the person, and ultimately get to the point where it doesn’t bother me anymore. A difficult time is a test used to perfect my character. I know that whatever happens, everything is temporary. So, I think I can make it. I can get through this stuff.”
Globally, the Bahá’í practices are consistent, so anywhere in the world you go, the Bahá’ís will have the same four types of gatherings.
- The Devotional Gathering is designed to connect hearts through prayer. They are designed to be a bit more social so people have a way to connect with the larger community and find a home in this tumultuous world. Often times a devotional gathering leads to a Fireside. These take place in the home and during the Fireside a short talk is presented on the Bahá’í Faith and then the floor for questions.
- Study Circles are open to all, and often take place in the home. Course material is based on the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. The first Study Circle deals with Prayer, the soul and the afterlife.
- Junior youth classes are available.
- Children’s classes are offered. The goal is to establish more through the metro Detroit area, although some people are not very receptive to them since they are not Christian.
As far as the afterlife, Bahá’u’lláh says that your soul is destined to undergo a spiritual evolution until it attains the presence of God. This spiritual evolution is eternal.” Quoting from Abdu’l-Bahá, Carl says, “When you die, your soul is plunged in the ocean of God’s mercy. Your behavior in this life and the decisions you make impacts your station in eternity. The degree of purity you attain in this world determines where you start in the afterlife.”
But what happens to those who don’t become a Bahá’í? Are there consequences? “Well, there isn’t any place where you go and you burn, if that’s what you’re asking.” Carl says. According to the Bahá’í writings “The spiritual meaning of burning in hell refers to the burning desire to be closer to the creator. Those who choose to ignore Bahá’u’lláh in this life will be remote from him in the afterlife. I would define hell as acute and grievous remorse for not recognizing the promised one. This remorse is eternal due to remoteness from God.”
One thing I noticed immediately about the Bahá’í faith is the emphasis on unity. I love the fact that two of their main pillars of faith are the elimination of prejudice and the equality of men and women. It’s not just something they try to do when they are in the mood, but it’s something that their faith is built upon.
Another thing that I find beautiful is the fact that they have a way of valuing all the different religions. To them, there is a thread running through all of history. Humanity has a greater story than divisions between rival religious factions, arguments between different denominations, or religiously perpetrated bigotry. Humanity has a beautiful story that is being continually shaped and is still growing and changing.
Carl was extremely kind and very open to any questions I had. He corrected me a couple of times when I got nervous over a stupid question by saying “No, no question is stupid!” Even since our conversation I have emailed him about other things and he has taken the time to answer all of them, and has told me any time I have other questions he will set aside time to talk to me.
I look forward to future conversations and appreciate him taking time to share his story and his faith with me.
Thank you to Carl Marshall for his kindness, generosity, and for meeting with me to share his faith with me.
Hear about gurus, turbans, and the Five K’s from Mandheer Singh, a Sikh gentleman from Rochester Hills next.
Photo credit: Flickr / random exposure (the Bahá’í temple in Wilmette, Illinois), jeeheon (Bahai Lotus Temple), Upsilon Andromedae (siblings at the Shrine), brett.wagner (view from Mt. Carmel), jay galvin (the Bahá’í temple in Wilmette, Illinois), ctot_not_def (Dome of Light) Wikimedia Commons (the symbol for the Bahá’í faith)