Celebrations are underway in every part of the world in response to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Baha'i Faith. Countless local and national celebrations, embracing every culture and segment of society, are inspired by a desire to unite and contribute to the betterment of the world. This is the message of Bahá'u'lláh, who declared that today 'is the day in which God's most excellent favours have been poured out upon men, the day in which his most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the tree of his care and loving-kindness.'
The bicentennial celebrations are revolving around a core concept in the Baha'i Faith - service to humanity. And service is not only those 'random acts' that individuals can initiate spontaneously at anytime, but activities that grow at the neighbourhood level and respond to the needs of those people. They involve the spiritual and moral education of children, the empowerment of youth, meetings that bring people together in prayer, and circles of study that help to build skills and abilities for service. And the beauty of these activities is that they are open to all - to those of any religious background and none at all.
What is perhaps most striking is that the locus of most of the activity of this fast growing community is at the local, even neighbourhood, level. Bahá'u'lláh said that 'all men have been created to carry forward an ever advancing civilisation', and this truth is reflected in the efforts of individuals to really make a difference in their own community. Bringing people together in a purposeful way - and not only for festivals and enjoyment - becomes very powerful and visible in a small setting.
But who is Bahá'u'lláh? Born on the 12th November 1817 in Tehran, the capital of Iran, Bahá'u'lláh was the son of a distinguished minister in the court of the Shah, and from childhood showed extraordinary qualities and wisdom. Instead of accepting the same high position in court as his father, Bahá'u'lláh dedicated his time to helping the oppressed, the sick and the poor, and soon became known as a champion of justice. He continued to devote himself to the upliftment and education of all people.
Bahá'u'lláh, who Baha'is believe is the messenger of God for today and the fulfilment of the prophecies of past religions, proclaimed the oneness of the world of humanity and taught that all are created and nourished by one God. He promoted principles such as the equality of men and women, the abolition of prejudices, the agreement between science and religion, and the need for universal education. He explained that all religions are from one source, and are progressive in nature; the teachings from God for today are suited to the conditions and needs of a humanity that is now approaching maturity. The kings of the east and the priesthood of Iran arose again Bahá'u'lláh, and he was persecuted, mocked and put in chains. He was then banished from Iran to Baghdad, then Turkey, and finally imprisoned in the prison-city of Akka, Israel where he passed away in 1892.
While his enemies made every effort to lessen his greatness, Bahá'u'lláh's fame and influence grew day by day. He suffered without recompense, and his teachings of love, peace, and transformation continue to embrace millions upon millions of the earth's inhabitants. Baha'is and their community-building efforts are to be found in every single country of the world.
These are not teachings for a select few, and nor are the bicentennial celebrations limited to its own adherents. It is an opportunity for conversations, for collaboration, for learning how to draw on everyone's strengths. Everywhere, at every level, life's processes rely on us coming together and not dividing. Bahá'u'lláh states that 'the well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established'. This message of unity and the blueprint for achieving it is far more than simply avoiding war or 'being nice to one another'. It is a call to a much higher level of functioning. And according to the Baha'i community, this all begins in our families, with our neighbours, colleagues and friends.
If you are interested in learning more, please have a look at http://bahai.org - and/or talk to me :)
This post first appeared on A Searching Eye - http://asearchingeye.weebly.com