« Humanity is like a bird »
An interview of two members of the Baha’i community living in Uzbekistan, done by Nabila Laajail and Fred Daudon
» These are pictures of Baha’i people taken in Tashkent in 1917. Some people of this generation passed away and we inherited the photos from one of them. I think you are aware that during Soviet Union, there were no religion, people were atheist, officially at least. We had some Baha’i who were exiled to Siberia. Their sons are still living here and around and are members of the community.
After the collapse of Soviet Union and the birth of Uzbekistan, we had the possibility to make our faith legal. Initially and it is also interesting, there was a National Spiritual Assembly of Soviet Union (for Baha’i) and then it was replaced by a regional one and finally one per independent country. And now we have a national assembly and local assemblies in Uzbekistan. Delegates of all local assemblies come to Tashkent, and they elect a National Spiritual Assembly which is in charge for the country.
– How many Baha’i are living in Uzbekistan?
– On official list, we have around 700 people. But unofficially, more than that. Because some people just come and participate to activities, but they don’t officially say that they are Baha’i. »
A MODERN RELIGION
« It is a very modern religion without ritual, without priest, without icon. We just have lectures. Every year, a National Spiritual Assembly is elected. Everywhere in the planet once you have more than 9 Baha’i, they have to elect a National Spiritual Assembly. So in Tashkent, we are the seat of the local assembly of Tashkent and National Assembly of Uzbekistan.
– How are conducted the elections?
– There is no candidate, there is no propaganda. Anybody can vote for anybody. He or she is elected on leading and spirituality skills and knowledge. We don’t have candidates, we don’t have election campaigns. The same way goes for both National and Local Assemblies. The main capacities which are highly regarded to be elected are to be faithful, experienced mind, tolerance. It is not about being friends. Experience means experience in Baha’i activities and in Baha’i life. At the beginning, due to Uzbek traditions, only old men were elected. It takes time to change the mind. It is also a problem of health capacity. It took time here to understand what experience means. »
« – They are two symbols for Baha’i? Can you explain a bit the meaning of the first one (on the right hand side of the picture)?
It is a symbol of Faith and it is the name of Baha’Ullah, our leader. Unfortunately I am not good at arabic language. In Arabic, every letter and numbers have a lot of meanings.
In fact we have two symbols, this one, the star, and the second one, written in Arabic. We say that Baha’i faith has two Messengers, Bab and Baha’Ullah. Bab was the one to prepare people to the coming of Baha’Ullah. Like Jean prepared people for the coming of Jesus-Christ. It was the same for Baha’i. Bab means « gate » in Arabic, so he opens the gate for the promised one, Baha’Ullah. That’s why we have two stars. The letter « b » it is Baha’i, great or glory. Literally this symbol means this is heaven, this is Earth and this is humanity in the middle and this one is like messenger of God that unities people and God and Earth.
The purpose of Baha’i FAITH is to unite all the people in one religion and in one deed. We all come from the same roots as we are all human beings and we should not look at each other like strangers.
Baha’Ullah said « Look at the garden! For example, you take a rose and even if it is in perfect shape and perfect smell, if all the garden would be full of the same perfect rose, it will be boring. »
The beauty of the garden is the variety of flowers, variety of smells. The same goes with human. God created us as different with different faces, different hair, different races, nationalities, customs, languages. These differences should attract each other and should not be a border. People should not be scared of each other. «
The 2nd Symbol
« – You said there were two symbols. What is the other one?
It means the Glory One. Usually we have this symbol on our jewelry. (She shows us her ring) And we have another symbol of Baha’i faith, it is 9-pointed star. For the time being, there are 9 messengers of God and 9 religions. This star is the symbol of unity of the 9 religions.
Our first temple was designed with 9 entrances which means that if there is each person representative of a religion can enter from different sides. Man, woman, child, anyone can enter. In India, we have a temple looking like a Lotus. Temples have nine doors and a cupola, as symbols of unity. One month ago (in October 2016), opened the last Continental temple in Chile, in Santiago. For me it looks like a sea shell.
– Do you know in which city the next temple will be built?
– Next one is to be built in Cambodia. It will be the first National temple. The plan of Universal House of Justice is to build National temples and then local temples. Another one will be built in New Guinea. We have now 6 Continental temples. For Asia’s, it is in India. For Europe’s, it is Frankfurt, in Chile it is South America’s, for North America’s, it is Chicago, for Oceania, it is in Australia in Sydney, for Africa’s, it is in Ouganda. For Samoa, there is one for 4 islands, because the President is Baha’i. »
« So about pictures. We have two pictures of Baha’Ullah. But Baha’Ullah himself restricted the usage of his pictures to prevent idolatry. As Muslim, the Prophet said we should not pray in front of pictures or materials, we should pray directly to God through the prophets. That’s why we have only two pictures in Haifa in archives department. Any pilgrim can go there and have a look to the pictures and they can pray there. But they prohibited to take picture of them or to copy it.
Unfortunately Wikipedia at one point they publish a picture of Baha’Ullah on Internet. Then Universal House of Justice was in correspondence with them for a long time to remove it. It took 2 years. Initially Wikipedia had rejected their claim, saying that they are independent, they can do whatever they like. But finally they agreed to remove it. This is also very important, it is connected to the issue you mentioned in Paris. There is a freedom, yes, but also, there should be respect. This is important. Now I think that in the world, there is a lot of misunderstanding going on and people just misplace the freedom. They think that many things are permitted.
– In Baha’i faith, on the concept of freedom, Baha’Ullah told us that by following the path of God, you will get freedom. God’s knowledge is the truth and if we follow this truth, we will be really free. To be more friendly with every people, every religion. Not to laugh at others. for example.
– There is a very interesting quotation of Baha’Ullah, he said that « the symbol of complete freedom is in animals but people should be limited by the Law. » He means law of God. It is also true for people. Yes we are free, but we should have some limits, because sometimes people don’t understand what is real freedom and could make a lot of harm.
– Abdul Baha said that the humankind is at the end of the perfection of animals and the first step of the perfection of angels. So we have to decide: do we want to be perfect like an animal or behave like angels by following the law of God?
Any religion is saying that we should be in harmony with for example, our environment, animals and so on. »
Photo of Abdul Baha who was the son of Baha’Ullah.
« After Abdul-Baha passed away in 1921, Shoghi Effendi was the Guardian of Baha’i Faith and one of his mission was to start National Assemblies in many countries in order to elect later the Universal House of Justice. In 1921, there were only two National assemblies, one in Iran and one in the USA. It was not fair to elect a Universal House of Justice with only two countries voting. At the time the first Universal House of Justice has been elected for the first time there were 56 National Assemblies and then he died. During the 6 years after he died, the Baha’i faith was in the « Hands of the Cause of God », this is another institution appointed by Baha’Ullah, by Abdul’Baha and Shoghi Effendi. It is constituted by 50 eminent Baha’i scientists appointed for life. . Unfortunately Dr Varqa, the last living « Hand » died in 2007. Since then, there is no more Hand. Their mission was also to prepare communities to elect House of Justice. In fact they have now been replaced by International Counsellors who are staying in the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, and Continental Counsellors. »
– One thing, we were talking about calendar. How is yours working?
– When you are used to something it is very difficult to change your way of working. Every religion has its own calendar and same goes with Baha’i. This calendar was created by Bab. There are 19 days, 19 months and few additional days with a special meaning. Some years have a different number of days.
You can translate as « installed » or « added » days, it is three or four days added to get the same number of days than our calendar. Before it was the Gregorian way, it was always the same dates. When Baha’Ullah was alive another calendar was used. Now it is adjusted to the lunar calendar, this is why some days have been changed. Every year we publish a new calendar which has 19 days of fasting. On Sunday, we have service but we cannot invite you to administrative days. It is reserved to Baha’i people. It is not that we have secret, it is just that it is not interesting for outside people. You can still participate to prayers and social events.
We have 9 holidays: birth of Baha’Ullah and the birth of Bab and the day of covenants, declaration of Bab, declaration of Baha’Ullah, the murder of Bab, Nowruz. In Lunar calendar, there is the first Muharram and the second Muharram. During the first Muharram, was born Bab and during the second Muharram, was born Baha’Ullah. These two days in the eyes of God are the same. We celebrate these two days with our neighborhood, family and friends. In the past it was a big gap between the two dates like 22 days. Thanks to the new calendar, the dates are closer to each other.
– Rizvan was the declaration date of Baha’Ullah. He was exiled from Bagdad to Istanbul. During 20 days, he receives visits in Istanbul and on this day he made the declaration that he was the promised one as declared by Bab. Nine days of Rizvan are holidays.
– You have also some days during which you are fasting?
– This is from March 2nd to Norouz. Sometimes it starts on March 1st. It lasts 19 days. Same way as Muslims’. No food, no drink before the sunset and after the sunrise. Fasting is also spiritual, we should pray, we should help people, have a good behavior. There is also a physical way. People should feel hungry and they will understand better people who has no food. It is also viewed as a way to purify your body. People will be then more tolerant, kinder, more supportive to other people.
– For Muslims, if you are sick it is ok not to fast, etc. ?
– For us it is the same, if you are sick, if you have a baby, you should feed the baby. If you are traveling, you should not fast. If you have your menstruations it is the same.
From 15 to 70 years old, you must fast if you are in good health. And again, we cannot force people to pray or to fast. We cannot say, even to our friends, « listen why you don’t fast? » So it is very very private question between you and God. You know the law, if you want, you follow it.
– The mission of Baha’i faith is more education than punishment. The purpose is to create a space for thinking and educate people about the concepts of some laws and principles. If you create such spaces, people will get more educated both in spiritual and material knowledge. They can then try to get better. But we are not here to say « why don’t you do this? or why don’t you do that? » and to pressure them.
Alcohol for example.
In Baha’i faith, we don’t have right to participate in politic affairs and campaigns. Do not touch alcohol and drugs. And again, if people drink some alcohol, it is their problem. If they do it in public, it is another problem, because they compromise the faith. In that case we can convoke the person to the local assembly and explain. If it continues, we can remove his/her administrative rights.
– What about the President of Samoa Islands? Is a politician and Baha’i?
He is a king. There is no politics there. »
« – All the religions have two kind of laws. One part is social and the other part is spiritual. Baha’Ullah in his writings told that the religion has an evolution process as a child evolves and grows up to become an adult.
The social part of the religion is always changing, moving. The spiritual part of the religion became complex.
For example, Moses said about love, you should love if somebody loves you. Mohammad and Jesus arrive and say, you should love your friends as you love yourself. You should love your enemies as you love yourself.
Baha’Ullah told that you should love your enemies and friends more than yourself. The evolution of the meaning of love is just an example.
That’s why we have a problem with religions. People look only to the social part of religions but they do not look to the spiritual part of the religions. If they read the holy books, they will see that all the religions were created by one God and the religions are like one big book and it is constituted of different chapters. The first chapter is Moses, then Buddhism, and so on, and each of them is linked to the other. There would be no Baha’Ullah without Mohammad. Each chapter is connected to another
– And Baha’Ullah is the one to connect all these religions and prophets?
It is said that Baha’Ullah is the promised one. For Muslims, he is the Mahdi, for Christians, he is the second coming of Jesus Christ, for Buddhism, he is Buddha. Any religion promised that the time will come, the promised one will come and he will make an heaven on earth. It will be peace and understanding. The coming of Baha’Ullah is just the first stage of this transformation. (…)
– Every messenger who came on Earth adjusted a little bit the spiritual and social principles of the religions to make it modern and fit its civilization stage. If you take a look at the middle of 19th century, we can observe how the sciences started to develop. During the previous 100 years, we were still using horses. From the middle of 19th century to the middle of 20th century, we succeeded in sending humans in the space. In just 100 years. It is explained because God opened these possibilities for people to unite. Because people cannot unite when their principal mean of transportation is a horse, when it takes three months to go to one country from another. So radio, television, internet…
– We have all the instruments to unite but now we should unite spiritually. We have all physical materials to unite but we don’t have the spiritual one.
– It is also the principle of the harmony between sciences and religions. It is very important because sciences could bring a lot of harm if people are not spiritual, for example using the nuclear weapon. Nuclear energy could be either converted into electricity or into a bomb. It is the same for Internet, you can be a hacker and steal money or…
– …you can do hire terrorists. You can spread very bad messages.
– It was the first religion which said that women and men are equal. Baha’Ullah explain that humanity is like a bird, one wing is man, the other is woman. If one wing is not developed enough, the bird will not fly.
– I have a lot of friends who are saying: « yes the principles (of Baha’i faith) are very nice but we are Christians, we were born Christians and we will die Christians. Or « We are Muslims ». Or « We don’t believe in God. » We say « ok it is fine ». You can participate to some projects; no need to become Baha’i, but we can do something together to make the society better.
-This is the concept of unity in diversity. There will be atheists, Christians, Muslims but the role of our people is to contribute to the development of the civilization. To unite. To be closer.
– How can you join the Baha’i faith?
– It is very simple, we don’t have rituals like crossing, circumcisions… Usually people start coming to our meetings, like reflexion, devotional meetings. If they are interested, they study more and gradually they just become Baha’i.
– But who decides?
– So someone can proclaim I am Baha’i?
– Yes but sometimes when we see that people are active, they come and participate to our projects, social projects (junior troops, children classes…). Then we can ask them if they are associating themselves with Baha’i faith. «