Thursday, December 23, 2004

So, what makes you a Baha'i?

I happened to be surfing today on Amazon, and ran into a book where it said that it is not at all uncommon for Muslims to be deeply committed to the social and ethical teachings of Islam, but who don't bother to participate in daily prayers or any other ritual. Then, I felt better. A good deal of the Internet controversies surrounding the Baha'i Faith have to do with identity really; what being a Baha'i means. But inevitably there are going to be different takes on it, for reasons of culture, if no other. It would be very surprising indeed for Iranian Baha'is, for whom the Faith has been handed down in families for three generations or more to have to same kind of outlook as Western converts. Dual religious identity is extremely common in India (Hindu-Baha'i), but in the West Baha'is get in big trouble for belonging to the Unitarian church.

The "official" definition, based on a letter of Shoghi Effendi's, emphasizes attitude towards the administration. Alison Marshall didn't get thrown out of the Faith for not believing in Baha'u'llah, but for not being "in spirit with the administration". In fact, the implication is that if you don't believe in a broad definition of UHJ infallibility, then you don't "really" believe in Baha'u'llah, either. It kind of amazes me that this strict definition has taken hold, and everything that Shoghi Effendi said in that same letter about determining belief to be a "delicate matter", and that the line "should not be drawn too rigidly" just goes straight over their heads. The only way any religion can be a "world religion" as the Baha'i Faith aspires to be, is to accept a wide variety of Baha'i identities. Which is why I think it worth my while to struggle with my own biases like this.

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