Excellent overview of the Bahá’i Faith on BBC

Recently, the BBC published an article with extensive excerpts from a BBC audio podcast containing an excellent overview of the Bahá’i Faith.  The BBC Podcast is the latest in the BBC World Service’s “Heart and Soul” series which aims to “explore different experiences of spirituality from around the world” while getting “beyond superficial notions of spirituality and religion”.

In addition to a very timely report about a critical current issue in the Bahá’i Faith – the “Secret” or “Underground” University – the audio podcast includes an excellent overview of the history of the Bahá’i Faith from it’s earliest days in nineteenth-century Persia right up to the present day.  What’s different about this article, though, is its perspicacity and its high level of accuracy in reporting of facts about the Bahá’i Faith.  It seems quite clear that this didn’t happen by chance.
The producer, Lipika Pelham, is a Bengali journalist and filmmaker married to an English-Jewish husband whose career as a “roving Middle East reporter” took the family from Morocco to Syria and finally in 2005 to Jerusalem …a location with its own unique share of religious turmoil.   So the fortuitous circumstances of her life have brought her into a conspicuously high level of direct contact with the conflicting religious beliefs or ordinary people from almost all of the major religions of the world.  She reveals details of her early life in East India in this 2014 New York Times article.  Coming from a background like this she is uniquely qualified to appreciate the Bahá’i focus on the oneness of Religion as applied to contemporary world problems.
Lipika’s coverage includes excerpts from an interview with Maziar Bahari, an Iranian/Canadian journalist and filmmaker who -though not a Bahá’i himself- has spoken out fearlessly in defense of the rights of the Bahá’is in Iran today.   During the discussion she asked him this most astute question: “Why doesn’t the Iranian population speak out against the state’s persecution of the Bahá’is”?  Mr Bahari’s answer showed an excellent appreciation of both the historical facts of the Baha’i Faith and the outlook of present-day Iranian culture:

“In the 19th century the Bahá’i Faith became so popular among so many Iranians in such a short time that it scared the Iranian clerics and the Iranian establishment – which relied on Shiah Clerics for its legitimacy – and as a result they started the worst kind of persecutions and tortures against the Bahá’is in Iran in the 19th Century. …and that scared generations of Iranians. And then because of the Propaganda against the Bahá’is, because they called them agents of the Russians and the British and the Israelis and the Americans and because of this anti-foreigner hatred amongst the majority of Iranians …many people, many groups, did not …care about the Bahá’is. And I think that [four decades after the Iranian Revolution] people have started to think about Bahá’is and Iranians are going through a period of introspection …and that period of introspection really started since 2009 when many Iranians came to the streets and asked for their rights as citizens of the country.”

In fact, although Bahá’is themselves speak out about Human Rights abuses such as the denial of higher education to Iranian Bahá’is simply because of their religious beliefs that is the subject of the BBC magazine article, Bahá’is around the world are supportive of their governments and are often conspicuously absent from the anti-government protests that are becoming more and more common in recent times.  Why is this?
The Bahá’i approach to present-day global problems
The Bahá’is are “in it for the long run”.  On an individual level, short term solutions can be realistic but to see real lasting change at the National or International level we need to first see changes at the individual level.

  • In the words of Dr. John Esselmont, author of the preeminent textbook on the Baha’i Faith, it is clearly not possible to “make a golden society out of leaden individuals”.   The Bahá’i Faith is a purely spiritual movement that explicitly seeks to avoid identification with the base clamorings and contentions of warring sects, factions and nations.
  • Although the Bahá’i teachings fully recognize the existence of diverse outlooks, opinions and sentiments among the human species and the need to harmonize and unify the teeming millions of peoples and cultures on Earth, they also maintain that political parties are not the way to achieve this unity …even partially.  Instead they advocate a process of consultation – a concept that is the subject of extensive coverage in the Bahá’i writings and the object of intensive focus in the day-to-day activities of Bahá’i communities worldwide.

Man’s inner life needs to develop and this is the development that the safe environment of Bahá’i Communities worldwide – including in a community near you – is focused on right now!

Thank you Lipika Pelham for your meticulous attention to detail and for your faithful reporting of the facts!