Unity within Diversity
The Bahá’í community is very diverse. Many Bahá’ís were previously adherents of other religions, and even during Bahá’u’lláh’s own lifetime the new religion was attracting Muslims, Jews and Zoroastrians. As the oneness of humanity and the essential oneness of religion underpin Bahá’í thinking, there is a conscious awareness of the multi-cultural nature of many local Bahá’í communities. It is quite normal for prayers to be said or chanted in a number of languages at the Nineteen Day Feast, and translations are often given during the administrative (second) part of the Feast.
The modern “interfaith” movement could be said to have begun with the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. There were no Bahá’ís in America at that time, and in the absence of any Bahá’í presence, a Christian clergyman presented a paper to that Parliament on Bahá’u’lláh and his new religion. Now that the interfaith movement is more widespread, it is notable that proportionate with their numbers, Bahá’ís are often well-represented at the local level.
Following the man-made tragedy which befell New York in 2001, an act which was given a “religious” aspect by its perpetrators, the Universal House of Justice issued a message, “To The World’s Religious Leaders”. In it they laid out some of the reasons why the different religious authorities should begin to recognise the truth in one another’s religions. (Copies of this letter are easily available.) Bahá’u’lláh himself stated that “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.” Bahá’u’lláh exhorted his followers to obey a just government, and forbade sedition.
The Bahá’í watchword is “unity in diversity”, recognising the endless variety in the human family, but the central need for a unifying factor. In his letter to Queen Victoria, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.” This approach naturally leads to a consciousness of being world citizens. Again, in Bahá’u’lláh’s own words, “This earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” In the context of the interfaith movement, the Bahá’ís must, as an act of faith, respond to Bahá’u’lláh’s injunction to “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”