Originally printed January 12. 2006 in the South Bend Tribune

Bahai Faith supports unity, peace, justice

Tribune Staff Writer

The simple poster hangs in Jaleh Dashti-Gibson's office amid the usual trappings of a busy college administrator. The art shows children in prayer along with sayings from many of the world's major religions:

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. -- Buddhism

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary. -- Judaism

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. -- Christianity

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. -- Islam

Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. -- Baha'i Faith

These variations on the Golden Rule highlight the common belief that different faiths share. Sunday's annual World Religion Day, sponsored by the Bahai Faith, stresses such similarities to foster interfaith harmony.

Dashti-Gibson, director of academic programs at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, serves as chairwoman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of South Bend.

The Bahais will sponsor a devotional program celebrating World Religion Day at noon Sunday at the Bahai Center, 1608 Mishawaka Ave., across from Adams High School.

It's a natural thing for Bahais to promote interreligious dialogue and unity within communities, Dashti-Gibson says, because Bahais believe that religions are divinely inspired by one source.

Bahais also believe that people must find their own truth, she says, so programs like World Religion Day focus on global unity, peace and justice, not on converting people to the faith.

"We think there's value in promoting those principles even if people have no interest in the faith per se. The idea is just to encourage reflection and action on those principles."

South Bend has an active tradition of religions cooperating through outreach and community involvement, she notes.

Bahais have been in Michiana for about 60 years, Dashti-Gibson says. About 60 to 70 followers now live in the St. Joseph County, Elkhart County and Niles area.

The Bahai faith has about 5 million members worldwide. They believe that Baha'u'llah, a Persian nobleman, is the most recent in a line of divine messengers sent from God including Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Mohammad.

Each divine messenger brought core spiritual teachings that are strikingly similar, she says.

"If you really look beyond the doctrine and the dogma and the practice, the belief about what our purpose in life is, how we should treat other people, the vision of a more spiritually enlightened society, these things are very similar."

What varies from age to age, she says, are the material, practical teachings each divine messenger brought to guide humanity at that particular point in its development.

"Because we keep denying this reality, that we're highly interconnected and children of one God, we believe we bring a lot of suffering onto ourselves," she says.

The causes of disunity include economic disparity, gender inequality, prejudice based on faith, nationality or race or "all the 'isms' that we use to think that we are set apart, we're different, we're better, that what happens there doesn't affect us.

"I'm seeing a lot of -- especially with recent world events -- people understanding that there is a need to deeply understand people of other faiths and to look for the things that we share in common," she says. "I think that's the spirit in which (World Religion Day) was founded many years before the current world situation."

Local observances

World Religion Day waas celebrated Sunday, January 15th, 2006, with interfaith devotional programs in South Bend and Elkhart.
The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of South Bend who hosted a noon gathering featuring prayers, readings and music at the Bahai Center, 1608 Mishawaka Ave.
Coordinating with the First Unitarian Church, 101 E. North Shore Drive, South Bend, the Bahais attended the 10:30 a.m. service at the church before the program at the Bahai Center, said Jaleh Dashti-Gibson, chairwoman of the South Bend assembly. In turn, the Unitarian congregation was invited to the Bahai Center. Representatives of other faiths were invited to the program at the center as well. The event was open to the public.
For more information, call (574) 234-4940.
The Bahais of Elkhart County will host a 3 p.m. Sunday interfaith devotional program in the Elkhart home of Ann and Bob Kronemyer. Attendees may share their own devotions, including music, Kronemyer said.
For more information about the Elkhart activities, contact the Kronemyers at (574) 522-0044.