Welcome to the UK Baha’i Histories Project

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The UK Baha’i Histories Project is collecting the stories of individual Baha’is who currently live in the UK, or have lived here in the past.  The project is sponsored by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai’s of the UK.

These stories are personal recollections by the individuals concerned. They will inevitably contain omissions and they reflect the views of the individual author in each case. We cannot vouch for the authenticity or completeness of any of the ‘histories’, although all stories are subjected to an editorial review. We urge readers who may have additional information that is pertinent to any story to post a comment, which may be viewed by all visitors to the site.

We would like to encourage EVERYONE to write their Baha’i history.  Your story is important and interesting, whether you became a Baha’i last week or 50 years ago.  We would also like to see stories from people who have moved to the UK, especially if you moved here from Iran, and your experiences when you first arrived.

To give you some inspiration, take a look at the stories below.  We hope you will then decide to write your own story.  Please contact bhp1uk@gmail.com and the team will help you to get started.

Webpage header photo courtesy of Baha’i Media Bank

Janeann Mohseni

Janeann Mohseni

I was born in Glasgow, Scotland, sandwiched between two older and two younger brothers.  My father was a builder and we all moved to Wales when I was about three. My upbringing was unreligious but I do remember my parents saying that we could choose what religion we followed when we were older.   Although I went to Sunday school and was later part of the church choir, I never felt completely fulfilled in church. I had a strong spiritual sense which I felt was never truly satisfied.  My father died of cancer when I was twelve which changed our family life considerably. We had had quite a strict upbringing when my father was alive but after he died my mother was so busy taking care of us all and running a bed and breakfast place that we were left much more to our own devices.  My mother was loving and accepting to all, she was very hard working and practical and expected all her children to help out in our large, seven- bedroom home.

I was introduced to the Baha’i Faith through my brother Don Love who became a Bahá’í in the early seventies. Some of that group of Baha’ís included Rosie Bennet, Bob Griffith and Mahbobeh Hallam (née Hussain).  At that time there was a vibrant young community in Shrewsbury under the loving care of Dr and Mrs Ta’eed (Dr. Heshmand Ta’eed was the first Bahá’í pioneer to Laos). They and their family nurtured and took care of us all.

I don’t remember exactly the first meeting I went to but it must have been around the time of Ayyam-i-Ha and Naw-Rúz as there always seemed to be a party going on.  I do remember our weekly firesides every Wednesday which included relaxed, but stimulating conversations about a wide range of subjects.  The people who attended were interesting and came from many differing backgrounds. The diversity of these gatherings definitely left an impression on me and I enjoyed my 45-minute walk to the Taéed’s home each Wednesday.  Later I would walk with my future husband Waheed, he in his platform shoes which became a standing joke as we walked from bus stop to bus stop not waiting for the bus to arrive!

I remember thinking that the Bahá’í principles of unity, universal education, elimination of prejudices, and the harmony of science and religion were both spiritual and logical and that surely everyone must agree with them!  No pressure was ever put on me to become a Baha’í but I was included in all the community activities. When I was sixteen, I went to an event in Stoke-on-Trent where the ‘Dawn Breakers’, a singing group from the USA, was performing.    One of the girls started talking to me about progressive revelation, that all the messengers of God were from the same source and with the same spiritual message, something which I had always believed to be true. When I asked her if a Bahá’í could also wear a crucifix, she pulled out her necklace to reveal a crucifix, as well as other pendants.  As trivial as it seems now, that act made me feel that Bahá’ís were living what they believed and that the Bahá’í teachings had a wonderful vision for the future. I then decided to declare my belief in Bahá’u’lláh, as I had known for some time it was the right path for me.  I immediately felt my vision of the world expand and I was excited for the future. This was sometime in 1973, and I remember my mother being upset when I told her that I wanted to be a Bahá’í, thinking that it was some strange cult. However, she later became a loving friend of the faith and was very impressed by the Bahá’ís she met. She even attended summer schools and helped at Baha’i events.

Dr Ta’eed encouraged me to go to the summer school in Tiverton, Devon, in 1975 and generously offered to pay half of the fee, twenty pounds, which was a lot of money for a student in those days. Unfortunately the summer school was fully booked so I booked in at a bed and breakfast nearby. When I came down to breakfast on the first morning, I was pleasantly surprised to meet Peter Baldwin, a Baha’i from my community with whom I had gone to primary school. I really enjoyed those full English breakfasts that week as I had very little money and that was my only meal of the day, apart from tea and many biscuits at summer school!  The second week a place became available in the school so I was fully fed!

We were blessed to have three Hands of the Cause at summer school Mr Faizi, Mr Haney and Mr Furútan, all inspiring to listen to in different ways. I had offered to help out at the book shop which meant that I got to meet and talk to lots of wonderful people.

As a Bahá’í, I found meeting people from all over the world a normal experience, although at the time there were very few people of different nationalities living in my home town.  Our community was very active and I was involved in children’s classes from that time. I later attended nursing school and was on the national youth committee for a time.  I was part of the first youth pilgrimage from the UK in 1976, a wonderful experience of which I felt totally unworthy. As a student nurse I did not have any savings to pay for my pilgrimage to Haifa so I had to get a loan from the local bank for the trip. I remember being interviewed by the bank manager and explaining why I needed the loan. Well, he must have been impressed as I got the loan! This is something that I would find difficult to do even today, so, looking back, I’m amazed at my nineteen-year-old self for having the courage to ask for a loan.

First Bahai Youth Pilgrimage in 1976 Seated – First row (left to right): Shohab Youssefian, Shohreh Youssefian (Rouhani), Guita Ram (Youssefian), Foad Khorsandian, Judy Oakeshott (Digby). Seated – Second row: Payman Paymani, Gisu Mohadjer, Cathy Cardell (Yavrom), Janeann Love (Mohseni), Suzy Cardell, Shida Paymani (Rahmani). Standing at back: Vafa Ram

The pilgrimage was in December and was a very moving experience. We met Hand of the Cause Amatu’l-Bahá RúhíyyihKhánum whom I remember as being both beautiful and strong.  We also met Hand of the cause Mr Furútan who took loving care of us all. We had a meeting with the members of the Universal House of Justice who left an impression on me as they walked into the room, an abiding sense of utter humility. I don’t remember what was said but do remember feeling very moved and humbled.

I met my future husband when he came to the UK to study and had been given our address through a Bahá’í who attended a summer school in Iran. Both of Waheed’s sisters were studying in England but he came to Shrewsbury and the rest is history!  I met his family when we attended the Paris Conference in 1976, a wonderful family consisting of seven siblings, all talented and strong Bahá’ís. We were married in 1977 and moved to live in Bahrain in the Middle East, where we have lived for the past 43 years.

Waheed’s family were very supportive and his siblings were married to English, German, Persian and Bahrainis, so a very international family. My father-in-law was the first Bahraini national to recognise Bahá’u’lláh, which he did through meeting Mr Faizi. My father-in-law was a kind, caring person much respected by his Muslim family and friends. The Bahá’í community was very active and close-knit.  Bahrain was the place to which Mr Faizi pioneered before he was appointed a Hand of the Cause.  Most of the Bahá’ís were pioneers who had endured much hardship in the early days in Bahrain as it has a very hot climate and there was little fresh water at that time. Some of these early experiences are documented in the wonderful book, “Faizi’’ which I highly recommend as an insight to life in Bahrain in the 1940s and 50s.

The people of Bahrain have a long history of welcoming other nationalities as it was on a trading route to India and was the centre of the ancient Dilmun civilization.  The government of Bahrain is very forward thinking and supportive of all the different nationalities, cultures and religions in Bahrain.  There has been a long history of expatriates from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh working in Bahrain. They are all given religious freedom to follow their different faiths.  There is a Hindu temple which is over 100 years old, several churches of different denominations, a synagogue and many beautiful mosques. Bahá’ís have their own cemetery and Baha’i society and Bahá’ís are respected as law- abiding, community-minded people. The government has initiated an interfaith group to which all the different religions are invited, a unique initiative in the region.

In the 1970s we went travel-teaching to various countries around the world. We travelled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Taiwan and China to teach and visit Bahá’ís there. This was a wonderful, unique experience to meet Bahá’ís from some very remote areas united by the teaching of Bahá’ú’lláh.

There have always been very organised children’s classes in Bahrain as well as Persian language classes, a youth committee, and women’s committees, as well as Local and National Spiritual Assemblies. We were busy most nights of the week!  Most of the activities were conducted in Farsi so I had some adjusting to do to learn Farsi and to adapt to Arab culture and language. However, today all activities are conducted in Arabic. I’m still working on the Arabic!!

We were blessed with three wonderful sons, two of whom are married and are settled in Bahrain and one close by. I am still involved in children’s classes and our six grandchildren attend. Bahrain is a special place and Bahrainis are well educated and very accepting of foreigners such as myself.

We opened a pre-school in 1995, which is still growing, and this has enabled me to learn, grow and give back something of what Bahrain has given to me. I have so much enjoyed the pleasure of helping the next generation of world citizens.

 

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Janeann Mohseni

Bahrain, June 2021

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The Mohseni family in Bahrain at Naw Ruz 2020. Jane is seated on the far left