My Bahá’í Story: Part 1
The personal explanation of how I became a Bahá’í has an interesting conundrum contained within it: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” That is: “Did God choose me or did I choose God?”
In Hinduism it is said of the believer in God that God Himself: “… is reached by the chosen of Him – because they choose Him.” (Upanishads)
And then, in the Bahá’í Faith, it is said that a person is given the grace of being a Bahá’í as a reward for some previous good deed.
Whatsoever the case may be, I have certainly become aware of one thing as I look in retrospect at my becoming a Bahá’í and every step thereafter: guidance! I feel very strongly that I was guided to the Bahá’í Religion by a force that was irresistible in nature. It was rather like stepping into a boat that was then taken forward by the force and current of a river. It also seems to me as though I actually had little choice in the matter, as though it was all a matter of destiny. As Thomas A Kempis said: “Man proposes but God disposes”. So whatever initial reluctance I held to the Faith was eventually squashed by its sheer power!
Of course, I do not mean to give the impression that I at any time resented or regretted becoming a Bahá’í. On the contrary, it has been the most noble and greatest occurrence that could ever happen to me! In fact, my only hope is that as the Faith was given so easily to me I pray that it is never taken away from me. I know that the Bahá’í Religion is a personal and universal treasure that is beyond comparison; and, as it states in the Long Obligatory Prayer, Bahá’u’lláh is “that which draweth us nigh unto Thee …” Becoming a Bahá’í is only the beginning, the second birth, from which the spiritual journey begins – may God grant that I have the steadfastness to persevere and not fall by the wayside.
I will now go back in time to the year 1985, my second year at Warwick University, when I was studying for a Degree in Philosophy. It was in the intellectual climate of university and in my Philosophy studies that I hoped to satisfy a deep need to know God, understand life and understand myself and my place within the cosmic scheme of things.
However, I was soon disappointed and depressed with the dry, fruitless and atheistic musings and writings of various people who all just seemed to be playing an academic “ring-a-ring a roses”. The only philosophers of the past that impressed me were Plato and Leibniz; otherwise there was too much of logic and criticism in the curriculum.
That was when I turned more and more to private readings of Hindu scriptures such as the `Bhagavad Gita’, the `Upanishads’, the Buddhist `Dhammapada’, and the Gospels of Christ, as well as such interesting and thought-provoking books as Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Shirley Maclaine’s Out on a Limb and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and Illusions. This was the time when the personal transformation started to take place, with the ideas in these books providing me with food for my soul.
It was the spring of 1985 that I met my first Bahá’í angel – Shirin Razavi – on a Bahá’í stall at the Leamington Spa Peace Festival. After reading the principles of the Faith I was astounded at their beautiful and logical simplicity, at their self-evident common-sense, and how they could all be contained quite compactly within one religion!
My reaction was to exclaim: “Why haven’t I heard of this before?!”, a question that I have heard many times since in response to my own proclamation efforts.
In retrospect I ask myself why I didn’t accept the Faith there and then? In reply, apart from an innate conservatism and caution, I see that I was at that time caught up in a whirlpool of my own ideas, philosophies and idle imaginations, as well as the lure of university’s social and sporting life. With my first introduction to the Faith I had been given my first glimpse of the `Promised Land’, but it was far off in the distance and I had yet to traverse that distance and overcome my present confusions and misconceptions. I had to go step by step and, after exploring the scriptures of the previous religions, I had yet to fully appreciate the Gospel of Christ and to read the mighty revelation enshrined in the Qur’an! Thus I see that in my spiritual and social journey I was following the pattern of the progressively revealed religions.
Within the next year I had read through the Gospels and the Holy Qur’an, both of which had taken my breath away! The effect after reading the very first Sura of the Qur’an was unforgettable: I felt as though a fire had been ignited in my heart and this feeling was exactly the same when I later read the Báb’s and Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings.
This supreme spiritual feeling constitutes my first proof of the validity of these religions, followed by their teachings, along with the stories of the lives of these Messengers. After reading about the various Prophets’ lives I have felt an indescribable love for them. Another proof of the power of the Bahá’í Faith was the experience of the joy and unity in so many Bahá’í meetings as a result of the almost tangible presence of what I perceive as none other than the Holy Spirit.
To return to my spiritual journey: I left university in mid-1986, joined a meditation group, and in the autumn of 1987 started my Postgraduate Teaching Training Course at Exeter University, Devon, where I met a charming Persian Bahá’í family. It was at this time that I was making plans, after some teaching experience, to enter the Church of England, but I now felt the onrushing presence of the Bahá’í Revelation more and more and I had to sit up and be very true to myself: did I want to be the representative, as a priest, of a past religion, or did I want to be honest with myself and agree that the Bahá’í Faith had all the answers to personal salvation and world peace?
I knew the latter answer was the only way but still I ‘sat on the fence’ and imagined that I could be a priest, and invite Bahá’ís for inter-faith meetings in the Church Hall! Being a priest would also solve the anxiety of financial insecurity so that I could get on with the task of bringing people to God and looking after them. But no! I knew that I had to be brave, put my trust in God to take care of my future, and just ‘let go’.
This personal struggle lasted a whole year until I decided to ‘declare’ on my 26th birthday, 4th January 1989, at the home of another Baha’i angel, Ms. Vida Nassiri of Ealing. It has been a decision that I have never regretted and, indeed, God has always taken care of my financial situation. I can see how so much is possible once a person has faith – and, as `Abdu’l-Bahá said, “as you have faith, so shall your powers and blessings be”.
Subsequent to these realizations and eventual conversion, and armed with my teacher-training certificate, I applied to work as a Primary school teacher in the multi-cultural environment of Ealing in west London. I was assigned to Costons Middle School and proceeded to have two fascinating and enjoyable years (1988-1990) teaching students whose parents originated for the most part from the sub-continent of India and Pakistan.
My life then took a remarkable turn when I heard from some Baha’is of New Era School in India. Since I was very attracted to the people and culture of India I applied and was invited to teach in that magnificent school in that majestic country. Utilising my experience in London, I proceeded to share my passion and joy of teaching English and Moral Education to Primary-aged children in Panchgani, India, between 1992-1994. Given that it was a Boarding school in the beautiful western ghats of Maharashtra, I also initiated after-school football and hockey clubs (that later became mixed gender teams) as well as weekend hiking excursions to local beauty spots in order for the young people from a traditional culture to learn how to cooperate and help each other.
My whole adventure so far has also taught me to be patient with people who are investigating the Faith, for everyone has some `hang-up’ or confusion of one type or another, and this must be disentangled slowly and gently from those confusions. That’s why, while a person is still alive, there is still time to recognize God and His Messenger and follow this religion.
Praise be to God, the Lord of all the Worlds!
New Era High School, Panchgani, India
My Bahá’í Story, Part 2
In 1992, after those two very happy years in India, I flew onto Macau, a Portuguese colony on the southern coast of China. Although Geography was one of my favourite subjects in school, I still had to consult a map to find its exact location. But my ignorance extended beyond even this lack of knowledge – when I arrived I had no idea that Macau was the ‘Las Vegas of the East’. Since that time the number of casinos has skyrocketed from 12 in 1992 to 35 now. Macau now has the dubious achievement of having overtaken the original Las Vegas in gambling turnover and profits for both casino owners and the Macau government. It is a veritable boomtown and an economic miracle, especially given the financial hard times now plaguing the world.
I came here to teach in another Bahá’í-inspired school – the School of the Nations – a socio-economic development project established by the Badi Foundation. Actually, by this time I had a ‘grand tour’ plan in mind – teach for two years in each of three Bahá’í-inspired schools in Macau, Japan, and Brazil before heading back to the UK to ‘settle down’. So much for the best laid plans of mice and men – here I am still, after 20 years! In that time I got married to Sandy Chan (who subsequently became a Baha’i) and who is a social worker, had three children whose names are Julia (now aged 9), Jonathan (5), and Rosabella (2), gained my Masters and Doctorate in Education, and found a fulfilling lecturing post teaching English to social work undergrads at a local tertiary institution. Furthermore, I am now studying for another Masters in Macau, this time in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
My local Baha’i service has consisted of work on a Local Spiritual Assembly, numerous proclamation events, participation in the Study Circle programme, and attendance at a weekly Sunday evening Fireside. I would also like to add here that my Doctoral dissertation was a case study of moral leadership at the School of the Nations, which largely extolled the positive impact that the Faith, its teachers, its teachings, and its educational philosophy was having on the students and parents.
One other aspect that I think is worth sharing here relates to language and culture. After living in South Asia and South East Asia for 22 years, I have witnessed and come to appreciate the power of a culture’s religious, social, and folk beliefs on human behaviour and human affairs. In a Chinese cultural setting such beliefs include those concepts and values centred upon maintaining personal reputation or ‘face’ and living within and being sensitive to groups. Such values manifest themselves within the extended family and, by extension, the society at large. With such values in mind, a vital element of being accepted in any group is sameness, which is where knowledge of the local language comes to the fore. In this regard, the Chinese dialect of Cantonese and increasingly the national language of Mandarin Chinese are assets – indeed, an indispensable requirement – for any outsider who wishes to spend time in China and get to know its people.
Who knows where I’ll be in another 20 years; wherever I am, what I have learned is that ‘As ye have faith, so shall your powers and blessings be.’
Macau SAR, PR of China, March 2012