I guess God really knows HOW I became a Bahá’í… but I will begin to tell you my journey. If you are investigating the Bahá’í faith, I hope this story helps you on your path; I have explained some things to make it clearer.
As Bahá’ís we know that Mothers are our first educators, but in some cases a stand-in mother has to take that role, maybe a male or female. I want to express my ultimate love for my dear mother, Joyce. I can honestly say she has shown love and care throughout my life. She nurtured my soul as a baby and by her own spirituality enabled me to find my own, spiritual path. In the true sense of the word, ‘first educator’, my mother was and still is exactly that. I cannot express my love and gratitude enough to her. She is a true friend. My dear mother has taught me the most valuable virtues and so enabled me to bring up our two children successfully. Patience, loving, caring, kindness, and humour. Not to be attached to material things; the list could go on and on. My mother has the attributes of a true Bahá’í.
One evening in the 1970s, I was at home and watching the main evening news with my father. Normally I paid little attention to it and found it all so depressing, day in and day out. Which leads me on to say, why on earth can’t the news whether it be in newspapers or on the radio or TV be good, show the positive instead of the negative? People would then believe in good and start to act that way instead of the opposite. Back to my point: on this particular evening the revolution going on in Iran was being shown and the word Bahá’í was mentioned quite a lot as this was a new religion, a new revelation which some of the fanatical Muslims strongly opposed. For some reason I was quite interested and I think I may have asked my father about it. I seem to remember feeling very sorry for the Bahá’ís and the way they were being treated. I felt it was very unjust. That was my first encounter with the Faith.
Then one day at my primary school, Laverock (which is the name of a bird) and maybe around a similar time, we had a Scripture lesson with the head teacher as our normal teacher was off for some reason. The lesson was taken by Miss Velton, the headmistress, who was quite strict and had words like ‘Buck Up’ in her vocabulary! Seeing her as a teacher put a very different light on my impressions of her and she seemed more human and quite kind. I sat through her lesson in awe and listened to every word. She told the class how one day Jesus would return and it would be a very special time. It would be so beautiful. In my mind I imagined this wonderful time like heaven on earth and I sat there and felt overwhelmed and full of happiness. The future in my mind, just in that short lesson, transformed and seemed more colourful, but there was nothing after the class to follow that thought through, until many years later. Miss Velton had planted a seed in me that little did I know would really flourish and grow! I was very contented at Laverock school. It was a great place for learning and establishing friendships.
My maternal Grandmother, Gladys Hannah Page (Hannah spelt the same way backwards as she would say!) was a very loving, Irish lady with a heart of gold and a great sense of humour. If she felt strongly about something she would certainly air her view and if she thought someone behaved badly she would call them a ‘rotter’ with a forthright voice. On occasions she would stand up suddenly at the Sunday lunch table if she was in disagreement with what my father was saying. It was often about politics, a subject I had no time for. As I write this now, I understand that I also independently had sought the Truth as I knew full well without any doubt whatsoever that politics was not the answer to the world’s problems. Yes we need a system and yes we need to be systematic and work from a structure, but not a structure based on money and greed and one country trying to override another (which happens even in society at the grass roots level) but a system based on morals, values, virtues, to form a better society that really functions. There will be many pitfalls – this is natural based on human faults – faults that can be corrected through education. Loving humans do not want to listen to empty promises; they want to hear that they can be guided by a system that comes from God’s teachings and that have been installed in the hearts of mankind since the beginning of time and will continue throughout all the worlds of God. We all have to help this happen. All the faiths work together in time; all the faiths need to be respected and not shunned; they need to be encouraged. So in time they will merge, like the colours of a painting. God is our artist. The colours will join and collide, the colours will mix and merge. The balance will be set and one day this rich pattern on earth will become one picture that God has been waiting for us to find. These things take time…. “Where there is love, nothing is too much trouble and there is always time”.
Though Gladys’ accent was fairly mild, as she left Eire at 12 years old with her large family, people would still recognise that she was Irish, through and through! I believe the family left Ireland for religious reasons. Granny, as she was known to her grand-children, was often around as we were growing up, to help my mother. She played a big part in my upbringing; she was a Protestant. These are the things she would say to me that I always remember, ‘never say you hate anyone’, and ‘you should treat people the way you would want to be treated’ and ‘everything in moderation’. These were very sound and firm values that I grew up with, that I have passed down to my family. Also, as I spent many happy times staying with my Granny, I remember we would sit in her car having been for a walk on Epsom race course, and eat chips! We would look at the people walking by and laugh and she would say, “aren’t people funny?!” We would watch people and smile at their funny ways and mannerisms! It wasn’t in disrespect as she loved people from all walks of life, she had no prejudice. It was a way of looking at the human race on the outside as if we weren’t one of them!
As Granny grew older she became unwell, she never lost her dignity as my mother would say. As I had done some nursing and liked caring for people, I offered to look after Granny as she was nearing the end of her life, so my parents and sister could have a holiday. She died sooner than was expected but then no one can put a life expectancy on anyone even when they are dying. That we leave to God.
Fortunately my Uncle Ralph (Granny’s son) came to help me. He had barely been with me a few days. One day he was going out of the door in his suit to work. I could see he had opened the front door and was making his way out, but then he hesitated and came back in. “I am not going to work today” he said. That afternoon Granny died peacefully at home.
Gladys passed on to the next life in my bedroom at The Glen where I was brought up, in Oxted, Surrey. After that time my bedroom became very special to me. It felt so peaceful, like a temple, as the soul of my dear Granny had abandoned the physical garment within these four walls. From then on I tried my utmost to keep it very tidy! When I entered my bedroom it was like entering a temple, it really did feel very peaceful. It was during this time that I began to realise that we really do have a soul and I longed for more peace and tranquillity in my life. I would pray to Granny. Although I was brought up a Christian I didn’t really feel I was part of Christianity at this time. I would pray to her and ask for assistance in any major decisions I had to undertake. I felt that she was my spiritual guide.
I moved to Brighton in about 1988 and rented various accommodation whilst doing temporary work. I found a permanent position as a secretary for some Engineering Consultants on February 27th (my birthday). My mother had kindly made some cake to take to work. On my first day I passed it around to all my new colleagues. A good start to a new contract! The team in the department where I worked were very friendly and helpful. It felt good to be part of them and they made me feel at home. It really makes a big difference if there is a good atmosphere amongst work colleagues.
On my first day one of the colleagues was sitting opposite me. I could barely look into his eyes. They were so bright, the white was so white. They shone and seemed to pierce me if I stole a glance. As he was so dark, it really made his eyes seem brighter. I was very intrigued and also somewhat unsure. I thought maybe he was from Pakistan….I had never met a Persian man before.
This colleague was to be my future husband. As time went on we became friends and felt more at ease in each other’s company. Sometimes we would meet at the main post office and go to the beach for lunch. Those were definitely days of courtship! We would look into each others’ eyes and drink from them without out a single word!
How I became a Bahá’í …. Well, Mark introduced the faith to me as a Bahá’í teacher. The first conversation we had, my mind made a conscious shift….like in the scripture class at my primary school with Miss Velton. Mark gave me the tool to have a global visualisation. My vision broadened. I was adopting a new way of thinking. One world, one people. My thoughts stretched like a river reaching out to the sea….this was the start of my journey to become part of a new race of people. This was the start of me joining a new civilization that will in time help to make this world a much better place, a more peaceful place for all beings.
A year before I became a Bahá’í I stopped drinking alcohol. I was brought up to drink wine; it was the culture of my family and it was respected, not abused. It felt good to be able to have a fun time with friends or go to a party and happily drink water! I remember at my sister’s 18th birthday party, I was so chuffed to be ‘high’ on water!
I used to go to deepening youth groups with Mark. I enjoyed the warmth and kindness from the friends. We went to one at Farangiz Mohebati’s home in Hove. As we read the Holy Writings I could feel the presence of a new spirit, a spirit renewed. The words were so poetic so elegant, the gentle waves of His presence had touched me.
Mark lent me a beautiful edition of the Hidden Words published by the Bahá’í publishing trust of the Bahá’ís of Taiwan. Every night before falling asleep I would read this book, over and over again. A key seemed to unlock its hidden mysteries for me. I am not an avid reader. This book was so well presented and I loved The Hidden Words, maybe as I am an artist and poet myself. I seemed to really understand the hidden mysteries in these words, and they made clear sense to me. This book verified a truth for me that I knew already; it just confirmed it. Although the words were very floral and poetic the meaning behind them was clear and straightforward. As I read, a systematic unfolding took place. This book had a very significant part in my journey to becoming a Bahá’í. The spiritual journey never ends and we are always learning, mentally, emotionally and physically – to enable us to become better spiritual beings.
At one of the very many parties at The Glen (my family home) I asked our beloved friend and priest, the Reverend Dennis Lane, what he thought if I were to became a Bahá’í. I wanted his confirmation. He christened and confirmed me in the Christian church. He was such a special man. Dennis married my parents and christened my brother and sister. His wife Mary was also very devoted. She called everyone darling. As a couple they did wonderful nativities for the children of the congregation. Mary would joyfully play the organ in the family services that I attended every Sunday throughout my childhood. She is buried in Tandridge; a cherry tree has been planted there, it grows profusely.
Dennis’ answer to my question was “I think that is a very good idea. I have Bahá’í friends.” His answer was such a happy and positive one, so now it was up to me to decide. That evening my mind was pretty well made up.
Two very big decisions were on my shoulders: whether to become a Bahá’í and whether to marry Mark. At the time I had little communication with either friends or family. Both decisions were very heavy burdens for me to make alone. I would write things down. GOOD was the word that kept coming up. I went through with a positive decision for both….YES!
At Farangiz Mohebati’s deepening one evening I went out for a while to another room as I had some stomach pain. Farahnaz, Farangiz’s daughter, sat next to me. She asked if I wanted to become a Bahá’í. I said I was thinking about it. She promptly opened her handbag and took out the declaration card and showed it to me. I signed it. It was May 3rd 1990. On going back into the lounge, to the delight of the others I was now a declared Bahá’í. As Mark was my initial teacher he wanted me to sign another one in front of him! Which I did. Does that now make me a twin Bahá’í? Joking aside I do have a wonderful ‘twin’ sister called Heidrun Brenner; we are more than spiritual sisters, we are twin twins (but not in the physical sense).
On February 9th 1991 Mark and I married and on that day the snow was at least six inches deep. It was beautiful, but not so easy for some of the guests to travel. We had a civil wedding and a Bahá’í ceremony. We have been married now for 21 years. Years of blissfulness and years of struggles. We grow together and we thank God we have our faith. We have lived in Malaysia, Rhodes, China and the UK. Our beautiful children were both born in Asia: Arzhia in Malaysia and Rezvan in China. I miscarried at two months in China. We have a beautiful place in our garden in Southwick that is a memorial to this dear soul. We pray for the souls in the next world and we can listen to their guidance. It is important that we pray for all the children in heaven (Abhá Kingdom); they left this garden to grow and flourish in the next world even more beautifully.
It’s great being a Bahá’í. It has its challenges like anything else but through prayer we grow and it does help if you have a sense of humour! God loves laughter and so does our immunity. The stronger we are, the more able we are to teach.
I love singing. I have recently joined the inter-faith choir, and it is wonderful to sing with other faiths the holy words together. That really is true unity in every sense of the word.
Mark and I successfully ran a Bahá’í children’s class from home. One child declared at age nine. He regularly joins in activities and is now a radiant youth. I hope to teach children’s classes again in the future.
What changed for me when I became a Bahá’í? Relationships, praying daily, spreading the cause. Having HOPE for the future is very significant for me. Being able to put prayers to my music and being able to write Bahá’í songs, seeing the faith in my art work, paintings etc.
Being part of a Bahá’í family of my own is very grounding, it is magnificent. It is unifying, it feels good to be part of the basic building blocks of life. It gives Mark and me such pleasure to bring up our youth in the Bahá’í school of thought since they were born and to watch them growing, knowing that they have the reassurance, confirmations and knowledge to help them develop themselves in this sometimes turbulent world.
God has laid out this pattern for us with the help of the Manifestations. Imagine the pattern: it is like billions of veins and capillaries all connecting like they do in the human body. These connections and bonds are the links we make with people and the ones they make with others. It is the flow of energy, the life-giving force. The link with animals, plants and minerals…. we are all connected. The pattern is linking up, and slowly the wave of this New Revelation is filling every heart of every living thing. It won’t be long before the world at large will recognise that Bahá’u’lláh is the Promised One for this age. This new day is with us now, so let’s enjoy and revel in its beauty, wonder and conformity.
I went to secondary school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Woldingham, Surrey. My connections with the Virgin Mary and with Jesus are strong. I tell my friends and new acquaintances that I am still a Christian, that I have just PROGRESSED and become a Bahá’í. I do not turn my back on my spiritual background, I take it with me. It enables me to really understand the true meaning of who I am as a Bahá’í. I also believe that it is important to respect and acknowledge the spiritual paths our ancestors have taken, this is also what makes us who we are. Our soul is almost sponge-like, there are many ways we can nourish it; obviously prayer is one of the most important and also our goodly deeds. At the end of the Catholic Mass, the congregation turn to one another and in a spirit of love and true fellowship they say “Peace be with you”. We have so much to learn from each other. All the faiths are learning from one another. Recently I met a beautiful lady and her daughter and we shared a very special time together in a local cafe. We said to each other “Peace be with you”. These four words REALLY matter, don’t they?
I have been on pilgrimage to the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel with my husband Mark. I have also been on a three day visit with the family (from Cyprus). As a family I will be going on pilgrimage again this April with Mark, Arzhia and Rezvan (gratefully with the inheritance from Mark’s dear mother, Pouri Habibi, who died last April). Pouri was, and still is, a tower of strength to me. She was a very beautiful lady, and she taught me wisdom and joy.
I do not want to write about my feelings about the pilgrimages I have already been on as they are personal to me. I will just mention that on returning from the Holy Land I felt like I had been spiritually cleansed, that I had been immersed in a place where purity and goodness are concentrated. But I will say that anyone can go on pilgrimage outside their front door. You do not need to spend thousand of pounds; the spirit of faith is with us if we believe and trust in God. We can go anywhere in the world and our faith goes with us if we really believe, and if we allow God into our lives. My faith is personal to me. Sometimes I am surprised that I have written this story but I have only touched on the outskirts. As I have said, my faith is between God and myself. It is a beautiful mystery that I hold dear to my heart. This is why when we teach the faith we have to leave a percentage up to God, the Holy Spirit and the individual we are teaching. There should be no pressure involved, just some gentle guidance, if appropriate.
Do not seek refuge in hollow troughs
Nor burn away the nights in a deep smouldering yearn.
Look beyond the clouds, elevate your spirit to loftier notes
And feel the presence of peace.
For joy and happiness is but a breath away…
The nightingale is calling us.
Go forth with confidence
Go forth with courage.
Loosen the fetters –
Make clear paths through burdens of morass.
Seek the essence of life –
Breathe the spirit in every living thing,
Minerals, creatures great and small,
Human beings alive or dead.
See the colours tones and shapes.
Let the breeze waft over us and the gusts of wind
Sway and bend us one by one in conformity to Thy will.
(The last two lines were influenced by the prayer revealed by Bahá’u’lláh,
page 51, Malaysian Prayer book under topic Happiness and Tranquillity)
When our children were very young, we used to attend a few summer schools. I remember going to the Irish Summer school in Waterford on our summer break from China (to escape the mosquitoes)! I also remember travelling there on a boat and being about six to seven months pregnant with Rezvan and sleeping on the deck with my sister-in-law, Sherie, and nieces!
Other than our trips to Haifa and to summer and winter schools, we have had a fleeting visit to the Bahá’í House of Worship in Chicago, USA (1992) with Arzhia when she was only six months old. This was a most memorable and significant visit for me. The white engraved sides of the temple were majestic but also so delicate like lace, and snow lay around on the ground outside. We then travelled on to the World Congress in New York. This was coming straight from Malaysia via the UK where Mark’s mother was able to meet Arzhia for just one night. (The hum inside the aeroplanes comforted Arzhia; she became so used to this form of travel, it was just another lullaby for her.)
As a Bahá’í, what involvement have I had/have in the core activities? I started Book 1 twice but didn’t complete it; maybe it wasn’t the right time. I ran a children’s class successfully for a few years with Mark. We have devotionals/firesides in our home. Southwick used to have a tranquillity zone before the new activities evolved. I visit friends for various different reasons to show love, fellowship, and to share prayers together either alone or with Mark or with friends. In the Bahá’í faith we call these home visits; it is one of the core activities. They enable us to reach out more into our neighbourhoods and communities to help join up this social network and for people to begin to recognise the new teachings from God and so they, in turn, can tell their friends and family to awaken the spirit in the hearts of man. They establish unity and help to establish through this great plan a more peaceful and loving world for all God’s creatures.
One of the reasons that Baha’is take on the institution of marriage is so their children can make mention of God. It fills my heart with joy and I feel so proud that our two beautiful children also take great pleasure in engaging in the core activities having wonderful conversations with friends and new acquaintances to help spread this magnificent cause. Arzhia is excelling in the Chinese language and Rezvan visited her in China last summer, when they travelled to Yunnan province together. There is nothing else to say now except I feel moved to have written this story and moved to know how wonderful this Cause is. I am reminded even more as I write this how absolutely amazing this all is, it is too beautiful, too magnificent and too remarkable to express any further. I will leave the rest for you to ponder over and let the spirit fill your every being.
Jessica Caroline Habibi
Sussex, January 2012