To begin from the beginning: I have lived all my young life just outside the Welsh border town of Monmouth. I come from an atheist / agnostic local family, but I attended a voluntary controlled primary school with a strong Christian bias, an experience which “put me off” religion. I didn’t like the fact it was assumed we were and would be Christians, and I didn’t like the way the Bible was taught as fact. I remember once we were asked in an RE lesson to “draw a picture of what you think God looks like”. Although in hindsight I can see the point of the exercise, I neither liked it then nor approve now – I just drew a big red cross and said “I don’t believe in God”.
The first non-Christian RE we had (to my memory) was in Year 5 when we studied Buddhism. We were lucky enough to visit a Buddhist centre near us (Lam Rim centre in Penrhos) where we could talk with the resident custodians and monks. I had a bit of an epiphany – here was a faith free of the puzzling dilemmas of Trinitarian thinking and dogmatism – with plenty of wise and thoughtful things to say. The people there were so friendly and open.
I entertained a certain persistent fascination with Buddhism after that, and going into secondary school I was somewhat ambivalent about faith. I still certainly didn’t believe in God – I could never get around the ‘Richard Dawkins problem’ … how can you be a Christian and not a Hindu, and vice versa? A Christian might say “Well in Mark chapter X verse Y it says ‘Christ is the only way’”, but then the Hindu might be able to quote a similar piece of scripture about Krishna – who trumps who? And I still hated RE lessons.
In my first year at Monmouth Comprehensive, I was fortunate enough to be taught Humanities (combined History, RE and Geography, resulting in a Humanities lesson almost every day) by our deputy head, a fantastically passionate historian. I remember he wrote on my report that year that I had experienced a “Damascene Conversion” when it came to RE and History – largely thanks to the engaging lessons and topics we were taught so well at the Comp. That conversion has persisted – I’m now looking forward to studying History and Philosophy & Ethics when I enter Lower Sixth at Monmouth Comp (plus Maths and Further Maths). I enjoyed debating and discussing religious issues, and often delighted in trying to demolish Christian arguments. I now saw RE as an objective discipline – not just the parroting of dubiously grounded “facts”. Is the Bible historically accurate? What was Muhammad’s attitude towards women? Such open questions excited my interest, and led me to opt to study GCSE RE.
A little before my fifteenth birthday (something I have come to regard as more than just a coincidence), I stumbled across the Bahá’í Faith online – reading an article titled something like “Top 10 Largest Religions”. Having never heard of it before, I googled it, and was surprised to see a result listing the address and telephone number of the Bahá’ís of Monmouth (evidently Google had found out where I lived …). So, a few days later, my mother rang the number, and asked if I could come up and ask some questions. They said yes, so up I went to my first Wednesday devotional, and came back with a pile of fancy looking books and pamphlets, whose glamour almost compelled me to read them!
I suppose a number of events conspired to cause me to declare my faith in Bahá’u’lláh only a few months later, first among which was the hospitality shown to me by Roya, Soheyl and June, the first Bahá’ís I came into contact with. I was also impressed by the way that the faith solved the aforementioned “Richard Dawkins problem” – and the way it drew compelling links between (for instance) the historic advances resulting from Islam’s Golden Era and the potentialities of Muhammad’s Revelation itself.
Wherever I turned, I seemed to find proofs of Bahá’u’lláh’s message. One of my new books was Some Answered Questions. The cogency of the analysis of Bible prophecies and their persistent links with the Bahá’í Revelation took me aback. I read Prayers and Meditations – the language humbled me. I reread the Bhagavad Gita (I had originally decided to read it upon starting a year of study of Hinduism for GCSE) and here I found the counsel that
“Whenever there is a falling away from the true law and an upsurge of unlawfulness, then I emit myself. I come into being age after age, to protect the virtuous and to destroy evil-doers, to establish a firm basis for the true law.”
I referred to the Dao De Jing, where I saw profound links with Bahá’í concepts and teachings. The essence of the unknowability of God seemed logical to me, as did the other core Bahá’í teachings on race and gender equality. I paid a visit to Lam Rim again after so many years (offering to volunteer), and had a long chat with a long-time resident, which again made me realize the fundamental verity of Bahá’u’lláh’s message.
When I opened my Qur’an (that year’s Christmas present … and yes I do appreciate the irony), the Surah I chanced upon was Al-Muddaththir, which not only helped me to understand the metaphorical nature of “hell fire” in Islam, but also led me ever closer to Bahá’u’lláh. The Surah addresses the day of Resurrection – “when the Trumpet is sounded”. The Surah admonishes those who are “greedy – that I [God] should add yet more” “to whom I made life smooth and comfortable”, who have also rejected Muhammad / faith in general (“said he; ‘this is nothing but magic, derived of old; this is nothing but the word of a mortal!’”). The Surah goes on (from Ayah 26), saying:
“And soon I will cast him into Hell-Fire!
And what will explain to thee what Hell-Fire is?
Naught doth it permit to endure, and naught doth it leave alone!
Darkening and changing the colour of man!
Over it are Nineteen.
And We have set none but angels as Guardians of the Fire; and We have fixed their number only as a trial for Unbelievers, in order that the People of the Book may arrive at certainty, and the Believers may increase in Faith, and that no doubts may be left for the People of the Book and the Believers, and that those in whose hearts is a disease and the Unbelievers may say, ‘What symbol doth Allah intend by this?’ Thus doth Allah leave to stray whom He pleaseth, and guide whom He pleaseth: and none can know the forces of thy Lord, except He and this is no other than a warning to mankind.”
To my understanding, this Surah addresses the white man of the West; he who has been most greedy and sceptical of (Muhammad’s) religion. The coming of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, wherein the harmonious mixing of peoples of all race and colours will “darken and change the colour of [white] man”, will also revolutionize all aspects of society (“Naught doth it permit to endure, and naught doth it leave alone!”) I’m sure all Bahá’ís will recognise the significance of the “nineteen angels” – my only dilemma is whether to reconcile these with the Letters of the Living or the Apostles of Bahá’u’lláh!
And so, after much prayer and reflection, I became a Bahá’í.
Since then I have been joyfully studying the faith and attending weekly devotionals. Though there are only four of us, I feel truly a part of our evolving community. Attending this year’s Summer Intensive Training at Keele gave me the opportunity to make many more friendships in the wider Bahá’í community – and to learn what a Ruhi Book was for the first time!
For the moment, I can only look forward to the glorious future of the Bahá’í Faith, and to witnessing its continued unfoldment during the rest of my lifetime. It is my sincerest hope that many more people can be touched by the power of Bahá’u’lláh’s message, just as I have been.
“My God, my Adored One, my King, my Desire! What tongue can voice my thanks to Thee? I was heedless, Thou didst awaken me. I had turned back from Thee, Thou didst graciously aid me to turn towards Thee. I was as one dead, Thou didst quicken me with the water of life.” Bahá’u’lláh
Monmouth, August 2014