Baha’i follower Susie Wong shares her faith with visiting Catholics. Photo by Jeremy Lim
SINGAPORE – Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha are all messengers of the same God, according to the belief of 2,000 Baha’i faithful in Singapore. Thus, people of all faiths should work towards the unity of the world, said Baha’i follower Mr Kuek Yi Hsing.
He was speaking at a special visit to the Baha’i faith centre at Cantonment Road on Aug 20, organised by the Singapore Archdiocesan Council for Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Dialogue. About 30 Catholics from different parishes turned up, many of them curious to find out more about one of the world’s youngest religions.
The Baha’i faith began in Persia in 1844, when Siyyid Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz declared himself the ‘Bab’ or ‘Gate’ in Arabic. He predicted the coming of a divine messenger, just as John the Baptist predicted the coming of the Messiah.
Although the Bab was executed by the authorities, one of his followers experienced a revelation and announced that he was Bahá’u’lláh, a messenger of God. Bahá’u’lláh spent most of his life in prison because he was perceived as a threat to the Islamic establishment. While locked up, he wrote prodigiously and his books form part of the foundation of the Baha’i faith.
Bahá’u’lláh also wrote letters to powerful leaders like Pope Pius IX, Napolean III of France, Alexander II of Russia and Queen Victoria of England. He advised them to abandon their armaments, settle their differences and work together for a better world.
All Baha’is recognise the ‘holy books’ like the Torah, Bible and Koran, so it is not surprising that they share many common beliefs with the Catholic Church and the world’s major religions.
“The Baha’i faith is about serving God and serving others, just like what Jesus taught,” said Sanny Tjendra from Church of Christ the King, a first-time visitor to the centre.
“They seem to have gleaned all the good aspects of the major religions and put them into a nice package,” said Jesuit novice Brother Lance Ng.
However, there are also distinct differences in belief. For example, the Baha’is have no priesthood or religious hierarchy.
In the past, religious leaders were required to guide the illiterate commoners, explained Mr Kuek. Today, everyone is expected to read the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and make their own judgments.
“This is justice,” added Mr Kuek.
Father Atta Barkindo, a visiting Catholic priest from Nigeria, disagreed. “More than half the world (today) is not educated,” he said. “You’re taking it for granted (that everyone can read).”
Priests are also needed to do missionary work, he added.
“What we need is education with character and morality – I think that’s what Bahá’u’lláh was talking about,” Father Barkindo said.
At the session, Baha’i followers helped to clear up some misconceptions about their faith, such as the myth that they are all vegetarian.
Typical Baha’is do not worship at a church or temple. Instead, they meet at a friend’s home every 19 days to pray, reflect and socialise.
By Jeremy Lim