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September 24, 2001

The Baha'i faith draws together warring religious factions at a time when fanaticism threatens world peace
by Melanie Brooks
Moazam Yazdani photo Moazam Yazdani, principal of Suzanne Sabih Bahá'í School in Carson Grove Elementary School in Gloucester, has experienced religious discrimination when she lived in her native Iran. "We must explain to our children that religion is not about exclusion or hate," she says.

In Israel, Jews and Muslims kill each other. In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban destroys Buddhist statues. And last week, Islamic terrorists lashed out at the western world by killings thousands in the United States in the name of religion.

But in Ottawa and around the world, there is a small religion that draws all these warring factions together, blending their fundamental beliefs of peace and love of God into one,  unified voice: Baha'i.

The Baha'i faith draws from classic religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and others, seeing them each as stages in the spiritual development of the world. The more than five  million followers of Baha'i believe in one God, and base their religion around the Koran, the Bible and teachings from other religions.

"The Earth is but one country and mankind its citizens," is the religion's guiding belief.

Yesterday, Ottawa's small Baha'i community of 850 registered its children in Sunday school.

About 25 years ago, when the Baha'i community numbered only a few dozen people in Ottawa, they held Sunday school classes in people's homes each week.

Now there are two locations: the William Sears Baha'i school at L'ecole elementaire Kanata, and the Suzanne Sabih Baha'i School at the Carson Grove Elementary School in Gloucester.

"It's particularly applicable right now," said David Smith, co-principal of the William Sears school. "People are looking for explanations, comfort for the world events. It's an opportunity for children to have some kind of spiritual grounding."

Mr Smith and Moazam Yazdani, the principal of the Gloucester school, said they expect in the next few weeks, the children will be asking about the events in the United States and the role of religion in the terrorist attacks.

"That is not Islam," said Ms Yazdani firmly. "We, like other parents and religious people, must explain to our children that religion is not about exclusion or hate."

Ms Yazdani knows about people twisting religion in a way to exclude others. A native of Iran, she was in the Middle Eastern country when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979, bringing in a radical Islamic leadership.

She had been teaching elementary school for 18 years, but she was fired because she wasn't a Muslim. Her husband, too, lost his job and his pension.  "It was very difficult. All the other Baha'is were fired too. But we survived," she said. "They said they wanted to do the true Islam, but they didn't."

After seven years of scraping by, trying to leave Iran, they came to Canada. Now, Ms Yazdani runs a private day care and operates the Baha'i school on Sundays.

The main tenets of Baha'i are the abandonment of prejudice; full equality for women and men; the elimination of extreme poverty and extreme wealth; universal education; a global commonwealth of nations; and the realization that religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

"We teach all the teachings of religious prophets, like Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha. We stress the importance of certain values, like respect, reliability, kindness," said Mr Smith.

For two hours, children from ages three to 19 learn about the history of world religions through drama, music and discussions.

The classes are open to people of all faiths, and Ms Yazdani said there are several non-Baha'i families that attend.

"The ultimate goal of this religion when it started in 1844 was to have world peace," she said. "Everyone is included in
that goal."

Printed in The Ottawa Citizen September 24, 2001

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