Today is World Religion Day in the Bahá’í Faith.
For two years I drove by the Baha’i Faith Center just a few blocks from my apartment without bothering to stop in.
It wasn’t until after I moved away that I finally decided to come back and sit in on a Sunday service to find out more about the Baha’i Faith first hand.
To my surprise, the center was mostly empty, despite it being a Baha’i holiday: World Religion Day. Members taught me two things about the Baha’i Faith that helped explain why to attendance on a Baha’i holiday was less than packed.
Most Baha’i services are not held in formal places of worship at all. Bahais usually meet at the homes of the congregation’s members.
Baha’u’llah, the religion’s founder, believed that the people’s scarce resources shouldn’t be spent on lavish buildings. The Baha’i world headquarters in Haifa, Israel, is the exception to this.
The community center in Los Angeles on the other hand is a plain, underwhelming box that’s easy to miss amid the grid of traffic and mini-malls known as La Cienaga Boulevard.
I was surprised the meeting didn’t mention anything about World Religion Day. The Baha’i Faith combines the philosophies of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism — with the writings of its founder and final prophet Baha’u’llah. The people at the service came from all different religious backgrounds, and they said members were encouraged to continue attending the services of their original faiths.
World Religion Day was not an invention of Baha’u’llah it turns out, but was promoted by the American chapter of the Baha’i Faith beginning in the 1950’s. I don’t want to call it a publicity stunt, but it may have be more for those outside the Faith than within.
As one member of the small congregation explained to me, for Bahais, “every day is World Religion Day.”
[Originally written March 2008]