Transcending the Fear of Difference

It’s the second most geographically widespread religion after Christianity. It’s the newest of the world’s independent faiths. It embraces the beliefs of other religions in pursuit of unity among people working to overcome modern obstacles to global justice. It’s the Bahá’i faith—and too many of us don’t know what it is.


It all began with the Báb (“The Gate” in Arabic), a man who spread a message throughout Persia in the 1840s saying that the Promised One was still yet to come. One of the Báb’s disciples was Mirza Husayn-‘Ali, who was imprisoned by the Persian clergy for accepting the Báb’s words. While in prison he experienced a vision that led him to a Divine Message—that he was the Promised One as foretold by the Báb. He became known as Baha’u’llah, the Glory of God, and though he was exiled throughout the Ottoman and Turkish empires, his message of peace and unity spread throughout the world. Today, millions around the globe embrace the teachings of this Divine Messenger.

Core Beliefs

The central message of the Bahá’i faith is one of “progressive revelation”—that all people should come together as one global family to solve international issues. Layli Miron, Penn State phD student and president of the Bahá’i Campus Association, explained that “Baha’u’llah’s teachings include the equality of women and men, the importance of eliminating prejudice among races and cultures, economic equality, access to education and the harmony of science and religion.”

Bahá’is embrace the beliefs of other world faiths, because Baha’u’llah teaches that God has revealed himself to humanity through messengers of different names and faiths—Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster and Jesus. Layli said that “we see most of the religious conflict that’s happening in the world today as stemming from humans’ interpretations of these messages as being opposed to each other.”

Modern Day Persecution 

Many individuals who identify with the Bahá’i faith in countries like Iran are facing government persecution because they do not ascribe to the Islamic faith. Penn State law student Zareen*, who lived in Iran throughout her childhood, explained many of the hardships faced by those of the Bahá’i faith.

“Bahá’is are banned from higher education and from working in governmental positions or any or important positions because they are controlled,” Zareen said. “They have different rights.”

She experienced this discrimination in her own life. A bright student in high school, Zareen had difficulty applying to university simply because of her faith. “The Iranian government claimed they didn’t ask about religion in the entrance exam forms,” she said. “But after I took the exam and went to get my results, it said that apparently I had an error in my documents and couldn’t continue to the next step.”

Zareen pointed out that in addition to denying access to higher education, the Iranian government used many different measures to persecute those of the Bahá’i faith. “My husband’s brother and his wife were imprisoned for one year in Iran for being Bahá’i,” Zareen said. “The government doesn’t want to say they put you in jail because you are Bahá’i, though. They are very strategic and try to label you with something else; like you’re anti-government or a threat to security.”

Though Zareen eventually did gain access to higher education and made it to Penn State, not all Bahá’is will receive the same opportunity. Religious persecution is unfortunately still prevalent in many areas throughout the world.

More Information

As with any religion, there are so many facets to the Bahá’i faith that cannot be summed up briefly. If you would like more information, the Bahá’i Campus Association is an organization at Penn State that encourages anyone to join, regardless of religious affiliation. Layli, the president, says that the goal for the club is to be truly interfaith. So far, the organization has reached out to Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindi, and Mennonite groups at Penn State.

Ultimately, Layli summed up her view of religion with an anecdote that can apply to both the Bahá’i faith and religion in general. “So often religion becomes a source of conflict,” she said. “But I believe that religion’s purpose is to unite and to bring people together. It can help them transcend a tendency to fear difference.”

Originally published in VALLEY’s Fall 2017 Issue.

*Name changed by request