- Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
“Each sees in the other the Beauty of God reflected in the soul, and finding this point of similarity, they are attracted to one another in love. This love will make all men the waves of one sea, this love will make them all the stars of one heaven and the fruits of one tree. This love will bring the realization of true accord, the foundation of real unity.” –Abdu’l-Baha 1
In 1904, Florence Breed and Ali-Kuli Khan married in Boston. Breed was American and Khan was Iranian; their union symbolized East and West uniting in the Baha’i Faith. When Abdu’l-Baha visited the US in 1912, the Khans hosted a luncheon for Him in Washington, D.C. There, Abdu’l-Baha defied social convention by giving Louis Gregory, an African-American Baha’i, the seat of honor.
A few months after this luncheon, Louis Gregory and Louisa Mathew were wed in New York City. Their marriage was illegal in many parts of the United States due to racist anti-miscegenation laws. And I believe that was precisely the reason Abdu’l-Baha had encouraged Louis and Louisa to get to know each other: so that the truth of their love would expose the falsity of racial barriers.
While the Khans and Gregorys were unusual in their day, today many Baha’i marriages transcend traditional borders of race, culture, and nationality. The diversity of the global Baha’i community—second only to Christianity in its geographic scope—has facilitated these connections.
It’s not just Baha’is who are marrying beyond their social group. In my country, the US, people of all backgrounds are becoming increasingly open to such marriages. Today, 7% of native-born Americans are married to immigrants 2, and 10% of US marriages unite spouses of different races or ethnicities 3. In addition, today, 39% of Americans think that “the growing number of people marrying someone of a different race is good for society.” 3 On the other hand, 9% say it’s bad for society.To help shift society from division toward unity, Baha’is can share Baha’u’llah’s teachings about oneness.
Sharing these teachings starts in our homes. Both my parents are Baha’i, and when my sister and I were children, they taught us to value all people. Baha’u’llah taught that every human is a noble being, a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. It’s not for us to look at the surface and try to determine the value of the jewels inside. Thanks to this early spiritual education, as I grew up, I found myself particularly attracted to people who could show me varying perspectives on our world.
In fact, both my sister and I married men from very different national and cultural backgrounds. I married Sergey, who hails from Moldova. Jasmine married Dhabih, from Guyana. Our family now encompasses three continents.
Although Sergey and I share a pallid skin tone, serious personality, and—most importantly—our belief in the teachings of Baha’u’llah, what we don’t share has provided huge growth opportunities for both of us. Our hometowns are 5,000 miles apart. Had we been born a generation earlier, we might have never had an opportunity to meet, due to the Iron Curtain. We grew up speaking different languages, eating different food, embedded in dissimilar family structures and cultures. Our contrasting backgrounds provide plenty of material for learning on a daily basis, from the simple—sharing recipes from our home cuisines—to the complex, such as navigating different approaches to communicating.
When we have kids, we’ll teach them the unifying message of Baha’u’llah. But this lesson won’t happen through words alone; their exposure to the wonderful diversity of the human race will start right here, in our home, as they learn to speak both English and Russian, as they bond with their transnational relatives, as we tell them about the roots of the many immigrants who have come together to produce them: Moldovan, Russian, Polish, Jewish, Roma, Iranian, Swiss, Swede, English, Irish, German… They will learn that while heritage matters, what matters more is how they connect with people who do not share their roots, their lifestyles, or their perspectives. I hope they’ll absorb the love Sergey and I have, and as they grow, they’ll perceive the falsity of persistent social divisions—and help to break them down.
I realize that four years of marriage hardly makes me an expert. But here’s my inexpert suggestion for how you can contribute to building a more unified world: if you’re seeking a spouse, consider getting to know people unlike you. Of course, look for a partner who shares your spiritual values, but let this partner be someone who will open your eyes—and your heart—to the wider world. Families are the building blocks of society, and if those fundamental units demonstrate unity in diversity, ultimately, society will too.
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