The Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland
Statements on Matters of Public Interest / Concern
APPRECIATING OUR RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY
The Bahá'í Council, on behalf of the followers of the Bahá'í Faith in Northern Ireland, shares with you this statement to mark the beginning of 2007.
The Bahá'í community wholeheartedly seeks the development of a more tolerant, united and harmonious community. We are convinced that progress towards this noble goal is in direct proportion to the extent our society is grounded on spiritual principles, including the total recognition of the oneness of the human race and an acceptance of One God Who has spoken to His creation.
Northern Ireland, like the rest of the world, is caught up in a steady process of diversification. The worldwide processes of migration, the rapid growth of cultural and religious diversity and the intermingling of communities are phenomena that will continue to alter the face of our society. There is, however, an increasing need for people to develop an awareness and appreciation of the spiritual values of the followers of diverse religions.
The Bahá'í community believes that in reaching out to forge relationships with other faith communities we should strive for much more than tolerance. We encourage recognition of the eternal spiritual truths that are common to all religions, as these can and will provide a strong basis for increasing our understanding of each other. A profound example of this point is seen in the so-called "golden rule" that runs like a thread through each Faith. i.e. that we should behave towards each other in the same way that we would have others behave towards us. This teaching is recorded in the scriptures of all of the major religions. Similarly, all religions teach such virtues as humility, justice, reverence, honesty, courtesy and the like.
Bahá'ís believe that all the world's religions have come from that single God Who has spoken though Divine Teachers sent to educate humanity. The diversity we see among religions today is a consequence of the historical and social context within which the religion was formed and developed. The essential teachings of all these religions are the same.
We believe that the primary purpose of religion is to establish unity and concord among the peoples of the world. The extent to which religious communities are able to show loving unity towards others can be seen as a simple measure of loyalty to their own teachings.
Members of the Bahá'í Faith strive with all people of goodwill for the day when everybody within our society regards themselves as "the leaves of one branch, the fruits of one tree" united in the knowledge that "there can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God."
Many people of faith find it difficult to reconcile their deep religious convictions with an appreciation of the truths to be found in other religious traditions. It is tempting to insist that one's own beliefs are correct while others are ill informed or misguided. Experience shows that becoming informed can result in mutual trust and the abandonment of animosity which may have resulted from prejudice.
The Bahá'í community sees education as essential for a region determined to embrace religious diversity and ensure social harmony. While indoctrination must be avoided, education should be comprehensive enough to ensure 'skimming the surface' is avoided. Education should aim to equip students with those attitudes and skills that enable them to investigate truth for themselves. This includes giving information about the different religions practised in Northern Ireland. Skills in conflict resolution and consultation are also important elements in building a violence-free and harmonious community.
In addition to imparting knowledge, attitudes and skills, schools and the local communities into which they are embedded should become models of inclusiveness. Teachers, civic leaders, the media and religious leaders themselves should aim to demonstrate in practice the virtues of courtesy, respect, flexibility, humility, tact and unity that we all long to see developing in our youth.
Schools should ensure that all pupils have a knowledge and understanding of the many positive contributions of major religions to our society, appreciating the historical legacy of such religions as Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and others in Northern Ireland as well as the current contribution that is being made by these religions and others. All of this can only lead to a lessening of localised sectarian tensions. An increasing awareness of the diversity among the world's great religions in Northern Ireland can only highlight the commonalities between the Christian denominations.
We have observed how other parts of the UK and Ireland have struggled with the issues thrown up by this awareness of diversity in religious observance. The condemnation of Christians for the wearing of Christian symbols at work, the issues raised by Muslim women wearing veils and suggestions that references to Christianity in our annual winter holiday could cause offence, all are indicators of a society that has not come to terms with the religious diversity in its midst. Within the Bahá'í community the spiritual festival that is at the heart of Christmas is valued, as Christians gather to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. We also remember our Jewish friends in Belfast who have been celebrating Chanukah at this time of year and our Muslim friends who are celebrating Eid-Ul-Adha.
The Bahá'ís of Northern Ireland welcome everyone from all religious backgrounds and of none to work for a greater appreciation and understanding of religious and racial diversity during this coming year and in the future. Let us take stock, and, reflecting on the blessings we have received, appreciate the benefit conferred upon our society by its diversity. In understanding and appreciating others we gain a deeper understanding of our own selves.
Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland