Sahba Shayani, a first-year graduate Iranian studies student, recalled an analogy from his holy book, Kitab-i-Aqdas, meaning “most holy faith” in Persian. Shayani belongs to the Baha’i faith and is part of the Baha’i community at UCLA, a group that does not believe in recruitment.
“Men and women are two wings of bird (of life), they are equal and their equality is necessary,” Shayani said.
Sahba believes in the oneness of man, the equality of man and woman, the right of universal education and the right of each individual to “independently investigate the truths for themselves.”
A small group of about 12 Baha’i followers met together Monday night. With eyes shut and heads bowed, they began their prayers. The greeting on the blackboard read, “Allah’u’Abha,” meaning “God is the most glorious” in Arabic.
Because of their emphasis on the self-discovery of faith, the Baha’i are relatively unknown around campus as they do not believe in advertising their faith.
“We welcome members from all different faiths and denominations,” said Shayani. “But there is no compulsion or flier-advertising.”
The Baha’i faith incorporates significant figures from other religions into their own as they believe those individuals to have been manifestations of God during their days of existence.
“The Prophet Baha’u’llah started the faith in 1863 with the declaration that he was a manifestation of God,” Shayani said. “The Baha’i faith is an independent world religion with the purpose of uniting all humankind in one common faith and in one universal cause.”
Although a relatively new religion, the faith has approximately six million followers worldwide, with a majority concentrated in India, according to news reports.
“The religion started in Persia, modern day Iran, when the imprisoned Baha’u’llah received divine revelations from God,” said Shayani. “Today, it exists everywhere around the world.”
It is believed the Prophet, imprisoned for his beliefs was eventually freed and was exiled from Iran to Iraq, from there to Constantinople, then to Adrianople and finally to the City of Akka (Acre) in modern day Israel, where he died in 1892.
“If God was the sun, then the Prophet Baha’u’llah can be seen as a mirror reflecting the rays of the sun on humanity,” Shayani said.
The persecution of Baha’i followers still exists in present day Iran, where young people of the Baha’i faith are not allowed to attend university or to hold official jobs.
“Although the Baha’i are the largest religious minority in Iran they are subjected to lesser human rights than the Muslims,” Shayani said. “My family left Iran because I would not have been able to attend university there because of my faith.”
The present day administrative center of the Baha’i religion is in Haifa, Israel, the destination of the Baha’i pilgrimage.
“The pilgrimage was a life changing experience for me,” said first-year Spanish student Carmel Moazez. “It really confirmed by beliefs … it was very spiritual.”
Being born into a Baha’i family does not mean a child belongs to the faith. The Baha’i faith places significant emphasis on the notion of self-investigation and declaring one’s faith individually, generally at the age of 15.
“It is important for us to seek the truth for ourselves,” Shayani said. “We must learn about faith with open eyes and with an open heart.”
Declaring one’s faith as a member of the Baha’i following is the same for those born into the faith as well as for new converts.
“Everyone goes through a searching process,” said second-year aerospace engineering graduate student David Tuman. “We are all independently searching for the truth.”
Members of the Baha’i community at UCLA meet weekly on Monday nights to pray and gather in fellowship.
“As humans we are not perfect,” Shayani said. “But we are made in the image of God and therefore we have the ability to aim for perfection.”