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When Ann Boyles went to dinner at a former teacher’s apartment, she didn’t expect to pray.
“What have I gotten myself into?” she thought when it was suggested.
But as her turn came, she flipped through the prayer book.
“I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I’m not going to say something I don’t mean here.”
Before she’d even finished the first sentence, she was struck by something mystical, and she knew three things instantly.
“One, was that it was the most beautiful poetry I had ever read in my life,” she said. “The second thing that I knew was that it was true. And the third thing was that I knew if I walked away from it now, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
Something major had shifted, and it was a shock. It was like sticking her finger into an electric light socket, she said.
When the first-year university student went home that night, she wrote in her diary.
“Tonight I am a Baháʼí.”
Boyles recently told this story to Farahnaz Rezaei, the organizer of the Charlottetown Baháʼí Centre’s interfaith devotional, a monthly gathering for prayer, music and reflection. It is a place to bring together different religious communities around the common beliefs they share.
Here are the Baháʼí core beliefs:
- All people and religions are equal, though they have different lessons for different historical contexts.
- The prophets and teachings of previous religions are direct precursors to the teachings of Baha’uala, the 19th century Iranian prophet of the Baháʼís.
- Individuals can only develop spiritually through helping their community.
- There is only one God.
‘Unity of humanity'
Followers of the Baháʼí faith believe in the concept of progressive revelation, meaning they accept the prophets and teachings of major religions as predecessors to their own prophet, Baha’uala, Rezaei said.
“The fundamental principle of the Baháʼí faith is unity of mankind or unity of humanity.”
This is the idea behind the monthly devotionals that welcome all beliefs. The next event is Friday at 7 p.m. on Zoom and community members are happy to share the link to anyone who would like to take part.
Baháʼí teachings also emphasize the need to develop not only the good in oneself, but goodness in the community and world around them, Rezaei said. Baháʼís believe the physical and spiritual needs of each person run parallel to those of society.
“As Baháʼís, we believe our soul is nourished through meditation, through prayers, through the good deeds and the service we can do for others,” Rezaei said. “Once I walk on that path of service, whatever I want for myself, I also want it for others.”
That’s the reason for holding an interfaith gathering — to bring together Islanders of all spiritual backgrounds.
“Everyone has a role in acquiring that unity,” she said. “And what would that role be?”
Devotionals are a key part of the Baháʼí practice of building communities.
“What devotional means is meditation and sharing the word of God and nourishing our souls through the words of God,” Rezaei said.
Ultimately, the goal is to cause positive change in the wider community through truly understanding the universal ideas behind religion, she said.
When asked about how the Baháʼí community welcomes members of the queer community, Rezaei and Boyles pointed to different religions’ shared values of compassion and the Baháʼí principle of universal humanity.
“Love, unity, respect for human beings, human rights, individuality of every person, the right of every person to choose what answers the questions he has spiritually — these are the fundamental things that are in all religions,” she said.
Sister Sue Kidd from the UPEI Chaplaincy Centre attends the monthly devotional and has spoken at it in the past.
“I go because I get to just be with other people for whom faith is a value,” she said. “I just get to receive and be with people and the music.”
Faith has done a good job of dividing people in some places, so the focus should be on what people agree on, she said.
“I think it’s important that we reflect to our society and our culture that inter-religion is fine, that I don’t have to be Baháʼí, I don’t have to be Muslim to pray together.”
“We are part of one global community. There is no longer difference between you and me,” she said.
Logan MacLean is The Guardian's diversity reporter.