FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, NJ - TAPinto Franklin Township will be running a series called "Houses of Worship.” 

The objective is to provide our readers an opportunity to learn about the diverse faiths in a town that is home to over 60 different spiritual houses of worship. The series will explore the beliefs, brief history, community involvement, and other information on the congregation/followers of these institutions. 

The first house of worship to be highlighted is the Bahá’í faith. 

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“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” Bahá’u’lláh

TAPinto Franklin Township had the opportunity to join in the celebration of Naw-Ruz (also spelled Nowruz), March 24, at the home of the Poustchi's, a local Bahá’í family. During the celebration, TAP had the chance to interview Dr. Eberhard Wunderlich, Sin-kie Tjho, Spud Grammar and Jay Tyson to learn more about the faith while enjoying various food and drink. 

Naw-Ruz is a significant celebration for Iranian people and many other groups throughout the world. The day symbolizes the change of seasons by marking the first day of spring, the renewal of life, and the beginning of the New Year. Naw-Ruz is also celebrated by Baha’is all around the world to usher in the Baha’i New Year as a feast of hospitality, rejoicing, and spiritual renewal. 

Brief history and basic beliefs

The Bahá’í faith was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia around 1844, and Central New Jersey is home to approximately 200 Bahá’ís, a handful of whom live in Franklin Township. According to Foreign Policy magazine, the Bahá'í faith is the world's second fastest growing religion by percentage in 2007. Bahá’ís come from every ethnicity, nationality, tribe, age, racial group, and religious background. 

The Bahá’í faith seeks the spiritual unification of all mankind and adheres to three core principals: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity. 

"Bahá’í beliefs address such essential themes as the oneness of God and religion, the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice, the inherent nobility of the human being, the progressive revelation of religious truth, the development of spiritual qualities, the integration of worship and service, the fundamental equality of the sexes, the harmony between religion and science, the centrality of justice to all human endeavours, the importance of education, and the dynamics of the relationships that are to bind together individuals, communities, and institutions as humanity advances towards its collective maturity," according to the Bahá’í.org website. 

Bahá’í's believe the refinement of one’s inner character and service to humanity are inseparable facets of life. 

In light of this, Bahá’ís have come to appreciate the operation of a two-fold purpose that is fundamental to their lives: to attend to their own spiritual and intellectual growth and to contribute to the transformation of society. In light of this, Bahá’ís have come to appreciate the operation of a two-fold purpose that is fundamental to their lives: to attend to their own spiritual and intellectual growth and to contribute to the transformation of society, according to the Bahá’í.org website. 

Organizational structure 

In most local communities including Franklin Township, Bahá'ís don't have a special place of worship. They meet either in each other's homes or at a Bahá'í center.

The Bahá’í faith has no clergy and their community affairs are carried out by an elected council made up of nine members called the spiritual assembly. Even though the spiritual assembly is elected, they do not campaign because Bahá’ís believe the intrinsic nature of campaigning breeds divisiveness. 

Bahá’í individuals and institutions do not take positions on political decisions of governments, because they feel politics are one of the greatest obstacles to progress, and usually, draw people towards attitudes that lead to disputes. Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Bahá’í faith, exhorts his followers that “conflict and contention are in no wise permitted,” and instead encourages them to pour their energies into activities that bring people together.  

The central importance of the principle of avoidance of politics and controversial matters is that Bahá'ís should not allow themselves to be involved in the disputes of the many conflicting elements of the society around them.

Members of the spiritual assembly operate as a group and make decisions through consultation. The spiritual assembly is responsible for facilitating many aspects of the Bahá’í community that elected them, such as performing marriage ceremonies, establishing youth programs and the organization of special committees. 

A primary responsibility of the spiritual assembly is to organize the Nineteen Day Feast, which is an important aspect of Bahá’í community life. Local Bahá’í's gather to pray, discuss affairs of their community, make recommendations to the assembly/receive feedback, and enjoy food and drink during the Nineteen Day Feast. 

The Bahá’í faith has many social principles that guide them, and are based on sacred writings from Bab, Abdu'l-Bahá, and Bahá'u'lláh's, the central figures of this religion. Some of the main principles are - Unity of God, Unity of religion, Unity of humanity, Unity in diversity, Equality between men and women, Elimination of all forms of prejudice, World peace and a New world order, Harmony of religion and science, Independent investigation of truth, Principle of Ever-Advancing Civilization, Universal compulsory education, Universal auxiliary language, Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, Spiritual solutions to economic problems.

Literature is a pillar of the Bahá'í Faith and literacy is strongly encouraged especially since one of the core principals of the faith is the independent investigation of truth so believers may read the texts for themselves.

Letters to individuals or communities were how the religion documented its early work. The documents are called tablets and have been collected by Bahá'ís over time. 

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas or “The Most Holy Book” is the central book of laws in the Baha’i Faith, written by Baha’u’llah. The independent investigation of truth is likewise a central obligation for all believers, so Bahá’ís are encouraged to engage with the holy writings of their own tradition as well as other religious traditions. In addition to the Bab and Baha’u’llah, Bahá’ís believe in Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad as some of the divine educators of the past whose teachings propelled humanity forward.

Community involvement

Here in Franklin Township, there have been a number of successful activities that have seen growth since their beginnings in 2013. Both Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í youth have partnered together to offer acts of service in their neighborhoods. The youth have organized children’s classes and junior youth groups for their younger siblings, clean-up days, volunteer projects with community gardens, and food-drives for a local food bank as well as other activities. 

Some of the other activities they initiate in their communities include: classes for the spiritual education of children, groups for the spiritual empowerment of youth, study circles in which adults develop capacities to serve their communities, and devotional gatherings where people gather to read and reflect on the holy word. These four activities form the building blocks of a community-building process that Bahá’ís around the world have been working to implement for decades. All Bahá’í activities are open to people from all faith backgrounds, and Bahá’ís firmly believe that everyone can contribute to the betterment of the world. 

The best way for someone to learn more about the Baha'i Faith is to visit www.bahai.org and to get in touch with local Baha'is in Franklin Township or call 1-800-22-UNITE.

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