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Baha'is say racial justice is 'an integral part of our faith'

Sarah Asch, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in Religious News

AUSTIN, Texas -- Aliyah Marandiz, who grew up a member of the Baha'i faith, said that her religion influences her actions, her perspective and how she treats other people, much the same way any religion would.

Yet while many religious communities are grappling with how to talk about race in the wake of recent protests against racism and police brutality, Marandiz said she has seen her fellow Baha'i practice their core belief of eradicating racism through service to their community.

"It's been really helpful to have these allies that are ready for action," she said. "The biggest thing is that all my Baha'i friends and the people in the Baha'i community have been so ready to act. We believe this so deeply, so we're like, 'How do we act on this?'"

Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon, who serves as the chair of the elected Local Spiritual Assembly in Austin, described service to the community as akin to worship.

"We're always thinking, how do we interact with people? How do we build relationships? How do we serve the community in a way that reflects the community?" said Chwinwi Ghogomu, who became Baha'i with his mother and sister at the age of 13. "How do you take the society that you're living in and serve that society and how do you learn to recognize the dignity that is inherent in all of us?"

For many Baha'is, this service has recently meant attending protests or turning out to support local organizations involved in social justice work.

 

Shivani Jain, who discovered the Baha'i faith in college a decade ago, said she appreciated the notion of a religion dedicated to achieving concrete, long-term structural change.

"It's a faith that's really about the critical investigation of truth and about hopefully working toward a better world order that eradicates extremes of wealth and poverty, and racial prejudice," she said. "The idea is that true unity comes from justice. So we can't have unity unless we have fairness and justice at all levels, and we're working toward that in a very constructive way."

This belief in justice is built into the structure of the religion itself. When electing members of the local spiritual assemblies, Baha'i policy says that a tie vote will go to the person whose identity is underrepresented in the local community.

Baha'is are involved in many social causes in Austin, Jain said.

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