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The biggest religion you’ve never heard of: Havering Bahais celebrate 50 years in the borough

John Lester with his holy book John Lester with his holy book

Wednesday, January 1, 2014
12:00 PM

Despite the Bahai faith being one of the fastest growing religions in the world, not many people know much about it.

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View of the Bahai shrine and gardens in Isreal built as memorial to founders of the faith.View of the Bahai shrine and gardens in Isreal built as memorial to founders of the faith.

Devotees believe that their prophet, Bahá’u’lláh, predicted the fall of Napoleon, both World Wars and the end of apartheid in South Africa and that its message should be listened to by world leaders.

As the Bahai Spiritual Assembly celebrates its 50th anniversary in Havering, we spoke to their secretary to find out a little bit more about the religion.

To mark the occasion they spent £500 on a new piece of equipment for the King George V Playing Field in Eastern Avenue West, Romford, which was installed just in time for Christmas.

John Lester, 70, of Lytton Road, Gidea Park became a Bahai in 1968.

Its the 50th Anniversary of the Bahai faith.  Dr Badiullah Beheshti, John Lester and Barbra Stanley-Hunt who are part of the Bahai Committee, donated a springing playground toy at King George Playing Feilds in Romford.Its the 50th Anniversary of the Bahai faith. Dr Badiullah Beheshti, John Lester and Barbra Stanley-Hunt who are part of the Bahai Committee, donated a springing playground toy at King George Playing Feilds in Romford.

He said that Bahai followers believe in all the prophets from Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and that their religion is taking this a stage further.

Mr Lester said: “I became a Bahai because I could not accept that Christianity was unique.

“If you were Christian you thought all the others had to go to hell.

“But all the faiths have truth in them and the Bahai faith teaches that religion progresses from age to age and different religions teach what humanity needs at that time.”

“It’s not that one faith is wrong – they are all right. It’s all about bringing people together and the oneness of mankind.”

The religion began in the 19th century in modern day Persia and today there are about five million Bahais worldwide.

The founder of the religion was Bahá’u’lláh, who was born in Persia in 1817.

He was exiled due to his teachings to the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) and died there while still in captivity.

Today many Bahais are still killed or imprisoned for their beliefs, notably in Iran, as well as in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

They do not have a religious leader but instead vote for nine committee officials every year.

“There are no different sects in the Bahai faith as our administration was all written down,” Mr Lester said. “It also speaks about the kings coming together so we are supportive of the United Nations.”

In Havering there are about 20 members of the Bahai community and they meet every 19 days at one of their houses for the 19 Day Feast.

“We are one of the nine religions recognised by the British government and, although we are not that numerous, we are present in more than 200 countries.

“We are like butter in a recession – spread thin but we get all parts of the bread.”

The Bahais believe in life after death but not in heaven and hell, and instead the choices we make in this life dictate our relationship with God in the afterlife.

“You need to look after yourself spiritually so you are nice and healthy but God is beyond our comprehension,” he added.

Their religious book is the Kitab i-Aqdas and despite being a relatively new religion, Mr Lester says it takes a while for religions to become mainstream.

“It took years for Christianity to be established,” he said. “When a religion starts people think there are angles and stars but that’s not the way.

“Jesus being born would not make the papers in Rome if it happened now.”

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