On Why I Went Up a Mountain

Getting to where I was going took many plane rides , an insane amount of security to go into what is admittedly a war torn country. Haifa Israel is not a beautiful city. It’s hot, and dirty filled with stone baked houses. But in the middle of this, there is a paradise, a burst of green and red and blue. It is so famous that various hostals, hotels and taxi drivers rely all their tourism on it.
Yet the reason behind this place is far from tourism. The gardens stretch for miles up and down the mountain and you could never stop finding hidden treasures in the neatly cut bushes, the burst of flowers and the majestic buildings. It is, like no place no earth.
Yet all of the beauty of this can not compare with the spiritual nature of the Bahai Gardens. This is the real reason I was there, for Bahai pilgrimage. Bahais every year, come to pilgrimage to visit the historical sites and to pray in the Shrines of Baha’u’llah.
Baha’u’llah was a prisoner in Akka, and Bahji for a good portion of his life having been forced by the Iranian government more than 160 years ago to migrate to the prison city of Akka. Over the ocean, through great hardship, Baha’u’llah came to that prison city filled with strife and criminals. Yet 160 something years later it is a thriving city.
There are so many stories that there is too little time to tell them. So many stories of sacrifice , of people risking their life to come to visit Baha’u’llah. Of the countless tales of the goodness and love of His son, Abdul Baha towards the poor and the needy and the eventual trust of the government towards them due to their loving nature.
It really rocked me to my core to visit this eden. I wish I could say more about it, but due to the limited internet I am a bit stumped for words. I should say a bit of how wonderful it was to see hundreds of young volunteers in the Bahai world center who quietly help things work properly. Those that are in gardening, those that are in security, in cleaning and in correspondence and electricity. What joy to see two girls from very diverse backgrounds just singing their heart out as they cleaned toilets!
I mean, how can you NOT be happy in a place surrounded by such beauty and diversity?
Here are few pictures of the places.

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The First Time I Accepted Who I Was

I remember the moment clearly. I didn’t want to be anymore different than I already was. I always stood out, and now I know it was because I was a Bahai. At the time, at 14, all I wanted to do was Fit In. I didn’t want people to look at me strange because I was another religion, and their constant belittlement of anything different didn’t arise for me to subject myself to be teased about my beliefs.
I am not entirely sure why people reacted this way , but I believe that it has to do more with the knee jerk reaction to anything that is a different religion. It is automatically strange, foreign and weird. It’s quite odd, because Bahai Faith, really is anything but strange. We believe that all religions come from the same God, we believe that there is only one race and that is the human race…we believe in diversity, in the equality of men and women. We have no clergy, and no rituals or masses. Prayers even in meetings are individual. Every one can be as inactive or active as they want to be. There is a huge emphasis on individual initiative, although we do have Bahai administration that is elected anonymously every year. We have a huge emphasis on tolerance , love and service to others. We do not get involved in partisan politics or anything that would be disunifying.
Yet, somehow, people would make fun of it, would look at me strangely and set me apart. They did not bother to even fully investigate what Bahai’s really believe they just thought the word sounded funny. Some people will attack you and say you are from the devil ( which we don’t believe in by the way), others would roll their eyes, or make it a form of ridicule….but most of the time you realize that it’s mostly based on ignorance or blindly following paradigms of the past. We are taught to fear the unknown, to not question anything that is different. As a Bahai, I was taught to independently investigate the truth, and most religions in their Holy Books encourage the same thing but somehow in our society this is frowned upon.
At any rate, at age fourteen I had no idea how to handle the scrutiny because I still had not learned that it is the greatest gift given to me. The girl who asked me said ” Well… what religion ARE you?” I turned bright red. We were all having lunch, all the girls in the middle of the grass. I had just transferred schools to get away from bullying and being my mother’s daughter, the teacher Miss DiMauro. It was a small private elite and wealthy school in El Salvador, not quite as wealthy as the last school I went to though. It was also so small that everyone knew each other all the way back from kindergarten and I would always be the odd man out. Not many people talked to me except for Evelyn , who had come at the same time I did.
I was turning bright red. The girl, whose name time has erased, kept insisting : ” We won’t move until you tell us.”
And then in a small voice I said : ‘ Bahai.’.
And it was as if a huge burden had been lifted. With those small words, I realized how beautiful my beliefs were and I did not have to be ashamed of being different as it was an intrinsic part of who I am. A love for the faith I held dear swelled in my heart. Not only should I not be afraid of being different, I should tell people what a beautiful gift it has been in my life.A year later a time where you can decide whether you want to be a Bahai- I had no problem signing a card declaring I was a Bahai since I it was who I was. Nowadays, when i do meet people who do not understand what Bahai is I am more understanding. I have been told I belong to a strange cult ( which is completely false, recognized theological organizations have recognized the Bahai Faith as a religion not a cult) I realize that it has nothing to do with me, rather sometimes our skewed reflection causes us to fear what we don’t know. However, in Iran, Bahai’s have been persecuted for generations by even the media and the government. They are accused of horrible things simply because of what they believe, they are not allowed to go university they have been put to death and are constantly a subject of ridicule.
Yet, we are taught to love everyone.
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The greatest gift of man is universal love – that magnet which renders existence eternal. It attracts realities and diffuses life with infinite joy. If this love penetrate the heart of man, all the forces of the universe will be realized in him, for it is a divine power which transports him to a divine station and he will make no progress until he is illumined thereby. Strive to increase the love-power of reality, to make your hearts greater centers of attraction and to create new ideals and relationships.

Baha’u’llah

I am so happy that I am a Bahai.It is an enormous gift. Yet I respect anyone else’s beliefs. I only ask that we open our minds to new frontiers of understanding and learning. But what I believe firmly is in trying to make the world a better place. I believe in Baha’u’llah. I believe in the beauty of the human race and that we have to build something entirely new. I would never force anyone to believe what I believe, and I try not to judge.

What I realized then, when I stopped focusing on what others think of me, and start by focusing on serving others all those things about what people think of me disappear. When I love God more than I love my self, I can forgive and accept intolerance or ignorance. By setting an example, most people realize that they are mistaken in their preconceived notions of what Bahai stands for. Being sure of what you believe is not easy, especially when people usually make fun of it.
The world would be a far better place if we stopped thinking in absolutes. Society spends an inordinate amount of time in a superior notion that somehow what they think is better than what others think, instead of thinking of a way for us all to come together despite our differences. For every difference there is a common thread that can always brings us back together. Before you judge a religion, a race, politics, a way of thinking always remember that there are always other sides. I would never give up my religion for anything in the world. I can’t even put into words how much it means to me. Today, kids around the world might become afraid of professing to love something so much for fear of rejection. I would tell them, do not be afraid. It is not about them, it is so much bigger than that. A whole universe could not contain how beautiful it is, especially when the only thing you should be concerned with is not yourself but serving others in the process. It is about coming together, all of us, in all our diverse differences and beliefs that make the beautiful and very complicated fabric of the world