- Junior Dowie
Dorothy Whyte, member of the Continental Board of Councils for the Americas, and Hopeton Fitz-Henley, of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, at the Gleaner's North Street offices recently.
Andre Wright, Staff Reporter
THE BAHAÍ community in Jamaica is appealing for unity and peace across political, racial and religious divides and is calling for citizens to adopt more conciliatory attitudes to solve the nation's problems.
Hopeton Fitz-Henley, member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, asserts that Jamaicans need to approach situations with the posture of peace in order to sustain national unity. In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Mr. Fitz-Henley said, "God's purpose is two-fold. To guide from the darkness of ignorance to the light of understanding. And peace and tranquillity for the world. To get peace, you hope to be guided by principles and procedures.
"One principle that I have is that it is better to agree and be wrong than disagree and be right. In time true love will right the wrong. We need to consult the Kitab-I-Aqdas and other holy texts, consult each other and administer justice. That system will ensure peace."
There are an estimated 4,000 adherents of the Baha'i faith in Jamaica. They hold worship sessions at the national centre on Mountain View Avenue, Verney Great House in Montego Bay, and also in schools and homes of believers.
Dorothy Whyte, member of the Continental Board of Councils for the Americas, also makes the case for love and oneness as the way forward. "Baha'is believe that Baha'Ullah, who is the founder, is the manifestation for today God's mouthpiece. Our purpose is to know God, love and worship him through extending ourselves as spiritual beings to everyone, every race, every religion," she said. "Our teachings focus on changing the hearts of mankind, to have love for each other. Then we can appreciate that we're here to serve each other - serving God through mankind."
SPREADING THE MESSAGE OF PEACE WORLDWIDE
Mr. Fitz-Henley believes that despite the looming clouds of crime, war and terrorism, the message of peace is pervading the world. "Earth is one country, and mankind its citizens... We believe that this is the promised day. Scriptures speak to the time when God will establish unity, justice and peace. People are consulting, agitating for peace and reconciliation. We even hear the language of peace. If one uses insight you see numerous elements unfolding, and when it comes to pass, we will be able to equate the promises with the designated day of God," he said.
The Baha'i councillor advises that more consultative routes need to be pursued in Jamaica and the world for development to effectively take root. "There was no United Nations years ago. There was no collaboration between nations. People are considering turning instruments of war into, and using funds for, developmental processes."
The group's dream for bipartisan engagement could well be coming true. Last week Tuesday, Edward Seaga, Leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, proposed a summit with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in a bid to "pursue a path which allows for contrasting political positions to be taken without tribalistic excesses." Mr. Patterson, at a press briefing a day after the October 16 general election, said, "In the search for national unity, no group, no sector, no class should feel alienated and I'm going to be making a very special effort of outreach to those groups."
Only time will tell, however, whether these expressions will lead to meaningful consultation or become mere platitudes of peace on the political backburners.
Ms. Whyte says she realises that there may be some aversion to the Baha'i faith but notes that there are encouraging signs that the religion is gaining popularity in Jamaica and the wider world. "People didn't have a concept of the world as one. But there is greater acceptance of other religions. Even though it does seem as if progress is very slow, we are moving towards acceptance of unity," she said. "Some people are not open. We live in a Western society socialised under the Christian church. But in accepting the Baha'i faith, it's not that you've discarded Christianity; it's the same religion. You've just added another part to it. Jesus and Baha'Ullah are one in Spirit, mission and purpose. Both revealed messages for their ages."
Ms. Whyte says even Governor-General, Sir Howard Cooke, has hosted inter-faith meetings at Kings House, such as a confab last month, which included Roman Catholics, Muslims, Baha'is and Hindus. "The Governor-General has made it a part of his duty to invite people of different religions to meetings and the Baha'is have always been invited."
Mr. Fitz-Henley agrees: "There is significant attraction to its (Baha'i) teachings and principles. Some have difficulty; some see where we are coming from but want to investigate further. But generally, people have been much more accommodating of our ideas."
Andre Wright can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.