This is the last part in a series looking into religion in Korea. The objective is to give expatriates a springboard from which to develop spiritually by providing the contact information. Feature articles have examined Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. -- Ed.
It`s a major world religion with more than 5 million followers. There are no priests. A Local Spiritual Assembly is elected. It is practiced in 127,400 locations -- including Korea -- in 802 languages. It emphasizes the unity of the major world religions.
When they gather they discuss how as individuals and as a community they can contribute to building a better world as their legacy.
The Baha`I faith counts itself as another of the world`s religions with followers in Korea.
Firaydun Mithaq, a member of the Baha`I community, says that there are believers throughout the country, including in Seoul, Songnam, Anyang, Cheongju, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Busan.
"Although the number of the Baha`Is in Korea is not over 200 active believers, the Korean Baha`I community is composed of vibrant and dynamic members that are committed to serve the Korean society primarily in the field of education," Mithaq said. "They respect and cherish the Korean culture and exalt their religious beliefs."
Mithaq, an Australian with 18 years of experience in Korea, holds a doctorate in education and is a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.
He explained that Baha`Is in Korea worship daily at their homes and often regularly hold prayer gatherings in their administrative centers -- in Seoul, located at Huam-dong.
There are elected bodies or counsels in each city, town or village that organize and administer community religious affairs and activities. There are no rituals; in the Baha`I faith prayers are offered voluntarily by individuals in the gatherings.
The faith is a relatively new one, having been founded only about 150 years ago by Baha`u`llah in the middle of 19th century in Persia. (Baha`u`llah is a title given to the founder and is made up of two words: "Baha," meaning glory and "Allah," meaning God. Putting the two words together, you get "the Glory of God.")
One of the more unique things about Baha`I is its decentralized structure. Each center, whether in Daegu, New York or London, has an elected administrative counsel that provides information, study materials and systematic study programs for inquires into the Baha`I Faith and the needs of the Baha`I community.
"The Baha`I community is open to everyone and welcomes people from any religion to participate in its study gatherings, prayer meetings and important festivals.
The community meets regularly to socialize with everyone "in their gatherings with spirit of respect love and unity," explains Mithaq. They also study the Baha`I Writings and plan programs to serve the outer community in child education, junior youth empowerment and humanitarian community services aimed at spiritual, social and educational development.
In an e-mail interview, Kamran Eshraghian gave some important background information on Baha`Is. He said that humanity has entered a new era of enlightenment whereby the earth`s inhabitants are now challenged to draw on their collective inheritance to take up, consciously and systematically, the responsibility for the design of their future.
"Baha`I teachings highlight that appearance of religion cannot be seen as a series of independent and random events, but rather as a single endless process, that is called `religion` with a common source and a common purpose as the catalyst for education and advancement of humanity," he said.
Interestingly, the Baha`I perspective says that the appearance of religion is progressive and proportional to an increasing spiritual capacity of humans as we advance.
"Over time, spiritual truth is distorted, human virtues such as truthfulness, compassion, justice, disappear. It is at this point of time a where humanity becomes in need of spiritual renewal that new religion emerges to facilitate humanity`s advancement," explained Eshraghian.
Eshraghian lives in Cheongju City, Chungcheongbuk- do. He received his Ph.D., MEngSc., and BTech., degrees from the University of Adelaide, Australia. In 2004 he received a Doctorate of Engineering from the University of Ulm, Germany, for his research in the integration of nanoelectronics with that of light wave technology. He currently serves as chairman of the board of directors of four hi-tech companies, holds an adjunct chair at UKM in Malaysia, and is a visiting scholar at University of Adelaide.
Eshraghian was a member of the auxiliary board of the Baha`I faith in Australia from 1974 to 1985.
"Baha`u`llah compared the world community to that of the human body being highly interconnected. Therefore Baha`I communities in their gatherings consult and exchange ideas on issues pertaining to values, education, developments in the art of consultation, enrichment and empowerment of children and the youth through developing their understanding of virtues such as trustworthiness, truthfulness, compassion, sense of justice and practical measures that can advance the prospects for peaceful development of all peoples."
Members of democratically-elected Local Spiritual Assemblies look after the affairs of the community and can come from all strata of society such as housewives through to engineers, doctors and university professors -- all serving the community for a one year term.
The assembly operates on a consultative basis and decisions are arrived at through majority vote.
The assembly addresses the needs of the community, for example education of children, scheduling of devotional meetings, needs of elderly, and the kind of service they can offer within a neighborhood. The elected should, in Baha`u`llah`s view, consider themselves responsible for the welfare of all of humankind.
What does the Baha`I community strives for? "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established," Eshraghian quoted Baha`u`llah as saying.
"This is what the Baha`I community strives for as they gather together in devotional meetings at homes, at Baha`I center such in Seoul or at houses of worships in several of the continents. These gatherings are open to everyone no matter what religious back ground they may have. Holy writings from major religions are read by individuals.
"To participate effectively in the struggle to bring material well-being to humanity, the religious spirit must find ... new spiritual concepts and principles relevant to an age that seeks to establish unity and justice in human affairs. As the consequence, the Baha`I community is closely knit in thoughts -- and work together to developing their understanding of principles of the Baha`I teaching that revolves around such issues as equality of women and men, harmony of science and religion, elimination of all forms of prejudice, universal education and elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty."
For more information on the Baha`I faith, contact Kamran Eshraghian by e-mail at email@example.com or Firaydun Mithaq at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Matthew Lamers