Baha'i faith is a religion founded in 19th century Persia by a man called Baha'u'llah, and counts today communities all over the world. Now, Andrew Bates decided to use Baha'i faith as an important part of his game, as it is closely related with ISRA, one of the 8 original psi orders. Since as a Baha'i, I have an unusual view on the game, I thought it would be interesting to share it with you.
In this article I am going to take a risky supposition. I am going to assume that there are no mistakes or contradictions about Baha'i faith in the Trinity books. In that way, I will try to give more than a review of the books from a Baha'i point of view, but also a guide to play the Baha'i community in your games, helping you to play your Baha'i ISRAn character or to integrate the Baha'i community in your campaign.
What is Baha'i faith?
Let's first answer this. Baha'i faith is an organized monotheistic religion. It is not a philosophy, even if it includes one. It does have an administration, Holy Scriptures, rules, feasts and a calendar, just as you can expect from any religion. And that wouldn't have changed in the 120 years or so that separate us from Trinity world.
The goal that Baha'i community wants to achieve is the elevation of human condition of life of all mankind, and not only its members. This means it has and will have not only a religious, but also a social, an educational, a political and an economical influence in every place of the world.
That does mean that it is more that just the sum of its followers, and that it does have a place in 22nd century society.
Baha'i community importance
Let's begin with the numbers. Today there are about 7 millions of Baha'i in the world. How many Baha'i would there be in 2120? From the few excerpts in the main rulebook, it seems it became one of the first religions in the world. However, it didn't seem to grow enough to be the first. I would guess that the numbers of the followers would be between 100 millions and 1 billion. Of course, it is a very wide interval, but there are very few facts on which we can base ourselves to make a guess.
I found mostly two facts which tell of Baha'i faith expansion. Firstly, it is said that in Indonesia, "Baha'i and Computers predominate" (Main book, p 309). And in the Middle East there are "many sects based on Sufi or Baha'i doctrines" (Main book, p 91). Yes, that's not much. What of Baha'i expansion in the other continents ? Today, even if Baha'i are very widely spread, they are more present in Iran, India (where there are more than a million Baha'i), Africa (where entire Baha'i villages exist), America (in some south American countries Baha'i number more than 2% of population) and eastern Europe (where a great expansion of Baha'i faith happened since the fall of USSR).
Now, Baha'i is not just a bunch of people following the same religion. It has an organization, institutions and activities.
Let's first make a short sum up of Baha'i institutions today.
First, we have the elected institutions, whose role is to lead, organize, coordinate the Baha'i community. They also have the power to judge, when it is necessary.
There is the Local Spiritual Assembly at the local scale, the National Spiritual Assembly at the national scale and the Universal House of Justice, which is the supreme institution for the whole Baha'i community.
All these institutions are 9-member assemblies elected without propaganda or candidate lists, in a prayers and meditation atmosphere. All Baha'is of the appropriate area are eligible without asking for it and all discussion about candidates is forbidden.
Then, there are the nominated institutions. They are individuals nominated by the Universal House of Justice. They have no power but have a counsel role for the local and national elected institutions and individual Baha'is.
They are the Continental Counselors on the national scale and the Auxiliary Board Members on the local scale.
In the future, it is foreseen that the Justice role of the elected institutions will be more important, so that they will all become Houses of Justice, while the nominated institutions will work for the improvement of the quality of the elected institutions. All of them will try to make of the Baha'i community a living model of what could become a global civilization. Of course, today we have a very vague idea of the evolution of the working of these institutions, so the details are left to the GMs.
Baha'i schools, hospitals, and projects working for female emancipation or against racism exist in all parts of the world.
Baha'i houses of adoration (the word Mashriq is taken from the name of these centers, but I will talk of this later) are also present in every continent as places where everybody, Baha'i or not, can come to pray and meditate.
In the future, with the growing of the means of the Baha'i community, those will probably exist in every city, with an even greater diversity of projects grouped around them, depending on the local need.
The fact that Baha'i schools and Baha'i refugees help projects are told to exist (Luna Rising, p. 21) around the Frankfurt house of adoration confirms this.
Relations between ISRA and Baha'i faith
Speaking as one who knows the Baha'i faith, I see the connections quite clearly. But I realized that, even if it is never said, it is quite possible for the reader of Aeon books, especially Luna Rising, to think that ISRA and the Baha'i are somehow the same thing. So let's say it again. The Baha'i community exists by itself and existed well before ISRA foundation. ISRA is a type of organization that exists already today (not ISRA, but this type of organization). It is an organization which was founded by a Baha'i, organized on the basis of the Baha'i principles, but which is in no way connected or part of the Baha'i institutions. Not all of the ISRAns are Baha'is and most of the Baha'is are not ISRAns. Otha himself is quite clear on this (Main book, p 46).
Now it is perfectly possible that the Universal House of Justice would like to consult Otha Herzog as an expert in a quite particular area, but that is probably about the only influence that Otha Herzog would have in the matter. More on this later.
Relocation of the Seat of the Universal house of Justice
Today, all the global institutions and most of the Holy places of the Baha'is are in the Haifa area, on the Mount Carmel and in the city of Akko. In there is the center of the Baha'i community, the place where everything in the global scale is decided and the place toward which every Baha'i turns when doing its daily prayers.
The Baha'is believe this place will grow until it becomes a great center of wisdom, justice and spirituality for the whole world for at least a thousand years, which will work for the installment of a global peace for all humanity.
This place is so important to Baha'is that they decided to not permit to Baha'is to live in Israel, except for the ones working in the world center, so that they cannot be seen as a menace by the Israeli government.
So you can understand that if you ask a Baha'i if such a thing as the expulsion of the Baha'is from Mount Carmel is possible, most of them will vigorously say "no."
Now, as an individual, (and as a role-player and SF reader), I tend to try to be more open to unexpected things.
I would think that such a thing could be possible if and only if, the Baha'i buildings weren't touched by the Israel-Judah government, and if such a situation was temporary. Of course at the moment, Israel-Judah doesn't consider it as temporary. But a lot of things can happen in a few decades. After all, it's been only 26 years since Israel got its border closed. So from a Baha'i point of view the relocation of its world center on the moon (as it seems to be implied in the Main book, p. 46) could only be seen as temporary.
That leads me to another problem. Where is this new temporary Baha'i world center ? In Luna Rising, we have supposedly the description of every notable place on the moon, but no mention of the place where the new Baha'i world center is. ISRA and the Baha'i community, as I already said, are two completely different (even if related) organizations. So the Baha'i world center cannot possibly be the ISRA school. This seems to me quite an important thing forgotten.
Herzog cannot be the new Messiah
Now, let's talk of the second thing that will shock most Baha'is. The fact that a minority of Baha'is think that Herzog could be the new Messiah. This, from a Baha'i point of view, is strictly impossible. Baha'is think that every now and again, specially perfect and inspired people are sent by God to teach humanity. These are called Messiahs, great prophets, or as Baha'i say, manifestations of God. Moses, Jesus, Buddha or Muhammad were such manifestations of God, and Baha'u'llah is the last one. There will be others coming after him, but Baha'u'llah clearly said that the next manifestation of God won't come before a thousand years after him, so no Messiah can possibly come before the 29th century.
Furthermore, the term "Seal of Prophecy," even for Baha'is, is designating Muhammad and only him, and for Baha'i, the term "Hidden Imam" is designating the Bab (Baha'u'llah's precursor and a manifestation of God himself), so these cannot designate Otha Herzog (LR, p 16).
Finally, there is no such a thing as an end of history in the Baha'i point of view. We think that we are living now, and will still live in the near future, the end of an age, going from the childhood to the maturity of mankind, which means we are living the difficult age of adolescence right now. So that we are living now hard times, and will live still harder ones soon, but after that we will reach the golden age of humanity. That is for us the meaning of the apocalypse.
So, how can such a growing group as messianic Baha'i exist ? Well, I guess that ignorance and mad admiration for Herzog could explain it.
Now, you should remember that Baha'i fundamental principle is unity. So, one of the worst things that a Baha'i can do is try to divide the believers, and that is precisely what the Messianic Baha'is are doing, preaching things that Baha'u'llah's Writings clearly contradict. The Baha'i term for such people are "Covenant Breakers". Baha'u'llah has promised that no splintering of the faith will occur, and so far every trial of that has failed, against all odds, but they did threaten to shatter the Baha'i community, sometimes leaving ugly scars.
This means that the Baha'i community will take very seriously the so called Messianic Baha'is, and their existence will be a major crisis in the Baha'i community. If the Baha'i institutions are still strong enough in that crisis, the Baha'i will be asked to leave the Messianic Baha'i alone, and not meet them anymore. They will have their Baha'i rights (which is the right to vote, and the right to contribute money to the Baha'i causes) stripped, and will be excluded from the Baha'i community. This is comparable to excommunication in Christianity, except that it isn't permanent and is removed as soon as the Covenant breakers come back to the community.
So far, it seems that Herzog itself doesn't claim to be a Messiah. However, the fact that he seems to tolerate the existence of this group could be a source of tension between ISRA and the Baha'i institutions.
So who is Herzog in the Baha'i community?
The first thing to determine is if Herzog has a place in the Baha'i institutions I named earlier. Personally, I don't think so. Being part of a Baha'i institution means, even if it isn't a full-time job, to dedicate an important amount of time to it. And being the head of ISRA is clearly a 24 hours a day job. Furthermore, Herzog is too isolated, physically, socially and in his position and vision to be part of a system. As I said before, it is more probable that Herzog is just an individual Baha'i, but that his unique vision would lead to a great deal of discussions between him and the Universal House of Justice. And benefitting from Herzog's vision would certainly be a great asset for the Baha'i community.
Now, maybe the Messianic Baha'is are not completely wrong. Even if he can't be a Messiah, maybe he is someone greater than just a simple Baha'i. Look at the Bible. There have been in the past some people who weren't acting on behalf of God, as Moses or Jesus, but were given a spiritual vision, enabling them to see in the depth of things, even if they couldn't always understand it. Yes, I am talking of the prophets: Elijah, Daniel, John, and the like. Even if they were simple men, their vision enabled them to guide their people during hard times. And Herzog's situation seems very similar to theirs.
Mashriq: Mashriq'ul'Adkar is the Persian name for the Baha'i houses of adoration I wrote about earlier. It means literally, "the place where the prayers happen, with the prayers seen as something important." Mashriq itself means "the place where something important happens." I guess that Herzog didn't knew that as it seems quite a peculiar term to name a bunch of people.
Huruf-al-Hayy: "the Letters of the Living" or "Living Letters." This is the term that was used to name the first 18 believers of the Bab, Baha'u'llah's precursor.
Hajj: This is an Muslim Arabic title designating the people who made their pilgrimage to the Mecca.
I am afraid I haven't had the chance yet to ask the exact meaning of "Al Alif," "Sharifiyya," "Zikkir" or "Din." So I will tell you about this another time.
The first one is that there is clearly not enough data on the Baha'is on Trinity universe. I think I could take all the sentences talking about Baha'is in all the books I bought so far (the Rulebook, DiD, Hidden Agendas, Tech manual, Luna Rising and Extrasolar Colonies) and type them on a single page. Yes, I know that Trinity is not a game about the Baha'i faith or any other religion, and I am not suggesting that a complete essay explaining what it is would be included in the Trinity books. But, Trinity is a RPG where the background is primordial. And when an order is based on a religion, it would seem to me logical to have some facts on it, those that would help GMs to integrate it in their worlds.
Just a few details would be necessary, such as:
I was expecting to find this in Luna Rising and was really disappointed to not find it there. I guess it is due to an excessive timidity of the Bates' team to write about such a touchy subject as a religion. So I tried to discuss these points, basing myself mainly on personal hypotheses, but that is why my essay contains more questions than answers.
More generally, there have been really very little information on religions in general and their importance in the Trinity world, so I would strongly recommend that a field report would be planned on its major religions: Christianity (how much is the Pope influence in Europe ?), Neo-Islam (what is it exactly), Temple Judaism, Buddhism and Baha'i faith. It needs no more than 20 pages for all of them, but I think it needs them.
However, even if information is lacking, there is a very positive point on which I would like to compliment Andrew Bates and his team. Even if the facts on Baha'i faith are approximate or absent, the feeling you get about ISRA is very much like what a Baha'i is. The way ISRA is organized, the freedom that exists inside it, the way that ISRA seems to have no reserve in helping the others, its openness, the personality of Otha Herzog, the importance of the "Innocents," the "Hide and Seek game," its extreme humbleness -- all of this is very Baha'i.
And I think that this is what is making the richness and the originality of ISRA order.
I hope that this article will help the GMs to include the Baha'i faith in their campaigns. I didn't detail in it what Baha'i faith really is, but for anyone interested to have more information, I would strongly recommend to buy the magazine "The Baha'is" at your closer Baha'i community or to consult the introductions at the addresses http://www.bahai.org and http://www2.bcca.org on the Web.
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