Greenbelt Interfaith News

    February 1998

    Bahá'í Youth are Urged to Awaken from Their Slumber
    By Nasseem A. Rouhani
    Greenbelt Interfaith News

    The 14th Annual Washington, D.C. Thanksgiving Bahá'í Youth Conference was held from November 27th through the 30th at the Marriott Hotel in Falls Church, Virginia. A total of 650 participants attended, mostly youth who had come from all over the nation.

    On the first night of the conference, the participants commemorated the Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who was the son of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. At midnight the doors of the main hall were opened, and as participants entered, they were greeted by individuals who welcomed them and helped them to their seats. The hall which they entered was lighted only by the many candles placed around the room, and participants could smell the sweet fragrance of roses all around them and hear the soft sound of a piano playing in the background.

    When everyone was seated, the piano playing stopped, and the room was quiet for a long time. Shortly afterwards, the silence was broken by the reading and chanting of prayers. At exactly 2 a.m., the Tablet of Visitation was read in both Arabic and English, which was followed by a recording of the voice of 'Abdu'l-Bahá chanting a prayer.

    When the participants had registered for the conference, they were given little black buttons with a nine-pointed star on it – a nine-pointed star being the symbol of the Bahá'í Faith – and they were asked to wear these buttons at all times during the conference. The youth of this conference were then told that these buttons symbolized their involvement in the Bahá'í Faith and the important role they must carry forth as members of the youth movement. They were then asked to pass these buttons along to their friends not present at the conference so as to signify the increasing involvement of youth in the movement.

    The conference was aimed to "Awaken the Youth from Their Slumber," and to recognize the importance of this youth movement. At the start of the morning program on Saturday, a symbolic performance was given of the "Rekindling of the Fire of the Youth Movement." Six youths performed this symbolic event, divided between youth of the eighties and youth of the nineties.

    On the center of the stage, a table was filled with many candles that had not been lighted. The first candle was lighted by a youth of the past generation who shared with the participants her personal understanding of the youth movement during her time and her part in it. She then said that now was the time for this present generation to make a mark in the history of the Bahá'í Faith. At that point, a youth of this generation stepped forward, and with the same candle that was already lighted by the older youth, he lighted his candle. He had accepted the torch of the previous generation of youth and said that he hoped he and all the other youth of his generation could arise to sacrifice some time in their lives out of service to both the Bahá'í Faith and humanity.

    Participants at the conference were told that many youth in the history of the Bahá'í Faith have made great sacrifices for the faith. Therefore a great part of the conference was dedicated to the remembrance of the youth who have offered up their lives for the advancement of the Bahá'í Faith. Amongst the youth honored was Tahirih, a strong-willed woman who gave up her life at the age of 26 for her religion. The conference participants learned that Tahirih was slowly strangled to death because she proclaimed the emancipation of women by removing the veil from her face.

    Conference participants also learned about Badi, a 17-year-old boy, and Ruhullah, who was only 12; both were both martyred because they were Bahá'ís. Only twelve years ago, the youth were told, seventeen-year-old Mona was martyred because she was a Sunday school teacher and taught the faith to young Bahá'í children.

    These are just a few examples of the stories that were shared with the participants at the conference, and the participants agreed as they left the conference that these were the stories that had the greatest effect on them.

    Nasseem A. Rouhani is a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, and is a member of the Greenbelt Bahá'í Community.

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    © 1998 Nasseem A. Rouhani
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