Coming of age in the Bahá’í faith

15 is the age when Bahá’ís come of age. Here, continuing our series on rites of passage Collis Tahzi

The Bahá’í faith is a distinct religion, based on the teachings of its Prophet-Founder, Bahá'u'lláh. In Persia, in the middle of the 19th century, he taught that all the world’s diverse faiths are in essence, one. An acceptance of the truth of all other religions, recognising them as authentic, divine sources of guidance for different timeframes, provides the foundation on which world unity can be built. It is a universally appealing faith, which contains the minimum of ritual, no clergy and no confession. Therefore, for young believers, the process of becoming a Bahá’í - of coming of age - does not carry with it any elaborate celebration or ceremony, but represents the start of a process of personal spiritual development where they take personal responsibility for their actions.

According to Bahá'u'lláh, turning 15 represents the age of spiritual maturity. It is at this moment that certain practices become binding – the recital each day of an obligatory prayer, the participation in a period of fasting each year, the opportunity to contribute money in a private and voluntary way to the work of the faith.

Most importantly, becoming a Bahá’í represents a commitment to social change and service to the community. Young people have always played a major role in the establishment of the Bahá’í faith, and continue to do so in its vision for a new global society. Quite in contrast to the expected disengagement of youth from the affairs of society, the Bahá’í faith gives its young members an engaging vision rooted in the notion of the equality of the human race:

unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving.

Young Bahá’ís, upon their “declaration”, see this as their goal. To be an effective instrument in this process, we strive to be upright, kind, intelligent, truthful and honest. It is through aligning ourselves to high ideals that we can influence others. The concept of ‘Year of Service’ – a kind of spiritually motivated “gap year” – where young Bahá’ís can offer to travel and engage in any number of social development projects in the world, also becomes a subject for consideration along with choice of career and university courses.

In truth, reaching spiritual maturity at the age of fifteen – as Bahá’ís believe – does not mark a sudden transition. Having been raised with Bahá’í ideals it was, for me, part of a gradual process of development. The declaration of faith does, nonetheless, indicate a personal commitment and the assumption of responsibility for my actions. In this sense it is an important milestone, and a moment of dedication to living a spiritual life.

Collis Tahzib is a pupil at Warwick School, currently studying for his GCSEs; hoping to read Politics, Philosophy, Maths and English at A-Level, and do a PPE degree at university.
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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.