How being a Bahá’í shaped my life

Each week someone from a different religion explains what they believe in. Here Barney Leith explain

My mother was greatly concerned when I became a Bahá’í that I had been sucked into some kind of cult. She rushed over to Cambridge and I introduced her to some of my new Bahá’í friends. Greatly relieved by the ‘normality’ of the Bahá’ís, she was happy to accept my choice of religion and remained supportive of this until the end of her life.

The whole of my adult life has been shaped by my faith as a Bahá’í. What’s central, I think, is the understanding that pervades Bahá’u’lláh’s writings – which form the main part of the Bahá’í holy texts – that humankind is one family, that there is only one God, whose essence is unknowable to us but whose characteristics or attributes we know through the lives and teachings of the prophets and messengers of God. We’re thinking here of Abraham, Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, amongst others.

Bahá’u’lláh claims to be the latest in an ancient line of what he sometimes calls Divine Physicians, those whom God has empowered to diagnose and treat the world’s sickness in each age.

Notably Bahá’u’lláh explicitly disclaims finality for his own revelation.
Bahá’u’lláh asks us to focus on the needs of our time and not to look backwards. For Bahá’u’lláh, the process of divine revelation is a progressive one, impelling humankind forward from our collective ‘childhood’, through the current stage of our collective ‘adolescence’, to the time when humankind as a whole will be spiritually mature and adult.

Right now, we’re in that spotty, rambunctious, adolescent stage, full of conflict, not knowing whether we still want to be children or to be fully grown-up.

In many ways it’s a dark time in human life. Bahá’u’lláh acknowledges that darkness and shows how we can come through this time of crisis into a new global civilization, based on a much deeper understanding of the reality of human oneness.

In recent years we’ve tended to become very excited by ‘diversity’, and much law and a whole industry has grown up around ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’. This is not unimportant, but I believe we often forget the other side of the diversity coin, which is unity.

The watchword for Bahá’ís is ‘unity in diversity’. Unity without diversity is uniformity and uniformity is a kind of death. Diversity without unity, on the other hand, leads to division and conflict. Diversity and unity exist together in a complementary ‘yin-yang’ relationship.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son and head of the Bahá’í community from 1892 until his passing in 1921, eloquently describes the key theme of this era of human development.
O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. Laudable are the results and the fruits thereof, abundant the holy evidences deriving from this grace. This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth.

Barney Leith has been an active Bahá’í since the mid 1960s. In 1993 he was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK Bahá’ís. Barney has been married to Erica since 1970. They have three grown-up offspring and three grandchildren.
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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.