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.