Numerous members of the Bahá'í Community gathered together to celebrate the Bahá'í New Year.
The Omaha Baha’i community celebrates Naw Rúz, a holiday celebrating the Baha’i new year and the end of the 19-day fasting period.

More than 45 Bahá’í communities across Nebraska started their 19-day fast in preparation for the upcoming Naw Rúz, the Bahá’í new year on March 21.

Founded in 1844, the Bahá’í faith was established in Persia, now Iran, by Bahá’u’lláh through teachings intended to inspire individuals and their communities to improve their lives and to promote the advancement of humankind. According to Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America by Robert Stockman, the Bahá’í faith was brought to the United States in 1892.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas is the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and initiated the first Baha’i communities in Nebraska in 1912. Since then, more than 45 communities have blossomed, including a community in North Platte which solely consists of a husband and wife duo. Bahá’í communities in Nebraska sprawl across both rural and urban communities, however they do predominantly situate themselves near larger cities across the state.

Portia Lyle is a member of the Bellevue Bahá’í community. In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Lyle and her husband wanted to create a way to discuss the racial biases and issues facing people of color.

“We felt really helpless,” Lyle said. “And one thing that Bahá’ís like to do is to come together, pray, and have spiritual and meaningful conversations about what might be going on in the world.” 

Lyle set up a monthly Zoom call called “Interfaith Devotional and Dialogue,” with the overarching theme of racial healing. Lyle and her husband invited members from all backgrounds in their community to join in and discuss these issues. Since the spring of 2020, members have continued the discussions about humanity with their friends and family from across the nation.

“Everyone was able to see each other as a part of humanity rather than you’re this white person or you’re this black person,” Lyle said. “We’re all just a part of one human family.”

The basic Bahá’í teachings include the oneness of God, religion and humanity. Bahá’í people believe through freedom from prejudice and the fundamental equality of the sexes bind together individuals and communities to unite society as a whole.

“All people are the same in the sight of God, and it’s really imperative that we have no racial divisions or prejudices of any kind,” Lyle said. 

She said she reaffirmed her Bahá’í faith throughout the major milestones in her life. She credits Naw Rúz as an important time for her to reflect on her faith.

According to Pew Research, about 66% of Nebraskans believe in God, while less than 1% consider themselves to be of a “liberal faith family,” which includes Bahá’í and Humanism. Similar to Bahá’í, Humanism believes that through unity of all people, happiness can be achieved across the world. While liberal faith families may have different beliefs in a higher deity, they are similar in that their main goal is to  bind together individuals and communities and unite all people.

A major time of reflection and recommitment to the Bahá’í faith is the period of fasting before celebration of Naw Rúz. In the Bahá’í calendar, March 2 through March 20 is called ʻAláʼ, which is  a time of fasting. At the end of their 19-day fast, the Bahá’í new year is considered a celebration and a feast similar to the Catholic celebration of lent.

Held annually on the vernal equinox, Naw Rúz is a day many Bahá’í communities celebrate across the world. Through community building events, prayer and community service events, the Bahá’í invite anyone to come partake in devotions and to celebrate the symbolic rebirth of the year and the beginning of spring.

The Bahá’í faith does not require conversion from one religious practice to another. The Bahá’í believe through education of all religious backgrounds, oneness of humanity can be achieved. In addition, Bahá’í teaches community members to treat all others with friendship and peace. Being knowledgeable of all the different religious texts from different walks of faith is a cornerstone for Bahá’í belief. The purpose for the Bahá’ís focus on social change is based on the idea that by refining your inner character and offering service to humanity, justice can be achieved for the maturing world.

Suzanne Schleifman is a member of the Omaha/Council Bluffs Bahá’í community. She grew up in Tanzania, where her father joined the Bahá’í faith when she was 2. Schleifman has been practicing her Bahá’í beliefs since then. At 15, which is considered the age of maturity in the Bahá’í faith, she officially enrolled in the Bahá’í community.

“The [Bahá’í] faith has a very specific way on how we build community,” Scleifman said. “Where I live, I try to engage everybody in community-building activities.”

Building diverse communities is a major area of focus of Bahá’í. Through mutual support and collective well-being of the community, the Bahá’í faith teaches that vibrant communities can be built to promote unity within the diversity. Bahá’ís advocate for systematic learning through the structure of study, consultation, action and reflection.

An excerpt from A Spiritual Path to Unity & Social Justice: The Baha’i Faith in America represents the many uneasy feelings that members of the Bahá’í faith struggle with. “The tensions, divisions and injustices that currently beset America are symptoms of a longstanding illness – a spiritual disorder that shows up in rampant materialism, widespread moral decay and a deeply ingrained racial prejudice.”

”The Bahá’í writings are a light that keeps me grounded in the world,” Lea Schuster said. Schuster is a member of the Omaha Bahá’í community and went on to describe how equality means inclusivity and access. Education of Bahá’í social principles eased her anxiety about the destructive forces of the world.

“Bahá’u’lláh’s message means hope in humanity. With the teachings, there’s a path of hope,” Schuster said.  “The vehicle for establishing worldwide unity is justice.”

My name is Jenna Gruber. I am an Advertising/Public Relations and Journalism double major with minors in music and English. I am currently a senior in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.