A weekend celebration among Cayman’s Baha’i community – and open to everyone – will mark the 200th birthday of the Iranian founder of the faith, Baha’u’llah.
Boasting approximately 3,000 followers in Jamaica and Cayman, the faith is rooted in the 1817 birth of the Baha’i prophet, born Mirza Ali Husayn, who formally established the religion only in 1863, proclaiming the universality of all faiths.
Baha’u’llah, adherents say, is only the most recent – and not the final – messenger of an “Absolute Reality” witnessed by a historical succession of “prophets” such as Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, the Buddha, Krishna and others.
West Bay-resident Caymanians Beverly and Dale Banks said Baha’i’s 5 million to 7 million adherents in 235 jurisdictions will gather on Oct. 21 and 22 to mark the birth of Baha’u’llah, which means “the glory of God.”
“There will be big celebrations” at Baha’i international headquarters in Haifa, Israel, Mrs. Banks said, comprising “humanitarian works, visiting the sick, clean-up services, exhibitions and concerts,” while the weekend of Oct. 14 and 15 already saw ecumenical services in Kingston, Jamaica, at the University of the West Indies chapel.
Baha’i’s eight global centers will also mount commemorative ceremonies in Wilmette, Illinois; Frankfurt, Germany; Kampala, Uganda; Sydney, Australia; Panama City, Panama; Apia, capital of Samoa; New Delhi, India; and the newest temple in Santiago, Chile.
Mr. and Mrs. Banks will mark the occasion at a public gathering on Sunday at their 141 Boggy Sand Road home, starting at noon. An advertisement in Friday’s Cayman Compass marks the birthday and invites public enquiries.
“We will have services for anyone that would like to come,” Mrs. Banks said. “We’ll start with prayers, have a meal afterwards, then share fellowship and conversation, spending time together. Everyone is welcome.”
According to one Baha’i brochure, anyone interested “will have an opportunity to listen, ask questions if you wish or simply hear the answers given to questions asked by others. There is no cost or obligation of any kind, and Baha’is neither ask for nor accept donations from guests.”
Baha’i gatherings traditionally avoid preaching. Temple services consist of recitation of scriptures from all religions. The faith has no priesthood and no clergy, relying on local assemblies to oversee community affairs. Converts do not have to abandon former beliefs or doctrines to embrace Baha’i tenets.
Jamaican dentist Dr. Malcolm King – who discovered Baha’i while practicing in the U.S. – founded the island’s first congregation in 1942. Convening meetings at his Kingston home, he quickly gained five converts and by 1961, according to bahaijm.org, “the Jamaican community was sufficiently strong to elect a National Spiritual Assembly.”
Four years later, through an expatriate Jamaican teacher, 10 converts founded a local Cayman community, ultimately forming a “Regional Baha’i Council of the Cayman Islands.”
By 1971, the year Mrs. Banks joined the group, the faith had grown enough to convene a Kingston-based “Caribbean Conference,” opened by Jamaica Governor General Sir Clifford Campbell and drawing 1,200 people from the region, the U.S. and Central America.
Mr. and Mrs. Banks declined to enumerate the Cayman community, which comprises at least several dozen, and falls under Jamaica’s umbrella.
In 2015, the couple placed seven advertisements over a period of seven weeks in the Cayman Compass, marking the seventh anniversary of the imprisonment by the Iranian government of seven Baha’i leaders as part of ongoing efforts to repress the community, accused of being “apostates of Islam.”
The leader of the group, Mahvash Sabet, was released Sept. 18, after 10 years. The others remain jailed. Iran still holds almost 90 Baha’is.