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Kelly Knaub: My interest in journalism comes from a desire to write, tell stories and appease my endless curiosity about the world. I spent five years teaching English to immigrants and refugees in New York City before embarking on my Masters degree in journalism at New York University last fall. I previously lived in Mexico for two years and traveled all over Central America. My experience as a human rights observer in a Zapatista village in Chiapas inspired me to become a journalist. By writing for Havana Times, I hope to contribute to a broader perspective of Cuba.

The Bahá’ís: A Global Faith in Cuba

July 23, 2010 | Print Print |

Text and Photos by Kelly Knaub

National Bahá'í Center of Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, July 23 – Victoria La Rosa, 48, recalls the night her friend Ricardo Cao called her while she was reading the Bible. “I was searching for something,” La Rosa said.  When Cao asked La Rosa if she was Christian, she replied yes.  La Rosa asked Cao if he was also Christian, and he replied that he was Bahá’í.  La Rosa, never having heard of such a thing, argued with him about his faith.

Cao lent her several Bahá’í books and La Rosa remained skeptical until she read the third one, Thief in the Night, which describes the Biblical prophecies that are fulfilled in the Bahá’í Faith.

La Rosa read the book all night and couldn’t put it down until the following morning.  She called Cao later that evening and told him she wanted to go to the place he talked about, which turned out to be the Bahá’í Center in Central Havana.  La Rosa has been a Bahá’í follower ever since.

A Synopsis

The Bahá’í Faith, which arrived to Cuba in 1939, is an independent religion that embraces more than 2,100 ethnic and tribal groups in over 218 nations and is the second most widespread faith after Christianity.  The religion was founded just over 100 years ago by Bahá’u’lláh, a nobleman from Tehran, Iran, who claimed to be the most recent messenger of God.

Bahá'ís at the National Bahá'í Center in Havana

Bahá’ís believe that all the prophets of the world’s great religions – Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad – were sent by God over time to educate the human race at each particular period in history.  Unlike other religions, the Bahá’í Faith has not divided into sects or denominations.

La Rosa, who has been a Bahá’í for two years, said that the Baptist Church she previously attended did not fulfill her.  “It didn’t convince me,” she said.  “I read the Bible and I didn’t understand it.  One person would give one interpretation of the Bible, and another person would give another, and neither of them convinced me.”

Beliefs

The main message of the Bahá’í Faith is unity.  Bahá’u’lláh taught that there is only one God and one human race. The religion encompasses a belief system that is meant to promote the advancement of a global society.

Victoria La Rosa and a fellow Bahá'í during prayer.

Bahá’ís believe in the individual right to search for the truth, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, compatibility between science and religion, equality between the sexes, universal peace and education, and social and economic justice.  Their goal is to one day select or create a universal language and establish a world federal system that would peacefully unite the people of the world.

The Bahá’í Faith in Cuba

Oscar Asensio, 38, has been a Bahá’í for six years. Although Asensio said it’s not difficult being a Bahá’í in Cuba, the religion – along with all other faiths – was ostracized by the Cuban Communist Party after the Revolution until the government began to permit religious freedom in the early nineties.

Asensio said that the dire economic crisis Cuba experienced during this era, known as The Special Period, made the government realize that they couldn’t prohibit religion anymore.

Cuban Bahá'ís

“It helps the population psychologically, he said. “So they opened doors and made changes in the system.”

In 1992, the National Assembly of People’s Power approved a new constitution that abandoned the former atheistic nature of the Cuban state.  In 1998, Pope John Paul II’s visit to Havana opened an even wider space for religious freedom.

“Today you can practice religion, whatever religion, without any problem.  This helped the Bahá’í Faith,” Asensio said.

Today, many practicing religious devotees hold positions in the Communist Party and National Assembly of People’s Power, though most are comprised of Catholics and Protestants.

“Cuba, right now, is living a rebirth of interest in religions,” Asensio said.  “Because of the process of having lived 50 years of Revolution under a system that’s governed under the materialism of Marx and Engels, where that materialistic philosophy says that God doesn’t exist … the majority of the Cuban population doesn’t believe in God.”

Religion in Cuba

According to the Roman Catholic Church, about 60 percent of the Cuban population is Catholic, although this figure does not account for the number of active members.

Oscar Asensio at the Bahá'í Center in Havana.

Santería – a syncretic Afro-Cuban religion that was brought by Yoruba slaves and disguised under Catholicism – is widely practiced throughout the country.  Protestants are estimated to compose 5 percent of the population and are comprised of Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and Quakers. There are also small communities of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons.

Although statistics on the number of Bahá’ís in Cuba are unavailable, Bahá’í representatives are located in Havana, Villa Clara and Camagüey City. Devotees in Havana attend the National Bahá’í Center in Central Havana, which was created in 2004.  Many come on Sunday mornings to pray and connect with other Bahá’ís.  The Center also holds other faith-oriented activities and informal gatherings at other times.

Roman Enriquez teaching at the Bahá'í Center.

Although the Cuban state now permits religious freedom, some Bahá’ís, like La Rosa, encounter disapproval from their families.

“My whole family is Catholic and Christian, and Christians don’t accept Bahá’ís,” La Rosa said.  But, she explained, her family accepts her faith “because there is no other alternative.”

“They pray a lot for me because they think I’m lost, that I’m wrong, but our relationship hasn’t ended because of it.  They pray for me and I pray for them, so we help each other.”


What's your opinion?

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Thank you, Kelly, for this excellent piece on the Baha’is global faith.

    One of the great social advances of what we term the “bourgeois revolution against feudalism” was freedom of religious conscience. When Engels & Marx came into the socialist movement in the mid-1800s in order to take it over, discredit it in the public mind and render it innocuous, one of their techniques was to attack this newly-won freedom.

    But they didn’t attack the “freedom” directly. They attacked religion and all spiritual belief. They associated socialism with atheism, and imported the bizarre programmatic idea of “enforced atheism under socialism.”

    This idea of enforced atheism ought to have alerted thinking people that Engels and Marx were agent provocateurs, but it did not. Over several decades their pseudo-scientific nonsense permeated the socialist movement. When the Bolsheviks came to power they tried to force atheism on the people, and the world socialist movement has been harmed by this madness ever since.

    The Cuban Party finally got rid of it. Bravo. The truth is that socialism–authentic, workable socialism–is completely compatible with religion and religious belief.

    Freedom of religious conscience is a fundamental human right.

    Our Cooperative Republic Movement in the U.S. has discarded Marxism and all the anti-socialist sabotage it contains.

  • Sam

    A minor correction-Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Chinese religions and Buddhists also outnumber Bahai. This isn’t to say its a small religion, but its a young one and still has “only” in the millions. I think the nation with the most Bahai is India, which has some 4-5 million.

    A sad fact about the Bahai, their religion faces religious persecution in the land of its birth, Iran. Traditional Islamic thought sees Muhammad’s word as the last word of god, and that God would not speak again before the millennial event (ie, the apocalypse) whenever that is. This means that Iran, with its hardline Shariah law, often persecutes Bahai. This is despite the fact that many Ayatollahs have come out in favour of giving full rights to the Bahai! For whatever reason, the “revolution” there thinks its necessary to target this small religion because of their failure to sit comfortably in a conservative version of Islamic eschatology. I don’t think the hardliners who push for this repression really understand the bad this does for Iran and Muslim relations with the world.

  • Sam

    Oh-i see, you said widespread, not populous. I assume in that case you mean geographically widespread, not demographically. My apologies!

    Anyways, as a follow on, whats strange about Muslim fanatics repressing Bahai in Iran is how much it fits in that old trope of religious dogmatists attacking anything innovative, like the Rabbis to Jesus, the Magis to Mani, the Catholics to the Cathars, and the Mughals to the Sikhs. After all, nobody loathes (fears?) a new God more than an old priest. This is a principle which has been proven time and time again. Isn’t it ironic that a religion founded in Meccan persecution of Muhammad’s ideas, some rightwing nuts find a pretext to violently repress a native religion? Especially one which affirms their own God?

  • grok

    The garbage ‘history of socialism’ of the first commentator below aside, freedom of thought — including religion — has always been the hallmark of even “scientific socialism” (i.e. marxism), in its political expression. This, however, has little to do with the nature of scientific socialism per se as an ideology and a method of scientific discovery and discourse and as a political-economic program. So, while idealists of all sorts, most definitely including the religious ones, have a right to their often highly-unscientific, idealistic beliefs, this has little to do with the political and social program of revolutionary socialism (except in the negative AFAIC). So don’t anyone conflate the two, please. When you do, you get the garbage thinking of i.e. the first commentator — and the Miami mafia and others, for that matter — who nevertheless has every right under democratic revolutionary socialism to open their trap or flex their fingers, and make an AFAIC complete fool of themselves.

    Baha’i people may generally be quite nice people — but they are idealists, liberals in general in my experience, and pretty much pawns of imperialism when push comes to shove, in the political-economic sphere. Like with most liberals. So let’s stick to scientific socialism, please: it’s much more interesting AFAIC — and far more ‘enlightening’ and useful.

  • http://Blog.isallaboutmath.com Julio de la Yncera

    Grok
    Why do you think that anything outside of what you believe correct is wrong?
    Other people that are not you are probably as smart as you are and still they do believe in other things you may not. Grady should be free to think waterver he likes just as you do.
    Why can we all have a little more tolerance towards each others beliefs?
    I could go on to really prove here that what you called scientific socialism is a misnomer but I won’t. There is really nothing scientific about socialism.

  • Sam from california

    Psh, Grady and Grok are both pigheaded! Grok is no more open minded to Grady than Grady is to Marx.

    Julio-what do you mean about socialism not being scientific? As far as Marx is concerned, I think he offers an excellent anthropological survey of property notions and technological capacity. Broadly speaking, Marxist socialism, if it is not “scientific” in the strong sense, is certainly historically oriented and empirical. That Stalin managed to take in a thoroughly unscientific route more has to do with that man’s ego than with socialism as such.

    Grok-how are Bahai “Imperialists”? If you know imperialist Bahai, its probably because the Petit Bourgeoise are more likely to find solace in movements like Bahai. In that regard, its equivalent of saying Jews are Capitalists because they tended to be in Petit Bourgeoise positions. Yes, that was true, but it doesnt recognize (1) the conditions that put them there and (2) when and how people within that group often overcome such boundaries. This is why a religion stereotypically associated with economic exchange produced people like Marx.

  • http://carmenisacat.blogspot.com/ Maggie

    Hmm. Well, some religion might be better than no religion at all. The right religion however….is quite the ticket isn’t it.

  • http://www.bahismexicali.org Fred

    Wow, Kelly! This was a great piece. After i moved to Mexico in 1970 i began to hear wonderful things about the Cuban health system. A few years later in the 90’s our family together with other youth formed a Mexican folk music group here in Mexicali to preserve this music and it was invited to one of the Book Fairs in Cuba as part of the Bahá’í delegation/exhibit.
    Although you didn’t mention it, i imagine that our friends in Cuba are also involved in the Bahá’í Five Year Plan, the main focus of which is to train individuals of any faith in the principles of spiritual development in order to be empowered to offer concrete acts of service, such as childrens classes, study circles and junior youth learning and service groups.
    Will be looking forward to your future articles which, i am sure will, “contribute to a broader perspective of Cuba.”
    Have a great day!

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    All this talk about Marxism being scientific, and yet nothing reasonable said to prove it.

    All science is based on the Scientific Method. This is a six-step method used by all science in every part of the world. If Marxism is scientific then it must use the scientific method to arrive at its conclusions. But guess what . . . it does not.

    The scientific method goes something like this: 1) construct a reasonable hypothesis; 2) design an experiment to test it; 3) carry out the experiment; 4) analyze the results; 5) draw a conclusion as to whether the original hypothesis is false, true, or false but partially true; and 6) if the original hypothesis is false or partially false, construct another reasonable hypothesis and start the process of experimentation over again.

    Engels and Marx put forward a core hypothesis in 1848 that a socialist society would “concentrate all the instruments of production in the hands of the state.” This was their out-of-thin-air opinion, but still it was an hypothesis fit for testing. They did not put it forward however as an hypothesis, but as an ironclad principle.

    Because the core economic hypothesis of Marxian was never subjected to real-world experimentation, it cannot therefore be considered as scientific. Marxism is proved non-scientific.

    Even when the core stipulation of the bourgeois duo was put into practice in places like the Soviet Union and later Cuba, it was not viewed as an hypothesis ready for experimentation. It was viewed as a rigid, unquestioned “principle of real socialism.” It was taken more as holy scripture than as a reasonable hypothesis.

    To say therefore that Marxian economics is scientific ignores the above. The core idea of Marxian economics is in no way scientific, and I challenge anyone to respond in a reasonable way.

    The problem with sectarians is that you have lost the ability to reason objectively. Even so, you hurl phrases around like “garbage thinking” and “pigheaded.” You guys will never make or contribute to a socialist transformation in any country.

  • http://SpiritualBrother.blogspot.com SpiritualBrother

    I think that the Bahais make up less than 1% of the population of Cuba.

  • http://blog.isallaboutmath.com Julio de la Yncera

    Grady you have express exactly why Marxism is not a science or does not follow the scientific method better than I probably could!
    Thanks!

    As you said

    They attach to Marxism as a religion and a holy scripture to be follow

    I really do not get why? Experience demonstrates otherwise.
    As we know Marx was a human and as human he was as fallible as any other.
    He experience a form of capitalism that no longer exist furthermore the thesis they proposed as solution to the economic problem failed miserably in practice. But in Cuba some how they refuse to see they are still mounted on a dead horse!
    It does not matter how much they kick this horse, it will not move forward for it is simply dead.

    What is worst they may know they are mounted on a dead horse but I guess they may think is better to be mounted even if the horse is dead that any other thing.

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Julio: Well said.

    I think the historic Cuban leaders sincerely believe in Marx as the oracle of “real” socialism, and the whole Communist Manifesto/Stalin-Soviet dogma. They cannot be cynical. Fidel still does his best to change the world for the better, and I refuse to believe that either he or Raul maintain the status quo out of a desire to exploit the people, or to hold onto personal power for reasons of ego.

    The problem is that, for those of us who “radicalize” at some point and achieve the socialist epiphany, we are quickly recruited to and cocooned by some Marxist group. Since we trust this group to know what’s up, we soon “imprint on” the Marxist quasi-religious faith. We are then virtually blinded, as the victims of cults consistently are.

    Fidel and Raul are victims of this imprinting process. Now that they, like all the sectarians, believe in the true faith, they cannot see and interpret creatively what is right before their eyes. Yes, they apparently will beat that dead house until the very end, thinking all the while that they are being noble and are doing the correct, honorable thing.

    I believed in Marx and Marxism for nearly three decades. Then reality won out, because I sincerely want socialism, and I refused to give up the cause and go away. In the process I began to investigate employee-owned cooperatives, and realized that they are the true basis of a workable, democratic form of socialism.

    I then came to the stunning conclusion that Engels and Marx must have been bourgeois agent provocateurs, sent into the movement to sabotage it from inside. At this point the fog really lifted and everything began to make prefect sense.

    May I invite you to go to video.google.com and review two short films: The Mondragon Experiment, and Democracy in the Workplace. These films will help you understand what modern cooperative socialism and the Cooperative Republic Movement are all about. Cheers.

  • http://blog.isallaboutmath.com Julio de la Yncera

    Grady
    You commented this

    “I then came to the stunning conclusion that Engels and Marx must have been bourgeois agent provocateurs, sent into the movement to sabotage it from inside.”

    Can you tell us why you think so?

  • George Teichrib

    Kelly , just a few corrections with your info.

    1- it has long been documented in print and the web that the membership numbers and representation of the Bahai faith have always been exagerated. ( I suggest a little more research)

    2- jehovah’s witnesses are NOT CHRISTIAN, never mind protestant!! (where are you hearing this *$&^* !!!)