Seeking understanding of world religions

Over the years I have written about many cultural and religious traditions. Along with Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, I’ve written about Sikhs, Shintoism and Paganism. I’ve often explored Celtic customs, which I have found to be especially great for weddings, and Eastern European traditions, Native American, and various Hispanic traditions.

The subject comes up often for me when I have a bride or groom who would like to honor their heritage in their wedding ceremony. I may know a lot about their traditions, and other times I need to do some research – and this has become one of the most enriching parts of my work as a Celebrant.

Just a little touch will go a long way. For a recent ceremony I created for a Sikh groom and Polish bride I included a quote from his religion and a ritual from hers. That was enough for them, emphasis on ‘them,’ because a wedding should be a reflection of the couple.

I wanted to explore a religion we don’t hear about very much and given that there are about 4,300 religions around the world, that shouldn’t be difficult.

The world’s 20 largest religions and their number of believers are:

  1. Christianity (2.1 billion)
  2. Islam (1.3 billion)
  3. Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion)
  4. Hinduism (900 million)
  5. Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
  6. Buddhism 376 million
  7. Primal-indigenous (300 million)
  8. African traditional and Diasporic (100 million)
  9. Sikhism (23 million)
  10. Juche (19 million)
  11. Spiritism (15 million)
  12. Judaism (14 million)
  13. Bahai (7 million)
  14. Jainism (4.2 million)
  15. Shinto (4 million)
  16. Cao Dai (4 million)
  17. Zoroastrianism (2.6 million)
  18. Tenrikyo (2 million)
  19. Neo-Paganism (1 million)
  20. Unitarian-Universalism (800,000)

Let’s take number 13 from this list: Bahai, or more accurately, Bahá’í.  This is one of the world’s newest religions. Started around the same time as Mormonism, which began in 1830 –  Bahá’í was founded in Persia in 1844, when a Muslim prophet, who took on the title of the Báb which means ‘gate’ or ‘door’ in Arabic, began a revolutionary new teaching about spirituality. He taught moral transformation, women’s emancipation and the importance of helping the poor. The religion leans towards the mystical side, focusing on a person’s relationship with the unknowable essence of God and recommends daily prayer and meditation. It’s quite a beautiful philosophy, encouraging its followers to be kind, generous, truthful, and to have integrity and to be of service to others. Bahá’í also teaches the unity of all religions.

For a Bahá’í wedding the only requirement is a reading from their scriptures, which both partners read, that says: We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God. Two witnesses are present, and the wedding is recorded in their records of their house of worship.

Unfortunately for all its seemingly progressively ideas, this religion is vehemently opposed LGBT rights, marriage and expression throughout its entire existence (and they aren’t letting up).

The name Bahá’í comes from the Arabic word for Glory. They use the symbol of a nine-pointed star, along with a calligraphic rendering of the phrase ‘God is most glorious’ as a beautiful graphic. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but those are some of the basics as I have come to understand them.

Whatever your background or belief system, everyone deserves to have their wedding reflect their personalities, families and traditions. It will always be worth it – even when it takes some research and effort.


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