Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What it feels like to be Baha'i in Ghana

A few weeks ago, when AB commented on this blog saying 
My biggest gripe with Christianity in Ghana is that it has become ubiquitous, and with that ubiquity comes assumptions about who you are and what it means to be a real Ghanaian, as well as extreme intolerance of other people's religious preferences. As someone who prefers not to be religious, I find that my choices are not respected - there was a lively discussion on this very blog about how someone would get irritated when people would insist on starting any meeting (not just at church) with a prayer. To which I say, Amen! (HA HA). It is never ok to not be a Christian in Ghana, and that is what worries me.
One of you, posted a response anonymously saying
That is not true that it is NEVER ok not to be a Christian in Ghana. Perhaps that has been your experience among the Ghanaians you've met. But among the Ghanaians I've met, it's ok to be whatever religion you are. SO that must mean that all Ghanaians are not the same then, are they?
 S/he went on to say "I also don't know that discrimination and prejudice is the preserve of only Christians in Ghana"

Today, I'd like us to revisit this conversation. But I'd like us to move away from talking about Christians in particular and look generally at how it feels to be a minority in Ghana. With particular focus on how it feels to be Baha'i. In subsequent posts, I'll get other minorities to write about their experiences.  As a people, how we treat minorities reflects a lot about who we are. That, after all, is what we do on this blog. We look at who Ghanaians are as a people. 

The post that follows was written by an old friend of mine. His name is Kofi. Kofi and I met when we were in secondary school (over 10 years ago) and in this post, he details his experiences as a Baha'i in Ghana.

So here I am trying to put my thoughts together and asking myself, “why did I not think through the request before agreeing to it”. Well, I managed to convince myself that the basic reason is the feeling of flattery. For Worabae to ask me to write this article, in her words “...I know you can write” flattered me thus I had to live to the bill. 

Indeed, I am blessed to be Ghanaian, I am blessed to have peace in my country, I am blessed to be free to exercise my right and freedom to associate and belong to any organisation of my choice. Thanks to Pastor Chris, I am able to clearly express my feelings, borrowing his much acclaimed pronouncement, as I try to share thoughts on the subject. I should be grateful that Ghana provides the environment for coexistence for people like me. I am a Bahá’í, and I am sure there will be the question, “what is that?”Do you go to church?” will follow and others-“do you believe in Jesus Christ”,” how do you worship"?” I have had to answer to a barrage of such questions after my declarations of not being Christian or Muslim.  

The Bahá’í Faith is a world wide independent religion that seeks to unite the world into one universal faith and one universal religion. With this objective, Bahá’ís believe there is one God, One religion and one human race. Despite this thinking, not all of us, including nations believe in the oneness of mankind and belonging to one universal family. In many strong Islamic nations, e.g. Egypt and Iran, several Bahá’ís counting in thousands are persecuted and face varied human rights abuses. Bahá’ís in Egypt have been denied their identity, and access to state services following the introduction of a national ID card which only recognises Christianity and Islam as the only religious groupings in the country. In Iran, where there are the worst acts of persecution against Bahá’ís, Bahá’ís are presently facing charges of treason by the government for being Bahá’ís.1 Others have been abducted, jailed with no fair trials in the government’s attempt to kill the Bahá’í faith in the country. A google search on this would lead you to alarming revelations unfathomed in our present world. 

Being a Bahá’í in Ghana, I am confronted with my own kind of prejudices. Though least appreciated by others whenever I talk about the subject, I think it is about time Ghanaians woke up from their stereotyped beliefs and educated themselves on the essence of religion and spirituality. I have had two beautiful relationships end abruptly because the women involved claimed to be uncomfortable with my religion. When I asked specifically what was uncomfortable about my being a Bahá’í and how that should affect our relationship, the responses have been trivial and characterised by ill-informed and lack of understanding of the institution of marriage and the ingredients for it.  Reasons start from No one in my family has married anyone other than a Christian and I don’t want to the first. I can understand if you do not have any religion, then at least I know I can convert you to be a Christian, I cant see myself waking up seeing my husband in a prostrate position praying.  Interestingly, with all these excuses, I have had such girl friends tell of how caring, loving and a good husband any woman would want to have and blah-blah-blah.  Oh, yes! I believe they just say it to make me feel good and not upset about their prejudices. In deed, it is prejudice if I cannot marry the woman who has the qualities I deem right to start a family and nurture kids to know God. How different is this from being denied a job just because you are a boy, girl, Christian, Muslim, black, white, African, Asian? I see this as no different from racism. 

I have tried to find meaning or make sense of the reasons given for such strong family aggression towards daughters and quite subtly towards sons- which is mostly the case, who seek to marry persons other than Christians or Muslims. It is almost unheard off for Christian to marry a Muslim and vice versa. I make reference to these two religions because they constitute the main religious groups in the country. Everybody wants, would want, to have a happy marriage and I am sure that as persons in a relationship you are able to determine what kind of husband or wife the other person would be should you both decide to tread that path together. I have continuously asked and never gotten the responses to the question which is will the mere fact that one marries someone of the same religious belief automatically insulate the couple from all the numerous troubles and challenges that come with marriage?” How many of the same church/ religious belief marriages have not had or do not have problems? A careful, objective, isolation of personal sentiments and focus on the issues generating marital problems will reveal that there is very little contribution of religious beliefs underlying them. The biggest challenge to marriages is the ability of couples to tackle the challenges they are confronted each day of their married lives. The problems arise from individual character formation generally influenced by the environments within which we spent our growing lives. If couples understand the essence of religion and do not live their lives concerned about the definitions and pronouncements of society- which is grappling to understand the surge in moral and spiritual decadence.

Uncle Ebo defines spirituality as the thought for mankind, and not the amount of time spent in church. It is deductible from his definition that love for your fellow man, unity, justice and upholding virtues are the constituents of a spiritual being and not necessarily professing faith in a church or religious denomination. What is the essence of religion if it does not seek to unite mankind? He also says “give me a country of spiritual people and close down the churches, Ghana will still survive”. He is not Bahá’í but I share his thoughts and therefore ask that we wake up from our religious stereotypes and become spiritual which is more than our church going activities, learn to appreciate the need to have independent investigation of truth about religion and its role in mankind’s search for God.  I have almost become immune to this sort of discrimination but have not lost faith that I will some day be married to someone who is not of the same religious group as me not because I do not there are no women in the Bahai faith on the contrary to be an example to demonstrate that institution of marriage is built by the individuals who enter into it with support from family and society and not the other way round.

What do you guys think? Would you be open to marrying a Bahai'i? Why and why not? How do you feel about the points Kofi raises in his post? How much do you know about Baha'i's? I'm really looking forward to a good discussion:). Thanks, Deborah Ahenkorah for suggesting I do a post on how it feels to be a minority in Ghana.


  1. Well, I understand Kofi's points and sorry about his past experiences. However, if he is uncomfortable with Christians wearing their religion on their sleeves, why does he need to the same with his religion? Personally, as long as both partners fundamentally believe in peace, love and tolerance, whatever extreme views each other hold is not relevant to the relationship. Disclaimer: I am hippie.

  2. One of my friends turned Bahai about a year and a half ago... since then I've met a few Bahais. They are pretty cool.
    But yeah ghanaians dun understand these things o.. I know some of them are still going through what Kofi went through.

  3. How about he finds another bahai, and marry them? That way they'll both be on the same page. I can't speak for other religions, but the christian faith does say 'do not be unequally yoked...' That might explain the unfortunate experiences with the gals. I might add, true christianity isn't a religion, it's a personal relationship with God. But I might be veering off topic...

  4. A lot of issues have been raised with this post, but i think I'll just talk about the marriage bit. Not hiring someone because of religious background is different from not marrying someone because of religious background. Jobs have to do with structural issues, and so people care if you are discriminating. Marriage is a personal decision, so the choices people make, racist, or not; discriminating or not is their choice and they reserve the right to choose as they will. There is nothing wrong with a person choosing not to marry you because of your faith - it may be petty and ridiculous but there it is. If they feel they can't live with it - it is their choice.

    Marrying someone of the same religion doesn't mean you will be free of all problems, but it's one less problem to deal with. In fact, being of the same religious background may be one of the things that hold a marriage together in difficult times... or whatever. As flimsy or untenable or prejudiced as their reasons are, it is their reasons, and their choice to make, not yours.

  5. PS: It may be petty and ridiculous to you, but not to them. The support of their families may be very important to them, so it may be a big thing for them to marry according to their wishes. Having a husband who prostrates to pray may also be a big thing for them......... just because it's trivial to you, doesn't mean it's trivial to them. And like Anthia-Ofoe has said, Christianity frowns on marrying outside of its religion...many people may contravene it, but many people are loath to contravene it. And no, it's not a problem. Most religions (like many other non-religious groups) are by nature discriminating: not everyone is part of the club, and whereas outsiders are welcome to hang around, they are not welcome to join in the club if they aren't part of the club.

  6. One hears that there are many ways to God. God says different. Imagine that you're all alone at the bottom of a pit. The pit is miles deep but barely wide enough for you to stand. Its sides are made of smooth, slippery glass with no handhold or foothold. Water is up to your chin, and rising.

    Then a voice comes down to you. God is calling, "I'm throwing down a rope. If you'll trust it enough to grab and hold on, I'll pull you up!" Sure enough, there's the rope, in front of you-within your reach.

    Jesus is the rope. There isn't any other. He said so Himself.

    What does it mean to grab and hang on? It means to have faith in Jesus Christ as the One who paid the price of your sins and who saves you. Faith is so much more than just "head-belief". It means you stop trusting all the things you've trusted before and put your trust in Christ Jesus instead. It means you admit you're a traitor and sinner and can't get back to God on your own. It means you say to the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, "Jesus, I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Make me right inside. Mess with me. Do whatever you have to. Don't stop until I'm the way you want. Help me to follow and obey you. I trust You, starting now!"

    You can't even MEAN such a prayer unless the Holy Spirit helps you, but you know something? He has been waiting for you since before your parents knew you were on the way to be born! This is part of what He does.

    "But where do I start?" Start with the help He's giving you already. Whatever it is, accept it and ask His help for the next step. If you aren't REALLY sorry for your sins, just be sorry THAT YOU ARE NOT SORRY, and trust Him to make you sorry for the rest. If you don't REALLY trust Him for your salvation, just start wanting to trust Him, and ask and trust him to be able to trust Him more.

    If you don't want to let go of your old life, just desire that you could do so-and ask and trust Him to pry your fingers away.

    I must be honest. Through your life, as God pulls you up by the rope of Jesus, you'll pass through regions of joy as well as regions of discouragement. Remember as you pass through the regions of discouragement that you're being pulled through them by God whether you FEEL his presence or not.

    Tighten your grip!

    Remember as you pass through the regions of glory that he isn't finished yet, EVEN IF YOU FEEL HE IS.

    Tighten your grip some more!

    One day, it will all be over, and the LORD will welcome you to the top.

  7. *sigh* queue the people who believe in something other than Christianity coming on here and talking about the hidden escalators and magic carpets that will lift you out of the glass-walled pit. Seriously? Come on, man.

  8. *sigh* cue the people who believe in something other than Christianity coming on here and talking about the hidden escalators and magic carpets that will lift you out of the glass-walled pit. Seriously? Come on, man.

  9. So I'm a Baha'i as well, but having grown up Christian and questioned various things at various stages, I can understand the sentiments expressed by most of the people on here. One truth is, we all kind of have an on-going battle with religion, sometimes we see it as a social thing, sometimes its personal, sometimes its spiritual, sometimes we have doubts. But what I've come to realize is that life needs to be taken one day at a time. Yes, the Baha'i's believe in the oneness of mankind, regardless of religion or background. But let's face it, the world isn't quite there yet. So we have to respect where everyone is at, and even ourselves (otherwise we develop a condescending attitude that we know better, which kinda kills both the unity ideal of the Baha'is, and the living like Christ ideal of Christians, or even the living a good life and that is all ideal of agnostics. Atheists still have God- their lack of belief in Him as their central argument so it's hard to really tell where they stand cos He's still in the picture).

    My advice to all of us is to live the best we can according to what we believe, because believe it or not, the teachings of most religions call us to do similar things - loving your neighbor, believing in one God, and prepping for the life beyond. If we are truly engaged in that, we might actually not notice who is a Christian, Muslim, Baha'i, or "believer in good". We would be more similar than different. This is probably an ideal that we'll be trying to approach for a long time, but our success often lies in our efforts, not our arrival.

    Dare I say Good Luck to us? :)

  10. When you are a minority, you automatically must expect some heat.
    People are exposed to different things in life at different rates but we CAN all indeed get along.
    Personally, religion isn't at the top of my list when getting into a relationship. Anything goes as long as it does not affect our relationship or anything that comes out of the relationship.

  11. Wow, this is such a great discussion and there are so many issues on the table. I'm going to go ahead and dive in here.

    First, let me show my hand, I am Christian and I could not feel you more if I was you Kweku, your post spoke volumes.

    Kojo, you are right about the Christian religion having the potential to be discriminatory in certain situation (esp in Ghana where it's the religion of the majority). I am sorry for your bad experiences because Christianity by far is about inclusion and acceptance of all God's people.

    However, I must take exception with Baha'i's indifference to Christ. You see, the personality of Jesus is one of if not the single most important pillar that Christianity is built upon, which I am sure you are well aware of. Christians are mandated to preach 'the Good News' to the world.

    It really is a beautiful experience when you begin to feel a deep understanding and appreciation for God and "His Word". I wish you the best in your journey.

    Ok, jumping out again...

    PS. Kudos for starting this discussion up Esi.

  12. Interesting post.I like to focus more on being spiritual than on being religious. Everyone is free to choose their religion, however, we do not have the right to discriminate against someone's religious choice. Once you are a good person that respect yourself and others and treat others like you will want to be treated...that's all that matter. Religion cannot "save" anyone.

  13. Kweku's post highlights the problem beautifully! His assertion that his god claims there is only one way to get to Him, comes across as Christian exclusivity and arrogance. Contemporary theologians understand the passages he will doubtless quote in a very different way. Rather than focus on the merits and boundaries of Christian belief it might be more fruitful to focus on the different ways god might choose to reach out to people. This might lead to greater humility.

    Of course Christianity is becoming more ubiquitous in Ghana. There is an assumption that we are all Christians or would want to be.

    Why do people always ask what church you go to when they meet you?

    Why do the prayers held at functions official and otherwise appear to be Christian?

    Why does the President, who is supposed to uphold the secular state, ask people to read the Christian bible?

    Why are we subjected to Christians preaching in public spaces such as trotros?

    Many of my non-Christian friends have to tell people they are Christian when doing business or the business will suffer. And the problem is greater for those that have no belief in the gods!

    I have been very impressed with the Baha'i people I have met in Ghana. They have all been wonderful people. Maybe there are horrible Baha'i somewhere but I haven’t met them yet!

    Unfortunately, Baha'i’s also have their own prejudices but perhaps not as many as the Christians and they certainly have a quiet and dignified manner of travelling through life.

  14. In utopian setting everyone would be free to worship whichever god they see fit. Be it a carved one or an invisible and omnipresent one.However people who aren't as interested in fellowshipping with a supernatural being would not face any sort of prejudice. We would love and appreciate people for who they are. You would be with someone because of how their lips curl, or their smiling eyes or how kind they are to the needy. And not because of their belief in the imaginary friend for grown-ups , ie God.

    But this world is far from Utopia; will never become it either.So if you are to take a life partner, work your way out. Start by seeking out prospects from within your religion then on to other religions when you're desperate. If you are also cool with us AAs,agnostics and atheists then right on bother/sister, go for it.

  15. I love this post. This is an issue my partner (Ghanaian Frafra) and I discuss at home a lot: the religion and the minority issue. I really like Uncle Ebo too; whenever he's being interviewed I stop to listen.

    One of the things I love about Ghana is what seems like relatively strong tolerance for others' religious choices compared with other countries. I feel it's one of the big pluses here. I do find that certain groups have a strong sense of self-righteousness and judgmental attitude towards others that can, at times, be irritating but overall I feel that Ghanaians have done a very good job at finding a peaceful middle ground. I often theorise about this but this comment is not the place.

    My partner, who is Frafra, and friends around here often talk about the assumptions people from other parts of Ghana make about them and how blinkered the attitudes are in regards to the northern half of Ghana. It's the same in any country, though, when dealing with geographical divides. I feel that ethnic issues are becoming a bit more of a problem these days, though, and hope that Ghana can manage to keep the conflict to a minimum.

    I read a lot of new age spirituality including Eckhart Tolle (Try reading his books) and Caroline Myss. I think you'd identify with these. Many spiritual traditions teach that a definition of wisdom is open mindedness. I subscribe to this. The more you experience, the more you realise you don't know. The more wisdom, therefore, you gain. This is my guiding philosophy.

    Don't judge others. Accept others, no matter what their life choices.

  16. From Sijui:

    Amen to the author for giving such a splendid account of the Bahai faith!!! I have had the opportunity to interact with the Bahai faith previously and was immensely impressed by its tenets.

    I am not a Christian myself, more inclined to the Budhist-New Age school of thought which resembles the Bahai faith in many regards.

    Let me just make an additional related comment. I celebrate the spirituality inherent in any religion, because I believe once you strip away the dogmas, doctrine and predjudices inherent in all religions, the UNIVERSAL CORE is spirituality. And I think this is further reinforced by denominations in all religions whose focus is on self discovery, internal spiritual quests and self discipline. The Jewish faith has Kabbalah, the Islamic faith has Sufism, Christianity has the Rosicrucians/Free Masons/Christian Theosophy et al, Budhism has the Mahayan sect, Hinduism has the Vaishnava sect......and the thread that weaves these all together is the basic belief in the Oneness of God and by translation the Oneness of Humanity AND all life on Earth.

  17. From Sijui:


    Koffi what a blessing that the girls voluntary ended the relationship! Surest sign that you are DEFINITELY NOT MEANT TO BE! How small minded and cowardly!

    My husband is a Seventh Day Adventist and I am a non-Christian, our marriage neither diminishes the distincly different spiritual paths we've taken nor the personal respect we have of each other's individual choice. This should never be an issue if two people truly love and respect each other, and if it is the relationship is not worth pursuing.

  18. I find this article very interesting but perhaps the comments that follow particularly more interesting. It just reminds me of Luke 9 Verses 49 - 50. Food for thought.