What is Bahá'í?
Bahá'ís, literally ‘followers of the Glory’, follow the teachings of the 19th-century Persian prophet Bahá’ulláh (the Glory of God). His teachings included a strong emphasis on unity – of God, religion and humankind – and on the equality of men and women. The international movement is centred in Haifa, Israel, to where Bahá'ís make pilgrimage. The Bahá'í faith has no formal clergy and every adult is eligible for election to a ‘local spiritual assembly’, a group of nine or more adults. Bahá'ís follow an annual calendar with 19 months each of 19 days, with a feast to mark the beginning of every 19-day period. There are extra days of commemoration, and Naw-Ruz, the Bahá'í new year.
The Bahá'í faith in New Zealand began with Margaret Stevenson, an Aucklander, in 1912. The first local Bahá'í assembly was elected in 1926 and the first national spiritual assembly in 1957 in Henderson, West Auckland. In 2013 there were around 2,600 Bahá'ís in New Zealand. Their numbers have been reasonably stable since the 1980s.
From one to many
For 10 years the only New Zealand Bahá'í was Aucklander Margaret Stevenson. In 1912 she had rented a room to a visiting English Bahá'í, Dorothea Spinney, and learned about the faith. Until 1922 Stevenson held study groups in her home. When the Bahá'í Assembly in New Zealand was formed in 1926, she became its first secretary. She later became a member of the first national spiritual assembly of Bahá'ís of Australia and New Zealand, formed in 1934.
Bahá'ís in New Zealand
Bahá'ís have been very active in interfaith activities and since 2001 have run an annual Race Unity Speech Award for senior school students. New Zealand Bahá'ís include refugees from Iran, and the community has been active in raising awareness of discrimination against Bahá'ís around the world. In 2009 they briefed the government’s foreign affairs, defence and trade committee on the situation of Iranian Bahá'ís.