As a young boy growing up in Tehran, Iran, Nasir Bashirelahi was taunted by children because of his Bahai Faith.
But instead of turning away from it to fit into the crowd, he learned as much as he could, thereby increasing his faith in the face of adversity.
"I can relate to African-Americans because I was persecuted in that environment," he said, alluding to the suffering black Americans endured during slavery and the civil rights movement as they fought for basic rights in this country.
His faith never wavered, and Bashirelahi is now chairman of the assembly of the Bahai Faith of Howard County.
Messenger of God
According to the group's Web site, Bahais believe that Baha'u'llah is the messenger of God for all of humanity in this day. The cornerstone of his teachings is the establishment of spiritual unity of humanity. The site further states that Baha'u'llah has revealed a system of laws and ordinances to guide humanity to spiritual maturity.
Additionally, he teaches that Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad are all divine messengers progressively revealing God's divine plan to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth.
The site also states that Baha'u'llah was born in Persia (modern-day Iran) in 1817, and that his father was a government minister.
As a youngster, Baha'u'llah was known as the "father of the poor" for his kind deeds. And, from an early age, he displayed marvelous intellect. He was passionate about social justice, but declined to follow in his father's footsteps and serve in government.
Baha'u'llah died in 1892 after spending 40 years in exile and imprisonment during persecution by Persian rulers. He left writings that included a blueprint for spiritual regeneration of society.
Bashirelahi said his faith in Baha'u'llah has given his life meaning.
"It has given me a purpose, of where I'm coming from and where I'm going," he said.
Regarding life after death, Bashirelahi said Bahais believe that when they die, heaven is a "closeness to God" and hell is a "remoteness from God."
He said the purpose of this life is to "sharpen my spiritual character," to have a "closeness to God."
In Howard County, about 200 Bahais participate in the community, said Jane Kolodner, secretary of the local spiritual assembly.
From 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sundays, Bahais gather at The Barn in Oakland Mills Village Center. The gatherings are followed by public meetings during which they discuss world events, family life, the role of religion and other topics.
Firesides, or weekly gatherings in homes, are held at 8:30 p.m. Fridays to share faith and fellowship. Bahais are also involved in public service, and are volunteering at a parents class and homeless shelter.
Kolodner said she decided to join the Bahai Faith at the age of 15 after trying to make sense of life, including the sudden death of a friend in a car accident.
"It's helped me to understand the meaning of life ... developing our spiritual selves," she said.
Information: bahaisof howardcounty.org, or 410-730- 6540.