One of Britain’s smallest religions was placed in the media spotlight following the death of one of its adherents – Dr David Kelly.
And, according to the Baha’i faith’s official spokeswoman, nearly all the newspapers managed to get their facts wrong when writing about it.
It has been erroneously described in the press as “the faith that favours suicide”, a “church” and even “cuddly”.
British Baha’i spokeswoman Carmel Momen told Press Gazette: “Some of the details have been assumptions about the faith which may have been held over from a time when there was a lot less known about us.”
The Baha’i faith has 6,000 followers in the UK, three million worldwide and was founded in 1844. Dr Kelly, the Government scientist who apparently committed suicide last month, was treasurer of the Baha’i spiritual assembly in Abingdon.
The Guardian described Baha’ism as “cuddly” in a G2 feature. Momen responded by saying: “It’s not a very good description – a lot of our ideas are quite liberal, but we have strong views about things as well.”
The Daily Mirror described it as an “Arabfounded” religion. Momen said: “We were founded in Iran, which is part of the Persian culture and very different to Arab countries.”
Several papers, including The Observer, described Baha’ism as a “church”, which Momen said was an inaccurate way of describing any non-Christian denomination.
The Daily Mail used the headline “faith that favours suicide”, but then changed it in a second edition version to the more correct “faith that forgives suicide”.
Several national papers made the mistake of describing Baha’ism as a liberal offshoot of Islam.
Momen said: “We are a religion in our own right, we are only an offshoot of Islam in the same sense that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism.”
She also said she took exception to The Observer’s use of the word “sect” in one of its articles. She said: “It suggests we are a breakaway group or something secretive – we are recognised in this country as one of the nine major religions. You wouldn’t call Hinduism a sect or Buddhism a sect.”
Momen did, however, single out The Times for praise and said that its description of her religion in a background feature was exactly right.
It described Baha’ism as: “A monotheistic religion that believes that Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster and Jesus were all God’s messengers.
The Baha’i faith seeks the unification of the planet in one global society.”
By Dominic Ponsford