Something magical happens to many Baha’is when they turn 15. They become more responsible. Everything they’ve learned from growing up in the Faith kicks in, and, although they aren’t yet adults, they grow the mental equivalent of three inches.
Turning 15, the “age of maturity,” as the Faith terms it, is a time when a child is considered spiritually mature and is responsible for stating on his own behalf whether or not he wishes to remain a member of the Baha’i community.
One of the basic principles of the Baha’i Faith is independent investigation of truth. As Shoghi Effendi, explained, “This applies to us as much as to our children. They should be free to choose for themselves any religion they wish. How can we make the future generation think as we do or follow our dictates? God has made them free. All that we can do is to open their eyes and tell them of what we think to be the truth.”
Upon turning 15, Baha’is are expected to begin observing certain Baha’i laws, such as obligatory prayer and fasting.
“Being a Baha’i feels more ‘official’ than it did before,” says Layla Tavangar of Berwyn, Pa., near Philadelphia, who turned 15 in March. “I’ve said prayers daily all my life, but now I think more about them and about spirituality.”
Focusing on spirituality in part means “thinking of how I can be of service to humanity (one of the core principles of the Baha’i Faith), through my everyday actions, my volunteer activities, and even in my studies and future career,” Ms. Tavangar explained in a PowerPoint presentation she presented at her 15th birthday party.
She wants to do a year of service (which can be offered internationally or in the United States) and already has spent several summers studying at Green Acre Baha’i School in Eliot, Maine. She also has been conducting prayer gatherings for interested high school friends and is starting an interfaith club at school called Coexist.
Last year, Ms. Tavangar participated in Walking the Walk, a Philadelphia-area initiative that promotes interfaith diversity and serves as as a national model of interfaith youth understanding.
Baha’u’llah for a future world civilization.Sacha Parvin Nunn, 19, a sophomore at the University of Washington in Bothell, says she also was bitten by the Baha’i bug of service when she turned 15. Upon reaching that age, the first thing she did was read the Kitab-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), which is the chief repository of the laws and institutions prescribed by
“I wanted to make sure I was obeying the rules,” Ms. Nunn says.
Then she started taking classes to learn how to lead a Baha’i study circle. This past summer, she participated in a service project on the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho.
Quoting Baha’u'llah in a column she wrote for The Daily, the university’s student newspaper, she writes: “Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone; let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path. ”
Ms. Nunn goes on to describe an experience at Nez Perce: the birthday celebration of a 14-year-old Lapwai boy who, before blowing out his candles, recounts his difficult childhood — an alcoholic single mother, an older sister who would come home during passing periods at high school to give him a bottle when he was a toddler.
After blowing out his candles, “he told us he would not be who he was today without the Baha’is,” Ms. Nunn writes. “That experience was life-changing for me. Hearing a firsthand account of the Baha’i service’s effect on this individual made me realize how Baha’i principles and genuine love can change lives.”
Even before Baha’is turn 15, Ms. Nunn says, but especially after, it’s important “to do what’s in your heart.”