Vernessa Hunt-Hassan
Philadelphia

Home Stories Lifestyle Vernessa Hunt-Hassan
Philadelphia
May 19, 2018
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I love studying religion, and I love talking about religion—all religions.

My family says that I was always searching spiritually. I have four brothers and two sisters—seven of us all together—and when we were growing up in Philadelphia we went to Baptist church and Sunday school.

We were, and still are, very diverse in our spirituality, and my family has always been very accepting of whatever any of us do. My oldest brother is an evangelical Christian. I used to go to church with him.  Two of my younger brothers got involved in the Nation of Islam. I also had a Catholic friend who took me to church and a Catholic overnight camp with her.

I got married right out of high school. My ex-husband was a Jehovah’s Witness. When we were dating he invited me to go to the Kingdom Hall with him, and his sister invited me to study the Bible with her. I became a Jehovah’s Witness and was married for ten years.  

I was dis-fellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses when I divorced my husband without their permission. Divorce is allowed only in cases of witnessed adultery or death.  They wanted me to go back to a marriage where there was adultery and physical abuse but I didn’t want my daughters to see it and think the abuse was okay. My kids are still Jehovah’s Witnesses, and although I tried to go back afterwards, for me it just wasn’t fitting. I felt judged by the elders. We moved to Chicago to make a fresh start.

In one of my undergraduate college classes we had to do a research paper about a religion we didn’t already know about, and I picked the Baha’i Faith. I studied hard—to get the grade. Then it was out of my mind. I didn’t imagine I would ever become a Baha’i.

A number of years later I was making a telephone sales call when I casually asked one of my clients,
“So, have you started your Christmas shopping yet?” Her reply was, “Well, actually, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I am a member of the Baha’i Faith.”

I remembered my college research and became very curious about the Baha’i Faith again. We met for tea and I got to ask her all kinds of questions about her religion. I started to connect the dots to what I already knew about other religions and from being a Jehovah’s Witness. Everything was clicking and making sense to me.  

Jehovah’s Witnesses really study the Bible and believe that it says that we are in the last days, and that paradise—the new day, the promised day—is coming, and we would be alive to see it.  

To me, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching me what was going to happen, and then the Baha’i Faith was showing me how it was going to happen.

For example—Jehovah’s Witnesses say in order for one world to end and the new world to come in, all of the main institutions—political, economic, religious—have to crumble. In my head I thought that meant that suddenly all these people were going to die out and—boom—there was going to be paradise.

But the Baha’i Faith shows how a new world is actually already unfolding.  We are already in transition, and you can see it happening.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that in the new world order, “scrolls would be open.”  That means multiple scrolls, not just a single book. I believe the hundreds of Baha’i Writings are what they were talking about!

I felt blessed to have been a Jehovah’s Witness, that I had all of that prior knowledge. The Baha’i Faith was a confirmation to me of what I already knew.

I investigated the Baha’i Faith for a long time. I read, I talked with Baha’is, and I went to meetings and discussion groups called Firesides. The thing that finally made me want to become a Baha’i was when I learned about the Baha’i financial contribution system of Huququ’llah, which will eventually take care of the huge disparity of wealth in society. For me that was the light bulb going off that said “I know this is it!” 

When something makes that much sense and covers all these areas—you know that is coming from God. No man could put together something this thorough, this crystal clear. I don’t care how smart and powerful he is. No person could ever cover so many details without divine intervention.

Also, as a dis-fellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness, I got confirmation that I was forgiven—that it was not a group of elders—a group of men—but it was my God who had forgiven me, and I was going to live to see a new era—paradise.

All this while, I was studying to become a teacher and working in schools in south suburban Chicago. It was a very diverse neighborhood, with children from all different backgrounds, and I loved that.

While I was working on my master’s degree in education, I decided that I’d like to teach in other countries where they don’t take education for granted. I learned about a school in Honduras that Baha’is were running, and I spent two school terms living and working there until I had to return to the United  States, to Philadelphia, to take care of my aging mother.

I was disappointed to leave peaceful Honduras and be back in Philadelphia. My brother’s friend, who I knew from childhood, offered to cheer me up by showing me some new sites in Philly. The rest, as they say, is history. I fell in love with this man, Halim, who just happened to be a Muslim imam!  

Halim had helped me earlier when I was struggling to understand some passages of the Baha’i Writings that reference the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Book. I had shared Baha’i beliefs about the afterlife when his wife died the year before. Then we started spending time together and realized we had so much in common.

He loves his faith. I love my faith. We were not going to try to convert each other. He is known as the Interfaith Imam who works to bring people of various faiths together in service to humanity. What I’ve learned from him about Islam and the Qur’an has helped me to love my religion, the Bahá’í Faith, even more.

 

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