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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Portrait of a peaceful religion
By Robert Pigott
BBC religious affairs correspondent

The leader of the Bahai faith in Britain has given the Hutton Inquiry greater insight into the character of Dr David Kelly, with a description of the religious beliefs that helped shape his life.

Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel
The Baha'i faith claims five million followers worldwide
Barney Leith, secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United Kingdom, said Dr Kelly had enjoyed praying with fellow Bahai believers at his home in Oxfordshire, and had even sent an e-mail to some of them on the day he took his "fateful" walk.

Dr Kelly seems to have been well suited to Bahai, which emphasises the unity of science and religion, and strongly supports the work of the United Nations. Dr Kelly's widow Janice has told the inquiry that Bahai "really was a spiritual revelation for him".

Bahai originated with a holy man known as The Bab in 19th Century Iran, and his most devoted follower, Baha u llah.

Bahais believe that people of all religions worship one god, and that Bah u llah was one in a succession of prophets including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, serving the same god.

Their central mission is to bring peace to the world, and unite people of different religions and races.

The faith calls for full equality between the sexes, and an end to extremes of wealth and poverty.

'Man's intelligence'

Shortly after Baha u llah's death in 1892 Bahais travelled to the United States to spread their faith, which now claims some five million members in 188 countries.

It was while he was in the United States that David Kelly converted to Bahai in 1999, apparently after receiving instruction from an American colleague who had worked with him in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It's easy to see why Bahai might have appealed to a scientist such as David Kelly.

In a key text Baha u llah's son and successor, Abdul Baha, wrote that "religion and science are the two wings on which man's intelligence can soar into the heights".

'Extremely discreet'

Barney Leith, told the Hutton Inquiry that Dr Kelly had visited his house in Abingdon near Oxford.

Baha'i temple
The faith holds scientific endevour in high regard

He had spoken about his work as a weapons inspector in Iraq only at a privately organised meeting, and had never mentioned the dossier. Mr Leith said Dr Kelly "was extremely discreet".

Mr Leith was asked what the Bahai attitude to suicide was.

He said "we do not in any way believe that there is anything in the Bahai readings or in the life of the Bahai community that would have induced Dr Kelly to commit suicide".

Bahai writings condemn the act of suicide as an undue curtailment of a life that should be lived to the full.

Counsel for the inquiry, James Dingemans QC, asked Mr Leith whether Bahais believed in an afterlife.

Mr Leith replied "indeed, yes. We see it as a continuation of a single process that begins in this life, of coming ever closer to God through our normal religious practices of prayer and study of the Bahai scriptures, and meditation and reflection".


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