Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset for 19 days. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
Baha’is see the young as the most precious treasure a community can possess. In them are the promise and guarantee of the future. Yet, in order for this promise to be realised, children need to receive spiritual nourishment, such as can be found in the children’s classes happening all around the world.
On July 12th, Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 19th birthday. This Nobel Peace Prize winner (the world’s youngest) caught the world’s attention in 2012 when she was shot in the face by the Taliban for attending school and for championing the right of girls to be educated. On her 16th birthday, Malala gave a speech at the United Nations — the first after the attack on her life — renewing her commitment to fight for the right of children to go to school. The UN dubbed that July 12th as “Malala Day” and some have celebrated it since.
Education is a universal right. Abdu’l-Baha states:
The education of each child is compulsory…. In addition to this wide-spread education each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship… 1
The education of girls is a principle distinctly upheld in the Baha’i Writings. It is a subject that I think of often, and it is a subject more complicated than a simple Baha’i Blog article can address. Here are a few of my thoughts about the education of girls and how this goal is linked to the equality of men and women and the importance of children’s classes.
The Universal House of Justice writes:
The cause of universal education, which has already enlisted in its service an army of dedicated people from every faith and nation, deserves the utmost support that the governments of the world can lend it. For ignorance is indisputably the principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples and the perpetuation of prejudice. No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens. Lack of resources limits the ability of many nations to fulfil this necessity, imposing a certain ordering of priorities. The decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society. 2
The education of girls is intimately linked with the equality of men and women. When girls are educated, they can better contribute to the advancement of society. Abdu’l-Baha says:
Without doubt education will establish her equality with men. 3
Furthermore it is the spiritual malady of the inequality of the sexes that is preventing many girls from receiving an education. Even in countries where girls are allowed to go school, inequality, sexism and gender stereotyping affects their education and their career choices. Here in Canada my daughters would never be prevented from being educated because of their gender but large retail toy stores deliberately market toys that encourage scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical thinking (such as blocks) specifically to boys. A toy iron and ironing board, on the other hand, are packaged with pictures of smiling little girls. This can affect how girls perceive themselves, what subjects interest them in school, and the careers they subsequently choose.
In other words, championing education for girls is inextricable with promoting the equality of men and women. One quote on this subject by the Universal House of Justice that I’ve been reflecting on is this:
The principle of the equality between women and men, like the other teachings of the Faith, can be effectively and universally established among the friends when it is pursued in conjunction with all the other aspects of Baha’i life. Change is an evolutionary process requiring patience with one’s self and others, loving education and the passage of time as the believers deepen their knowledge of the principles of the Faith, gradually discard long-held traditional attitudes and progressively conform their lives to the unifying teachings of the Cause. 4
On a very fundamental level, striving to improve myself as a Baha’i has a positive impact on the equality of the sexes whether it’s manifested in the manner I consult with my husband, the way I raise my daughters, or how I interact with others.
The current state of education also needs to be looked at comprehensively. In a statement titled “The Greatness Which Might Be Theirs”, the International Baha’i Community states:
The Baha’i Writings speak to three kinds of education: material, human and spiritual. Material education concerns itself with the progress and development of the body, that is to say, teaching people how to improve physical well-being including better nutrition and hygiene, better family health and greater capacity to earn and provide food, shelter and clothing. Human education concerns civilization and progress in those activities which are essential to mankind as distinct from the animal world, such as knowledge of commerce, the sciences and arts, and the understanding of institutions and policy. Spiritual or moral education addresses values and shapes character; it largely determines to what end an individual will use whatever knowledge he or she acquires. 5
My understanding of this is that by providing a comprehensive education to children we not only arm them with the tools to work, and therefore worship God, but we also teach them how to work and function in society in a way that is kind and compassionate to all, regardless of gender, age, race or religious background. While access to educational opportunities varies from community to community, and from country to country, the need to provide children with a moral and spiritual education is very great. I think that’s precisely why we offer children’s classes. Abdu’l-Baha tell us:
He must also impart spiritual education, so that intelligence and comprehension may penetrate the metaphysical world, and may receive benefit from the sanctifying breeze of the Holy Spirit, and may enter into relationship with the Supreme Concourse. He must so educate the human reality that it may become the center of the divine appearance, to such a degree that the attributes and the names of God shall be resplendent in the mirror of the reality of man, and the holy verse, ‘We will make man in Our image and likeness’, shall be realized. 6
The more I think about this subject, the more I think about Malala’s bravery and the more I realize I need to be courageous too. I need to be heroic and herculean in my efforts to offer a spiritual education for my children and for the children of my community.
Footnotes & Citations
Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha on Divine Philosophy, p. 83[↩]
The Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Peoples of the World dated 1985[↩]
Compiled by the Research Department at the Baha’i World Centre, A Compilation on Women, p. 19[↩]
The Universal House of Justice, letter written to an individual dates 25 July, 1984[↩]
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.