- Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. This year Ayyam-i-Ha runs from February 26-29.
Looking through a list of the names of the 19 months in the Baha’i calendar, I notice that 16 are attributes of God: splendor, glory, beauty, grandeur, and so on. Then we come to the months of words, speech and questions. You might be interested to explore this Baha’i Blog article about words, or this one about speech, but for now I’d like to explore the 15th month: questions. There may be a reference somewhere in which questions is referred to as an attribute of God (I have yet to find one, so if you do, please let me know), but to me this month has always been a bit of a curiosity. I have a friend whose first Nineteen Day Feast was the Feast of Questions. When he arrived at the gathering chairs had been arranged in a circle around a large piece of fabric which lay on the floor in the centre of the room. The host had spray painted a giant question mark across it. My friend found himself questioning what he had gotten himself into, but in addition to being an amusing introduction to the Nineteen Day Feast, the host clearly also had questions about the month of Questions, and it made my friend stop and ask himself a question or two! The fact that an entire month has been dedicated to questions suggests to me that questioning has an important role to play in the Baha’i Faith. The deeper I delve into the purpose of questions, the more questions I have. So, in the spirit of the month, below are my top four questions about the month of Questions:
1. Why are questions so important?
Independent investigation of truth is a foundational principle of the Baha’i Faith. We know that “Baha’u’llah asked no one to accept His statements and His tokens blindly. On the contrary, He put in the very forefront of His teachings emphatic warnings against blind acceptance of authority, and urged all to open their eyes and ears, and use their own judgement, independently and fearlessly, in order to ascertain the truth.” 1 The responsibility for determining this truth rests with each individual. Since questions help us distinguish truth from falsehood and ascertain the basic truths upon which we build our lives and values, it makes sense that our questions are important tools whose use or misuse shape our reality.
2. What do Baha’is see as the purpose of questions?
If we want to utilize questions effectively, we need to ask what our end-goal is. At the most basic level truth is what every question comes back to, but when I pry deeper, what I come to is unity. Unity within myself (bringing my own will into line with the Will of God, or greater cohesiveness to my physical and spiritual realities), unity with those around me, friends and strangers alike, and unity with the natural world. That truth leads me to unity implies that there are certain universal truths that are common to us all. We may come to them along different paths, but the destination is the same. Abdul-Baha says:
Know ye that God has created in man the power of reason whereby man is enabled to investigate reality. God has not intended man to blindly imitate his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind or the faculty of reasoning by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth; and that which he finds real and true, he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality. The greatest cause of bereavement and disheartening in the world of humanity is ignorance based upon blind imitation. It is due to this that wars and battles prevail; from this cause hatred and animosity arise continually among mankind. 2
Ultimately the purpose of questions seems to be to help us as individuals get closer to the truth so that we can grow spiritually and use this individual progress to further the larger goal of unity at a global scale. Of course since God is unknowable, questions also imply mysteries, and are a reminder that God is the treasury of all mysteries. We will never unravel them all, but I do think that the task of striving to do so helps us draw ever nearer to God.
3. Who is asking the questions?
Are questions God’s way of encouraging us to get curious about our spiritual reality? For us to better understand ourselves and the world around us? We are encouraged to bring ourselves to account at the end of every day, which is an opportunity to question ourselves on whether our actions and choices line up with our values, and to make adjustments as we go. But where is the inspiration for these questions coming from? Abdu’l-Baha says:
O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord. 3
It’s true that we have free will in determining what questions we ask (and shaping the scope of the responses we will get), but the source of the capacity to question at all, and the inspiration and impetus for asking the questions seems to come from the soul and its natural inclination to reflect its source: God.
4. What types of questions are we asking & what questions are worth asking?
Questions are the foundation of everything we think, say, do and accomplish, so the types of questions we ask will be instrumental in shaping the ways, speed and directions in which we grow individually and as a society. Many of us in the West live in cultures in which individual truths and rights often trump universal ones—a reality which, while perhaps giving a sense of having greater control over our lives, can undercut the many unifying initiatives happening around the world. I believe that we are spiritual beings having a brief physical experience. As such, explorative questions that expand what we accept as truth and what is possible; questions that invite us to get curious and investigate how the physical and the spiritual connect and affect each other, and how individual development can reinforce collective wellbeing seem worthwhile. Abdu’l-Baha says:
The fourth teaching of Baha’u’llah is the agreement of religion and science. God has endowed man with intelligence and reason whereby he is required to determine the verity of questions and propositions. If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation. 4
It is my understanding that this would imply that our questions should not be limited to the spiritual reality—scientific discoveries are just as essential to the upliftment and overall wellbeing of humankind. Whatever questions we choose ask, exploring truth as a unifying rather than divisive force will take time and effort, and the more skilled we become at asking the right questions, the more quickly we will get the answers and inspiration we are looking for.
What significance does the month of Questions have for you? What questions does is raise?
Footnotes & Citations
- Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp.8-9, gr1
- Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p.73-74
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 51
- Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 240
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