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Ben Perkins

Ben is a young Baha'i with an interest in history.

A Tribute to Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden: 4 Aug 1913 - 25 Feb 1980. (Photo: US National Baha'i Archives)

Poetry and the literary arts hold special significance in the Baha’i writings. Some early Baha’is sent poetry to Abdu’l-Baha and here is an excerpt of a Tablet sent in reply:

O thou maid-servant of God! Thy poetry was received. The context was elegant. The words were eloquent and the theme, the Manifest Light. Consequently, it was highly appreciated. Endeavor, so far as it is possible for thee, that day by day thou mayest string the pearls of poesy with sweeter rhythm and more eloquent contents, in order that it may become conducive to the perpetuity of thy name in the spiritual meetings. Upon thee be greeting and praise!

In this article I attempt to pay tribute to a Robert Hayden, a Baha’i who made outstanding contributions to the art of poetry. Continue reading

Ellsworth Blackwell and His Commitment to Justice

Ellsworth Blackwell (August 1, 1902 – April 17, 1978). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community. Source: Baha'i World, Vol. 17.

Ellsworth Blackwell (1902 – 1978) was an African-American Baha’i who was dedicated to sharing the principles of the Baha’i Faith in America, Haiti, Madagascar, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In this article I would like to share a challenge he faced when confronted with racism within the Baha’i community, and how his commitment to justice, combined with wholehearted co-operation with the governing or administrative bodies of the Baha’i Faith, allowed this instance of prejudice to be resolved while maintaining a unified spirit.

Ellsworth became a Baha’i in 1934, and in 1937 he decided to serve at the Wilmette House of Worship (the Temple was not entirely completed until the 1950s, but it was open to visitors and Baha’is volunteered as tour guides). He had the capacity to be a tour guide, but was informed that it was “policy” that African-Americans could not be tour guides. This example of discrimination was of course not in keeping with the Baha’i teachings on the elimination of prejudice. This quotation from Abdu’l-Baha amply elucidates the Baha’i view:

… as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world.

Continue reading

My Thoughts on References to Wine and Intoxication in the Baha’i Writings

In this article I aim to explore a question which may have occurred to many when reading the Baha’i Writings: why are the terms “wine” and “intoxication” used if drinking alcohol is strictly forbidden to Baha’is? (If you’d like to read more about this topic, this Baha’i Blog article offers a medical perspective on why Baha’is don’t drink alcohol and this article discusses the social implications of this law.)

My question has actually been clearly and concisely answered in a letter of the Guardian written in 1926:

The wine mentioned in the Tablets has undoubtedly a spiritual meaning for in the book of Aqdas we are definitely forbidden to take not only wine, but every thing that deranges the mind. In poetry as a whole wine is taken to have a different connotation than the ordinary intoxicating liquid. We see it thus used by the Persian Poets such as Sa’di and Umar Khayam and Hafiz to mean that element which nears man to his divine beloved, which makes him forget his material self so as better to seek his spiritual desires. It is very necessary to tell the children what this wine means so that they may not confuse it with the ordinary wine.

Inspired by this quotation, I think an exploration of this answer can be a fruitful exercise. To do this I will attempt to provide some historical context to the terms as used in the Writings (although it must be noted I lack the academic background to provide more than the cursory explanation of a layman), and to look at the symbolic meanings of the terms via some quotations from the Writings themselves. Continue reading

My Thoughts on the Concept of Sin in the Baha’i Faith

When it comes to religion, one of the first things that may spring to many people’s minds is the concept of sin; as when hearing about anything resembling rules, the mind can very naturally turn to the logistics of breaking them. However, while the concept of divine law is relatively ubiquitous among religions the specifics vary to different degrees and I’d like to begin this article by offering a Baha’i perspective of divine law and morality.

Then I’d like to briefly explore the concept of sin, not through a meticulous survey of what is described as a sin in the Baha’i Writings, but through a broader consideration of the concept itself. It should be noted that except for the direct quotations of Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah, the text of this article is only my own interpretations and the reader should insert an “in my opinion” after any statement made.  Continue reading