Category Archives Opinion

Opinions, thoughts and ideas

Unity: The Promise of Ridvan

Today, Baha’is around the world commemorate the 12th and final day of Ridvan – a period to reflect on the day Baha’u’llah first proclaimed His message of unity to the world.

Ridvan is also the time when Baha’i elections are held. These elections are a time at which Baha’i communities all around the world prayerfully reflect on the spiritual wellbeing of their community. It is also a time to reflect on Baha’u’llah’s vision for unity and for communities to think about the path of service they will tread together over the coming year in their efforts to realise this vision.

What does unity mean, however, in a world in which prejudice and conflict are still widespread? And what role does the Baha’i community have in fostering global unity?

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Easter and Passover: The Religions of Abraham

Over the past week, Christians have been commemorating Easter (which fell on 8 April this year) and Jews have been commemorating Passover (which goes from 6 to 14 April this year). Just as Easter is of great theological significance to Christians, Passover is of deep spiritual and historical significance to Jews. Passover commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery. For Christians, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus three days after his crucifixion.

The repeated overlap of Easter and Passover, however, has historically been a source of tension among some Christians and Jews. Interfaith Family calls this the “Passover Predicament”:

For Jews, Easter crystallizes the religious differences between them and Christians. The week leading up to Easter is filled with important historical events from Jesus’ life. From the commemoration of the Last Supper on Thursday, through observance of the crucifixion on Good Friday, to celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, Christians reflect on the foundation of their beliefs — beliefs that separate them from Jews. Moreover, the legacy of anti-Semitism, rooted in beliefs of some Christians that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, can make Easter a particularly difficult holiday for Jews.

While people very often do prefer to focus on the beliefs that distinguish them from followers of other religions, the truth is that these religions have an incredible amount in common – more than most people realise!

Additionally, a careful study of the various traditions and commemorations which seemingly serve to highlight differences in beliefs – such as in the case of Passover and Easter – can actually, in my opinion, be a starting point to reflect on the shared heritage that all religions share.

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Accompaniment: A Personal Reflection

Good Friends

Image by Juliana Coutinho via Flickr

I remember stepping off the airplane into my new home, my pioneering post, thousands of miles away from all that was easy and familiar to me and from all that was loved and precious in my life. It was exciting. It was also scary.

The sun stayed hidden for days, the heat was heavy, and the air was thick with smog and exhaust. I had never seen the apartment where I would be living for the next year (part of my package with the university that had hired me) and when I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the stench of cigarettes. The second was the half bathroom. The third was that there was no kitchen.

It should have been a long, scary night full of questions and doubt. Actually, it was a long, scary night full of questions and doubt.

But it was surmountable because I was being accompanied.

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The Fast and Sacrifice

Image by Paul Stevenson (Flickr)

What is sacrifice? As Baha’is, we believe that it is – in short – the act of giving up something for something of greater value.

Sacrifice has always been a concept of great fascination to me. It is fundamental to the progress and consummation of the human soul. Consequently, it is a practice that I try to apply in all aspects of my life.

As you would already know from previous posts, Baha’is are currently observing the Fast. In this time, I find myself asking: how does the concept of sacrifice tie in with the act of fasting? Continue reading

Junior Youth Matter: 4 Principles for Social Transformation

Junior youth can change the world. There is an ever-increasing recognition of this in today’s world.

Internationally, there is more attention being paid to the education and well-being of children and adolescents. Slowly, but surely, governments have started to realise that an investment in the youngest members of their countries is the best investment that they can make.

The other day, I was talking to a friend (we both work in fields related to children and community development) about a program for junior youth that we are both working on together. We sat together, sharing our ideas for the program, but as time passed, the conversation became more philosophical in nature, and we began talking about the nature of children and youth, the kind of educational and developmental experiences that they need, and the role of programs for children and youth in the broader efforts for social transformation.

Generally, I am – by far – the quieter of us two, but as I shared my views on the nature of children and youth, I found our usual roles to be reversed. There I was talking rapidly and gesticulating wildly while my friend sat quietly, listening intently and reflecting on what I was saying.

Finally, she spoke.

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What Christmas Means to Baha’is: A Personal Reflection

Image by scottfidd (Flickr)

Do Baha’is celebrate Christmas? This question is a bit of a tricky one to answer because Christmas means different things to different people.

Based on the understanding of Christmas as a commemoration of the birth of Christ, the day is clearly of significance to Baha’is, who believe that Christ was a Manifestation of God. Baha’is do not, however, celebrate Christmas within their communities as one of the Baha’i Holy Days.

While the principle of progressive revelation means that Baha’is believe in the divine origin of the other world religions (and consequently, the significance of each of their Holy Days), the Baha’i Faith is an independent religion with its own Holy Days. Baha’is – while believing in the divine origins of all other world religions – follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, whom we believe to be the latest in the line of Messengers sent from God with laws to address the needs of humanity in this day and age.

That being said, however, Baha’is are free to participate in the celebrations observed by their friends and family who adhere to other religions. Christmas is a tricky one because of what it has come to represent in much of Western society – the  true meaning of Christmas is, unfortunately, often lost amidst the Christmas tree decorations, Santa-and-elf motifs and endless Christmas sales advertisements. Continue reading

The Elusive Quest for True Happiness

On average, the population of today’s world live with more material comfort, less illness, greater equality and far more opportunities than people who lived at any other time in history. In spite of this, the World Health Organization has estimated that by the year 2030, depression will be the most prevalent and debilitating illness in the world – in both rich and poor nations.

Judging from the number of bestselling self-help books out there on how to achieve happiness in life, this question seems to be a pretty big one for a lot of people. It seems that many people acknowledge that in spite of being financially comfortable, having a good job and an active social life, true happiness remains out of reach. Continue reading

Finding Peace in Life’s Tests

In times of difficulty, it is only natural that we turn to our closet friends and loved ones for support.

They lovingly listen as you talk endlessly about the same thing. They remain patient and kind with you as you struggle to work through your thoughts and emotions, regardless of how ridiculous some of the things you are saying might be. They let you cry on their shoulder without commenting on the tear splotches and mascara stains you leave on their shirt. They give you amazing advice – with a wisdom that comes from knowing you inside-out, and an honesty that comes from wanting to see you overcome the test. And most importantly, they pray with you – and, for you.

This process is how we gain the insight and encouragement we need to resolve our situations.

But more fundamental than all of that, I think, is the ability to change the way we look at all of life’s tests that come our way. One of my closest friends – one of the wisest and strongest people I know – has, in the relatively short time that we’ve been friends, not only been a rock in times of adversity, but has always encouraged me to embrace life’s tests and to find beauty in them. This is perhaps the most valuable skill I could ever hope to learn and an ability that I feel that every person needs to continually nurture in themselves and others!

‘Abdul-Baha said:

Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty.

Changing our perspective doesn’t make the test, in itself, go away, but it allows us to stay grounded even when the strong waves of emotion and doubt hit us, and allows us to remain hopeful even in the darkness and dreariness of our pain and anxiety!

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3 Tricky Truthfulness Scenarios

Nobody likes a liar. As kids, we were taught by our parents not to lie. In the school playground, getting caught telling a tall tale would see us subjected to poetic taunts about our pants catching fire. And as adults, we live in societies in which telling a lie under oath can have legal consequences.

The value placed on honesty isn’t specific to any culture, religion or ideology. Truthfulness is a universal virtue.

Also universal, however, is the harmless white lie – the cherished caveat, the exception to the rule. It’s where we find ourselves bending the truth, just slightly, to get out of an uncomfortable or difficult situation. It’s where we say what we think needs to be said, rather than what we know to be accurate, because we’re trying to avoid hurting a person’s feelings or offending them.

It’s not dishonesty, per se. White lies are justified under the circumstances and necessary, even! We’ve all been in those situations where telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth would be disastrous. Those situations where we need to tell a little white lie.

Or so I thought.

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4 Ways to Achieve Prayerfulness

Image by shioshvili (Flickr)

When I first became a Baha’i, the concept of obligatory prayer was new to me. I went from only saying prayers when I needed divine intervention to rescue me from impending academic doom (i.e. every semester, during exam period) to trying to fulfil the various spiritual obligations for a Baha’i life. Obligatory prayer, 95 Allah’u’Abhas, reading from the scriptures at morning and night, remembering to bring myself to account each day – talk about a spiritual regime! For an undisciplined soul like mine, it felt like spiritual boot camp!

Nearly two years later, I still find myself struggling – particularly with obligatory prayer.

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