Image by theogeo (Flickr)
My friends laugh at me when I admit to this but there was once a time when I maintained an uncompromising policy which governed my social interactions: Do Not Become Friends With Neighbours. Looking back now, it seems crazy – even to me – but if I rack my brain hard enough I can begin to imagine why I once felt this way.
Perhaps it had something to with being raised in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Perhaps it had to do with a strong tendency towards intraversion and guardedness that I had as a teenager. Or perhaps, it stemmed from living in the dorms during my first year of university, where it was virtually impossible to enjoy a quiet night in without my friendly (and often inebriated) neighbour pounding at my door at 11 pm, with a loud “Preethi, I know you’re in there. COME TO THE PARTY!” – who knows, really.
But whatever it was, when I first moved out of the dorms to live by myself, I found myself living by the wisdom of the old adage: Good fences makes good neighbours. Years later, however, when I became Baha’i, my partiality for the good old picket fence was challenged by the Baha’i approach to social transformation – one based on community building and the empowerment of closely-knit neighbourhoods.
Image by UNICEF Australia
Following severe drought in the East Africa, the United Nations has declared a famine in the region for the first time since the 1980s. The images and stories are both tragic and devastating – babies struggling to live, malnourished children with bloated stomachs and mothers having to make decisions in providing for their children that no parent should ever have to make.
In an article titled East Africa famine: Our values are on trial, Andrew O’Hagan describes some of the horrors of the poverty and starvation.
This is the children’s famine. Running from conflict, and sick with hunger and thirst, people are fleeing to the borders or the aid camps, many children dying on the way or too weak to survive once they get there. In some areas one in three children is seriously malnourished and at severe risk of death. In October the rains will come, most likely bringing epidemics of malaria and measles. Some of the children just lie down and wait for death, which is likely; or mercy, which is elsewhere. Andrew O’Hagan
Aid agencies and international organisations are scrambling to get emergency aid delivered where it needs to be, taking out full page advertisements in newspapers and making urgent appeals to governments and the public for donations.
People have begun to ask the important question: what is to be said of a world in which so many people are dying from lack of something as basic as food when, as an international community, we are far more prosperous than we have ever been before? Continue reading
Image be floridapfe (Flickr)
Ever so often, we’ll be putting up posts for our ‘Common Questions Series’. As the name suggests, these are questions about the Faith that we often get. You know those ones – where you kinda, sorta, maybe know the answer but aren’t sure if you know enough to give the asker a full response? Yeah, those ones. Baha’i Blog has decided to make a collection of those questions, which will hopefully be as helpful to you, our readers, as it is to us!
The question of God’s existence is fundamental to a number of life’s bigger questions. Where do we come from? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Belief in some sort of spiritual realm has been present in human societies from about 130,000 years ago and has persisted through the ages in all human cultures.
Different religious teachings have presented us with different understandings of God. In Christianity, God is understood as the ‘Heavenly Father’. In Judaism, God’s attributes as a life-giver, authority figure and protector are emphasised. In Zoroastrianism, God is understood as the omniscient creator of truth and guardian of justice. In some understandings of Hinduism, there are many different personal gods, all representing a different attribute of one supreme, universal Spirit.
In modern times, however, growing scientific knowledge about our universe and its origins, along with the clash of religious beliefs and growing religious fanaticism, have seen a renewed questioning of the existence of God. Traditional religious explanations of the origin of our life and the purpose of our existence no longer satisfy people as these ideas are increasingly scrutinised in the context of our modern societies. Where we formerly lacked scientific knowledge and used God to “fill the gaps”, science is now beginning to replace religion as a source of answers. Many people are now turning wholly to science, and not religion, to understand the nature of our reality.
Image by d3l (Flickr)
As a new Baha’i, there were many principles of the Faith which I came across which leave me thinking and sometimes lost for words. One of the principles that first left me pondering was the Baha’i prohibition on backbiting. Baha’u’llah says:
Backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
Backbiting can be defined as malicious talk about someone when they are not present. It comes under the same umbrella as gossip, spreading rumours or tittle-tattling. It refers to any word used in a critical and negative manner to undermine a person. Growing up, I was always taught not to speak ill of anyone. We were always instructed by parents or teachers not to backbite. But in a world where there are entire industries built on the act of backbiting (such as the media), it is easy – as creatures of our environment – to become blinded and think that such behaviour is acceptable. Continue reading
Just months after the sentencing of the Baha’i leaders in Iran to 20 years imprisonment, Iran has once again come under international scrutiny for its long-standing persecution of Baha’is. On 21 May, a coordinated series of raids were carried out in various locations in Iran on the homes of Baha’is who have been involved with the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE).
The BIHE was established in 1987 as a way of providing an education to young Baha’is who have been systematically denied access to higher education by the Iranian regime. Baha’i Thought has a great article up discussing the raids and the Iranian regime’s violation of a number of universal human rights such as the right to freedom of belief and the right to education.
As Baha’is, it is only natural that the issue of the persecution of Baha’is in Iran weighs heavily on our hearts. It is always distressing to be reminded of how rampant war, persecution and injustice still is in today’s world. In this case, it’s particularly devastating to us – as Baha’is – to see the friends in Iran suffer so terribly for a faith that simply embraces all humanity and affirms the value and worth of each individual. Some of us are even friends or family of those in Iran who have been directly affected, making it all the more heart-wrenching.
A few days ago.,I came across a fantastic essay by Matthew Weinberg (published in 1997) which looks at contemporary human rights discourse from the perspective of the Baha’i Writings. I found it to be a fascinating read and it made me reflect on the way in which I – as a product of the society we live in – talk about and understand human rights.
Every year Baha’is gather to commemorate the Ascension of Baha’u’llah on 13 Azamat according to the Baha’i calendar. Customarily (although this is not a requirement), at 3 in the morning, following an evening of prayer and reflection, Baha’is stand and face Qiblih as one from amongst them reads the Tablet of Visitation.
It was early in the morning of May 29, 1892 (five minutes past 3, to be precise) that Baha’u’llah passed away in the mansion of Bahji outside Akka (present-day northern Israel), after a brief illness. Following His death, a vast number of mourners from all walks of life and religions, grieved with Baha’u’llah’s family and followers.
Image by krypty (Flickr)
As Baha’is, we believe that the foundation of all the divine religions is one. Ever so often, we’ll be putting up posts for our ‘Changeless Faith Series’, in which we look closer at some of the similarities between the divine religions, in an attempt to more fully understand what Baha’u’llah meant when he said “This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”.
It’s certainly been an exciting weekend!
Around the world, on May 22, Baha’is celebrated the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab. The Bab was a Messenger of God whose mission was to prepare humanity for the message of Baha’u’llah. The story of the Bab’s life and mission is dramatic and emotion-stirring – filled with persecution, difficulty and, ultimately, triumph. The Bab foretold the coming of a Divine Teacher with a message even greater than His own. Although the Bab’s faith was a religion in itself, the Declaration of the Bab reminds Baha’is of the exciting and remarkable historical events that provided the context for the mission of Baha’u’llah.
The other remarkable historical event that happened this 22 May – or was meant to happen but didn’t – is one that has captured the imagination of many since time immemorial: the end of the world.
Image by birdeye (Flickr)
On one occasion the Buddha asked several of the monks, “How often do you contemplate death?”One of them replied, “Lord, I contemplate death every day.””Not good enough,” the Buddha said, and asked another monk, who replied,”Lord, I contemplate death with each mouthful that I eat during the meal.””Better, but not good enough,” said the Buddha, “What about you?”The third monk said, “Lord, I contemplate death with each inhalation and each exhalation.” Mahaparinibbana Sutta
Last Saturday night, I was out for dinner with an old friend who was visiting from out of town. It was a typical Saturday night at the end of an even more typical week. I’d gone from one weekend to the next without even realising that a whole week had gone by – going from one thing to the next; trying to cross as many tasks off a to-do list as possible; scheduling in new appointments while waiting for Melbourne’s notoriously unreliable trains. Even dinner at a new restaurant seemed old and familiar – I’ve come to know this city like the back of my hand.
But then, I received a call from home that violently pulled me out of my comfortably predictable, routine-filled world in a second – a family member had passed away. In the hours and days that followed, I found myself in unfamiliar territory.
Death isn’t generally something we – as humans – tend to think very much about until life forces us to by confronting us with the reality and inevitability of death. Following that phone call, I rushed to cancel all my appointments and to catch the earliest flight back home. Much of the next 84 hours was spent shuttling to and from airports, waiting to board flights and trying (unsuccessfully) to get some sleep in between the turbulence and captain’s announcements. These long, empty hours and my need to make sense of a very emotional situation forced me to do something that I’ve realised we – as a society – simply don’t do enough: contemplate death.