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Avrel Seale lives in Austin, Texas, U.S.A., where he writes and speaks frequently on the Baha'i Faith. He's the author of seven books and the blog The Trailhead.

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Abdu’l-Baha: Unique

Baha'i Abdu’l-Baha Unique

Abdu’l-Baha (23 May 1844 – 28 November 1921). On November 28, members of the Baha’i Faith throughout the world commemorate the passing of Abdu’l-Baha, the eldest son and successor of Baha’u’llah, the Prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith. Abdu’l-Baha passed away in His home in Haifa, Israel at the age of 77 and there are no prescribed ceremonies but gatherings usually involve prayers and devotional readings. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

One of the most common mistakes in English usage is the term “very unique,” and its close cousins, “most unique” and “so unique” — as in, “that is a very unique painting” or “that is one of the most unique songs I have ever heard.” We all commit this error from time to time because we mistake the word “unique” for the word “unusual.” In fact, “unique” means there is nothing else like it in existence. Like pregnancy, something either is unique or it is not; there are no degrees of uniqueness, as there are with unusualness.

Tonight, on the anniversary of His passage from this world to the next, we turn our thoughts and hearts toward Abdu’l-Baha, one who actually was in fact unique. Baha’u’llah wrote:

When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces towards Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.

And again:

…refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.

Abdu’l-Baha Himself wrote,

In accordance with the explicit text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha’u’llah hath made the Center of the Covenant the Interpreter of His Word—a Covenant so firm and mighty that from the beginning of time until the present day no religious Dispensation hath produced its like.

Though there is no greater love on earth than that of a father for his son, the rapturous feeling that Baha’u’llah held for His eldest son far surpasses even that, as we read in this extraordinary passage from a letter from Baha’u’llah while Abdu’l-Baha was away from Akka on a visit to Beirut: Continue reading

Shoghi Effendi: A Bridge to the World

Shoghi Effendi, 1 Mar, 1897 – 4 Nov, 1957. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

The year was 1922, and a young Iranian man, only 24 years old, had arrived at the foot of the Swiss Alps. His face was round and young, but his eyes were old and heavy with worry.

His name was Shoghi Effendi, and just weeks earlier, he had learned the news that his beloved Grandfather had died, and it now fell to him to lead a nascent, embattled religion. He had come to the Alps to, in his words, “conquer, himself that is, to come to terms with the end of the sort of life that most of us are familiar with, before taking up the mantle of authority of the most precious institution the world had ever known. Continue reading

When I Meet Abdu’l-Baha

Most nights, as I lie in bed drifting closer to sleep, my mind meanders through the events of the day, one random thought leading to another as my consciousness streams away toward stranger and stranger scenarios, until at last the rational succumbs completely to the emotional and symbolic.

But on some nights, I direct my thoughts, and I picture what it will be like during those first few moments in whatever that next realm is, in the afterlife.

Continue reading

A Birthday Like No Other: The Birth of Baha’u’llah

By most measures, November 1817 was a decidedly ho-hum month in world history. On November 5, the Third Anglo-Maratha War broke out between the British and Indians at the Battle of Khadki. On November 20, the first Seminole War began in the American state of Florida. Historical almanacs show the parade of 19th century thinkers and doers marching on and a subtle passing from a world of crushing conventionality (Jane Austen died that year) to a world of intense questioning and social and philosophical mischief (Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Douglass were born that year).

But on November 12, something happened that in time will make all the wars, rises and falls of empires, and even sweeping social and philosophical movements pale by comparison. On that Wednesday, a baby was born in Tehran, a baby Who would grow up to upset the equilibrium of the whole world, indeed whose life would mark the culmination of an age 6,000 years long — our entire known history — and launch us into a turbulent modernity and then into the long-promised but elusive Kingdom of God on Earth. Continue reading

What are we Willing to Sacrifice?

Photo courtesy wakingphotolife via Flickr.

If ever there were a concept alien to modern Western life, it is sacrifice. Compared to all former times, we scarcely know what it is. Today’s middle class lives in more comfort than the royalty of old. In a few more decades, explaining sacrifice to the modern human may be akin to explaining snow to a 16th century Indonesian, or palm trees to an 17th century Eskimo. At this rate, we might not even have a word for it.

While our men and women in uniform are still all too familiar with the concept, even they are fewer in number than the millions who sacrificed their lives, willingly or unwillingly, in the warfare of yesteryear.

We typically sacrifice little in daily life. When we have a tight financial month, credit card companies are only too happy to facilitate a creature comfort rather than having us sacrifice it.

Of course, the Founders of faith — both ours and every other authentic faith — were intimately familiar with the concept, so much so that they longed for the opportunity to sacrifice in the path of God and Their enemies were all too eager to provide the opportunity. Continue reading

The Coming Universal Language

It’s a testament to our international age that I have two sets of foreign in-laws; one family lives in Mexico, the other Germany. Once every three or four years, each family will visit, and despite all of our best efforts – and heaven knows their English is better than my Spanish or German – it goes like this: We struggle through an hour or so of halting conversation over dinner, all of us speaking slowly, gesturing wildly, and, of course, growing louder and louder, as if shouting will help us be understood. Finally, with no less love in our hearts but mentally exhausted, we either retreat to the nearest television to watch something mutually enjoyable or we say “adios” or “auf wiedersehen,” hug, and call it a day.

The point is, it doesn’t matter how small the world becomes, or how much goodwill or love you hold in your heart for others, not being able to communicate is a drag. Continue reading

6 Reasons to Steer Clear of Partisan Politics

In the United States, the conclusion of the summer Olympics also means we’re fast approaching another presidential election. In fact, the way various elections are staggered, we’re never more than a few months away from an election of some kind. Perhaps in your country, you too are blessed to have the freedom to elect your governmental leaders. It’s a precious and hard-won human right that the whole world is destined to exercise.

Democracy is a core value of Baha’i life. The way in which we govern our own affairs is deeply democratic. We elect our leaders from the bottom of the administrative order to the very top. But we do it all without campaigning. We don’t put our own names or those of others up for election, and likewise we don’t engage in negative self-campaigning to remove ourselves from consideration. Baha’is simply and prayerfully vote for a slate of people they believe will best serve the community, and, in the case of Spiritual Assemblies, the nine top vote-getters are elected. Continue reading

Creation Is Now

Photo courtesy: zAmb0ni via Flickr

There is perhaps nothing more fundamental to faith in God than our ideas, traditions, and assumptions about creation. After all, “Creator” is our most descriptive synonym for God.

For most of its visible history, much of humanity has subscribed to a literal belief in creation stories. These stories were critical stepping stones that infused cultures around the world with ideas that would guide their development. These ideas included the notion there was a divine entity who engineered the creation of the natural world and who bestowed on humanity a special gift: free will, knowledge of good and evil. This gift carried with it unique privileges — indeed dominion — but also grave responsibilities. Continue reading

Rejecting Slavery in All Its Forms

In the late 1990s, the United Nations began recognizing August 23 as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and of Its Abolition. On that date in 1791, slaves on the island of Santo Domingo (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic) began an uprising that would be critical in the eventual abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

There are few concepts more anathema to the Baha’i Faith than slavery. It offends a long list of Baha’i sensibilities as well as the Faith’s express tenets – from the equality of the races, to the importance of the family unit, to the equality of the sexes, and the general advancement of human rights. Continue reading