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Matt Giani is a PhD candidate in education policy and planning at the University of Texas in Austin, where he and his wife Shadi live. His research is aimed at reducing socioeconomic disparities in higher education participation and completion.

Toward a New World Order?

railroad closeup to sunset in cloudsIf you have spent a considerable amount of time reading the Writings of the Baha’i Faith, it is likely that you have come across language regarding the relationship between the Faith and a new “World Order.” One of the passages that is most frequently quoted in relation to this theme is this poignant statement by Baha’u’llah:

The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System–the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.

Those who came across such language early in their investigation of the Faith may have been surprised, or even taken aback, at the use of this terminology in the context of religious scripture. Indeed, while some derivative of this phrase is found in countless passages in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, the Baha’i community is not the only one that uses this terminology. Continue reading

Reflections on the Ascension of Baha’u’llah

On May 29, 1892, shortly before dawn began to break, Baha’u’llah passed on from this mortal life and His spirit was finally “released from the toils of a life crowded with tribulations.”[i] He was surrounded only by family members and a small but loyal band of followers. His body was laid to rest, reverently and without any extravagant ceremony, in one of the buildings of the property in Bahji, outside of Akka, Israel, where He had spent the last twelve years of His life. He died a prisoner, a captive of one of the many governments that had persecuted Him for the past forty years and exiled Him from Tehran to Baghdad to Constanstinople to Adrianople to Akka and finally to Bahji. In fact, of the countless themes which run through Baha’u’llah’s Writings, his imprisonment and suffering is one of the most recurring:  Continue reading

Two Wings: Women, Men, and the Bird of Humanity

One of the most important principles of the Baha’i Faith is the oneness of religion, or the belief that all of the major world faiths teach the same fundamental truths and are entirely in agreement. Being raised Baha’i, this principle seemed so intuitive that I never really questioned it when I was young. But during my time as an undergraduate in university I was surprised to encounter a number of people who disagreed with the teachings of the Baha’i Faith precisely because of our belief in the principle of the oneness of religion. Oftentimes people of a particular faith would take issue with this principle because they were raised to believe that religions other than their own were inherently wrong. While I disagreed with their perspective, this didn’t necessarily surprise me as such views are somewhat common. But other times I would meet someone who wasn’t particularly religious, who loved all of the other teachings of the Faith, but who disagreed with the principle of the oneness of religion because it implied our acceptance of the principles from older religions that they disagreed with.

“How can you say you accept other religions when their teachings are the complete opposite of yours?” they’d ask. “Could you give me an example?” I’d reply, “I’m not sure exactly what you mean.”

One person’s response was particularly interesting: “Just look at how women have been treated in so many other religions,” He said. “I thought Baha’is believe in the equality of men and women. Other religions obviously don’t, right? How can you believe that all religions are in agreement when the status of women differs so much between them?”

It is absolutely true that the Baha’i Faith professes the complete and absolute equality of men and women. As Abdu’l-Baha states:

The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.

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Nature as a Spiritual Metaphor: Wind and the Will of God

If God is All-Loving and All-Merciful, why would He allow so much pain and suffering in the world and cause such severe difficulties to befall us?

I am unspeakably fortunate to have never endured extreme poverty, been diagnosed with a debilitating or life-threatening illness, suffered the sudden loss of a family member, or experienced any other type of severe calamity that so many unfortunately have. But tragedy in some shape or form appears to afflict all of us at some point in our lives: it was Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith and the great-grandson of Bahá’u’lláh, who described this life as the “home of suffering we call our earth” (Lights of Guidance, p. 207). When such suffering occurs, many of us will inevitably wonder the age-old question of why a beneficent God would ordain for our lives to be afflicted with such difficulties. Continue reading

95 Youth Conferences Around the World!

I’m sure many of you have heard the recent and exciting news announced in a letter dated February 8th, 2013, by The Universal House of Justice of  “the convocation of 95 youth conferences, between July and October, planned for locations that span the globe”.

Details about the conferences are still unfolding, as the letter was released just a week ago, but the international Bahá’í community is already buzzing about the upcoming events!

Below are a few questions and answers that I have gleaned thus far about the conferences, and I thought you may find them useful. Continue reading

Meaningful and Distinctive Conversations

Over the past few decades, The Universal House of Justice (the elected international body which guides the work of the global Bahá’í community) has outlined a vision of action for Bahá’ís that includes a number of separate but interrelated “core” activities: the gathering together of friends for the purpose of sharing prayers and reading writings of various religious traditions, the intentional study of the sacred writings of the Bahá’í Faith, programs for the spiritual education of children, and groups designed to allow pre-youth to explore themes of spiritual import and engage in service activities together.

Given the importance of these core activities to the overall efforts of the Bahá’í community, it seems prudent to discuss a concept that The Universal House of Justice describes as one of the primary impetuses behind all of these activities: engaging in “meaningful and distinctive conversations” with our friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and co-workers.

So what exactly does it mean to engage in “meaningful and distinctive conversations”? Why is it so important to do so? And what are some ways we can become more mindful of our everyday speech? Continue reading

What Bahá’ís Celebrate on the Day of the Covenant

Photo courtesy: iainsimmons via Flickr

Because ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, was born on the same day that the Bab declared His mission to Mulla Husayn, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá forbade Bahá’ís from celebrating His birthday. But when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was travelling through the United States approximately one century ago, the American believers repeatedly expressed their desire to commemorate His life in some fashion, given the immense impact He had on the American Bahá’í community.

Although ‘Abdu’l-Bahá still instructed Bahá’ís that only the Declaration of the Bab should be celebrated on May 23rd, He eventually allowed the Bahá’ís to choose a date that was furthest away from the date when Bahá’u’lláh passed away and to use that day to celebrate the establishment of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant with humanity. As Bahá’u’lláh passed away on May 29th, 1892, the Bahá’í community chose November 26th, the date six Gregorian months (182 days) away from the day of Bahá’u’lláh’s passing, as the Day of the Covenant.

But what exactly is Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, and what exactly is it that Baha’is are commemorating on this day? Continue reading

The Fear of God. What Does It Mean?

When reading prayers revealed by the Central Figures of the Bahá’í Faith, you quickly notice that nearly every prayer ends with a list of the names and attributes of God. He is described as the “All-Merciful,” the “Ever-Forgiving,” the “Lord of bounty,” the “Provider of all mankind,” and with dozens of other titles and qualities that help us understand, albeit imperfectly, some of the characteristics of God. Many of these descriptions create an image of God as a parent who watches over humanity with infinite love, mercy, and kindness. Indeed, in both the Bahá’í Faith and other religions God is often described as “the Father” for this very purpose. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states:

God is the Father of all. He educates, provides for and loves all; for they are His servants and His creation. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267).

But while God is repeatedly described as full of love, grace, and bounty in the Bahá’í Faith, dozens of passages also emphasize the importance of the “fear of God.” Bahá’u’lláh exhorts us to “fear God” or have the “fear of God” more than a dozen times in the Kitab-i-Aqdas (known as the Most Holy Book) alone, and in various places He describes the fear of God as “the essence of wisdom” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155), “the fountain-head of all goodly deeds and virtues” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 135), “the weapon that can render him victorious” and “the primary instrument whereby he can achieve his purpose” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 272).

What should we make of such passages, and what does “fear” even mean in this context? If God’s relationship with humanity is like a loving and merciful parent, why does Bahá’u’lláh repeatedly warn us to fear God? And if the fear of God is an important attribute, how do we inculcate it in ourselves and others, such as our children? I’ll return to these questions in a moment, but it may be beneficial to first discuss other principles of the Bahá’í Faith related to the nature of spiritual development and the afterlife to place this topic of the fear of God in the broader scope of the teachings of the Faith. Continue reading

Sports and the Baha’i Faith

Simpson,Ferguson McKenzie,Gevaert,Hurtis-Houari

Photo Courtesy: André Zehetbauer via Flickr

Every four years, the world witnesses some of the most incredible feats of speed, strength, and physical skill in the form of the summer Olympics. The hopes and dreams of nations often rest on the shoulders of the most physically skilled youth and young adults that countries have to offer. At times these hopes are dashed in the wake of defeat; at other times previously unknown individuals emerge victorious and are transformed into symbols of national pride. But regardless of the specific outcomes, it seems that every Olympics provides the world with dozens of captivating and inspiring narratives about perseverance, determination, and overcoming the odds.

Yet every Olympics also seems to rekindle the debate about the importance of sport and athletic competition in relation to other human endeavors. Are the Olympics a laudable venue for the celebration of physical prowess and the unification of countries, or does the fierce competition kindled by the Olympics simply reinforce the competitive mindset that often leads to conflict and contention among nations? How much value should we place on winning, or losing, in such competitions? And what is the role of sport and athletic competition in general in the broader scope of human affairs? Continue reading

Wealth, Poverty and Spirituality

Image by figment_ (Flickr)

As an individual fortunate enough to have been raised with both the material comforts of the United States as well as the spiritual teachings of the Baha’i Faith, I often think about the relationship between wealth, poverty, and spirituality.

A number of questions naturally arise when considering this: Are wealth and material development important, or simply a distraction from spiritual development? Is it wrong for me to enjoy physical comfort and material prosperity? Is choosing to renounce the material advancement of the West, for example, by moving to a less developed part of the world a noble sacrifice or an unnecessary infliction of physical suffering upon oneself?

Continue reading