When I recall first being told as a child that we were going to “feast” in the evening, I think of how my imagination kicked into overdrive. I envisaged long medieval-style banquet tables overflowing with roast chicken, legs of lamb, mashed potatoes, rice and a slew of decadent desserts as far as my chubby little eyes could see. Much to my confusion however, we ate dinner at home as usual (not a goblet of orange juice in sight) before arriving at a fellow Bahá’í family’s home: “but I’m so full,” I thought to myself, “How am I expected to eat again?” As the evening progressed, I came to understand the term “feast” was actually referring to the “Nineteen Day Feast” and it took on a meaning not quite what I was expecting. Continue Reading
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
From the earliest times, pilgrimage has been a cherished part of human life, be it individual or collective. Whether it was the ancient Greeks making the arduous journey to Delphi to consult the Oracle, or the Frankish knights and their kings making crusade to “free” Jerusalem, Hindus making the journey to Varanasi to immerse themselves in the sacred waters of the Ganges or Buddhists to Kandy in Sri Lanka to revere the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha, many and diverse are the reasons for which men and women have undertaken the journey of pilgrimage, with its attendant trials and tests.
In the Bahá’í context, pilgrimage is a law ordained by Bahá’u'lláh in the Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. In this Book, Bahá’u'lláh prescribes that all Bahá’ís who are able should strive to make pilgrimage to one of the two Great Houses, i.e. the House of the Báb in Shíráz and the House of Bahá’u'lláh in Baghdád. However, after the passing of Bahá’u'lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá designated the Shrine of Bahá’u'lláh at Bahjí as a place of pilgrimage, and stated that it is “obligatory” to visit these places “if one can afford it and is able to do so, and if no obstacle stands in one’s way”. Today, Bahá’ís make their pilgrimage at the invitation, and as honoured guests, of the Supreme Body of the Bahá’í Faith, the Universal House of Justice. The Shrines and other holy places are located in and around the cities of Haifa and ‘Akká in the Holy Land.
But what, our friends may ask, is the act of pilgrimage itself? What rites or rituals are involved? Before I continue, I should make it clear that each individual experiences their pilgrimage differently, and it is very personal. While sharing my thoughts and experiences in this post, it is not my intention to set certain expectations or a prescription of how people should feel while experiencing pilgrimage. My aim is to simply share some of my own thoughts and experiences in an attempt to answer, as simply as possible, the common question of “What is Baha’i pilgrimage?” Continue Reading
Ever since I was a kid, it seemed implied in Bahá’í culture that we should memorize the Writings and prayers not only because they became more readily accessible during the teaching of the Faith but also because it had a deep spiritual impact within.
“From the texts of the wondrous, heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages” Bahá’u'lláh enjoins in one of His Tablets, and Hand of the Cause Collis Featherstone used to say that we should memorize prayers because when we die we can’t take our prayer books with us, but we can take our memory!
The importance of memorization has also been stressed in recent times through the Institute Process. Both as participants and as tutors we have seen ourselves and many others struggling when memorizing quotes, complaining how they are not young anymore or how the quotes are too long. But memory is like any other muscle or skill, it may be unused but it’s right there waiting for us to make the most out of it, and the more we use it, the stronger it gets.
What I want to attempt in this post is not to address the importance of memorizing the writings nor an analysis on the spiritual power of memory, but I want to share some practical tips that I have personally found helpful when memorizing quotes and passages. Continue Reading
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
Prayer, according to the Baha’i Faith, is central to one’s spiritual existence. It is the means by which creation communicates with the Creator.There are numerous prayers revealed by Baha’u'llah, the Bab and ‘Abdu’l- Baha, and each of these prayer express our innermost needs and offer us guidance, in a way that our own words can’t.
In addition to the many revealed prayers, there are also the daily obligatory prayers – revealed by Baha’u'llah – which are to be recited individually and privately, every day. Individuals can choose from one of three prayers – the short obligatory prayer to be said between noon and sunset, the medium obligatory prayer to be recited three times a day, or the long obligatory prayer to be recited anytime during the course of the day.
Bahá’u'lláh states that “obligatory prayer and fasting occupy an exalted station in the sight of God”. Abdu’l-Bahá affirms that such prayers are “conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting one’s face towards God and expressing devotion to Him”, and that through these prayers “man holdeth communion with God, seeketh to draw near unto Him, converseth with the true Beloved of his heart, and attaineth spiritual stations”.
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
In the early hours of the morning of 29 May, 1892, Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith passed away.
The commemoration of His passing is called ‘The Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh’, and Bahá’ís throughout the world pay their respects with prayers and selected Bahá’í Writings. It is also one of nine days in the Baha’i calendar year, where work should be suspended.
For almost 40 years Bahá’u’lláh suffered imprisonment and banishment, originally from His birthplace in Persia (present day Iran), to Baghdad, and then to the Ottoman cities of Constantinople, Adrianople, and then finally to the infamous prison city of Acre (in present day Israel), where He was held in a cold and damp cell. Continue Reading
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?
Every year, Baha’is the world over gather in their local communities on the 21st of April – the first day of Ridvan – to elect the nine members of their Local Spiritual Assembly. Every adult Baha’i at the age of 21 is eligible to be voted for, and they have the responsibility to participate and vote for these nine members of the community who will volunteer their time to run the administrative affairs and assist in the spiritual well-being of their respective local communities for the year ahead.
When one thinks of elections, perhaps for many of us what immediately comes to mind are political parties and candidates, expensive campaigns, televised debates, the digging up of dirt on the opposing party, and copious amounts of campaign flyers and confetti.
This is not the case however with Baha’i elections. There are no political parties or independent candidates. Rather than debates, there is community consultation. Rather than smear campaigns, there is encouragement and accompaniment. Rather than campaign flyers and confetti, there are prayers and personal meditation. Continue Reading