Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A question of balance

The number of women in leading roles in the political world again seems to be on the rise. In the United Kingdom, recent political events have paved the way for Theresa May to become the second female Prime Minister (from a final choice of two women), while Angela Eagle made a bid for the leadership of the official Opposition. Meanwhile, in the United States of America, there is a real possibility, for the first time, of a woman becoming president.

The equality of men and women has been a major principle of the Bahá’í Faith since its inception. In the early history of the birth of this new religion, the poetess Tahirih allowed herself to become the first martyr for women’s rights. Her final words, before her cruel death, were said to be: “You may kill me as soon as you like, but you will not stop the emancipation of women.”

When Bahá’u’lláh‘s son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, visited London in 1912, a number of well-known suffragettes came to meet Him. They were well aware of the Bahá’í belief that women would obtain parity with men in all fields of endeavour and accomplishment. The famous Emmaline Pankhurst visited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and referred to Him as a “prophet”. He replied, with a broad smile, “Oh no! I am a man, like you.”

 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, 100 years ago: “If women were given the same advantages as men, their capacity being the same, the result would be the same. In fact, women have a superior disposition to men; they are more receptive, more sensitive, and their intuition is more intense. The only reason of their present backwardness in some directions is because they have not had the same educational advantages as men.” The Bahá’í Writings also stress that the education of girls is even more important than that of boys. This is because most girls will become mothers, and the mother is the first teacher of the child.

Bahá’ís see men and women as like the two wings of a bird – both must be equally strong in order for the bird to fly successfully. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that, “The happiness of mankind will be realised when women and men co-ordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmeet of the other.”

 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave us a very clear vision of the future: “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting - force is losing its weight; and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals - or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilisation will be more properly balanced.”


In order to achieve the necessary balance between masculine and feminine elements in the writing, Ann (my wife) and I worked together on this blog post.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

We are all one

Trish Adudu is a presenter and producer on British television screens. She also works on local radio, based in Coventry, where she lives. Last week she was racially abused by a person on a bicycle, who turned his unwanted attention from a young Asian man to her. The cyclist used upsetting and insulting language, and told her to, “Go home!”, although I doubt that he knew where her house is. (Perhaps he actually meant that she should go back to Bristol, where she was born.) As she is a local personality, the story of her experience was soon aired on both radio and television, but apparently it is reflecting a sudden rise in such abuse in many parts of Britain.

The recent referendum in the United Kingdom, in which slightly more than half of the voters opted to leave the European Union, highlighted during the campaign the significant numbers of eastern Europeans who have recently migrated to Britain. This was all to do with managing migration and it certainly had nothing to do with the colour of people’s skin. However, the “Leave” victory seems to have emboldened those who have a racist view of the world to openly express their opinions.

Meanwhile in the United States of America, there have been a rising number of incidents in which people from racial minorities have lost their lives at the hands of police officers, and just recently a sad retaliation. The immediate causes of the trouble may be different, but in perceiving us all as so different from one another, the underlying problem is actually the same.

In the Bahá’í view, these occurrences demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the biology of the human race. Bahá’u’lláh stated, and science seems to agree, that all human beings are descended from the same original stock. Bahá’u’lláh saw mankind as inter-related, and as one people: “O people of the world, ye are all the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” In effect, human beings are one extended family. (It has been calculated that the most distant relationship we can have with another human being is fiftieth cousin, without any exception whatsoever!) The Bahá’í community itself exists in virtually every territory in the world, and includes members of most minority groups. There are also special safeguards for minorities within the community. For example, if there is a tie in a Bahá’í election, and if one of the people is from a minority background, they will be the one elected.

Elsewhere in the Bahá’í Writings, humanity is likened to the different-coloured flowers of one garden. In a garden, the beauty is caused by the juxtaposition of flowers of various shapes, sizes and colours. A garden in which every flower is identical is simply not pleasing to the eye. In the same way, human beings are of different sizes, different colours and differing appearance. The Bahá’í watchword is “unity in diversity”, and this is one of the reasons why inter-racial marriage has always been encouraged within the Bahá’í community. In the USA, Bahá’ís have always been at the forefront of promoting racial unity.

This understanding of the varied but united nature of the human race renders all nationalism and racism rather meaningless. Bahá’u’lláh said that, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” We should be loving one another, and supporting one another. Within a family, it is understood that richer members can spare some time and money to help those who have less, and help them through difficulties. This is what should be happening on a global scale, with richer neighbourhoods and territories helping to build up the poorer ones. A greater sense of economic justice and co-operation would greatly decrease the hatred and suspicion in the world.

Love for all humanity has to be the answer: “If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men.”    


In January, 2016, after I had a vivid dream, I wrote another blog post on racism. It is called “I have a dream”.

Friday, 1 July 2016

For many are called, but few are chosen

For many months now, people in the United States of America have been involved in a tortuous process which will (eventually) culminate in the election of one individual as President of the entire country. Two rival parties vie for public support, although each one in reality contains a wide range of opinions and viewpoints. Within each party, a ruthless process of elimination takes place, as candidates realise, one by one, that there is no realistic chance of them securing their party’s nomination. There are few rules as to what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and a huge amount of money has to be spent on advertising, television slots, literature and the like. It is therefore clearly an advantage to be wealthy at the start of the process.

In the United Kingdom, the vote to leave the European Union, against the advice of almost every political leader, has brought about a severe storm within each of the two foremost parties. Within the party in government, there is to be a long drawn-out contest for a new leader, not as bruising as the American one, but with some similarities. Within Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, no vacancy for leader officially exists, but there is a huge rebellion within the Parliamentary Party, which may also lead to a similar drawn-out internal process.

Elections within the Bahá’í community are organised on a quite different basis. For a start, there are no candidates. No-one puts themselves forward. Within each town or village, the Bahá’ís come together once a year for a meeting organised on spiritual lines. After prayer, and some short readings encouraging the election of people with the best combination of “recognised ability” and of “selfless devotion”, each person simply writes down the names of nine Bahá’ís within that town/village on their ballot paper. The nine people who receive the most votes are automatically considered to have been elected as the Local Spiritual Assembly. Of course, there are further details, but in essence that is how it is done. The Bahá’ís do not even discuss between themselves the qualities of other individuals. The election is considered as between the voter, his or her conscience, and God!

The result, hopefully, is a harmonious process in which no-one knows who has voted for whom, and in which no cliques can form. Hopefully, the nine people elected will include reasonable and moderate people, whereas an adversarial system can sometimes favour more stubborn people, with strong opinions.

“Well, yes,” you may say. “It is easy for a small group of people who know each other. It wouldn’t work for the whole country.” Fair point. What happens, in the election of the National Spiritual Assembly, is that the Bahá’ís in each area vote for one person, who becomes their delegate and goes to a national convention. The delegate, once at the convention, will again be able to vote for nine people, again without any hindrance from the procedures of nominations, canvassing, etc. And the odd thing is – it works! Every vote is cast for someone, because of their positive qualities, rather than, as sometimes happens elsewhere, against someone, because of their less attractive qualities or their predetermined ideas.

Democracy means “government by the people”, but the actual system for achieving that varies widely from country to country. In the United States, the President is elected separately from the Congress. The result is that he (or she?) is charged with running the country, but does not necessarily have the legislature behind him (or her). In the United Kingdom, this never happens, because the person charged with organising the day-to-day running of the country, the Prime Minister, sits in parliament and needs to have the support of that Parliament (well, a majority of it), otherwise he/she falls out of power. This last situation is effectively what has just happened.

In the Bahá’í system, both the Local Spiritual Assembly and the National Spiritual Assembly are automatically elected afresh every year, so there should always be some renewal alongside a certain continuity, so confrontation and opposition are simply not required as part of the system at all. There are no competing groups or parties, so everyone naturally pulls together.

Abdu’l-Bahá, who visited the U.S.A. in 1912, hoped that the American democracy would become glorious in spiritual matters, even as it was aspiring to develop in material ways. He predicted that it would eventually be America which would start the process of instituting a world-wide and permanent peace. It is my personal hope that the people of the United States of America will one day have a government which will be able to further the causes of peace, understanding and justice in the world. And in Britain, which has now stepped back from membership of an ever-closer union of nations, the election of tolerant and far-sighted leaders is every bit as important…