can bahá’ís vote? (and other non-partisan ponderings)

ridván election crowdIt’s election season in Canada. Last time a federal election came around I was too busy to write anything, although in previous years I took a few moments to lament over the excesses wrought by electioneering, and to highlight the Bahá’í principle of non-involvement in partisan politics. It should be clear to anyone who’s read into the principles of the Bahá’í Faith that Bahá’ís are forbidden to engage in partisan politics. But what does that mean for us, really? When election day rolls around, how are we supposed to vote in a non-partisan way? Is there such a thing? Is it just better to avoid voting entirely? Just what can we do, anyway?

First off, it’s pretty clear that Bahá’ís can and do participate in their country’s elections; that is, Bahá’ís can and do vote. In a recent letter, the Universal House of Justice noted that “Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so.” Thankfully, in Canada, this is currently the case—I vote as a citizen of my country, not as a member or supporter of a party. An American Bahá’í asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to clarify whether the Bahá’í prohibition on partisan political activity extended to voting, and this was His reply:

“In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic.”

So if we can and should participate in the election of our country’s officers, then how can we do so without involving ourselves in partisan politics? Below are a few ideas that might serve as an inspiration to all of us who struggle with this question.

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a prayer for peace day


peace dayO Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household. In Thy Holy Presence they are all Thy servants, and all mankind are sheltered beneath Thy Tabernacle; all have gathered together at Thy Table of Bounty; all are illumined through the light of Thy Providence.

O God! Thou art kind to all, Thou hast provided for all, dost shelter all, conferrest life upon all. Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy Mercy.

O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home. May they all live together in perfect harmony.

O God! Raise aloft the banner of the oneness of mankind.

O God! Establish the Most Great Peace.

Cement Thou, O God, the hearts together.

O Thou kind Father, God! Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love. Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance. Delight our ears with the melody of Thy Word, and shelter us all in the Stronghold of Thy Providence.

Thou art the Mighty and Powerful, Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlooketh the shortcomings of all mankind.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace)

sharing some “new” music

rainy cedarIt’s raining today, so it’s a good time to stay inside and listen to some music. I’ve been discovering some new music that I like for the first time in… well, a while. They say (who says?) that your ability to discover and appreciate new music goes down as you age, so I suppose that that’s a good sign. I’ve been looking for ambient music that can help me to concentrate on tasks—something that I can tune out, but that has enough of a beat and good harmony that it keeps me going. Something atmospheric—not in the “lounging in a private spa” sense, but in that it creates a good atmosphere for me to get things done. Here’s some of what I’ve found, just because it’s a sharing kind of day.

Tycho, a project led by San Francisco-based musician Scott Hansen, is what I’m listening to right now, particularly the new album Awake. I’ve had it on for the past little while as I smash my keyboard in search new ways of making websites look pretty. Also new to the playlist is Bonobo, or British musician Simon Green, based in Brighton, UK. What I’ve heard from him is more down-tempo and perhaps a little darker than Tycho, yet still rhythmic and very enjoyable. From the other side of the pond (i.e. the Pacific Ocean) hails another recent addition to my collection, DJ Okawari of Shizuoka, Japan, who bills himself as a “representative artist of Japanese jazz hiphop”, a genre fostered by Tokyo-based Seba Jun or Nujabes, whose music has also been doing the rounds on the playlist lately. These last two have a distinct harmony of their own that I would call characteristically Japanese: lighter, brighter and even a little more conducive to introspection, if that makes sense—almost as if you were having an intimate conversation with a trusted friend.

Besides being good work music, I would put all of the above on a travel or road-trip mixtape, or even just rainy-day music to help you chill out on a gloomy, overcast day. They’re definitely all relaxing and ambient, so they fit perfectly into that side of my music collection. Most of them have been active since the late 2000s, so I don’t know if I’m really right to call any of them “new” artists—but new to me is good enough for now.

finding love and wonder on pluto

When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by science, especially astronomy. I was the nerdier kind of kid who preferred reading books to kicking a ball in the playground, and so, I would hole up in the library and gather up all the books I could find about stars, planets, the universe, and more. At that time, exploration of the solar system was still just beginning. Humanity had walked on the moon and come back. Probes had been launched even further, landing on the surfaces of Mars and Venus, sending back the very first images of other planets. More probes had been launched at the other planets, sending back to Earth the very first snapshots of these other worlds: the sun-hugging Mercury, and the gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Reading about these newly explored worlds sent my mind on journeys of its own, journeys of awe and wonderment.

And yet, there was still more to this journey. In the pages of every book that chronicled the sums of our knowledge of the planets, one section still remained a mere footnote, a tantalizing mystery. Pluto, the last and farthest planet (as far as anyone was sure at the time), was a mere speck on a photographic plate, twinkling in the night sky as would any star—except that it moved. We knew it was there, but its great distance from Earth meant that it would surely remain unknown for a very long time. Who, after all, would ever travel that far, through all that nothingness, far above the ecliptic—the plane of the solar system—to snap a picture of this, the tiniest planet?

The New Horizons mission, then, is somewhat of a dream come true—the fulfillment of a long-cherished hope, and the continuation of that long journey of awe, of wonder and discovery. It allows us to fill in a blank in our knowledge of the universe. For those of my generation—who were taught that Pluto was a planet (although there’s nothing particularly wrong with being considered a dwarf planet, either)—this mystery cried out especially loud for resolution. The beautiful thing, of course, is that now that we have pictures, now that we have all this knowledge and data, we become acutely aware of how much more there is to discover. The wonder doesn’t disappear—instead, it builds. Our thirst for learning kicks in, and we want to know more. And in time, we will.

as I pick myself back up

It’s been a while since I’ve spent much time looking after this blog. No doubt there are still people out there reading, whether they’re subscribed by email or RSS, or follow on Facebook, or simply check back every now and then out of curiosity or nostalgia.

It’s been a tumultuous time for the owner of the world’s longest-running Bahá’í blog (if it hasn’t been stripped of that title due to the succession of hiatus after prolonged hiatus). Things started getting busy around the end of 2010. Life started getting in the way of writing, you know, in the way it does. Successive tests descended. Things which were once clear became muddied and murky, as the hand of providence stirred up the water of the ocean of life. They say that in that kind of muddy water, the beautiful lotus will bloom, resting calmly upon the water, opening up its petals and offering itself to the sky.

I can’t really say that the tests have ended yet—nor can I say that I’ve reached that perfect state of calm—but what I can say is that there is something of a growing sense of clarity budding somewhere deep within. Things are clearer, while still being unclear. I am—and we are—slowly learning how to draw from that sacred quiet space within our hearts the living water of certitude.

There is so much to fear in the world today, so much anger, hatred, instability and chaos. And yet, there is also the evidence of a growing, collective movement of humanity towards something much, much greater and more beautiful. Something that looks like kindness, and courage, and justice, and love, and patience, and perseverance, and generosity, and sacrifice, and service. Every day, we pick our side: Shall we advance towards a day of despair, or one of hope? O Great Spirit, give me the strength to choose hope today, to love and to serve Thy creatures.

So, yes, it’s been a tumultuous time, and most of the time I’ve simply felt too confused and exhausted to spend time sharing quips and queries or telling the little stories of my life. I dare to cherish the hope that this time of crisis is coming to a close, and that victories lie ahead. But I must be humble, and remember my place: A mere gnat that only aspires to become an eagle. Sorry. I know this sounds cryptic, and I hate to be one of those cryptic bloggers. The gist of it is that I’m feeling a little better nowadays, now that things have become a little less chaotic. But big things are in store in the coming years. Big changes, big growth, big challenges, and hopefully big adventures worth telling stories about. Maybe I’ll be blogging those too in a little while. For now, I’m off to rest and meditate a little. Greetings and glad-tidings to you and yours, dear friends.

understanding baha’i symbols and the “greatest name”

Nine pointed starIf you know any Baha’is, chances are you’ve seen them using one of three common symbols to indicate their faith. One is the nine-pointed star, which appears in all sorts of places from posters to tombstones. The number nine is significant to Bahá’ís for a few reasons. As the highest single-digit number, it’s seen as a symbol of completeness. It also ties into the ancient art of Arabic numerology, which assigns number values to letters. In this system, the letters of the word Bahá—referring to Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith—add up to the number nine.

The Ringstone SymbolAnother important symbol is a calligraphic symbol designed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which is based on a stylized representation of the word Bahá. The symbol—dubbed the “ringstone symbol” because of its approved use on rings and other kinds of jewelry—consists of the Arabic letter Ba (ب) repeated three times and stacked vertically, with another Ba rotated to form a vertical line connecting three, horizontal lines; the lines at top and bottom sport the letter (ه‍) at both ends. At either side of this symbol are two five-pointed stars.

This symbol is also known as the “teaching symbol”, because its layout illustrates one of the most important teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, namely, the relationship of God to humanity. Throughout history, it is said, God has sent His Manifestations—among them Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh—to guide humanity and to make His purpose known to us. It is through these Manifestations that human beings have been, and are able to know God; without them, we would not know God, and would not progress, materially or spiritually. Thus, the three horizontal lines in the ringstone symbol represent three “worlds”: the top line, the world of God; the bottom, the world of humanity; and the middle, the world of the Manifestations, which is also rotated ninety degrees to link all three worlds together. Finally, the two five-pointed stars on either side represent the Twin Manifestations of God for this Day, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh.

wilmette temple detail (CC-BY)Finally, there’s the Greatest Name, a calligraphic symbol designed by noted Persian calligrapher Mishkín-Qalam. It is a rendering of the phrase Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá (O Glory of the All-Glorious), an invocation derived from the word Bahá, which is regarded as the “Greatest Name of God” that completes a major tradition of the Qur’an. Its design is meant to resemble a bird. Since it refers more directly to Bahá’u’lláh (the “Glory of God”), it is regarded as a particularly sacred symbol for Bahá’ís, and is generally only displayed in a dignified, respectful and limited manner, for example, being given a place of honour on the wall of a Bahá’í home.

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