Myah is a second-year Theologian at Pembroke College Oxford
The Bahai faith was founded in 1863 in Iran by Bahaullah, who we recognise as the most recent manifestation of God. Essentially what the faith teaches is that all religions are equal and important as the prophets that came in past times have been part of a great progressive revelation. They are educators from God that give us moral guidance and teach us to embrace the arts and science – successive chapters of one religion from God. Because of this we do not believe that the Bahai faith is the ultimate or final revelation of God, but rather we believe that the teachings Bahaullah brought were specific to our generation, that it was tailored to our needs of the time and place – and that in the future, as we grow as humanity, another prophet will come and teach more, renewing our understanding of an infinite God. Our key beliefs rest in the oneness of God and religion, the unity of humanity and freedom from prejudice, the progressive revelation of religious truth, the development of spiritual qualities, the integration of work and service, the fundamental equality of the sexes, the harmony between religion and science, the centrality of justice to all human endeavours and the importance of education. We believe in independent thought guided by Bahaullah’s teachings and focus on the importance of discussion within community – a community which must be free from any sense of superiority, and one devoted to learning and action. We also do not believe in proselytising, but focus on the importance of being good people and good examples in the world, encouraging independent thought and autonomy. Because you cannot be born a Bahai – you must choose it when you turn 15 if you’re raised in a Bahai family, I chose to be Bahai last year when I had been in contact with the faith for around a year, and had completely fallen in love with it.
I think in our generation we are keen to call ourselves “spiritual” rather than religious, but for me I saw a lot of strength, power and freedom in following rules and being guided by Holy texts because it reminds you that you are not the centre of the universe. I wanted to be part of a religion that didn’t impede on my right to think, to be critical or to embrace the changes of the time – but I did want a religion that guided me, that taught me things, that imposes rules that I may not necessarily always understand, but that should ground me and humble me nonetheless. The Bahai faith was perfect for me, I could so proudly listen to Jesus telling me to turn the other cheek, Mohammed telling me to not search for the faults in others, Krishna telling me to desire less and love more, and Buddha encouraging me to stop overthinking. There are so many incredible teachers, and the Bahai faith tells me to listen and learn from them – and it also offers its own prophet. Bahaullah challenges me to understand my own humanity and process it in the most human way possible – by turning to God.
In the faith we don’t have a clergy or a priest, so when we have times of hardship or when we struggle we turn to one another our community that is totally equal without any hierarchy. I thought that today I could be part of your community and share a few of my favourite quotes for dealing with difficult times and pain, probably one of the most universal feelings and experiences. Bahaullah writes in his Seven Valleys: “If there be no pain, this Journey will never end”. Pain and death and hardship in suffering, in Bahai – like in Christianity, is one of the most valuable things we have. When misunderstood pain hurts – it hurts our ego, it reinforces our fears, but when put to good use pain can change us and grow us closer to God and closer to ourselves. It is important to recognise that suffering is never deserved – you aren’t at fault when you lose someone closest to you or when you are unwell, but it is an inescapable reality that we must let burn, when it burns and let it go when the time comes. A prayer Bahaullah gave us reads: “Glory to Thee, O my God! But for the tribulations which are sustained in Thy path, how could Thy true lovers be recognized; and were it not for the trials which are borne for love of Thee, how could the station of such as yearn for Thee be revealed? Thy might beareth me witness! The companions of all who adore Thee are the tears they shed, and the comforters of such as seek Thee are the groans they utter, and the food of them who haste to meet Thee is the fragments of their broken hearts.”. Pain can be the way we reflect on our motives, how we treat one another – it can remind us of the pain that we don’t feel, that others that we oppress through structure and patriarchy do feel. It is the greatest guide towards happiness as it takes everything we know to be “needed”, “good”, “important” and reminds us that we can be holy and joyous even in times of strife, much the prophets. Bahaullah’s daughter Bahiyyih Kahnum wrote: “Something greater than forgiveness she had shown in meeting the cruelties and strictures in her own life. To be hurt and to forgive is saintly, but far beyond this is the power to comprehend and not be hurt.” and “ … if one tried to hurt her, she would wish to console him for his own cruelty..” It is part of our humanity to find things difficult, for this to end, to be destroyed and to degrade and reduce – but it is part of the divinity within our humanity to look to our pain and struggles to not feel the pain as it is experienced by our ego but rather to reassess it as an essential opportunity to grow spiritually and experience every part of this human life. To be human and finite and small is not a curse or a flaw, but rather an opportunity to embrace our humanity, our finiteness and smallness and go beyond this to grow into something slightly bigger and wiser. It is through humanity and human experience that we can truly come to know not only ourselves, but God.
Being Bahai, one way I have learnt to embrace this humanity is by not drinking alcohol. It sounds strict and scary and imposing, but I realized that through avoiding anything that compromises my reasoning or perception of the world, life was harder, brute – at times less palatable, but I would be able to face my humanity and all the issues that come with it, more authentically. I’d like to end on a quote – not by Bahaullah but something I think is very Bahai nonetheless. Something that could relates to all persons universally, united as one in our community and in our human experience: – “What if it’s about choosing to experience life not heightened or dulled, not amplified or quieted, not harder or softer, but exactly as it is? What if it’s about trusting that when life is joyful or miserable or thrilling or boring, it is that way because it is supposed to be, not because it needs anything to make it more fun or more tolerable? And what if you get to be present for that—for all of it?”