Wednesday, 7 February 2018

A death sentence – for loving humanity


Hamed bin Haydara, a Yemeni citizen aged 53 (pictured here in happier times), has recently been sentenced to death, for belonging to the wrong religion. He was arrested at work in 2013 and has since been tortured, with no medical attention allowed for his wounds. His family have not been allowed to visit him. While he has been in prison, a different faction has taken power in the capital, but the only difference it has made to his imprisonment has been the pronouncement of the death sentence, which is to be carried out in public. He was not allowed to be present at the trial, and no evidence supporting any of the charges – e.g. “insulting Islam” – was presented. The judge even complained to the prosecution about the lack of evidence, but that did not prevent him from declaring a death sentence.

Hamed Haydara is a Bahá’í, one of about two thousand Bahá’ís in the country. His belief? That there is one God, that all the world religions were divinely-inspired, and that all mankind should become one family. As Bahá’u’lláh expressed it: “The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.”

Mr Haydara lives in a part of the world which desperately needs unity. Yemen is fractured by tribal divisions, by sectarian rivalry and by loyalties to different political leaders. Some areas of the country are even controlled by international extremist groups who seem to be at war with the rest of humanity. And, of course, there is currently a civil war raging, caused initially by the major religious divide between the far north of the country and the rest. This is the third civil war which I remember hearing about in Yemen, and, as in the 1960s, outside powers are greatly adding to the misery for the people of the country.

And what was Mr. Haydara working quietly for? For the unity of mankind, for justice, for peace. For the recognition of the truth of all religions and for a united and thriving community. Bahá’u’lláh emphatically declared that “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” Surely, the people of Yemen would benefit from adopting these goals.

When the ordinary people of Yemen are already suffering so badly, what good is there in killing a man who is not part of the conflict and is only concerned with bringing people together?
Mr Haydara’s case has been taken up by Amnesty International. But for most of us, the only thing we can do is to pray for his release, and for the people of Yemen to overcome their differences and work together for a happier future.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Tweet others as you would wish to be tweeted

There have been a number of cases highlighted recently in which careless talk on Twitter has caused upset to others. Ill-considered and unconsidered tweets about other individuals, and even about other countries, other races and religions, often do not seem to have any basis in fact. They seem to come out of someone’s fingers without first going through their brain! This extends from those in positions of power or influence, to young children at school. It seems that people are not taught to be kind to others, and people are not even expected to be nice!

In schools now, they are increasingly trying to teach the pupils how to cope with “online bullying”. Why is this happening? Why aren’t we teaching all the pupils that they have a duty to be kind and considerate to others? Why aren’t we teaching them that it is wrong to spread false or misleading information about others? In essence, libel is often going unchallenged. In an increasingly inter-dependent society, there does not seem to be a generally-agreed moral code laid down – or even offered – stressing the need for us to be forgiving, charitable, pleasant, welcoming and constructive. Because these positive qualities are among the ones usually promoted by religions, the politicians and educationalists seem to have generally left them within the realm of religion, and they have not been given their due attention within society.

The Bahá’ís have been urging for some years that “World Citizenship” should be included on the school curriculum. This would directly include how citizens should behave towards one another. At the present, the Bahá’ís world-wide are building up community children’s classes, focussing on things such as self-respect, kindness, honesty and generosity. Speaking to adults, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (the Son of Bahá’u’lláh) said: “Do not be satisfied until each one with whom you are concerned is to you as a member of your family. Regard each one either as a father, or as a brother, or as a sister, or as a mother, or as a child. If you can attain to this, your difficulties will vanish, you will know what to do.”

Tweeting, texting and messages on other social media are an extension of speech. Bahá’u’lláh said on this subject: “The tongue is for mentioning that which is good. Pollute it not with evil speech.” He also speaks out against unseemly language: “Defile not the tongue with cursing or execration of anyone.” Many people have been caught out recently by things they wrote in the past, unfortunately proving the truth of Bahá’u’lláh’s words when he said: “For the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century.”

One of the main goals of the Bahá’í Faith is the unity of the entire human race. Having individuals sniping at others is detrimental to the process of building up this unity. Yes, we definitely need unity at a world level – unity between states. But unity as a principle also applies at the local level: unity within a country; unity within the town; neighbourliness among the people living on the same street; unity in the classroom. Unity within any group is important, as it cements a building block together. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá put it: “Peace must first be established among individuals, until it leadeth in the end to peace among nations.”

In the headlong rush towards free expression, society has forgotten the need to educate people on how to live in harmony. Every culture in the world has to have structures which hold it together, to make it viable and enable it to advance into the future. In the past, every religion has taught that we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. In the Hindu Scriptures it states: “This is the sum of righteousness – treat others as thou wouldst thyself be treated.” Jesus advised: “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them.” Muslims were instructed:  “None of you is a believer until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.” In Judaism, it appears as: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” This teaching, found in every one of the world religions, is often known as The Golden Rule. In the Bahá’í Writings, Bahá’u’lláh encourages us to take the Golden Rule even further, when He states: “Blessed is he who preferreth his neighbour to himself.” Maybe, if we all tried to follow this teaching, people would begin to tweet about others as they would wish to be tweeted about themselves.


               


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

On losing my brother

Phil Vickers (1955 – 2017)

The family has recently suffered the loss of my younger brother, Philip Christopher Vickers. He was a talented individual, who wrote poetry and songs, played the guitar and was an excellent drummer. Apparently in good health as he passed sixty years of age, he was diagnosed with leukaemia just a few months later. Through the good agencies of the doctors and nurses of the National Health Service, and supported constantly by his loving wife, he survived another eighteen months in this world. I have often heard of people who have “died after a long battle with cancer”. This was it. This was what was happening. Sometimes Phil was winning – or the doctors were winning. At other times it was the disease that was winning. He was given stem cells by some kind donor, but the doctors had not been able to find a perfect match. The stem cells did their best, but eventually the poor things had to admit defeat. Phil now knew that his time was up, and he accepted his fate.

I miss him already. I have seen a lot of photos of him recently, mostly from when he was still fit and well. We have a video of him drumming at a Festival, and he looks so natural and healthy. I prefer seeing him like that, before he knew that he was to die an early death. He was a very popular person – considerate and polite. He was witty and funny in his conversation. He was very knowledgeable about several areas of life, and maintained a healthy enthusiasm for learning about new things. A lot of people came to his funeral – friends who knew the family when Phil was younger, friends from his schooldays, friends from work and fellow musicians. And they will all miss him, in one way or another.

He chose the music for his own funeral – songs that had had meaning in his life. But we also watched a video of him drumming (the one I mentioned above), and heard one of his more light-hearted poems read out. Not too many funerals get two rounds of applause during the proceedings. My wife said she sensed that Phil was “looking down” on us all.

Will I see him again? Luckily for me, I believe that the life of the soul continues after death: “To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes, is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage.” What form would we take in the next world? Bahá’u’lláh teaches us that life there is on another plane. In an age when physicists speculate about parallel universes, this suddenly seems quite reasonable!

But would we have a physical form? Would I see Phil at all, or just enjoy his presence? Would I see him as he was at sixty years old, or thirty years old, or as the sweet little five-year-old brother I once had? Certainly a non-physical form makes more sense. Will I recognise him? The Bahá’í Writings say yes: “A love that one may have entertained for another will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom…” “The… beloved ones will recognise each other, and will seek union, but a spiritual union.” They also confirm the idea that the next world does not require a body: “From the moment the soul leaves the body, and arrives in the …[next]… World, its evolution is spiritual.” Then what do we all do? According to the Bahá’í Writings, we continue to develop and progress. I find that comforting, because Phil would have always wanted to develop and progress.

It would seem a pity if such a talented and kind person simply ceased to exist. I find it much more credible to imagine Phil as floating free in another plane of existence. I have not really lost a brother, but it may be a while before we are reunited.


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Photograph courtesy of Suzy Jacoby, of the band “Firefly”

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Unity in diversity

His Holiness Pope Francis is currently visiting Myanmar, and is urging that every ethnic and religious group be treated with respect. His visit is being watched closely by the international news media because of the situation of the Rohingya minority. It is now estimated that over half a million of the Rohingya people have escaped over the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh. These people have found themselves on the wrong side of a cultural, ethnic, religious and political fault line. Although the language they speak is not Bengali, they share many cultural and religious affinities with the majority population of Bangladesh. Both groups are Muslim and are Indo-Aryan peoples.

Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer) has a large Buddhist majority.  Most of its peoples speak Sino-Tibetan languages and do not resemble the Rohingyas in appearance. The Arakan coast of Burma, the area now renamed Rakhine State, was ruled by Muslim leaders for centuries, which is the reason why over a million Muslims still live on the Burmese side of the modern border. The “solution” to this “problem” identified by the Burmese authorities was to pronounce these people illegal immigrants, declaring that they are in fact Bangladeshis, and that therefore they have no rights whatsoever. They have been banned from the public schools, which means that many of them are not even be able to speak the national language. They are banned from jobs such as the civil service. Over the decades, many have left, not to another homeland somewhere, but scattered throughout other countries across the world. And during this summer (not for the first time), some decided to fight back, and attacked military personnel.

Vengeance was swift. Both soldiers and local mobs have burned down the Rohingya villages and randomly killed people. Landmines, now prohibited by international law, were laid at the border, to kill or maim yet more people as they try to flee.

But there is a solution. It is unity. In fact, it is unity in diversity. Mankind is varied in skin colour, in height, in hair characteristics and eye colour, and there are thousands of different ethnic groups in the world. Each group should be valuing the others, and nurturing them, as every people contributes to the overall whole. It states in the Bahá’í Writings: "O people of the world, ye are all the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” Bahá’u’lláh said that the governments of the world should choose one language, to be taught in all the schools of the world: “The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home.”

Another part of the solution is to recognise that all the major religions of the world are from the same source. Both Islám and Buddhism lay out codes of behaviour by which people should treat one another. Both these religions teach upright and civilised conduct towards other human beings, and teach forbearance. We should be looking past the differences in clothing and observances, and concentrating on this oneness of purpose in religion. Bahá’u’lláh, talking about the Divine Messengers of the past, such as the prophet Muhammad and Gautama, the Buddha, said: “If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith.”

All over the world there are groups of people living on the “wrong side” of a boundary line. We need to think beyond a world of borders, and think of the world as becoming one. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” If we had a world in which every people saw every other people as part of the human family, we would have unity, in diversity. I am sure that Pope Francis would readily and enthusiastically welcome this.

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I wrote about the Rohingyas in an earlier blog, making some different points, and pointing out that every single people on the planet is a minority on the world scene:

http://paddyvickers.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/we-are-in-minority.html

Sunday, 15 October 2017

It started two hundred years ago…


The Figure we know as Bahá’u’lláh was born in the autumn of 1817. He opened a new stage in the history of religion, by founding a Cause built on the re-affirmation of all the great religions of the past. He founded a Cause built on the idea of unity – of all human beings belonging to one great extended family. He founded a Cause to be spread through kindness and example, not through fear, violence and the exercise of power. He founded a Cause whose primary purpose is to bring the diverse populations of different parts of the planet to work together, to think of themselves as one organic whole.

Bahá’u’lláh claimed that the inspiration for His teachings was from God Himself – the “Great Being”, the “Unknowable Essence”, the creative force behind the entire universe. He claimed that He was the One promised in each of the world’s great religions. He declared that this age will be the one in which the followers of each religion will recognise the truth and wisdom in all the others:
“There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose.”

Born into a wealthy family in Persia, He became an early believer in the necessarily short-lived religion of the Báb, Who announced that He was preparing the way for the World Teacher about to come, and Who was executed by the authorities in 1850. Bahá’u’lláh was thrown into a dungeon, where He was chained in filthy conditions in the pitch dark. It was here that He had the intense spiritual experience which intimated to Him that He was to be the promised Messenger of God for the world: “I was but a man like others… when lo, the breezes of the All-Glorious were wafted over Me, and taught Me the knowledge of all that hath been.” Although many of His companions were led out to be executed, Bahá’u’lláh was instead banished first to Baghdad, later to Constantinople, and finally to Akká, the prison city in Palestine.

Despite the intense suffering - the imprisonments, the banishments and various attempts on His life – Bahá’u’lláh continued to teach and inspire those round Him and to proclaim the basic principles on which civilisation should be built in this new age. He taught that each individual has the right to seek out truth for themselves; that all kinds of prejudice should be abandoned; that all humankind should be seen as one people. He emphasised that women and men should be recognised as equal; that a fair economic system should be developed which is based on spiritual principles, and that a form of world government should be established. One language should be chosen or created which can be used as a means of communication between the different peoples of the world: “It behoveth the sovereigns of the world… or the ministers of the earth to take counsel together and to adopt one of the existing languages or a new one to be taught to children in schools throughout the world, and likewise one script. Thus the whole earth will come to be regarded as one country.”

Throughout the world, Bahá’ís are now celebrating the bicentenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s birth: in cities, towns and villages in virtually every country and every group of islands. But far from resting, and being satisfied with what has been achieved, the Bahá’ís know that their efforts need to be intensified – for example, to extend the numbers of classes for children, where they learn how to be happy and helpful to others, plus empowerment groups for teens and pre-teens which emphasise personal growth and service to the community. An increasing number of people who are not Bahá’ís are helping with this community-building work.

In two hundred years the Bahá’í Faith has grown from obscure beginnings to a vibrant community of several million people. Bahá’ís, of whatever background, are united in their efforts to put into practice Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a happy and prosperous world for all. After two hundred years an important milestone has been reached, but there is still so much more to do, and so much more to be achieved.

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A website has been set up which is now posting messages sent to the Bahá’ís by national and local leaders, artistic endeavours which have been started because of the bicentenary, and giving more background on the life of Bahá’u’lláh Himself. It will also include details of community events as they happen. It can be accessed at https://bicentenary.bahai.org.


Thursday, 5 October 2017

A breath of life to the body of mankind

On October 1st, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a concert 32 floors below his Las Vegas hotel window. He had with him a large number of weapons, and he had rigged up cameras in the corridor so that he could see when any police officers were approaching him. He killed 58 people, and injured 520 more. He had no known political affiliation, was not known to have any mental problems, and unlike so many killers, he was not known to the police. It is, however, interesting to note that the police once regarded his father as being psychopathic.

So what were his motives? Was it sheer jealousy, that other people seemed to gain happiness from life, while he could not? Was it resentment of others, or desire for revenge for some real or imagined slight or injustice? Was it some kind of desire for recognition, as a skilled man who thought he had accomplished much, but to society was a complete unknown? As a hardened gambler, he would have belief either in luck, getting him something for nothing, or in his unrecognised skills in playing with the odds. As this man did with his final act, a gambler risks a lot, but with no guarantee of success. Was it pure nihilism: his life was going nowhere, so why should other people’s lives go anywhere?

What is missing in the lives of mass killers and serial killers? Whether they act alone, or under some spurious banner, surely they must have deficiencies in their lives or in their make-up. Perhaps what is missing is compassion, or empathy, or love for their fellow human beings. Perhaps they are lacking in self-control, or in a sense of proportion. Most people accept that at one level they are just one person among millions, and many realise that our planet is itself just one among billions. Most people, therefore, do not exalt their own importance. Perhaps the mass killer has an exaggerated sense of his/her importance.

Perhaps what is missing is a personal link to God. Bahá’u’lláh said: “The vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land… The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society.” A religion, in its true and uncorrupted form, gives a fixed point for morals. “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not covet…” seem to have been forgotten. Religion gives a respect for the law. In the United States, it is illegal to buy or sell automatic weapons. By upgrading his weapons to convert them to automatics, the killer in Las Vegas was defying the law. Murder, by its very definition, is against the law. True religion also gives what we used to call “fear of God”, but would be better expressed as respect for divine authority. The mass killer has no fear of man. Perhaps a realisation that he will have to answer to the Ultimate is part of what is missing. Religion should also give each person a positive and constructive belief system, and it should give the individual a personal link to God. It is worth noting that the lost and bewildered youngsters who join ISIS or Al-Qaeda perform their murderous acts on behalf of some twisted leader, and not through a strong, personal relationship with God. Perhaps what is missing in their lives is any form of spiritual awareness, and particularly personal prayer – conversation with God.

Large portions of mankind have turned their backs on the whole idea of believing in God and taking guidance from religion. But Bahá’u’lláh taught that the governments of the world would come to realise that true religion is a force for stability in the world. Bahá’u’lláh’s Son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, stated that “among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is that religion is a mighty bulwark…. the religion of God prevents both the manifest and the concealed crime, trains man [and] educates morals.”

One individual, in charge of a firearm, a car, a truck, explosives, acid, even a knife, can cause so much misery, and clearly needs to have a noble set of goals to aspire to rather than the hostile negativity so many seem to turn to. Here is what Bahá’u’lláh offered as a set of personal goals:

"Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.”

As individuals, we need to turn outwards, to others, to ensure that we have a positive effect on society. We need to be “a breath of life to the body of mankind.”


                

Friday, 22 September 2017

A sign of hope

This month, the first local House of Worship of the Bahá’í world has opened in Battambang, Cambodia. If anyone had tried to guess which country would be the first, they probably wouldn’t have guessed Cambodia, but the country which has experienced such nightmarish suffering is now leading the way. Battambang was chosen because its thriving Bahá’í community is united and dynamic, and actively shows how worship can involve service to others: “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship,” as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá put it. This new building will be actively used!
Before this there was just one Bahá’í House of Worship for each continent. There are two national ones and four other local ones in the design stage, so this first one to be built will soon be followed by others. Although there are many ordinary buildings being used by local Bahá’í communities, this first local House of Worship represents a huge step forward for the Bahá’í world. Many towns and villages have Bahá’í centres, where the Bahá’ís can meet, and these are often used for the children’s classes and junior youth groups and devotional meetings to which everyone is invited. However, a House of Worship is perceived differently from a functional centre, or from administrative buildings, as its prime function is that of worship – of providing a space where the individual soul, whether or not in conjunction with others, can more quickly connect to God, the Unknowable Essence. To that end, it has to be a building of beauty and meaningful form. In addition, it should lead to the establishment of various charitable institutions in its neighbourhood.
Every Bahá’í House of Worship has nine sides, which symbolise the way that different paths lead us to one common goal, and is open to everyone, whether follower of a faith or not. The architect of this particular building is himself a Cambodian, and he has used innovative construction techniques within a style of building that reflects the traditional architecture of the country. The underlying message here is the preservation and encouragement of valuable local cultural traditions and forms, as an important part of the united global society which is evolving.
The Bahá’í message is essentially one of unity. Bahá’u’lláh said: “The Divine Messengers have been sent down, and their Books were revealed, for the purpose of promoting the knowledge of God, and of furthering unity and fellowship amongst men.” All conflicts, warfare and persecution spring from a state of disunity, and Cambodia has unfortunately had much experience of this. The Universal House of Justice, which is the elected body which leads the Bahá’í community world-wide, points out that, “The pure-hearted people of Cambodia, who have themselves suffered much, are responding with such enthusiasm to the call” of unity. “They are making strenuous efforts to uplift souls through spiritual and material education and are enabling populations to develop their capacity for service.”
The House of Worship was opened to the public in early September 2017, following a two-day conference at which the Deputy Governor of Battambang was present. He said: “Once a barren and very quiet place, which not many people would want to pass through, it has now turned into a beautiful garden, attracting people from all walks of life, day and night. I would like to emphasize that this local House of Worship will be assuming a very important role in unifying all people of different religions."

In a world in which nations, tribes, religions and classes compete for advantage, the need – Bahá’ís believe – is for spirituality and unity. As Bahá’u’lláh stated: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." It may be very significant that a people which has suffered so much, and been trodden down by so many different nations in the past, is now showing the way forward. This is surely a very positive sign of hope.

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There is a three-minute video showing highlights of the opening: http://news.bahai.org/story/1191/
In October, 2016, I posted about the opening of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Chile (“And then there were eight”), which was the last continental House of Worship:
http://paddyvickers.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/and-then-there-were-eight.html