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Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 11:21 AM
History knows thousands of prophetic claimants. Only a handful, however, have changed history. Moses was an orphan with a stammering speech and a murderer's blot on his name. Jesus was an impoverished vagabond known to be a fatherless child. Muhammed grew up as an illiterate merchant on the outer reaches of the Arabian desert. Yet few will deny that the influence of these three ancient men is globally tangible even now, even as we speak. Few will deny that their influence far surpasses myriads of mighty historical potentates, great conquerors, brilliant philosophers and visionary social reformers -- not only in the historical persistence of their influence, but also in the sheer number of their admirers and the depth of their devotion.
Each of these three men declared to have brought a message from the One God. All of their words are, until today, studied, reflected and viewed as a source of inspiration and life guide. Given the phenomenal difference in the influence of these historical persons as compared to virtually all the other known great men of history (some of whose historicity may be equally disputed if we want to go down that road) -- men who were far more powerful and influential in their own time than the power-trio under scrutiny -- there is nothing unreasonable in exploring the option that each of these men were inspired by the very Being in Whose name they prophesied. The burden of proof rests firmly on the fundamentalist who adamantly draws distinctions in the prophetic/divine "status" of these individuals, as well as on the avowed skeptic who carelessly lumps these individuals of such a provably extraordinary influence into the casual categories of great philosophers, social reformers and political leaders.
Let me hereby challenge anyone to show me a historical person who has influenced more people more deeply than the sayings attributed to Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Karl Marx, Plato, Chairman Mao? Mahatma Gandhi? The burden of proof is not on the claimant stating the evident, that billions of people are still and have historically been influenced by the three mentioned individuals, and that these individuals claimed to have brought a message from God. Obviously, a mere claim of prophethood without such a provably extraordinary influence would not call for any further examination of some unique divine status. But such is not the case with Moshe Rabbenu, Yeheshua ben Yosef and Muhammad ibn Abdullah.
An appeal to all the murder and mayhem perpetrated in the name of these individuals is not a valid counter-argument against their extraordinary influence. Such unfortunate facts only corroborate the truth of their extraordinary influence. At best, the atrocities perpetrated by their followers indicates that their influence can be abused to advance all manner of personal and political agendas. But so can any other ideology or political cause.
As to the historicity of Moses and Jesus, some, but not the majority, of respected scholars dispute it. The majority of unbiased scholars accept that both of them existed while contending the most fantastic accounts of their lives. Much of the professional debate among the established historians rather concerns whether or not a minimalist or a maximalist account of their lives is closer to the truth. Only a small minority seriously questions that Moses or Jesus ever existed. Certain historians question the nihilists' objectivity almost as much as they question the objectivity of Bible scholars boasting "irrefutable" evidence for the Resurrection of Christ as a historical fact.
My contention remains: Given the evidence on their extraordinary historical influence, together with their claim of messengership, it is reasonable for any a thinking person to explore the option that the three mentioned prophets were, in fact, representing what they claimed they were. My contention is not that their unparalleled historical influence suffices as a scientific proof of their divine origin. My contention is that a glib dismissal of the option of divine revelation is palpably biased against religious theories rather than representing a scientifically reasonable avenue. Similarly, an equally irrational bias exists in a glib dismissal of the divine inspiration of some of the three in favour of others.
Quite simply, the extraordinary influence of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad over millennia cannot be dismissively explained away by superficial appeal to charisma, power-play, mass-hysteria or poetic genius. Thousands have possessed all of the above, yet have hardly left a dent in history.
Sunday, August 14, 2011, 1:09 PM
"Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one will be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is the proof of nobility"
"All that has been created is for man . . . who must be thankful for the divine bestowals, so that through his gratitude he may learn to understand life as a divine benefit. If we hold enmity with life, we are ingrates, for our material and spiritual existence is the outward evidences of the divine mercy. Therefore we must be happy and pass our time in praises, appreciating all things. But there is something else: detachment. We can appreciate without attaching ourselves to the things of this world. It sometimes happens that if a man loses his fortune he is so disheartened that he dies or becomes insane. While enjoying the things of this world we must remember that one day we shall have to do without them."
"Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy."
Monday, July 25, 2011, 4:34 AM
"If religion becomes the cause of enmity and bloodshed, then irreligion is to be preferred. For religion is the remedy for every ailment, and if a remedy should become the cause of ailment and difficulty, it is better to abandon it." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921)
My sister lives in Norway with her family right in the outskirts of Oslo. The whole nation is gripped by the terror attacks that occurred two days ago in Oslo. Over 70 people, mostly youth gathered at a camp, are reported dead. Anders Breivik, the shooter, is a self-identified Christian and an islamophobe, but by doing so he makes a mockery of the noble name of Christ.
We are living in an age where mankind is painfully learning the evils of particularistic creeds, ones that elevate one particular group of people (whether religious, racial, national, gender, or social class) over another. Such creeds breed prejudice and conflict. What happened in Norway two days ago is just another disturbed person who embraced such a creed - one of far-right Christian fundamentalism. Exclusivist salvation doctrines embraced by millions of good faithfuls transform in the hands of a fanatic into a hate-creed. It is not enough to develop early-warning systems identifying the psychological cues among the populace which point to violent behaviour. It is equally, if not more essential, to uproot such man-made creeds and doctrines from the face of the earth. Occasionally it may even require some theological self-cleanup within major salvationist world religions. God does not breed conflict but unity. If anything, oneness is one of His names.
Ultimately the most powerful means to fight prejudice is education - starting from home. Educating our children to be genuinely world-citizens and to recognize the progressive revelation of God in every great religion, without any claim to exclusivity and finality regarding one's own brand of truth. Ironically, the greatest and the most barbaric terrorist attack on European soil has now been perpetrated by a Christian fundamentalist and not by an Islamist (albeit this record may still change). Both creeds make a mockery of the noble truths enshrined in the Holy Bible and the Holy Qur'án. Both blaspheme against the God of Christianity and of Islam.
The notion that 'I am saved unlike so many others', even as a silent conviction by a peace-loving believer, breeds an unhealthy sense of superiority. It appeals to the primordial sense of pride, not too dissimilar to the son who enjoys his father's favoritism. Salvation creeds, by their very existence, heighten the thrilling feeling of being a favoured one of God, as well as a feeling of fearful prejudice towards 'them others' who have fallen out of favour, yet who may tempt me with their convincing talk to their damning ways. Well I say, "O ye of little faith", whose faith is so easily shattered to pieces by the mere existence of alternative takes on life, man and God. True faith, if it really is true, is rather consolidated by the review of alternatives. Not weakened. While they are by no means the only factor behind mindless killing sprees at youth summer camps, particularistic creeds by their very existence, and the mere fact of their widespread adherence, lend powerful moral justification to the actions of the few who are prepared to go a step further -- using violence for their promotion.
Small wonder that Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, who was severely persecuted for His Message of tolerance and unity, and imprisoned for 40 years in some of the most forbidding places, wrote:
"Consort with all religions with amity and concord. Beware lest amidst men the flame of foolish ignorance overpower you." "These mighty systems have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light." "Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire." "Regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch."
My sister in Norway and I are Bahá'ís. She just posted this verse of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (the son of Bahá'u'lláh) on her Facebook profile:
"The most important teaching of Bahá'u'lláh is to leave behind racial, religious, national and patriotic prejudices. Until these prejudices are entirely removed mankind will not find rest. Nay, rather, discord and bloodshed will increase day by day."
Saturday, July 23, 2011, 5:48 AM
True words of an imprisoned father to his son in 19th century Palestine.
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 unto 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.
- Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892)
Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 1:18 PM
"Armed", an inspiring music video by Devon Gundry for hard times:
"Armed with the power of Thy Name, nothing can ever hurt me. With Thy love in my heart all the world's afflictions can in no wise alarm me."
Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 3:47 AM
I recently stumbled upon this powerful allegorical story which delves into the very essence of faith. Faith, understood as a constant emotional high and an uninterrupted touchyfeely thrill, has never appealed to me one bit. True faith is much more often about service and sacrifice, but performed in the spirit of joy and radiance. Faith is about having a tranquil and serene heart in the midst of the tumults and tempests of this world.
"Thou findest him chill in the fire and dry in the sea, abiding in every land and treading every path. Whosoever toucheth him in this state will perceive the heat of his love. He walketh the heights of detachment and traverseth the vale of renunciation."
(Bahá'u'lláh, Javáhiru'l-Asrár, "Gems of Divine Mysteries", verse 38)
I hope the following story speaks to others as much as it did to me:
Once two oriental princes sought the presence of the Lord. While He was busy attending the poor and the cripple, with loving-kindness he agreed to talk to the proud princes and politely sought news of their country. In the course of the interview one of the princes made the following remark: 'How is it that you speak of great spiritual matters to the meek and the unlettered who attain your presence, yet to us you talk only about the news of the town and the market? How could such men without learning and wit be preferable to us?' In answer the Lord said:
'I will tell you who is worthy of listening to My words and attaining My presence. Suppose a man is taken to a vast plain. On his righthand side are placed all the glories of this world, its pleasures and its comfort, together with a sovereignty which would be everlasting and freed from every affliction and grief. On the lefthand side of the plain are preserved for eternity all the calamities, the hardships, the pains and the immense sufferings of the world. Then suppose that the Holy Spirit appears before this man and addresses him in these words:
"My friend, these two paths will both take you to your Lord. Should you choose to have all the eternal pleasures that are placed on the right, not an iota would be reduced from your station in the sight of God. And should you choose to be afflicted with the innumerable sufferings that are placed on the left, not one cubit would be added to your station in the estimation of God, the Almighty."
Yet, if at that moment the man were moved to choose with the utmost eagerness and enthusiasm the left hand of abasement rather than the right hand of glory, then he would be worthy to attain My presence and hearken to My exalted word.'
Then the Lord turned to the two princes and said:
"If your aim be to cherish your life, approach not My court. But if sacrifice be your heart's desire, come and let others come with you. For such is the way of faith, if in your heart you seek reunion with Me. Should you refuse to tread this path, why trouble us? Begone!"