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Baháʼí faith in the time of COVID-19 pandemic

By Sanjida Cabot M.D., Ph.D
The worldview of Baháʼís

 The Baháʼí Faith is not the only religion to discuss a Covenant between Man and God. Having a Covenant with the Supreme Being requires us to use our free will to seek out and follow, or surrender to, Gods Will for us throughout our lives on this earthly plane. As in many religions, Baháʼís believe that God is unknowable. So, if this is the case, how can we possibly come to know the Will of God and follow it? Thankfully, God, in His Infinite Wisdom, has sent many Divine Teachers to teach us about God, from time to time, over the course of history and continuing onward also into the future; this is called progressive revelation. The most recent Teachers are two Manifestations: the Báb and Baháulláh, also referred to as the Twin Manifestations, who came to teach humanity in the late 1800s. Bahá’ulláh was referred to as the Divine Physician who has their finger on the pulse of mankind.”

 

The Message of all of the Manifestations – including the Twin Manifestations, and also Muhammad, Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha – is spiritually the same, from the Baháʼí perspective, however, the social teachings and laws change due to humanitys needs of that age. Right now, the greatest need, teaching, and goal for mankind is to establish the unity of mankind as a step toward establishing the Most Great Peace. This can begin by following principles like independent investigation of truth, equality of men and women, harmony of science and religion, elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, elimination of all forms of prejudice including racism, etc. The steps to establish the realization of these ideals will try us all in a series of waves of crisis and victory. This will occur at every level, individually, collectively, and as a global society. Through such trials, we are asked to be happy, to be grateful, to have patience and perseverance, and to seek Gods healing and mercy ever more fervently. We are advised to plan, study, act, and reflect as local communities. We are responsible to pray, meditate, read, and reflect on Gods Message daily as individuals. Through these we develop effective ways to serve others using our own capacity, and accompany or support others as they grow and serve.

 

 

COVID-19 has a place in historic cycles of crisis and victory

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is just one of many trials plaguing the world at this time. Other trials that have become more apparent from this pandemic include the recognition of social inequities, including racial disparities generally and also within the healthcare system. From the perspective of the Baháʼí lifestyle, such crisis and also its counterpart, victory, come in waves that we all must face as individuals, and collectively too. COVID-19 is certainly one of these crises.

 

Baháʼís believe humanity as a whole is nearing the end of its formative years, or, by analogy, the developmental years of a preteen. Certainly some areas of the world are succeeding in some ways and others are struggling. But through this global crisis, humanity has had to face one of our first challenges together where everyone had access to much of the same ideas – through globalized business and information infrastructure. Given this, Baháʼís see this as a sign that we are approaching the next stage of development as a human race.

“The current global health crisis… shows how individuals, communities, institutions and governments must come together to address a common concern… [This] crisis calls for non-partisan, united action based on scientific evidence and ethical considerations. It demands moral courage. The same is true for climate change.”

 — Hoda Mahmoudi, Baha’i Chair for World Peace

 

Baháʼí Writings express that this is just the beginning and that we have numerous crises and victories ahead of us as a human race. What will happen and when it will happen largely remains to be seen but Bahá’ís know that the forces of disintegration are acting on the old way of things so that forces of integration can help establish a new world order. Think about it like destroying an old building to build something bigger and better in its place, only this is happening to mankind all at once. The idea that something new and improved is coming, even though we humans are in a turbulent phase, helps Bahá’ís avoid despair and worry, and instead remain patient, understanding, and loving through whatever crisis comes our way.

 

The goal is to remain true to the Covenant of God and continue to seek out and follow His Will through it all. Faith brings hope during crisis, as in all the world religions. It is essential to Bahá’ís to translate their faith into action and faith during the current pandemic allows us to cultivate hope and strength to do so.

 

Like many other faith groups during the pandemic, Baháʼís have transitioned much of our spiritual programming, including devotionals, study circles, children’s classes, and general meetings, to teleconference calls. This has allowed a broader range of participants, access to individuals who had limited transportation, more flexible timing, and less responsibility for hosts (no cleaning the house, no snacks, etc.). Since we do not have clergy in the Baháʼí Faith, the development of programming has been largely grassroots and the community remains very active, actually more so than before the pandemic, even if we are socially distant.

 

As a personal example, I learned of a regular Baháʼí devotional meeting through a Facebook group. I attended out of curiosity only to learn that the other participants were from Alaska! From that first meeting, I have become a regular and welcome participant and have gleaned wisdom, opportunities to draw and write, to meditate and pray, with a group of fellow mothers from my faith background. I reflect often how such a circumstance would hardly be possible before the pandemic, and I am grateful for my new friends across the country.

 

 

Keeping Faith and Serving Others during the Pandemic

 

In any discussion of COVID-19, I would be remiss to leave out that I, myself, work in healthcare, and we medical folk are seeing things, as they say, on the front line. It does not only mean greater exposure and higher risk of the disease. We are also the first to see peoples true feelings about COVID-19, which range from fear and anxiety to new symptoms of depression, from casual ambivalence to annoyance that precautions are even in place.

 

COVID-19 patients who have survived this disease are some of the toughest people I have ever seen. From the moment they test positive, they know they are fighting for their lives, whether it be days or weeks, whether at home or in the hospital. The patience, perseverance, and struggle they demonstrate is nothing short of virtuous and an example for those who are around them.

 

As a physician I am oath-bound to primum non nocere (First, do no harm,” the opening part of the Hippocratic oath). What are some ways as a frontliner that I can do this while creating unity, educating others, providing comfort and healing, and also bringing science in line with current thought processes in society? To start, I can create unity by sharing a consistent message about COVID-19, that this is a disease that is like a brand new baby, that we know little to nothing about it compared to what we may know in 50 years. Further, while many folks get only mildly sick or are asymptomatic, others are horribly sick and even dying. Many young people seem more nonchalant about their risk factors, or think that if they do not feel sick that they cant make others sick, but this is not true in the case of COVID-19. So when presented with a patient like that, I try to remind them how little we know about this condition.  Also, I educate others when I remind patients in the exam room to please cover their face properly with their mask when we are finished with the exam, for my protection, as a lesson for them to remember that masks are not for the individual but a symbol of love, of social responsibility. In addition, many rumors are flying about COVID-19 that are based only partially on science, if at all. So I help bring scientific reality in line with current reality when I remind patients, convinced that what they read on Google was for sure their diagnosis or proper treatment plan, that Dr. Google did not go to medical school; I did, so trust me!”

 

The most concerning new condition of this pandemic is that many people are suffering from new anxiety or depressive feelings related to the changes that have come along with COVID-19, including fear of illness or death, loss of jobs or housing or fear of such things, fear of returning to school or work, fear of the overall global changes, feeling uncomfortable or claustrophobic when wearing a mask, and fear of the uncertain/unknown (what comes next?”). [At this point I do want to remind the reader that if anyone is feeling such things and is in a point of crisis, or has thoughts of self- harm or harm to others, it is imperative that they call 911 or go to the ER immediately for their safety and to receive a proper evaluation.] The mental health crisis in light of the pandemic is truly going to be a problem our society will need to handle with compassion and good judgment.

 

So as a frontliner, how else do I keep my end of the Covenant? I try my best to keep my heart open, to listen to others with understanding and compassion, to recognize that nothing is totally in my hands, to provide the most competent care I can to my patients, and to take a few minutes daily to pray, meditate, remember God, thank God, and ask for His aid and assistance. I remember that Abdul-Bahá, the son of Baha’u’llah, said Work done in a spirit of service is the highest form of worship.” With these reassuring words in my heart, I continue to chug along, grateful that I have the opportunity to be myself, to believe, and to serve, which ultimately is what is asked of all of us.

 

 

A New “Normal”

 

Many are wondering how to return to a sense of “normal” given the recent changes in our world. The Baháʼí worldview is a progressive one in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it discards the notion of returning to “normal” in favor of instead working together to create a new and improved world in which to live as a united mankind. This spiritually-inclined perspective helps those who know of it to make sense of our current situation on many levels, not just with COVID-19 but also with social disparities and inequities. A proactive approach to dealing with current events is strongly promoted and thoughtful action and service on the part of every believer is encouraged. Without clergy, this global religion works at a grassroots level and is accessible to all ages and all backgrounds. There is no political lean or partisanship. Many devotionals and community programs are underway here in Long Island, through social distancing and remotely as well. I warmly invite you to join our community to learn from one another, to cope together, and to discover ways to demonstrate, through deeds, what faith truly entails. Let us leave “normal” behind, let us build our future together instead.

 

To learn more about the Baháʼí Faith in general, go to www.bahai.org

 

(Photo: provided)


Sanjida Cabot M.D., Ph.D
Dr. Sanjida Cabot is a Baha
i, a wife, a mother of twins and an urgent care physician from Suffolk county, NY. She is a first generation Bengali-American and was born and raised in Ohio. She received her M.D. and Ph.D. (Integrated Biomedical Sciences) from The Ohio State University.

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