Inspired
by the
Baha’i Faith
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith. The official website of the Baha'i Faith is: Bahai.org. The official website of the Baha'is of the United States can be found here: Bahai.us.
GOT IT
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?
Culture

On Human Sexuality and My Faith as a Baha’i

Akin Odulate | Mar 12, 2014

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

Interested in Other Topics?

We’ve got something for everyone.
Akin Odulate | Mar 12, 2014

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the authoritative views of the Baha'i Faith.

These days, the whole world seems to be obsessed with the debate on human sexuality.

I’m witnessing the debate from my perch in Lagos, Nigeria where an anti-gay law was just passed — on the heels of another recent law that legalized marriage to under-aged girls. I live in America, but spend much of my time in Africa, so I encounter both worlds, and I see the relativity of culture and society so vividly.

In Nigeria today, a sexual act engaged in by two consenting adults is criminalized; while in the other case sexual acts engaged in by an adult upon an un-consenting child are legalized. It begs the question: “What is the standard?” And that question in turn begs the further question: “Should there even be a standard?”

I find that the role standards play is found in the creation of the necessary condition for ‘cultivation’. Cultivation in turn allows for the emergence of functional diversity and functional diversity is the defining quality that differentiates cultural vibrancy from chaos. In other words, standards allow for diversity to be expressed only in ways that do not disrupt the collective development. This is essentially how a garden is created out of wilderness. Indeed at the center of any ecosystem we find a set of organic standards that ultimately govern how the developmental impulse of that entire ecosystem expresses itself.

So the question I ask the Nigerian lawmakers is this: “What exactly are you trying to cultivate?” Because if you look for the commonality in the two laws recently passed, you find that they are essentially both defining sex as a violent act – an act used primarily to violate others.

This same question extends to us today as Baha’is in the raging debate about sexuality. Baha’is try to follow Baha’u’llah’s teachings, especially when he speaks about His mission to bring into being a “new race of men.” He gives five examples of what that race of men would be like, and the first example focuses on the nexus of human sexuality, material greed and violence. He describes how that new race of men won’t behave towards women and money in the way they do now, not because they are different, but because they have mastered self.

FamilyIn this respect, self mastery starts by requiring sincerity, not obedience. Indeed in an earlier passage in this same tablet, Baha’u’llah graphically elaborates in stunning allegory the fundamental difference between sincerity and obedience, and essentially states that His work is with those who are sincerely interested in His mission.

The standard Baha’u’llah sets for human sexuality is in the control and expression of the sexual impulse, focusing that expression within the context of marriage. But in much of the debate currently raging in our societies, we have reduced the worth of a human being, or even that human being’s entire identity, to a mere assessment of one of the smallest behavioral aspects of our daily life.

The issue to me is less what an individual believes, and more how he or she acts on those beliefs. For any Baha’i struggling with any of the teachings of Baha’u’llah, they have stumbled upon the single dominating impulse of ALL transformative processes: the requirement to work through difficulties and grow spiritually. In fact, difficulty bringing one’s lifestyle into conformity with the Baha’i teachings can serve as a working definition of the daily life of all Baha’is – from those who live in Iran, for whom the injunction to not deny their Faith puts them in immediate and sustained peril; to the individual Baha’i in some other part of the world who has difficulty abiding by the vigorous Baha’i injunction against gossip and backbiting.

So as a Baha’i, I’m less interested in what anyone else thinks of my beliefs – I am interested exclusively in how I manifest my beliefs in my life so as to more fully express who I am uniquely and the role I play in the cultivation of the ‘new race of men’. But, for me to reduce that role to merely a reflection of one aspect of my reality — my sexuality and its expression — is in fact to participate in the active cultivation of this current society and its misplaced values. That goes against the very core of the message of Baha’u’llah, a message I believe in but have no desire whatsoever to ’make’ anyone else believe in.

One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task….

Thus is it incumbent upon us, when we direct our gaze toward other people, to see where they excel, not where they fail. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 169.

You May Also Like

Singing My Faith
Culture

Singing My Faith

Making Meaningful Music for Pandemic Stress Relief
Culture

Making Meaningful Music for Pandemic Stress Relief

Unity and Poetry
Culture

Unity and Poetry


Comments

characters remaining
  • Jun 10, 2016
    -
    Are you from the Northern part of Nigeria which is Islamic or the Southern part which is Chrisitan? The laws vary depending on which part of Nigeria you are in.
    Should a country's laws impose the teachings of one religion on everyone else in a country? Muslims in the north and Christians in the south of Nigeria agree to that, but differ on which religion is the basis for law. Nigeria, unlike Sudan, hasn't gone to civil war (Sudan has several times) or split in two (South Sudan).
    Also, political philsophy and a study of classical liberalism and ...terms like negative/positive freedom/liberty/rights are needed to understand Western societies and their poltical systems based on (classical) liberal democracy.
    Africa as a continent has countries like Nigeria (sodomy laws) to South Africa (marriage equality) and various countries in between.
    Read more...
  • Mar 23, 2015
    -
    Reflections on a standard a little higher than the average bear. Excellent!
  • Dec 20, 2014
    -
    Great reflections on a difficult and complex subject.
  • Gordon Kerr
    Mar 13, 2014
    -
    Keen observations. I like your focus and we certainly need fresh perspectives so thank you. I think it is also sometimes useful to distinguish between issues of gender equality and matters of sexual identity or behaviour. I see the former as a matter of spiritual principle or basic human right and the latter more relating to individual choice and preference which is heavily influenced by ever changing societal norms and cultural practice. So much of this important debate is shaped by contemporary western values rather than universal ones and the media driven obsession with "sexual freedoms and pleasures" can obscure ...othe " freedoms" which are equally if not more important, such as freedom from poverty, disease, political oppression, violence and persecution.
    Read more...
    • Nino
      Mar 13, 2014
      -
      This ignores the fact that certain groups have always been persecuted for their identity because people considered them to be merely behaviour. People are being discriminated against, disowned by families, left alone by friends, ignored by religions, condemned by faith groups, persecuted, and killed for an identity you refer to as being merely behaviour. I don't think that sexuality is something based on cultural frameworks. It's only been labelled differently throughout history. It's only been recently that science can explain that things such as homosexuality or bisexuality are not behaviour or acts but things that constitute one's identity, thinking, emotional ...being, and as a result their behaviour. Reducing certain groups of people to nothing else than an act of sexual intercourse goes against any experience of them as well as against any scientific research done on the issue. Only straight people, who are part of the majority and therefore in the position to condemn other's life and experience as not important, can state such things.
      Read more...
      • Gordon Kerr
        Mar 13, 2014
        -
        Your interpretation of my comments seems bizarre. I believe in gender equality or gender neutrality because as a Baha'i my faith teaches that "the best beloved in all things is justice" and see this as a divine principle or eternal law. I abhor discrimination and persecution of any description and weep for those who suffer such humiliation and cruelty. I understand my duty is to be a defender of the oppressed and agree with you that no one has the right to judge or condemn another. I also agree that sexual identity has many components including important biological ones ...obviously and never suggested otherwise. The reductionism you accuse me of is entirely in your minds eye I believe and it was not my intention to offend. Having trained as a cultural anthropologist perhaps I do give more weight than most to the importance of cultural context in the construction of sexual identity and social norms but to me this is axiomatic. Whereas "scientific research" should be embraced in our search for understanding we should also be wary of some of the deterministic theories in genetics and life sciences which are currently in vogue and used to provide rationales for specific behaviours and tendencies. To me such theories are even more demeaning because they ignore the spiritual dimensions of our reality such as love and compassion and our power and capacity to revision and remake our world. I believe this is what the original article was encouraging us to consider and the point I was trying to make was in support of that. From my home in Asia the current obsession with "sexual freedoms" refected in popular western media seems very strange iand remote? This is partly to do with differing cultural norms and expectations but when faced with daily existential threats of poverty, disease and violence as so many millions are, our priorities are very different.
        Read more...
        • Nino
          Mar 14, 2014
          -
          i might have gotten you wrong but you mentioned that sexual identity is merely shaped by choices, preference and behaviour. Therefore, I consider your thinking slightly to consider any non-heterosexual identity to be nothing else than a choice, a preference, a behaviour, or a "lifestyle" rather than a something equal to heterosexuality.
          I don't see why it is demeaning that some people have a different sexual identity an., therefore, experience a different daily life, yes even a different approach towards spirituality. Ignoring that fact by stating that their sexuality is just something which happens to be western invention ...is belittling them and their personal life, although it might not be intended. Also, only reducing their struggle to nothing than a sexual act (which you seem to have been doing by just referring to it as a strive for sexual freedoms as in sexual pleasures unintendedly pays no attention to the rest of their daily lives). It seems you refer to heterosexuals as to have lives whereas non-heterosexual people to have nothing than lifestyles.
          Unintended insults are still insults.
          Read more...
x
x
Connect with Baha’is in your area
Welcome!
What's your name?
Thanks my friend ! We want to connect you with a Baha’i in your area, where would that be?
Thank you so much! How can they best reach you?
To put you in touch with a Baha’i in your area who can answer your questions, we would like to kindly ask for a few details about yourself.