Baha’i Reflections on COVID-19: Second Year Anniversary by Saba Ayman-Nolley, PhD
As I ponder the decision to have our annual children’s peace festival in-person or virtually this coming week, I am also reflecting on the life-altering experiences of the last two years. As I do so, I realize that there are fundamental spiritual principles that play an important role in how the pandemic affects our society. Naturally, I view them through the language of the Baha’i teachings but I think they are implicit, if not explicit, in every spiritual tradition I know of.
At the center of those principles is seeing all human beings as our brothers and sisters. By extension, that means seeing the earth as one country with all mankind as its citizens. The pandemic has shown us the need to act globally. The virus knows no borders and no country can ultimately protect itself while ignoring the well-being of others. Unless we act as if all of humanity was one family and move forward with a united front, we will have a hard time harnessing this pandemic. The principle of the essential oneness of humankind is the pivotal principle of the Baha’i Faith and its application in action against the spread of the virus, not to mention other global challenges like climate change, will shape the world we pass on to the generations to come.
Next, I see the importance of the spiritual principle of trustworthiness. A recent study found that two trust factors were more significant in determining a country’s success in managing the pandemic than any others. More than wealth, more than quality of health care systems, more than policies. These were the levels of trust in government and trust in one’s fellow citizens. This study is a remarkable empirical demonstration of the importance of actually living our spiritual and moral principles!
Third, Baha’i teachings, like many others, state that truth is one and the importance of knowledge to overcome ignorance, superstition and fear. The sciences are the great repository of knowledge of the physical world, just as the sacred texts are the repository of knowledge of the spirit. True science and true religion are harmonious and when embraced in this way, become the most powerful means for facing our collective problems.
We have all experienced the isolation and witnessed the increasing levels of depression that have resulted. Despite all this, I have also been amazed at the creativity of all communities to continue their spiritual practices and community services. Baha’is very consciously thinking of themselves as a global community. While the pandemic prevented local communities from meeting face to face, our virtual meetings allowed us to gather with friends from across all continents. Today, our devotional meetings, our study groups and our social gatherings regularly bring people from multiple countries together in ways we rarely experienced before.
As devastating as the pandemic has been, my own reflection brings me hope. The Baha’i writings assure us that human progress requires both crisis and victory. May the crisis of this pandemic awaken in all of us, the urgency of realizing we are all in this together, for within this universal spiritual principle lies the key to health, peace and prosperity for us all.
Saba Ayman-Nolley, PhD is President and Baha'i Representative of the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council