How I… teach about the Bahá’i Faith without an artefact box – Debbie Tibbey
16 March, 2020
Bahá’i visitors to schools are often asked if they have artefacts which can be used in RE lessons about the Bahá’i Faith. There are not many things which could be put into a conventional artefact box: there is no specific Bahá’i item of clothing, no Bahá’i statues or icons, and no rituals which are linked to certain objects.
Some Bahá’is use prayer beads for their daily invocation, ninety-five utterances of “Alláh’u’ Abhá!” – “God is Most Glorious”- but although the verse is a requisite, the beads are not.
A photograph of Bahá’u’lláh – Founder of the Faith – exists but is viewed only on pilgrimage to the Bahá’i Holy places in Haifa, Israel. Most Bahá’is will have a picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Bahá’u’lláh’s son, regarded as a ‘Perfect Example’) but again, this is not compulsory.
One of few items of specific significance is the Bahá’i burial ring – a simple ring bearing the inscription, ”I came forth from God and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His name, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” Just how appropriate it would be to show to a Reception class would have to be the teacher’s decision!
The focus, then, becomes the teachings and scriptures themselves rather than artefacts. Bahá’u’lláh wrote thousands of passages on spiritual and social matters, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote many more. Copies of Bahá’i prayer books, illustrated and suitable for young children, make a tangible resource.
What else could be used to give a visual representation of the spiritual teachings? Though not artefacts in the usual sense, certain objects can help to illustrate some key Bahá’i concepts:
“Regard man as a mine rich in jewels of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its splendours.”
According to the Bahá’i teachings, every one of us has talents and faculties innate within us which must be drawn out by identifying, recognising and practising ‘virtues’ – qualities such as kindness, honesty and compassion. For one lesson, I covered a large many-faceted glass gemstone with mud. After discussing virtues and the need to practice them with the children, we polished the gemstone until it shone, drawing parallels with the soul, potential, and treasures within.
“Ye are all fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, the flowers of one garden.”
One of the key teachings in the Bahá’i Faith is that of the unity of mankind, and specifically, unity in diversity. The metaphor of flowers of many colours, shapes and forms is found in many Bahá’i passages.
“Consider the flowers of the rose garden. Although they are of different kinds, various colours and diverse forms and appearances, yet as they drink from one water, are swayed by one breeze and grow by the warmth and light of one sun, this variation and this difference cause each to enhance the beauty and splendour of the others.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
A well-known children’s song amongst Bahá’is is “We are Drops of One Ocean”, an easy one to share, and which teaches this principle of the oneness of humankind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsDHH5T5B5M
Light is a central image in most religions. One of the simplest Bahá’i prayers for children says, “O God! Guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
There are many layers of meaning to be explored with the use of light: light is used to refer to the Almighty, and the Divine Educators are likened to perfect mirrors. It is used as a metaphor for the soul, for goodness, for love.
The sun is the life-giver to the physical bodies of all creatures upon earth; without its warmth their growth would be stunted, their development would be arrested, they would decay and die. Even so do the souls of men need the Sun of Truth to shed its rays upon their souls, to develop them, to educate and encourage them. As the sun is to the body of a man so is the Sun of Truth to his soul. (– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks)
Glass lanterns can illustrate the ‘light within’ with young children: talk about the need to keep the glass clean to allow the light to shine out; sit in near-darkness, save for the light of the lamp, and reflect on the feelings evoked by having a light to reassure, guide and comfort us.
These are just a few examples of themes in the Bahá’i faith which can be easily included in RE lessons and made accessible to even the youngest children.
Debbie Tibbey is the Bahá’i representative for Email a Believer and a tutor and learning mentor for young people with extra needs on a care farm in rural Dorset.