After a brief introduction, I tell the intertwined stories of my long illness and my journey into and out of the Baha’i Faith. Of my first fervent years as a Baha’i and a college student, I write:
As I work to fulfill Baha’i laws and study Baha’i writings, my religious ambivalence turns to eagerness. I read Shoghi Effendi’s 1944 book God Passes By, on the dramatic history of the Baha’i Faith. It tells the story of the Bab, forerunner of Baha’u’llah, who stirred up a scene in 19th-century Iran with his claim to be the Promised One of Islam, the Qa’im. I want to be like his followers, the Babis, who, as the story is told, died in great numbers defending their faith. They were the Dawnbreakers. We, the Baha’is, are their spiritual descendants. But I have no horse to ride around on, or sword to wield in life-defending drama, and I have no Muslim veil to rip from my face or simply refuse to wear, no society of holy men to shock by such a deed. The governments of the United States of America and the State of New Hampshire do not care what my religion is, and really, nobody else does either. (pp. 22-23)
The third section looks critically at Baha’i writings with direct and indirect implications for illness and disability.
In Baha’i terms, my body was neither a good tool nor a good servant, but a formidable obstacle and a crumbling temple. Where was the goodness in a life taken over by the needs of such a body? (p. 36)
After describing these and other troubles, I propose a possible start to a Baha’i theology of disability; even if this doesn’t fly for any individual Baha’i, I hope that it begins the conversation in a challenging but respectful way and opens up possibilities that are not necessarily obvious. The conclusion briefly addresses the difficulty of change in Baha’i ideas, given the structure of authority. I believe my essay is the first substantial treatment of disability and the Baha’i Faith in print.
Being targeted to university libraries, the book is a bit on the pricey side for individuals at $90. Interested readers who have a connection to an academic library, as a student, professor, alum, or community member, might suggest the book and its companion volume (Disability in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as acquisitions.
There are many other interesting essays in the collection, on topics ranging from disability in the Wiccan priesthood to troublesome use of blindness as metaphor in the Gospel of John. You can see the Table of Contents for each book here and here (click Contents tab near bottom of page).
Much thanks to Amanda R., who originally e-mailed me the call for submissions.