by Gail Stearns, Dean of the Chapel

We might expect that religious holidays often offer strength to believers, with assurance that through trials emerge new life. However, I was surprised to learn that a holiday we can all celebrate, Earth Day, offers a similar message, if we take seriously lessons scientists are learning from their research on the earth’s atmosphere in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a previous blog, I wrote about three major holidays in early April. Here, we turn to three more.

To find out what we might learn this year as people practice each of these without the benefit of community this year, whether for a day, a week, or a month-long, I turned to experts from climate expert Dr. Hesham El-Askary, to scholar of Islam Shaykh Jibreel Speight. I was both impressed and challenged by their answers, which I am pleased to share with you here.

World-wide Earth Day

April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In Orange County alone, dozens of celebrations will be cancelled this year – including children’s art festivals, tree plantings, and hikes for environmental causes. What is Earth Day without community gatherings? I asked Chapman Professor Hesham El-Askary, who is working with Earth Systems Science Data Solutions lab (EssDs) Scientists monitoring atmospheric emissions and their relation to how different countries are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether any lessons for our relationship with the earth are emerging from their research.

Dr. El-Askary first explained that we have witnessed and lived through a changing climate with irreversible consequences, the global temperature rising on average by 1°C. The year 2020 was earmarked a crucial one for action toward keeping our increase to less than 1.5°C by 2030, even before we knew that it would also be the year of the COVID-19 global health crisis. El-Askary and other scientific observers are carefully measuring the ways globally enforced  social distancing measures have contributed to massive drops in atmospheric pollution.

The message we can take from this if we will, El-Askary says, is to learn from our mistakes and take what is going on as an opportunity to continue on this new positive trajectory, rather than going back to regular practices aggressively. If we do not shift our practices resulting in continual change in our climate, we will continue to be prone to diseases that thrive in warmer environments. Right now, we have a collective opportunity to think deeply about our behavior, and to commit to positive impact and new life for the future of the earth and all beings on the earth.

Twelve Days of Ridván

Central to the Baháʼí faith is unity and common commitment. Baháʼís would ordinarily be gathering in towns, villages and cities around the world to celebrate the Twelve Days of Ridván with gatherings open to all, beginning on April 20th. The holiest festival in the Baháʼí calendar, Ridván commemorates twelve days Baháʼu’lláh spent in a Garden he called Ridván outside Baghdad in 1863, after an experience of being exiled to Bagdhad. It was there that he revealed his station as a prophet, and the holidays celebrate his Teachings on the unity of humanity. This April, Baháʼí prayers will be shared where possible across the internet. Without opportunity for communal gatherings for meals or festivities, Ray Zimmerman, Secretary of the Baháʼís of Orange, said that this year more than ever, Baháʼís around the world hold onto faith that spiritual victory is possible.

The Twelve Days of Ridván remind Baháʼís that out of moments of crisis emerge hope and unity. The current epidemic, Zimmerman believes, is revealing our deep interconnectedness. Partisan differences seem irrelevant in the face of the global collaboration, cooperation, and common struggle, toward greater growth of unity among humanity.


Muslims resonate with increasing compassion for the betterment of humanity, through devotional practices like fasting. The Holy month of Ramadan will most likely begin the evening of April 23. Muslims throughout the world will fast from dawn to sunset, excluding those who are sick or otherwise unable to. On a normal year, people would gather in mosques and with family and friends for an Iftar meal to break their fast as well as offer devotional prayers. Fasting is an obligation mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam which strengthens devotion and awakens noble character towards others.

Shaykh Jibreel Speight, Director of Muslim Life at Chapman University, admitted it is painful that Muslims will most likely not have the opportunity to break their fast communally and pray as one body in congregational nightly prayer. The trial of being separated from friends, family members, and neighbors, may be one of the most profound challenges of Ramadan this year. However, they have firm resolve that this does not stop them from doing these in their homes. Shaykh Jibreel emphasizes Muslims can view this experience as a sign to focus more deeply in worship with optimism, and to hold fast to the belief that this trial will pass and will make them better people.

Just imagine if the 2020 pandemic drew humanity together to recognize how fundamentally interconnected we are? Can we envision a global commitment emerging to unite with compassion for the most vulnerable among us, including the earth itself? What if together we began learning right now during this month of holidays, and in the months to come, resolved to change our behavior to heal our planet for generations to come?