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Compiled by Marlene Macke, St Marys, ON, Canada

Disparity between Rich and Poor 

The inordinate disparity between rich and poor, a source of acute suffering, keeps the world in a state of instability, virtually on the brink of war. Few societies have dealt effectively with this situation.  The solution calls for the combined application of spiritual, moral and practical approaches.  A fresh look at the problem is required, entailing consultation with experts from a wide spectrum of disciplines, devoid of economic and ideological polemics, and involving the people directly affected in the decisions that must urgently be made.  It is an issue that is bound up not only with the necessity for eliminating extremes of wealth and poverty but also with those spiritual verities the understanding of which can produce a new universal attitude.  Fostering such an attitude is itself a major part of the solution.  –  Universal House of Justice, To the Peoples of the World, A Baha’i Statement on Peace

A Universal Spiritual Truth 

If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren …, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:  But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need …  –  Old Testament: Deuteronomy 15:7-8

He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.  –  Old Testament: Proverbs 28:27

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.   –  New Testament: Mark 10:23-25

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,  Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. …  And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.  –  New Testament: 1 Corinthians, 13:1-13

So give what is due to kindred, the needy, and the wayfarer. That is best for those who seek the Countenance, of God, and it is they who will prosper.  That which ye lay out for increase through the property of (other) people, will have no increase with God: but that which ye lay out for charity, seeking the Countenance of God, (will increase): it is these who will get a recompense multiplied.  –  Qur’an: Ar-Rum, 30:38-39

O Children of Dust!  Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth.  To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with hm that adorneth himself with My vitures.  –  Hidden Words, Persian 49

O Ye Rich Ones on Earth!  The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.  –  Hidden Words, Persian 54

O Son of My Handmaid!  Be not troubled in poverty nor confident in riches, for poverty is followed by riches, and riches are followed by poverty.  Yet to be poor in all save God is a wondrous gift, belittle not the value thereof, for in the end it will make thee rich in God, and thus thou shalt know the meaning of the utterance, “In truth ye are the poor,” and the holy words: “God is the all possessing” …  –  Hidden Words, Arabic 51

Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst. Watch that ye betray not His trust, that ye deal not unjustly with them and that ye walk not in the ways of the treacherous. Ye will most certainly be called upon to answer for His trust on the day when the Balance of Justice shall be set, the day when unto every one shall be rendered his due, when the doings of all men, be they rich or poor, shall be weighed.  –  Gleanings, 251

Beware lest ye encroach upon the substance of your neighbour.  Prove yourselves worthy of his trust and confidence in you, and withhold not from the poor the gifts which the grace of God hath bestowed upon you.  He, verily, shall recompense the charitable, and doubly repay them for what they have bestowed.  –  Gleanings, 278

Charity is pleasing and praiseworthy in the sight of God and is regarded as a prince among goodly deeds. Consider ye and call to mind that which the All‑Merciful hath revealed in the Qur’án: `They prefer them before themselves, though poverty be their own lot. And with such as are preserved from their own covetousness shall it be well.’ Viewed in this light, the blessed utterance above is, in truth, the day‑star of utterances. Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.  –  Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 71

You must be thankful to God that you are poor, for Jesus Christ has said, “Blessed are the poor.”  He never said, “Blessed are the rich.”  He said, too, that the Kingdom is for the poor and that it is easier for a camel to enter a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom. Therefore, you must be thankful to God that although in this world you are indigent, yet the treasures of God are within your reach; and although in the material realm you are poor, yet in the Kingdom of God you are precious. Jesus Himself was poor. He did not belong to the rich. He passed His time in the desert, traveling among the poor, and lived upon the herbs of the field. He had no place to lay His head, no home. He was exposed in the open to heat, cold and frost‑‑to inclement weather of all kinds‑‑yet He chose this rather than riches. If riches were considered a glory, the Prophet Moses would have chosen them; Jesus would have been a rich man. When Jesus Christ appeared, it was the poor who first accepted Him, not the rich. Therefore, you are the disciples of Jesus Christ; you are His comrades, for He outwardly was poor, not rich.  –  The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 32

What could be better before God than thinking of the poor? For the poor are beloved by our heavenly Father. When His Holiness Christ came upon the earth those who believed in him and followed him were the poor and lowly, showing the poor were near to God. When a rich man believes and follows the Manifestation of God it is a proof that his wealth is not an obstacle and does not prevent him from attaining the pathway of salvation. After he has been tested and tried it will be seen whether his possessions are a hindrance in his religious life. But the poor are especially beloved of God. Their lives are full of difficulties, their trials continual, their hopes are in God alone. Therefore you must assist the poor as much as possible, even by sacrifice of yourself. No deed of man is greater before God than helping the poor. Spiritual conditions are not dependent upon the possession of worldly treasures or the absence of them. When physically destitute, spiritual thoughts are more likely. Poverty is stimulus toward God.  –  Foundations of World Unity, 36

Wealth is praiseworthy … if … 

Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. … Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy.  If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor.  If, on the other hand, it is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor – in brief, if it is dedicated to the welfare of society – its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth and will be accounted as one of the people of paradise.  –  The Secret of Divine Civilization, 24-25

Guidance on Overcoming Disparity between Rich and Poor 

To state the matter briefly, the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh advocate voluntary sharing, and this is a greater thing than the equalization of wealth. For equalization must be imposed from without, while sharing is a matter of free choice.

Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds the doing of which was forced upon him. And sharing is a personally chosen righteous act: that is, the rich should extend assistance to the poor, they should expend their substance for the poor, but of their own free will, and not because the poor have gained this end by force. For the harvest of force is turmoil and the ruin of the social order. On the other hand voluntary sharing, the freely‑chosen expending of one’s substance, leadeth to society’s comfort and peace. It lighteth up the world; it bestoweth honour upon humankind.  –  Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l‑Baha, 114-15

Each one of you must have great consideration for the poor and render them assistance. Organize in an effort to help them and prevent increase of poverty. The greatest means for prevention is that whereby the laws of the community will be so framed and enacted that it will not be possible for a few to be millionaires and many destitute. One of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings is the adjustment of means of livelihood in human society. Under this adjustment there can be no extremes in human conditions as regards wealth and sustenance. For the community needs financier, farmer merchant and laborer just as an army must be composed of commander, officers and privates. All cannot be commanders; all cannot be officers or privates. Each in his station in the social fabric must be competent; each in his function according to ability; but justness of opportunity for all.  –  Foundations of World Unity, 36

… the owners of properties, mines and factories should share their incomes with their employees and give a fairly certain percentage of their products to their workingmen in order that the employees may receive, besides their wages, some of the general income of the factory so that the employee may strive with his soul in the work.  –  Foundations of World Unity, 43

Proposals [from modern agencies] aimed at addressing [the problem of poverty] are predicated on the conviction that material resources exist, or can be created by scientific and technological endeavor, which will alleviate and eventually entirely eradicate this age‑old condition as a feature of human life. A major reason why such relief is not achieved is that the necessary scientific and technological advances respond to a set of priorities only tangentially related to the real interests of the generality of humankind. A radical reordering of these priorities will be required if the burden of poverty is finally to be lifted from the world. Such an achievement demands a determined quest for appropriate values, a quest that will test profoundly both the spiritual and scientific resources of humankind. Religion will be severely hampered in contributing to this joint undertaking so long as it is held prisoner by sectarian doctrines which cannot distinguish between contentment and mere passivity and which teach that poverty is an inherent feature of earthly life, escape from which lies only in the world beyond. To participate effectively in the struggle to bring material well‑being to humanity, the religious spirit must find ‑‑ in the Source of inspiration from which it flows ‑‑ new spiritual concepts and principles relevant to an age that seeks to establish unity and justice in human affairs.  –  The Prosperity of Humankind