Let’s face it. Bad things happen to all of us, but when it seems like we’ve had a lifetime of suffering, it’s hard to stay strong and have hope. I thought I’d look to the Baha’i Writings and see what I could find out and share it with you.
We know that suffering leads to self-improvement:
Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self-improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness. What man considers to be evil turns often to be a cause of infinite blessings. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434)
But the suffering of children is the hardest for many of us to understand. Many children are exposed to horrific events, and then spend a life-time dealing with the after-effects.
God can compensate the innocent:
He urges you to put these dark thoughts from your mind, and remember that if God, the Creator of all men, can bear to see them suffer so, it is not for us to question His wisdom. He can compensate the innocent, in His own way, for the afflictions they bear. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)
It’s comforting to know that for those souls, that suffering is the greatest mercy of God, and it will be far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world:
On this plane of existence, there are many injustices that the human mind cannot fathom. Among these are the hear-rending trials of the innocent … With regard to the spiritual significance of the suffering of children “who are afflicted by the hands of oppressors”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not only states that for those souls “suffering is the greatest mercy of God”, He also explains that to be a recipient of God’s mercy is “far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world”, and He promises that “for those souls there is a recompense in another world”. (Universal House of Justice, Letter on the Oppression of Children, 1985)
If we knew what God has destined for us, our gladness and joy would increase every hour:
If thou didst know what God had ordained for thee, thou wouldst fly with delight and happiness, gladness and joy would increase every hour. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p.363)
We’ll have true wealth:
Even if all the losses of the world were to be sustained by one of the friends of God, he would still profit thereby… The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth. (Bahá’u’lláh, Crisis & Victory, p.154)
Our reward is better than all the treasures of the earth:
So great are the things ordained for the steadfast that were they, so much as the eye of a needle, to be disclosed, all who are in heaven and on earth would be dumbfounded, except such as God, the Lord of all worlds, hath willed to exempt… I swear by God! That which hath been destined for him who aideth My Cause excelleth the treasures of the earth. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p.84)
God has promised us days of blissful joy, in this world and in the next!
Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.329)
When we get to the next world, we’ll get to recount all the things we’ve been made to endure:
With them [the Prophets of God and His chosen ones] that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.156)
Here’s a story of how Juliet Thomson felt God’s love in this world:
Later in the morning He sent for me. My self-consciousness, my shyness had made me feel shut out from Him, but my heart had been continually crying out, with ever-increasing love, to Him. When I entered His little room and knelt at His feet and looked up into eyes of Love which I suddenly found I could meet, He put out His hand and said, “Now; now!”
I laid my head on His knee. The tears came. He lifted my face and wiped them away. “God shall wipe away all tears.” Ah, this blessed Day! I cannot remember exactly what happened, only that Love immeasurable flowed out from Him and was reflected in my poor heart. One thing I do remember. When He lifted my face, while He was wiping away my tears, He said in a voice of infinite sweetness, like the sighing of the wind which “bloweth where it listeth and we know not whence it cometh or whither it goeth”: “Speak. Speak to Me!” His words in English sink into your very soul. What I lose by not understanding Persian! “O my Lord, may my life speak to you!” I cried. (Diary of Juliet Thompson)
It seems to me that patience, long-suffering and resignation are 3 key virtues we’re developing through our suffering.
I’d like to look at the example of Bahíyyih Khánum, Shoghi Effendi’s great-aunt and the highest ranked woman in the Baha’i Faith. Her story is a testimony to the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Shoghi Effendi wants us to follow her example, so it only seems fitting to tell you about her here.
Bahíyyih Khánum was Bahá’u’lláh’s only daughter, and was also known as the “Greatest Holy Leaf”. Her station is similar to the Virgin Mary (to Christians) and Fatimih Zahra (to Muslims). She certainly led a life of continuous suffering. She spent her early years in an environment of privilege, wealth, and love and described this period of her life as very happy. When she was 6, her father was arrested and imprisoned, the family’s home pillaged and Bahíyyih and her family were forced to live in poverty. She clearly remembered the shrieks of the Bábís awaiting their death, leaving a strong mark in her later life. Later the same year her family were exiled over snow-covered mountains, to Baghdad and later to Constantinople, Adrianople and finally Acre. Her uncle (Mirza Yahya), forbade her to leave the house to play with other children or even to let a doctor visit her newly born brother who needed medical attention — instead leaving him to die.
Bahíyyih spent almost all of her adult life as a prisoner. As a young girl she chose to remain single, so she could serve her parents, her brother and later, to serve Shoghi Effendi. This was very strange for a woman of her rank and era. After so many tests and difficulties in the early part of her life, the death of her youngest brother, Mirza Mihdi, destroyed any morale she had left, yet somehow, she found the strength to help her mother and father with serving the pilgrims who came to visit. She was very close to her mother and always concerned about her mother’s delicate heath and when her mother died, it left Bahíyyih with a huge void in her life. Later, when Bahá’u’lláh passed away, it put her into severe mourning which caused her to become thin and feeble for a time.
When she was freed at age 62, Bahíyyih opened up an orphanage in her home for non-Bahá’í and Bahá’í children, oversaw their education and taught them “prayers, reading and writing, home management, embroidery, sewing and cooking. Women from Islamic backgrounds would ask Bahíyyih to cut the shrouds in which they would wear when they die so they could rest in peace. Everyone turned to her for help and advice. During WW1, the inhabitants of Haifa flocked to the house of `Abdu’l-Bahá, where Bahíyyih cooked for them and gave them rations.
When ‘Abdu’l-Baha made his journeys to the West between 1910 and 1913, and then again when Shoghi Effendi was away on several trips between 1922 and 1924, she was the “acting head” of the Faith. During these times, Bahíyyih Khánum dealt with the affairs of the Holy Land and outside, which included meeting dignitaries, making speeches on `Abdu’l-Bahá’s behalf, meeting officials of both sexes and offering medical help for the sick and poor. She also dealt with the spiritual and administrative guidance of the worldwide Bahá’í community by writing letters of encouragement to communities around the world. During the later years of her life, she was plagued by illness and pains and needed help to stand and sit.
Verily, We have elevated thee to the rank of one of the most distinguished among thy sex, and granted thee, in My court, a station such as none other woman hath surpassed. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Bahá’í World, vol. V, p. 171)
You might want to read more about her:
Stories of the Greatest Holy Leaf
Bahiyyih Khanum: The Greatest Holy Leaf
Prophet’s Daughter: The Life and Legacy of Bahiyyih Khanum, Outstanding Heroine of the Bahai Faith
‘Abdu’l-Bahá never let anyone take advantage of Him.
When giving out money, He had people with Him to regulate the crowds:
During this time this friend of the poor has not been unattended. Several men wearing red fezes, and with earnest and kindly faces, followed him from the house, stood near him and aided in regulating the crowd, and now, with reverent manner and at a respectful distance, follow him away. When they address him they call him “Master.” (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
He liked discipline and order, so they could pass by Him one by one:
They crowd up a little too insistently. He pushes them gently back and lets them pass him one by one. (Myron Henry Phelps and Bahiyyih Khanum, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi)
His helpers made sure that everyone passed on as soon as they’d received money from Him:
The men accompanying Him kept order in great kindness, but firmness, and saw that each passed on as soon as he had received from the Master. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)
He kept a record of those who He gave to because He did not wish to be abused:
He gave where He felt it was merited and kept a record of the recipients. He did not wish to be abused. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)
If He knew someone was just lazy, He would turn them away and reprimand them:
Once in a while we would see Him send some one away empty-handed and He would reprimand him for his laziness. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)
He called everyone His friends, but those who attempted to deceive Him were rebuked and told where they might obtain work:
Later, while resting, the Master told Mrs. True about His friends. ‘These are My friends, My friends. Some of them are My enemies, but they think I do not know it, because they appear friendly, and to them I am very kind, for one must love his enemies and do good to them.’ He explained that there simply was not sufficient work in ‘Akká. Men could do but two kinds of work: they could fish, but the sea had been too stormy lately, or they could carry loads on their backs, which required great strength. Those who attempted to deceive Him were rebuked and told where they might obtain work. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 80)
If someone criticized a gift, He reproved them but He always gave them something else:
At one time the Master had a fine cloak of Persian wool, which had been given to Him. When a poor man appealed to Him for a garment, He sent for this cloak and gave it to him. The man took it but complained, saying it was only of cotton. ‘No,’ ‘Abbas Effendi assured him, ‘it is of wool’; and to prove it He lighted a match and burned a little of the nap. The man still grumbled that it was not good. ‘Abbas Effendi reproved him for criticizing a gift, but He ended the interview by directing an attendant to give the man a mejidi (a coin then worth about four francs). It was observed that if someone vexed the Master, He always gave him a gift. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)
One of the most well-known story is about how ‘Abdu’l-Baha refused to be cheated by a dishonest taxi driver:
Economic justice, even in small matters, was important to the Master. Once in Egypt ‘Abdu’l-Bahá obtained a carriage in order that He might offer a ride to an important Pasha, who was to be His luncheon guest. When they reached their destination, the driver asked an exorbitant fee. The Master was fully aware of this and refused to pay the full amount. The driver, big and rough, grabbed His sash and ‘jerked Him back and forth’, demanding his unfair price. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained firm and the man eventually let go. The Master paid what He actually owed him and informed him that had he been honest, he would have received a handsome tip instead of only the fare. He then walked away. Shoghi Effendi, His grandson, was present when this happened. He later admitted to being very embarrassed that this should have happened in front of the Pasha. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, on the other hand, was evidently ‘not at all upset’, but simply determined not to be cheated. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 109)
They took a taxi to the train station, where the taxi driver demanded more than the usual fare. Abdul-Bahá ignored him, saying, “A man may give $1000 without minding it, but he should not yield even a dollar to the person who wishes to take it wrongfully, for such wrongful behavior flouts justice and disrupts the order of the world. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 190)
He Gave Advice to the Poor
He reminded them to give thanks for the things they have been given, sometimes in His talks:
So, my comrades, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Your lives are similar to His life; your attitude is like unto His; you resemble Him more than the rich do. Therefore, we will thank God that we have been so blessed with real riches. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 34)
Sometimes through stories:
The Master sometimes made His points through telling stories. Julia Grundy recorded the following story of His: ‘A master had a slave who was completely devoted to him. One day he gave the slave a melon which when cut open looked most ripe and delicious. The slave ate one piece, then another and another with great relish (the day being warm) until nearly the whole melon had disappeared. The master, picking up the last slice, tasted it and found it exceedingly bitter and unpalatable. “Why, it is bitter! Did you not find it so?” he asked the servant. “Yes, my Master,” the slave replied, “it was bitter and unpleasant, but I have tasted so much sweetness from thy hand that one bitter melon was not worth mentioning.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 167)
He Gave Even More Advice to the Rich
Baha’u’llah set the standard:
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. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 54)
To those who were suffering because of the poor, He gave this advice, which had positive effects:
Then He added, “However you must strive to overcome these feelings, do everything in your power to help, pray, then leave it with God, because the world will grow steadily much worse, and if you suffer like this you will not be able to survive. Nevertheless his words opened the door of help to those strike sufferers, and on my return to Montréal I went to a very wealthy and prominent Irishmen there, whom I had never seen, burst into tears in his office, to his astonishment and mine, and asked him what he was going to do about it. Well, to end the story, he headed the committee to raise a fund which we sent to Dublin through private channels in which came just in time to succour thousands of women and children. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 186-187)
He reminded them why the poor are especially beloved of God:
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. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)
He reminded them of their responsibilities towards helping the poor:
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. 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. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 36)
He reminded them through stories, that we’re all one family and have a responsibility to each other:
A Persian king was one night in his palace, living in the greatest luxury and comfort. Through excessive joy and gladness he addressed a certain man, saying: “Of all my life this is the happiest moment. Praise be to God, from every point prosperity appears and fortune smiles! My treasury is full and the army is well taken care of. My palaces are many; my land unlimited; my family is well off; my honor and sovereignty are great. What more could I want!” The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness — do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries — but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows? As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?” The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)
He reminded them that God has many mansions prepared for servants of the poor:
He admonished all that we must be the servants of the poor, helpers of the poor, remember the sorrows of the poor, associate with them; for thereby we may inherit the Kingdom of heaven. God has not said that there are mansions prepared for us if we pass our time associating with the rich, but He has said there are many mansions prepared for the servants of the poor, for the poor are very dear to God. The mercies and bounties of God are with them. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)
He reminded them to be grateful:
Day by day friends brought offerings of flowers and fruit, so that the dinner table was laden with these beautiful tokens of love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whilst cutting off bunches of grapes and giving them to various guests, He talked to us of the joy of freedom, of how grateful we should be for the privilege of dwelling in safety, under just laws, in a healthy city, with a temperate climate, and brilliant light – “there was much darkness in the prison fortress of `Akka!” (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
He reminded them to be moderate:
After His first dinner with us He said: “The food was delicious and the fruit and flowers were lovely, but would that we could share some of the courses with those poor and hungry people who have not even one.” What a lesson to the guests present! We at once agreed that one substantial, plentiful dish, with salad, cheese, biscuits, sweetmeats, fruits, and flowers on the table, preceded by soup and followed by coffee or tea, should be quite sufficient for any dinner. This arrangement would greatly simplify life, both as to cookery and service, and would undeniably be more in accordance with the ideals of Christianity than numerous dishes unnecessary and costly. (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)
He reminded them that deeds were more important than words:
Later that evening ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was seated with a number of visitors to whom He was saying as He laughed: ‘Assuredly give to the poor! If you give them only words, when they put their hands into their pockets they will find themselves none the richer for you.’ (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 177)
He made sure they understood that service to others was to be given for the sake of God and not for praise or fame:
A day or two later, Abdul-Bahá talked about charitable works: “As charitable works become praiseworthy, people often perform them merely for the sake of fame and to gain benefit for themselves, as well as to attract people’s admiration. But this does not render needless the teachings of the Prophets because it is spiritual morals that are the cause of training one’s innate nature and of personal progress. Thus will people offer service to one another with all their hearts for the sake of God and in order to fulfill the duties of devotion to Him and service to humanity and not for the purpose of acquiring praise and fame. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 158)
He reminded them to see everyone, no matter how blurred or torn, as a letter from God:
“Mrs True, when you go back I want you to look at every human being and say to yourself, “you are a letter from my Beloved, and I must love you because of the Beloved Who wrote you. The letter may be torn, it may be blurred, but because the Beloved wrote the letter, you must love it.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from the book, Corinne True)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá once gave the example of a soiled and crushed letter that reaches the hand of a lover from his beloved. That letter, He said, is no less precious because of the condition in which it has arrived. It is cherished because it has come from a loved one. In the same way, we can learn to love a fellow man, no matter who he is, because he is God’s creature.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 96)
How has this helped you understand how you should treat the poor? Post your comments below!
The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies:
The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies in the investigation of alleged behavioral delinquencies. This difference arises from the spiritual nature of the Assembly’s deliberations, the importance of a prayerful attitude, the due weight given to the preservation of the unity and integrity of the Bahá’í community, and the distinctive character of Bahá’í law as a means for individual spiritual development. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
Removal of rights is a serious sanction, which isn’t undertaken lightly. There is a process which includes:
- they should be consulted with
- lovingly admonished
- given repeated warnings
- be deprived of their voting rights
Before anyone is deprived of their voting rights, they should be consulted with and lovingly admonished at first, given repeated warnings if they do not mend their immoral ways, or whatever other extremely serious misdemeanor they are committing, and finally, after these repeated warnings, be deprived of their voting rights. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 51)
Circumstances may arise where the offence is so serious that immediate action is required by the National Assembly to protect the Faith.
Circumstances may arise where the offence is so serious that immediate action is required by the National Assembly to protect the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
The general basis for the deprivation of voting rights is gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status:
The general basis for the deprivation of voting rights is of course gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status; and even then it is the duty of the National Assembly, before exercising this sanction, to confer with the individuals involved in a loving manner to help them overcome the problem; second, to warn them that they must desist; third, to issue further warnings if the original warnings are not followed; and finally, if there seems no other way to handle the matter, then a person may be deprived of voting rights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, pp.50-51)
This deprivation remains in force until the believer repents:
This deprivation remains in force until such time as the believer repents of his actions and is able to satisfy the Spiritual Assembly that he has rectified his behaviour. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p.363)
Reasons a Person Could Lose their Administrative Rights
Disgraceful Conduct Injuring the Faith
A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings . . . conduct which is disgracing the Cause . . . seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public through his conduct . . . (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
Disregard For and Flagrantly Breaking The Laws Of God
A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . disregard for the laws of personal status . . . flagrantly breaking the laws of God . . . (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
If the acts of immorality are not generally known and are discoverable only on investigation, a serious question is raised as to whether this immorality is ‘flagrant’. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)
Turning now to your questions: you have enquired about believers convicted of an offence in the civil courts. As you know the Bahá’í institutions do not have a responsibility to enforce the criminal laws of a nation, although they do quite properly exhort the believers to obedience to government, which includes obedience to its laws. Violations of criminal law are handled by the civil courts of a country and enforced by its civil administration. The fact that a believer has been charged with a criminal offence, or is suspected of having committed such an offence, or is convicted by the court, should not automatically result in the application of Bahá’í sanctions. Each case is to be considered on its own merits, and in the light of the aforementioned considerations pertaining to the effect on the Bahá’í community and its reputation. For example, an Assembly would be most unlikely to consider imposition of sanctions on a Bahá’í convicted of violating the laws regulating automobile traffic flow, but it might well consider that a person known to be a Bahá’í convicted of selling narcotic drugs had brought disgrace to the name of the Faith and damaged its reputation before the public. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
We have carefully reviewed your letter of April 18, 1967 inquiring about the attitude to be adopted by your National Assembly regarding believers who have been charged with criminal offences, suspected to have committed such offences, or convicted by the court. The principle to bear in mind is that each case falling in any of the aforementioned categories should be considered separately and on its own merits. No hard and fast rule should be applied. If the believer’s actions conspicuously disgrace the Faith and such actions seriously injure its reputation, the National Assembly may in its discretion apply the sanction of deprivation of voting rights. We feel that the Assembly should exercise its utmost wisdom when depriving believers of their administrative privileges, each case should be considered on its individual merits, and it should be realized that the application of Bahá’í sanctions is not an automatic action in response to a verdict of the court. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
When an Assembly is aware that a believer is charged with a criminal offence, normally it should not pass judgment on the matter until a decision has been given in the courts, at which time it would consider whether it should impose administrative sanctions. There may be cases, however, when an Assembly is justified in taking certain actions to protect the interests of the Cause. Generally, the Assembly would regard the decision of the court as being valid in determining whether or not the Bahá’í was guilty of the stated offence, and would not undertake its own independent investigation. However, there may be special circumstances associated with a particular case, or with the reputation of the civil judicial system, which would incline an Assembly to decide that the verdict of the court should not be accepted as a basis for Bahá’í administrative action without further investigation by the Assembly; it is left to the Assembly to make that determination. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
Political And Ecclesiastical Activities
The same sanction (deprivation of voting right) should apply to those who persistently refuse to dissociate themselves from political and ecclesiastical activities. This is a general principle which is being maintained throughout the Bahá’í world, and the believers throughout the East are already aware of the absolute necessity of refusing any political or Moslem ecclesiastical office. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)
Your understanding and attitude regarding participation in politics is correct, namely, you immediately warn and quickly remove the voting rights, as such prompt action is necessary to protect the interests of the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)
Membership In Masonic, Theosophical, Rosicrucian, And Similar Secret Societies
The following two principles should help to guide your Assembly in dealing with the problems of Bahá’í membership in Masonic, Theosophical, Rosicrucian, and similar societies:
(1) Formal affiliation with and acceptance of membership in organizations whose programs or policies are not wholly reconcilable with the Teachings is not permissible to the friends.
(2) The friends should not become members of secret societies.
Your Assembly is advised to carefully inform the friends of these principles and to deepen them in their understanding and appreciation of them. Having made certain that all friends, especially those directly concerned, have been so deepened, your Assembly should then set a time limit by which the friends must obey your directive to withdraw their membership in the organizations. Each case will have to be considered on its own merits. Some of the friends may have to fulfill certain commitments as officers before they can withdraw with honor. The time limit should make allowance in such cases.
Whereas persistence in membership in these and in similar organizations is ample ground for deprivation of voting rights, your Assembly is advised to give sufficient time for each of the friends to be thoroughly deepened, and to comply with the principles before any disciplinary action is taken. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . gross immorality . . . acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith . . . (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
In other cases, such as those involving flagrant immorality, the removal of voting rights should be resorted to only in rare cases. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)
Any blatant acts of immorality on the part of the Bahá’ís should be strongly censured; the friends should be urged to abandon such relationships immediately, straighten out their affairs, and conduct themselves as Bahá’ís; if they refuse to do this, in spite of the warnings of the Assembly, they should be punished through being deprived of their voting rights. The N.S.A. is empowered to settle such cases of flagrant immorality without referring them to the Guardian. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
The National Spiritual Assembly should distinguish between its functions as an adviser and counsellor of the friends and its role as the enforcer of Bahá’í Laws. For example, it is quite in order for the Assembly to advise a believer to consult a psychiatrist or any other doctor, if it feels this is necessary, but such advice should not be linked with any deprivation of voting rights which may have to be imposed for flagrant immorality. You may feel it advisable to give such advice to a person who is being deprived of his voting rights, but the two actions should be clearly separate–one is administrative, the other is advice given for the person’s own good which he may or may not accept as he wishes. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
Generally, administrative rights should not be suspended because of the birth of a child out of wedlock. The questions to be considered are whether the party is guilty of blatant and flagrant immorality, whether such conduct is harming the Faith, and whether the believer has refused or neglected to improve her conduct despite repeated warnings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58)
Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual—although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)
Regarding those whose conduct is immoral, the matter should first be referred to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Whether the believer is a member of the Local Assembly or not, he should be first lovingly exhorted, then warned and required to rectify his conduct. If the conduct of the believer does no improve and continues to be a disgrace to the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly, may decide merely to remove him from the membership of the Local Assembly, if he is a member of it, or to apply the full sanction of depriving him of his voting rights, depending upon the circumstances in each case. It is impossible and unwise to lay down a general ruling to cover all circumstances. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
In case of immoral conduct one offence is generally not enough to incur this heavy penalty, but only after patient counselling and in the face of flagrantly immoral conduct or blatant misbehavior should it be invoked. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
Regarding those whose conduct is immoral, the matter should first be referred to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Whether the believer is a member of the Local Assembly or not, he should be first lovingly exhorted, then warned and required to rectify his conduct. If the conduct of the believer does not improve and continues to be a disgrace to the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly may decide merely to remove him from the membership of the Local Assembly, if he is a member of it, or to apply the full sanction of depriving him of his voting rights, depending upon the circumstances in each case. It is impossible and unwise to lay down a general ruling to cover all circumstances. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
In case of immoral conduct one offence is generally not enough to incur this heavy penalty, but only after patient counselling and in the face of flagrantly immoral conduct or blatant misbehaviour should it be invoked. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
If heavy sanctions are applied to certain acts of immorality, he also observed, “it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá’ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá’u’lláh,” which would obviously, given the circumstances of humanity today, “create an impossible and ridiculous situation.” (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)
Marriage without Consent of Parents
A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage . . . (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
In some cases it is clear that there is no alternative to the removal of voting rights as in the case of marriage without the consent of parents. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)
Non-Baha’i or Civil Marriage
In connection with your question regarding the case of Mr. Mrs.… and their daughter, the Guardian considers that your Assembly did quite right to deprive all three of their voting rights. Their conduct in carrying out a Moslem marriage in the circumstances set forth by you in your letter, and contrary to Bahá’í law, are most reprehensible, to say the least, and if such actions are not strongly censured by the Bahá’ís, other friends may be encouraged in moments of weakness, to err. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
Bahá’ís who go to the church and are married as Christians must also of necessity be deprived of their voting rights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)
… if a Bahá’í has a civil marriage ceremony only, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. If the Assembly is satisfied that such a couple is repentant, their voting rights may be restored on condition that they have the Bahá’í ceremony. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)
In cases involving only the civil ceremony, voting rights may be restored if the Assembly feels that the believer is truly repentant and wishes to comply with the Bahá’í law previously broken. The civil marriage ceremony itself is not contrary to Bahá’í law, and therefore the dissolution of the civil marriage is not a pre- requisite to restoration of voting rights. In such cases the Bahá’í marriage ceremony may take place if the parents now give their consent to the marriage and the Assembly is satisfied that the consent has been genuinely and freely given and is not conditioned by the fact that the parties have already had a civil ceremony on the condition that it be performed. Should … apply for restoration of his voting rights, and should your Assembly feel that he is truly repentant, you should offer assistance in arranging the other details including helping him to obtain the consent of parents. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58-59)
Marrying Within the Year Of Patience
…no sanctions should be imposed merely because the believer has commenced a civil action for divorce before the expiration of the year of patience. However, the believer will be subject to sanctions if he should marry a third party within the year of patience, not only because it is a violation of the year of patience itself, but also because even though a civil divorce has been granted, the Bahá’í divorce cannot be granted until the end of the year of patience. For this reason no marriage is possible during the running of the year of patience unless the parties to the divorce re-marry each other again in a civil ceremony. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)
Swearing To Bring Up Children In Another Religion
As the Guardian pointed out…, no Bahá’í can conscientiously swear to bring up his children in another religion; and of course he has no right to lie; therefore it becomes impossible for him to make such a promise on his marriage to a non-Bahá’í. Any Bahá’í doing this should be deprived of his voting rights; and, as he has already made plain before, Bahá’ís who go to the church and are married as Christians must also of necessity be deprived of their voting rights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)
Violent and Abusive Behaviour
Violent or abusive behavior is a serious violation of Bahá’í law. Depending upon the circumstances, the National Spiritual Assembly may apply the sanction of removing an offender’s Bahá’í administrative rights. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 115)
It is important to note, however, that individuals who wish to present their views should do so in a way compatible with the Bahá’í spirit of consultation. It sometimes happens that a believer insists on expounding his views at Bahá’í meetings, and frequently disrupts such gatherings, and may even display such behaviour in the presence of non-Bahá’ís. If he stubbornly persists in this conduct, despite exhortations and warnings given to him by the proper Bahá’í institutions, he will somehow have to be prevented from taking the law into his own hands and jeopardizing Bahá’í interests. When differences such as these arise, it is important that frank and loving consultation between the person concerned and the Local Spiritual Assembly, and if need be the National Spiritual Assembly, should take place, or perhaps the institution of the Counsellors could help resolve the problem. (Universal House of Justice, 7 February 1993, “Issues Concerning Community Functioning”)
Flagrant In Taking Alcoholic Drinks
In the case of a believer who continues to take alcoholic drinks, the Assembly should decide whether the offence is flagrant, and, if it is, should try to help him to understand the importance of obeying the Bahá’í law. If he does not respond he must be repeatedly warned and, if this is unsuccessful, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. In the case of an alcoholic who is trying to overcome his weakness the Assembly must show especial patience, and may have to suggest professional counselling and assistance. If the offence is not flagrant, the Assembly need take no action at all. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)
We realize that a great problem is presented by gossip when it occurs in Bahá’í communities, and the poison it can instill into the relationship between the friends. However, deprivation of voting rights is usually of little help in such circumstances and should be resorted to only after other remedies have been tried and failed. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)
Open Opposition To The Administration
A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith . . . (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
Mental Illness or Incapacity
In rare cases, administrative rights might be removed in cases where:
- a person with mental incapacity due to such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and mental retardation
- a person is unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so
- a person with an abnormal mental condition
- a person who is suffering from a mental illness with a certification of insanity by medical authorities or who is confined in a mental hospital
Believers with mental incapacity due to such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and mental retardation may be relieved of the responsibility to vote or undertake other administrative duties:
Mental incapacity may include such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias associated with aging and other intellectual disabilities, and mental retardation. Limitations on the administrative rights of mentally incapacitated individuals may be conferred in some cases and is intended not as a sanction but as a relief of the responsibility to vote or undertake other administrative duties. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.16)
The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights:
The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
This could also involve non-receipt of Bahá’í newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc:
Again, depending upon the kind of mental illness, such suspension of voting rights may or may not involve non-receipt of Bahá’í newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
This would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital:
From this you will see that the mental incapacity must be very serious for this step to be taken, and would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
Assemblies must investigate every case that arises, consult with experts, and with the National Spiritual Assembly:
Regarding persons whose [mental] condition has not been defined by the civil authorities after medical diagnosis, the Assembly on the spot must investigate every case that arises and, after consultation with experts, deliver its verdict. Such a verdict, however, should, in important cases, be preceded by consultation with the National Spiritual Assembly. No doubt, the power of prayer is very great, yet consultation with experts is enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
If these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified:
Should these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
Only in rare cases when a person is actually unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so, should the right of membership be denied him:
Regarding the interpretation of mental unfitness, this is not the same as being physically incapacitated. By the latter is meant a condition much more serious than any temperamental deficiency or disinclination to conform to the principle of majority rule. Only in rare cases when a person is actually unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so, should the right of membership be denied him. The greatest care and restraint should be exercised in this matter. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)
Loss of Right of Parenthood:
In addition, there are certain situations in which Bahá’ís can lose their right of parenthood (thereby not being allowed to give consent to marriage. This could arise when:
- a parent has committed incest
- the child was conceived as a consequence of rape
- a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse.
- a father neglects to educate his child
He (Bahá’u’lláh) has indicated that under certain circumstances, the parents could be deprived of the right of parenthood as a consequence of their actions. The Universal House of Justice has the right to legislate on this matter. It has decided for the present that all cases should be referred to it in which the conduct or character of a parent appears to render him unworthy of having such parental rights as that of giving consent to marriage. Such questions could arise, for example, when a parent has committed incest, or when the child was conceived as a consequence of rape, and also when a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)
In some cases it is permissible under the law of God either for the parents or for the children to disown the other, to deprive the other of certain rights, to sever family ties and to renounce their responsibilities. However, the law thereof is to be decided by the Universal House of Justice. (Shoghi Effendi, quoted in a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 19 Jan, 2010)
Should a father neglect this most weighty commandment laid down in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas by the Pen of the Eternal King, he shall forfeit rights of fatherhood, and be accounted guilty before God. Well is it with him who imprinteth on his heart the admonitions of the Lord, and steadfastly cleaveth unto them. God, in truth, enjoineth on His servants what shall assist and profit them, and enable them to draw nigh unto Him. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 138)
Resigning to Avoid Sanctions
We cannot escape administrative expulsion by the ruse of resigning from the Faith in order to break its law with impunity:
As you know, a believer cannot escape administrative expulsion by the ruse of resigning from the Faith in order to break its law with impunity. However, the Assembly should be satisfied that there was indeed such an ulterior motive behind the withdrawal. A believer’s record of inactivity and his general attitude to the Faith may well lead the Assembly to conclude that his withdrawal was bona fide, even though immediately succeeded by marriage, and in such a case the withdrawal may be accepted. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)
To do so is to dissimulate one’s faith:
To deny that one is a Bahá’í while one still believes in Bahá’u’lláh is not withdrawal, it is dissimulation of one’s faith, and Bahá’í law does not countenance the dissimulation of a believer’s faith for the purpose of breaking the law. If a believer who did not like a particular law were to be permitted to leave the community to break the law, and then rejoin with impunity, this would make a mockery of the Law of God… It is abundantly clear from his letters that he has continually believed in Bahá’u’lláh, that he knew the law that marriage is conditioned on the consent of parents, that he dissimulated his faith in order to be able to break this law with impunity. He must, therefore, be regarded as a Bahá’í without administrative rights. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)
It is completely inconsistent for a Bahá’í under any circumstances whatsoever, to indicate they are anything but a Bahá’í, regardless of what the result may be:
The Beloved Guardian has directed me to write you concerning information which he has just received of your having indicated in your application for permanent residence in…, that you were Protestants—and you did not indicate in any way that you were Bahá’ís. The Guardian has instructed me to inform you that he is shocked and surprised to receive this news, and this action meets with his disapproval. He said that if advance information had been given that such action must not be taken under any circumstances; then there would be only one thing he could do and that would be removal of voting rights. Certainly such action in the future would result in immediate removal of voting rights. In Persia, even during the period of persecution, when life was in danger, and complete freedom offered to those who indicated they were Muslims and not Bahá’ís, the Guardian not only deprived anyone who did not openly declare his Faith of his voting rights, but even indicated they were Covenant breakers. Thus you will see that it is completely inconsistent for a Bahá’í under any circumstances whatsoever, to indicate they are anything but a Bahá’í, regardless of what the result may be. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 61)
What is included in Loss of Rights?
When a person loses his full voting rights, he is still considered a Baha’i, but not in good standing.
It follows, therefore, that a believer can continue calling himself a Bahá’í even though he may cease to be a voting member of the community. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)
He can be debarred from:
- serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly
- attending the consultative portion of the 19 Day Feast
- voting in elections
- contributing to the Fund
- holding office or serving on committees
- representing the Faith in Public
- used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá’ís
- attending International Conferences
- receiving newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá’ís
- having a Baha’i marriage
- marrying a Bahá’í in good standing
- a Bahá’í pilgrimage
- receiving credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá’í in good standing
It is also quite permissible for a National Spiritual Assembly to debar an individual believer from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his or her voting rights and they may also debar a believer from attending the consultative part of a Nineteen Day Feast. You may also debar a believer from voting in elections without imposing all the other administrative sanctions involved in administrative expulsion. There are, of course, other sanctions than those mentioned in the above extract which can be imposed, such as debarring a believer from contributing to the Fund, debarring such a believer from serving on committees, debarring him from representing the Faith in public. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Justice, p. 55)
One who has lost his voting rights is considered to be a Bahá’í but not one in good standing. The following restrictions and limitations apply to such a believer:
He cannot attend Nineteen Day Feasts or other meetings for Bahá’ís only, including International Conferences, and therefore cannot take part in consultation on the affairs of the community.
He cannot contribute to the Bahá’í Fund.
He cannot receive newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá’ís.
He cannot have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony and therefore is not able to marry a Bahá’í.
He may not have a Bahá’í pilgrimage.
Although he is free to teach the Faith on his own behalf, he should not be used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá’ís.
He is debarred from participating in administrative matters, including the right to vote in Bahá’í elections.
He cannot hold office or be appointed to a committee.
He should not be given credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá’í in good standing). (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 61)
Full removal of administrative rights should be reserved for the most severe and intractable cases:
Full removal of administrative rights should be reserved for the most severe and intractable cases, especially when the protection of the community becomes a concern. The wise use of partial sanctions thus provides the Assembly with another means of strengthening the individual and the community. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)
Youth Can Also have their Rights Removed
With reference to the question in your second letter as to what disciplinary action can be taken against youth who are not of voting age, it must be remembered that the removal of his voting rights is administrative expulsion. In addition to being deprived of his right to vote, the believer cannot attend Feasts or other meetings for Bahá’ís only; cannot contribute to the Fund; or, cannot have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony. The restrictions against voting would become operative when the young offender reaches voting age. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)
Association with those who have lost their rights should be on a formal basis:
While it is not forbidden for the friends to associate with the individual, yet their association should be on a formal basis. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)
Marriage to someone who’s lost their rights:
A Bahá’í deprived of his voting rights cannot be married in a Bahá’í marriage ceremony; a Bahá’í in good standing cannot marry a Bahá’í who has lost his voting rights; the marriage of a Bahá’í who has lost his voting rights does not fall within the jurisdiction of a Bahá’í administrative institution. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)
Laws of personal status, such as divorce:
A Bahá’í who has lost his administrative rights is administratively expelled from the community and therefore is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Assembly in the matter of laws of personal status, such as divorce, unless, of course, he is involved in such a matter though having a Bahá’í spouse in good standing from whom the divorce is taking place. His observance of such laws is a matter of conscience and how would into be subject to further sanctions for non-observance of Bahá’í laws during the periods he is without voting rights. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58)
Partial Sanctions can also be administered:
It is also quite permissible for a National Spiritual Assembly to debar an individual believer from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his or her voting rights and they may also debar a believer from attending the consultative part of a Nineteen Day Feast. You may also debar a believer from voting in elections without imposing all the other administrative sanctions involved in administrative expulsion. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 55)
In some cases, partial sanctions may be adequate, allowing the Assembly to deal with a situation in a flexible manner. For example, if the hope is to reawaken in the individual a desire to participate in community life, full sanctions may be counterproductive; an appropriate partial sanction, such as suspending his or her right to be elected to an Assembly, may prove sufficient, for, in any event, it would not be reasonable for a person who flagrantly violates Bahá’í law to be in a position to govern the affairs of the community. Restricting the believer from other forms of service—for instance, acting as a tutor of a study circle or as a children’s class teacher—may also be considered . . . The wise use of partial sanctions thus provides the Assembly with another means of strengthening the individual and the community. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)
The Rights That Are Not Denied
Loss of Administrative Rights is not Expulsion
Concerning your question as to the status of those individuals whom the Local Assembly or the National Spiritual Assembly have considered it necessary to deprive of the voting right and to suspend from local meetings and gatherings: Such action which Local and National Assemblies have been empowered to take against such recalcitrant members, however justified and no matter how severe, should under no circumstances be considered as implying the complete expulsion of the individuals affected from the Cause. The suspension of voting and other administrative rights of an individual believer, always conditional and therefore temporary, can never have such far-reaching implications, since it constitutes merely an administrative sanction; whereas his expulsion or ex-communication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian* alone in his capacity as the supreme spiritual head of the Community, has far-reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)
The former as already stated, is an administrative sanction, whereas the latter is essentially spiritual, involving not only the particular administrative relationship of a believer to his Local or National Assembly, but his very spiritual existence in the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)
But in case he is excluded from the body of the Cause by an act of the Guardian he ceases to become a believer and cannot possibly identify himself even nominally with the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)
Or a violation of civil rights
What is at stake is the participation of the individual in those aspects of community life internal to the body of the followers of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, not his or her civil rights. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)
Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied:
- He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days.
- He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís.
- He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís.
- He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach.
- Association with other believers is not forbidden.
- He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery.
- Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost his voting rights.
- Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform.
- He should have access to the Spiritual Assembly
Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied: He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days. He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís. He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís. He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach. Association with other believers is not forbidden. He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery. Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost he voting rights. Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform. He should have access to the spiritual Assembly. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 62)
What has been your experience? How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below!
Someone once asked me:
Kindness cannot be shown the tyrant, the deceiver, or the thief, because, far from awakening them to the error of their ways, it maketh them to continue in their perversity as before. No matter how much kindliness ye may expend upon the liar, he will but lie the more, for he believeth you to be deceived, while ye understand him but too well, and only remain silent out of your extreme compassion. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 158)
What is the purpose in this? Kindness is a virtue that we want to be able to show, yet to be kind to my father and brother made them worse. They hid their abuse of me so well that everyone thought they were great people and were therefore kind to them and as a result I suffered more, and more.
I’m not sure we understand kindness the way we will in the future! For example, although this law is not in effect yet, Baha’u’llah tells us they will be punished:
Exile and imprisonment are decreed for the thief, and, on the third offence, place ye a mark upon his brow so that, thus identified, he may not be accepted in the cities of God and His countries. Beware lest, through compassion, ye neglect to carry out the statutes of the religion of God; do that which hath been bidden you by Him Who is compassionate and merciful. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 35)
I’m glad that you recognize that to “be kind to my father and brother made them worse.”
Remember how Baha’u’llah says in the Tablet of Ahmad that “the wisdom of every command shall be tested?” Sometimes the tests apply to us, and some we can learn from watching others. This knowledge will help you in the future.
There are ways you can be kind to them now without having contact; particularly through prayer. This will help in two ways – it will help both you and them. Have you seen this quote by the Báb?
It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ‘Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God. (The Báb, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)
Perhaps it’s a bit self-serving, but the Báb must have told us this to motivate us to pray for them!
Here’s a prayer you can say for your father:
O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love, Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 64)
Being kind to our perpetrators doesn’t mean we have to spend time with them. Again these quotes from the House to me and a friend of mine, helped me make those decisions:
Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 9 September, 1992)
The House of Justice has noted with sympathetic understanding the despair to which you have been driven by the recurrent incidences of cruelty and neglect you have been made to endure . . . Under the circumstances you have so amply described, you should feel free to separate yourself from them to the extent possible. Their behavior towards you grossly violates the norms of parental relationship with a child, and this fact can be taken into consideration if and when you decide to get married. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 7 August 2001)
To summarize – we can use the following criteria in deciding how much contact to have:
- their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past
- the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings
- the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them
And we can look at having their right of parenthood removed when we want to get married.
With regards to the comment:
They hid their abuse of me so well that everyone thought they were great people and were therefore kind to them and as a result I suffered more, and more.
I understand how painful this was for you, and I’m sorry you had to go through it!
The insights which have helped me are knowing that my abusers have to meet their Maker and be called to account for what they did.
Know verily, that while the radiant dawn breaketh above the horizon of eternal holiness, the satanic secrets and deeds done in the gloom of night shall be laid bare and manifest before the peoples of the world. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 67)
I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed it with My seal of glory. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 64)
So I can trust that God sees what they’ve done and can leave justice in God’s hands!
I’ve often found this quote interesting:
In the same way they consider that the spiritual punishment, that is to say the torture and punishment of existence, is to be subjected to the world of nature, to be veiled from God, to be brutal and ignorant, to fall into carnal lusts, to be absorbed in animal frailties; to be characterized with dark qualities, such as falsehood, tyranny, cruelty, attachment to the affairs of the world, and being immersed in satanic ideas; for them, these are the greatest punishments and tortures. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 324)
Try to look at your father and brother and see how many of these apply to their lives.
- subjected to the world of nature
- veiled from God
- brutal and ignorant
- fallen into carnal lusts
- absorbed in animal frailties
- characterized with dark qualities such as
- attachment to the affairs of the world
- immersed in satanic ideas
If so, these are among their spiritual punishments.
I love this quote by Bahá’u’lláh. It seems to offer us a step-by-step process we can use to stay close to Him. I think if we can remember to take all of these steps every day, we can be prevented from engaging in negative interactions with others:
Deprive not yourselves of the unfading and resplendent Light that shineth within the Lamp of Divine glory. Let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts. Feed it with the oil of Divine guidance, and protect it within the shelter of your constancy. Guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 325)
The steps are:
- let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts.
- feed it with the oil of Divine guidance
- protect it within the shelter of your constancy
- guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light.
How has this helped your understanding of this topic? Post your comments here:
A friend of mine read an article in Macleans Magazine recently, titled: “Why so many of our best and brightest students report feeling hopeless, depressed, even suicidal.” You can read it here
It made her wonder how we tend to present the Faith to others. She suggested there seems to be a disconnect between what people think and feel that they need and what we think they need, and she asked: what tools/methods/approaches (in addition to our core activities) do we need to develop to help bridge the two?
I wondered if she was asking the right question.
I’m not sure that we can teach something we don’t know ourselves. I believe that many people inside our Bahá’í communities are broken and hurting, and we don’t know how to help them, perhaps because many of us are broken and hurting ourselves!
The Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals in their Position Paper on Mental Health suggests that human mental health is at risk when love and justice are absent. With the prevalence of abuse, violence and marital breakdown affecting one-third of the population, you can be sure that love and justice are absent.
It’s been my observation that we’re not very good at showing love in our Bahá’í communities, and as a result, many Bahá’ís have become inactive.
It is very discouraging to find inactive and unresponsive believers; on the other hand we must always realize that some souls . . . need encouragement, the love of their fellow Bahá’ís and assistance. To blame them for not doing more for the Cause is useless, and they may actually have a very firm belief in Bahá’u’lláh which with care could be fanned into flame. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 84)
I think we have a tendency to leave them alone instead of taking the time and care to shower them with love and fan their belief into the flame of action.
Barbara McLellan, in her excellent article on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder asks these poignant and pointed questions:
- Is there a place in the Bahá’í community for people who have experienced great trauma?
- If a person’s view of the world is one of extreme pessimism, does that person have a real place in community, or must they hide what they know to be true?
- How do we as a community respond to the sufferings of others?
- How do we help people make sense of their suffering?
We have all had the experience of being with someone who sounds like a broken record. All they can talk about is this terrible thing that happened and we can’t seem to get them off the subject. We can’t seem to get them to look at the bright side of life. These people are so negative we say. We should start to avoid them and let them get on with their own lives.
This is a very predictable pattern for human beings. At first we will reassure and offer cheering homilies. But the person keeps on talking; in fact feels driven to a howling, self-centered outrage that exactly corresponds in ferocity to the pain and terror of the trauma itself. So we, the community begin to give subtle warnings, but the person who experienced the trauma cannot take heed. The ultimate trump card is shame. Only shame is powerful enough to squelch the victim’s desperate need to be heard. The shamed person feels both exposed and condemned, uncovered and seen through – in a sense, flayed by the community’s disgust and contempt. Shame causes the private self to retreat into numbness, to repress feelings and dampen personal engagement with others.
Turning to the issue of justice, anyone dealing with the court system for anything from divorce to insurance settlements to victims of crimes and everything in between will tell you there is no justice, and this sense of anger and powerlessness shuts people down and makes them not want to participate, particularly when other Bahá’ís do not want to hear them talk about their frustration with corrupt and unjust systems.
Now you might be saying to yourself, how very cruel of community to silence these people who have suffered so much. But the other side of the coin is this reality: To discuss in public the lasting effects of trauma would defy the assumption of acceptable, safe relations between consenting citizens of a decent society. Basically, the victim who will not remain silent is challenging society’s vision of itself, bearing witness to uncomfortable moral truths and demanding from everyone … a kind of moral accounting: ‘And where do you stand’, the victim asks ‘not on abstract issues of truth and justice, but on this war and this violence and this brutality, this terrible thing that happens every day in our world, yours as well as mine?’” (Barbara McLellan)
The Guardian told us that when we learn to be more loving inside our communities, we’ll attract more people.
The Bahá’ís will never succeed in attracting large numbers to the Faith until they see in our individual and community life acts, and the atmosphere, that bespeak the love of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 3)
He longs to see a greater degree of unity and love among the believers, for these are the spirit which must animate their Community life. Until the people of the world see a shining example set by us they will not embrace the Cause in masses, because they require to see the teachings demonstrated in a pattern of action. (Shoghi Effendi, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 3)
But we didn’t listen, so the House of Justice had to remind us again:
As the beloved Guardian’s secretary wrote on his behalf to an individual believer on 25 October 1949: “Without the spirit of real love for Bahá’u’lláh, for His Faith and its Institutions, and the believers for each other, the Cause can never really bring in large numbers of people. For it is not preaching and rules the world wants, but love and action.” (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)
Regarding the matter … and the inharmony that seems to exist among certain of the friends … When Bahá’ís permit the dark forces of the world to enter into their own relationships within the Faith they gravely jeopardize its progress; it is the paramount duty of the believers, the Local Assemblies, and particularly the N.S.A. to foster harmony, understanding and love amongst the friends. All should be ready and willing to set aside every personal sense of grievance — justified or unjustified — for the good of the Cause, because the people will never embrace it until they see in its Community life mirrored what is so conspicuously lacking in the world; love and unity.” (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 165)
The Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals have said that while some mental illnesses have a genetic and biological basis, it is well-known that the following situations compromise mental health:
- prolonged and severe stress
- violence, trauma, and abuse
- addictions and substance abuse
- family dissolution
- inequality between women and men
- racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice
- internalized oppression
- inadequate education
- materialism and its preoccupation with the acquisition of power, wealth, and celebrity
- inter-group conflict
- absence of moral leadership
Whose lives haven’t been affected by one or more of these?
They go on to say:
The absence of moral leadership has left an entire generation without direction, and the children of today are increasingly abandoned to the seduction of those whose economic enrichment depends upon the continuous creation of dissatisfaction and insatiable desire. As a consequence of global market forces, children are at greater risk for depression, social anxiety, suicide, substance abuse and sexually transmitted disease than at any time in history.
The House of Justice recently said something similar:
What needs to be appreciated in this respect is the extent to which young minds are affected by the choices parents make for their own lives, when, no matter how unintentionally, no matter how innocently, such choices condone the passions of the world—its admiration for power, its adoration of status, its love of luxuries, its attachment to frivolous pursuits, its glorification of violence, and its obsession with self-gratification. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 Dec. 2010)
As Bahá’ís, we’re not immune to any of this. Many of us either participate or are victims of any number of these factors. It’s been suggested that there may be greater numbers of people with mental health issues inside the Faith, because they are attracted by the teachings and are hopeful that the solutions lie therein.
In the absence of clergy, or a supportive, loving, caring Bahá’í community, many Bahá’ís turn to therapy to find solutions, not knowing how to apply the Writings to their lives.
The Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals shows how injustice is built into the therapeutic system:
It is increasingly clear that there will never be enough clinicians to treat the growing numbers of anxious and depressed people. The cost of treatment is escalating, leading to the creation of a two-tier health system in which only the prosperous receive treatment, and efforts to reduce health care costs lead to the rationing of treatment and an increasing reliance upon medication. Clinicians are increasingly pressured to see clients not as unique individuals, but as walking diagnostic entities. Providers of care face an increasing risk of burnout.
I’d like to conclude with a quote from Barbara McLellan:
If we have people in the Baha’i community who have terrible stories to tell and they have no one who will listen to them, how then will we become true community?
How will we be enriched by their courage and their will to live in the face of denial, if we do not hear their stories?
And a quote from the Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals:
Two of the most fundamental human needs are the need for love and justice. Love draws forth from each of us those qualities of character – compassion, trustworthiness, fair-mindedness, generosity, courage – which make for a meaningful life and empower us to contribute to the emergence of peaceful societies. Justice involves the wisdom to apply this force of love strategically – using the tools of reward and punishment in harmony with that kind of moral education which refines the heart’s attraction to excellence of character and service.
That so many human beings are deprived of these essential prerequisites for healthy development and thus fail to manifest noble human capacities is one of the great tragedies of our age.
For more stories on this topic, please see:
Mental Illness – a Bahá’í Perspective
Does Becoming a Bahá’í Make People Crazy?
What are your thoughts about love and justice as a per-requisite to mental health? Post your comments here!