‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on the Presidential Election
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in California in 1912 – a presidential election year. One October morning this election was mentioned during a conversation. The Master commented: ‘The president must be a man who is not hankering for the presidency. He should be a person free from all thoughts of name and fame; he must think himself unworthy of the rank; and should say that he thinks himself unfit for the place and unable to bear this burdensome duty … If the public good is the object, the president must be a person sensitive to the public weal and not a selfish and self-seeking one.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 122)
This month’s featured prayer is a video, called “Electing the Members of the Local Spiritual Assembly”. It’s absolutely beautiful and I recommend you show it prior to and during the voting!
This month we feature a short 4.5 minute video, where Rúhíyyih Khánum Recounts Her Story of the Election of the First Universal House of Justice! A truly unique moment in Baha’i history!
Steadfastness In The Covenant: Responding to Tests and Tribulations was written by Dr Abdul-Missagh Ghadirian, a psychiatrist who served the Institution of the Learned for nearly 30 years in different capacities including many years as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in the Americas.
In this book, dedicated to the Bahá’í community of Iran, Dr Ghadirian show how the accelerated crises in the world, with their associated suffering and confusion, herald the advent of a transformation in the consciousness of people and their receptivity (positive or negative) to the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.
The Bahá’í Writings tell us that persecution and trials will occur and intensify as the Cause emerges from obscurity to full recognition. There are 3 main themes running throughout this book: what the Covenant means to the present generation of young Bahá’ís; scholarship and the Covenant and the life of Abdul-Bahá as the Perfect Exemplar and the Centre of the Covenant of the Bahá’í Faith.
Hugh Smiley has been a psychotherapist, bodyworker and teacher for 30 years. He is a Certified Hakomi Therapist (CHT) and has served on the teaching staff of both the Hakomi Institute and founder Ron Kurtz’ Hakomi Educational Network (HEN). He is co-founder and co-director of Hakomi Ontario which offers workshops, trainings and ongoing groups in the Hakomi Method of Mindfulness-based Assisted Self-Discovery and Body-Centered Psychotherapy
Hugh has taught his Korason Method of Authentic Voice and Dialogue (KM) on 4 continents with such diverse groups as NGOs in Egypt, an AA group in Nicaragua, engineers in Brazil and Inuit women in Nunavut. He has won scholarships and grants to study vocalization techniques in Mongolia and flamenco in Spain. Currently he is preparing to return to Europe to teach Hakomi and KM in Spain and Germany. Hugh has also built successful sales networks with hundreds of distributors in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico for the marketing of dynamic health products.
This website carries many products including jewelry, greeting cards, bookmarks, illuminations, wall hangings and more.
My favorite part of the site is 21 different sets of prayer beads, each with it’s own story; each dedicated to a specific person or theme, such as:
Shoghi Effendi: the highest quality fresh water pearls and abalone shell dedicated to the Guardian, (as the Priceless Pearl)
Enoch Olinga (the martyred Hand of the Cause from Africa): Swarowski Austrian lead crystals and Taiwanese Jade along with lively African patterns
William Sears, Hand of the Cause of God. For his work with children the glass figures reflect an innocence happy free spirit – the 19 beads represent marbles.
Tahireh’s Legacy: The set of 19 black beads symbolize the veil that Tahirih removed from her chador and the ‘spiritual veils’ that must be eliminated in our pursuit of nearness to God.
The Terraces: The natural mottling of the stone beads represent the terraces and their landscaping; the buildings on the arc and the panoramic views of the blue sky and sea.
The Martyrs: The lined deep red seed beads represent the veins of the mortal body and the spots in the Poppy Jasper symbolize the blood shed by these dear souls. Although we may not experience physical martyrdom, these martyrs stand to remind us how important it is to consecrate our lives to service in the Cause.
The Nightingale: The nightingale is a very plain little bird (its colors are brown and cream), but is known for its wonderfully sweet evening song. In the Bahá’í Writings the nightingale symbolizes the Manifestation of God, particularly Bahá’u’lláh.
Primal Mirrors: The Unity of God’s Messengers inspired this very special set (this is the picture we see here). Large rounded onyx disks carry etched symbols of 8 revealed religions, while nineteen banded sentimentary stones echo humanity’s gradual progress over eons, aided by these Messengers.
Refresh and Gladden: based on everyone’s favourite prayer “O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit . . .” Made from the finest glass.
Coral and Pearls: This pair of prayer beads was created, one for the husband and one for the wife. The duel design respects the individuality of each person yet honors their union and confirmed faith in the covenant of Baha’u’llah.
Thank you so much once again for so generously sharing your priceless research , insight and knowledge with us all. It is incredible. May Baha’u’llah bless and conform you in all your undertakings. (Simin Rahmanian)
Thank you Susan! Soooo important! I was in awe of both the Teachings and the results when our Spiritual Assembly deepened in the Art of Consultation. The effects were astonishing. The Holy Spirit can move through individuals when they are aware of the precious dynamics of this superb Art that is essential for unity, for the underlying justice and equality and consequence of which is peace and prosperity. (Jeannie Ritchie)
Month of Baha 172 BE … right? Or are we starting 171 BE… sorry kinda confused. (Farah K-Sanchez)
Thanks for the encouragement and support, Simin and Jeannie!
You’ve got good eyes, Farah! You’re absolutely right! We’re starting 172 BE! I remember changing the newsletter template and grateful I’d remembered, but it looks like I forgot to save it! It’s time for me to get a secretary!
The Bahá’í electoral system is unique to this Dispensation:
When called upon to vote in a Bahá’í election, believers should be aware that they are carrying out a sacred task unique to this Dispensation. (Universal House of Justice Letter on Bahá’í Elections To the Bahá’ís of the World, 25 March 2007)
It has several distinctive features:
It is carried out by secret ballot
There are no nominations or electioneering
They encourage universal participation
Every adult Bahá’í is eligible for election to local and national administrative bodies responsible for decision in the conduct of Bahá’í affairs.
The Bahá’í electoral system, operating by secret ballot, with no nominations or electioneering, encourages universal participation: every adult Bahá’í is eligible for election to local and national administrative bodies responsible for decision in the conduct of Bahá’í affairs. (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Apr 05, Equality of Men & Women A New Reality)
Whether we’re voting at the unit convention; the Assemblies; or the Baha’i Council – the principles and requirements are the same.
In regard to your question about qualification of delegates and Assembly members: the qualifications which he outlines are really applicable to anyone we elect to a Bahá’í office, whatever its nature. But these are only an indication, they do not mean people who don’t fulfill them cannot be elected to office. We must aim as high as we can. (Shoghi Effendi, The Spiritual Character of Bahá’í Elections)
The following ideas are taken from two letters of the House of Justice:
15 March 2007 to the Baha’is of the World on the topic of elections
16 May 2013, to the delegates gathered at the Baha’i National Conventions
Preparing for the Election:
As we prepare for the upcoming municipal elections with a federal election to follow next year, we notice the erosion of trust and collaboration between the individual and the elected institutions. Contributing to the widening distrust of so vital a process are:
the influence on the outcome from vested interests having access to lavish funds
the restrictions on freedom of choice inherent in the party system
the distortion in public perception of the candidates by the bias expressed in the media.
All of this results in:
apathy, alienation, and disillusionment
a growing sense of despair of the unlikelihood that the most capable citizens will emerge to deal with the manifold problems of a defective social order.
The electoral system given to us by Baha’u’llah is without precedent in human history and Baha’is everywhere are giving greater attention to strengthening the process by which we elect our local and national assemblies and Baha’i Councils.
In order to do this we must become active and well-informed members of the Baha’i community in which we live.
To be able to make a wise choice at the election time, it is necessary for us to:
be in close and continued contact with all local activities (both teaching and administrative)
fully and whole-heartedly participate in the affairs of the local as well as national committees and assemblies
get thoroughly acquainted with one another
discuss the requirements and qualifications for such a membership without reference however indirect, to particular individuals.
Then, after careful thought over an extended period of time, we need to create a list of names of those who have the necessary qualities of:
a well-trained mind
From among the pool of those we believe to be qualified to serve, we then give due consideration to such other factors as:
Finally, we should strive to purge ourselves from every trace of:
promotion of individuals, or partisanship
And then we approach this duty
in a prayerful attitude
seeking divine guidance and confirmation
Then, turning completely to God, and with
a purity of motive
a freedom of spirit
a sanctity of heart
we participate in the elections.
When we wholehearted embrace the Baha’i electoral process in this way, we will witness a greater contrast between the emerging institutions of the Baha’i Administrative Order and the decaying social order around us.
Personally, I find that thrilling!
Sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control which make it impossible for an election to take place at the prescribed time and place. In those cases, the National Spiritual Assembly will make a ruling:
However, there may be cases when conditions beyond the control of the local believers exist, such as, as you have said, the Bahá’ís had left the community because of flooding, or extremely inclement weather conditions made it impossible to hold the election. In such cases which, by their very nature, should be rare, the National Spiritual Assembly may use its discretion in recognizing the Local Spiritual Assembly, considering it a group, or decide to hold the election of such Local Spiritual Assemblies at a later date when the friends have returned to their communities. (Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Ecuador, September 5, 1983)
Voting by telephone:
If it is not possible to vote by mail, you may cast your vote by telephone in the following manner: Please call the Bahá’í National Centre … Tell the receptionist that you are a delegate who wishes to cast your ballot in the National Spiritual Assembly by-election. The receptionist will connect you to a person who will ask for your name, your Bahá’í identification number and other information to verify your identity as a delegate. You will then be transferred anonymously to a second individual. Without identifying yourself, state to this second individual the name of the person for whom you are voting. As you can appreciate, to protect confidentiality it is important that you not engage in conversation with this second person, but say only the name of the individual for whom you are voting. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, to all delegates to the 2013 National Convention, regarding by-election)
When we vote, we must vote for the 9 people who are best suited to serve. Even if we have a low opinion of all those who are eligible, it is still our duty is to vote for those nine from among them who, in our estimation, best meet the standards for service on a Spiritual Assembly. Those who do not wish to vote for nine, may achieve his end by purposely including the names of those who are ineligible, but this would be a betrayal of the trust placed in him as a Bahá’í voter.
It is a basic principle of elections for Bahá’í Spiritual Assemblies that each voter must vote for the nine people who, in his or her opinion, are best suited to serve. He may have a low opinion of all those who are eligible, but his duty is to vote for those nine from among them who, in his estimation, best meet the standards for service on a Spiritual Assembly. This is how it is possible to vote for exactly nine names. Since the membership of an Assembly is nine, it would give rise to a number of statistical anomalies if voters were permitted to record votes for fewer or more than nine names. In any one election there are not usually any cases where a voter accidentally makes a mistake and includes a name of an ineligible person, so the statistical effect is slight, and there is no need to invalidate his whole ballot. As you point out, a believer who does not wish to vote for nine, may achieve his end by purposely including the names of those who are ineligible, but this would be a betrayal of the trust placed in him as a Bahá’í voter. One cannot control such actions, but like any action contrary to the spirit of the Faith, they are detrimental and should be strongly discouraged. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, October 26, 1983)
When elected to serve, we must carry out this sacred responsibility. It is possible, though, to suggest we not be elected as an officer:
We have also been asked to point out that although it is the obligation of a Bahá’í to serve on an Assembly, either Local or National, when elected, on several occasions the beloved Guardian pointed out that before the election of officers, if any member had a good reason in his own opinion why he should not be elected to one of the offices of the Assembly, he was free to suggest that he should not be so elected. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
On 4 August 2016 the Universal House of Justice sent a message to all National Spiritual Assemblies, about organizing unit conventions. You can read the letter here.
How has this helped you understand how to carry out your sacred responsibility? Post your comments below!
It’s election season again, which always generates both discussion and confusion about what Bahá’ís can and can’t do, so I thought I’d delve into the Bahá’í Writings to help find some answers.
Why Would We Want to Get Involved in Politics?
We’re desperately searching for solutions to social and economic problems:
The desperate search for solutions to the social and economic problems afflicting these countries is tempting people, in increasing numbers, to indulge in partisan political activities; the indigenous Bahá’ís should refuse to be drawn into such divisive pursuits. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996 – Australia, the Cook Islands…)
We think we can somehow aid our fellows better by some activity outside the Faith:
It is often through our misguided feeling that we can somehow aid our fellows better by some activity outside the Faith, that Bahá’ís are led to indulge in politics. This is a dangerous delusion. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)
What is the Bahá’í standard?
We can’t speak a word of politics:
O handmaid of the Lord! Speak thou no word of politics. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)
We can’t assign blame, take side, further designs, or identify ourselves with any system prejudicial to the best interests of the world:
In such controversies they should assign no blame, take no side, further no design, and identify themselves with no system prejudicial to the best interests of that world-wide-Fellowship which it is their aim to guard and foster. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can’t either side with or denounce any political figures:
The Guardian wishes me to draw the attention of the friends through you that they should be very careful in their public utterances not to mention any political figures-either side with them of denounce them. This is the first fact to bear in mind. Otherwise they will involve the friends in political matters, which is infinitely dangerous for the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 441)
We can’t express support or opposition for a candidate during an election:
During an election season, however, an incumbent is often an electoral candidate and neither support nor opposition should be expressed for the candidacy. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)
We can’t be drawn into what might become divisive debates on governmental policies:
As many of you are aware from media reports, on Friday 7 September the Government of Canada announced that it had closed its Embassy in Tehran and declared all Iranian diplomats in Canada personae non gratae, requiring that they leave the country within five days. The National Spiritual Assembly seeks your assistance in advising the Bahá’í community that Bahá’í institutions have no comment to make on the government’s decision, which concerns relations between states. It will also be helpful to remind the friends to scrupulously avoid being drawn into what may become divisive debates surrounding this issue, recalling the guidance of the beloved Guardian: “Let them (the Bahá’ís) refrain from associating themselves, whether by word or by deed, with the political pursuits of their respective nations, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions.” (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, To all Local Spiritual Assemblies, 11 September 2012)
We can’t associate with the political pursuits of our countries, with the politics of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions:
Let them refrain from associating themselves, whether by word or by deed, with the political pursuits of their prospective nations, with the politics of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can’t actively support an individual who has announced his candidacy for political office:
Active support of an individual who has announced his candidacy for political office is not permissible to Baháís. (Universal House of Justice, May 25, 1992)
We can’t express support for one political candidate over another:
Bahá’u’lláh has written that “He Who is your Lord, the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body.”; The mere self-characterization of candidates as opponents of one another is inconsistent with this approach, let alone the much more censurable practices now taken for granted in political campaigns. Thus, it is clear that a Bahá’í would not express support for one political candidate over another. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)
We can’t provide written and oral endorsements, praise or criticize a candidate or post a candidate’s photo on a social media site:
Written and oral endorsements, together with praise or criticism of a candidate, would fall into this category. Nor would he or she take actions that could be easily interpreted, during the electoral season, as support for one candidate over another, such as the posting of a candidate’s photo on a social media site. The National Assembly is confident that the friends will take this guidance to heart, given the following standard set by Shoghi Effendi: “Absolute impartiality in the matter of political parties should be shown by words and by deeds.” (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)
We can’t seek political power; accept governmental political posts; affiliate themselves with political parties; become entangled in partisan issues, or participate in programmes tied to the divisive agendas of any group or faction:
Bahá’ís do not seek political power. They will not accept political posts in their respective governments, whatever the particular system in place, though they will take up positions which they deem to be purely administrative in nature. They will not affiliate themselves with political parties, become entangled in partisan issues, or participate in programmes tied to the divisive agendas of any group or faction. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
We can’t allow ourselves to become the tools of unscrupulous politicians:
Let them beware lest they allow themselves to become the tools of unscrupulous politicians, or to be entrapped by the treacherous devices of the plotters and the perfidious among their countrymen. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can’t be party to any instigation to overthrow a government or interfere in political relations between the governments of different nations:
Bahá’ís will not be party to any instigation to overthrow a government. Nor will they interfere in political relations between the governments of different nations. This does not mean that they are naive about political processes in the world today and make no distinction between just and tyrannical rule. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
What Can We Do?
We can vote in civil elections, as long as we do not have to identify ourselves with any party in order to do so:
Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
We can keep the candidate who we vote for strictly confidential:
The candidate for whom a Bahá’í votes remains a strictly private matter. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)
We can vote for those who believe in God:
Also from the Suriy-i-Muluk: “Know thou for a certainty that whoso disbelieveth in God is neither trustworthy nor truthful. This, indeed, is the truth, the undoubted truth. He that acteth treacherously towards God will, also, act treacherously towards his king. Nothing whatever can deter such a man from evil, nothing can hinder him from betraying his neighbour, nothing can induce him to walk uprightly. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 313)
We can take up positions which are purely administrative in nature:
. . . they will take up positions which they deem to be purely administrative in nature. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
We can distinguish between such posts and functions as are either diplomatic or political from those that are purely administrative and which under no circumstances are affected by the changes and chances of political activities and party governments:
It is their duty to strive to distinguish, as clearly as they possibly can, and if needed with the aid of their elected representative, such posts and functions as are either diplomatic or political from those that are purely administrative in character, and which under no circumstances are affected by the changes and chances that political activities and party government, in every land, must necessarily involve. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can speak well of politicians:
Except to speak well of them, make thou no mention of the earth’s kings, and the worldly governments thereof. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)
We can respect those, particularly women, who choose to pursue political aspirations or to engage in political activity:
At the same time, Bahá’ís respect those who, out of a sincere desire to serve their countries, choose to pursue political aspirations or to engage in political activity. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease… (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 135)
We can rise above all particularism and partisanship, vain disputes, petty calculations and transient passions:
Let them rise above all particularism and partisanship, above the vain disputes, the petty calculations, transient passions that agitate the face, and engage the intention, of a challenging world. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can engage in public discourse on issues of general concern to society, based on Bahá’í principles such as global climate change, race unity, the advancement of women, global prosperity etc.
Notwithstanding the guidance above, the friends are encouraged to engage in public discourse on issues of general concern to society, many of which are also addressed by political candidates. Our contributions should be based on Bahá’í principles rather than partisan viewpoints. Material related to issues as varied as global climate change, race unity, the advancement of women, and global prosperity, produced under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice and various National Spiritual Assemblies, is readily available to assist the friends in such discussions. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)
We can spread the blissful tidings of the Kingdom of God; demonstrate the influence of the Word of God; tell of abiding joy, spiritual delights and godlike qualities; and of f the blowing of the spirit of life into the body of the world:
Rather, confine thine utterance to spreading the blissful tidings of the Kingdom of God, and demonstrating the influence of the Word of God, and the holiness of the Cause of God. Tell thou of abiding joy and spiritual delights, and godlike qualities, and of how the Sun of Truth hath risen above the earth’s horizons: tell of the blowing of the spirit of life into the body of the world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)
We can acquire a more profound insight into the nature of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which offers a pattern for a future society:
[We] should strive to acquire a more profound insight into the nature of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which offers a pattern for a future society distinguished by justice and unity, far removed from the contention of competing political interests. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996 – Australia, the Cook Islands…)
We can stand firmly and unreservedly for the way of Bahá’u’lláh:
Let them affirm their unyielding determination to stand, firmly and unreservedly, for the way of Bahá’u’lláh, to avoid the entanglements and bickerings inseparable from the pursuits of the politician, and to become worthy agencies of that divine policy which incarnates God’s immutable Purpose for all men. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can pray and be well-wishers of elected governmental officials:
Bahá’ís are the “well-wishers” of the [elected governmental office holders], praying that they may be guided to take action for the betterment of society; but believers must be strictly neutral in connection with [electoral candidates]. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)
We can sacrifice our political pursuits and affiliations and wholeheartedly and fully support the divine system of Bahá’u’lláh:
The world situation is so confused and moral issues which were once clear have become so mixed up with selfish and battling factions, that the best way Bahá’ís can serve the highest interests of their country and the cause of true salvation for the world, is to sacrifice their political pursuits and affiliations and wholeheartedly and fully support the divine system of Bahá’u’lláh. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 444)
We can shape our lives and regulate our conduct so that no charge secrecy, fraud, bribery or intimidation may be brought against us:
Let them so shape their lives and regulate their conduct that no charge secrecy, of fraud, of bribery or of intimidation may, however ill-founded, be brought against them. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
We can build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their own way:
We must build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their own way. We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary they will destroy us. (Shoghi Effendi, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 134-135)
Why Don’t We Get Involved?
The Bahá’í goal of establishing the unity of humankind includes our support for the organization of the countries of the world in a global federal system and requires a re-orientation of how each element of society views and interacts with each other:
In contrast, the Bahá’í goal of establishing the unity of humankind includes not only our support for the eventual organization of the countries of the world in a global federal system, but requires a re-orientation of how each element of society; individuals, families, civic organizations, towns, racial and ethnic groups, classes, and nations; views and interacts with all other elements of society. (NSA-USA, to the American Bahá’í Community, September 14, 2012)
Non-involvement in politics is not intended as a statement expressing some fundamental objection to politics in its true sense; indeed we understand that humanity organizes itself through its political affairs:
The approach adopted by the Bahá’í community of non-involvement in such activity is not intended as a statement expressing some fundamental objection to politics in its true sense; indeed, humanity organizes itself through its political affairs. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
We view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of a society, and we observe the laws of the land in which we reside:
In this connection, they view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of a society, and they undertake, one and all, to observe the laws of the land in which they reside, without allowing their inner religious beliefs to be violated. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
Society is disintegrating so rapidly that moral issues, which were clear a half century ago, are now hopelessly confused and mixed up with battling political interests:
What we Bahá’ís must face is the fact that society is disintegrating so rapidly that moral issues which were clear a half century ago are now hopelessly confused and, what is more, thoroughly mixed up with battling political interests. That is why Bahá’ís must turn all their forces into the channel of building up the Bahá’í Cause and its administration. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)
The divisive nature of politics runs counter to the belief that unity is essential to the progress of civilization:
The divisive nature of politics runs counter to the fundamental Bahá’í belief that unity is essential to the progress of civilization. (NSA-USA, to the American Bahá’í Community, September 14, 2012)
The near paralysis of elected governments bears witness to the enervating effects of partisanship:
The near paralysis of elected governments today, not just at the national level, but with growing frequency at the state and local levels, bears witness to the enervating effects of partisanship. (NSA-USA, to the American Bahá’í Community, September 14, 2012)
We can’t seek to establish patterns of thought and action that give expression to the principle of oneness yet engage in activities which reinforce an entirely different set of assumptions about social existence:
Within the framework traced out by the above ideas, then, it is possible to consider the second dimension of the Bahá’í community’s efforts to contribute to the advancement of civilization: its involvement in society at large. Clearly what Bahá’ís see as one aspect of their contribution cannot contradict the other. They cannot be seeking to establish patterns of thought and action that give expression to the principle of oneness within their community, yet engage in activities in another context which, to whatever extent, reinforce an entirely different set of assumptions about social existence. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)
Promoting someone’s candidacy over that of other competitors is an act of partisanship, which is inimical to the principles of the Faith:
Even if the person is not attached to a political party, the very fact of promoting his candidacy over that of other competitors is an act of partisanship, which is inimical to the principles of the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, May 25, 1992)
The political realm pertains only to the Rulers of those matters: it has nothing to do with the souls who are exerting their utmost energy to harmonizing affairs, helping character and inciting (the people) to strive for perfections:
If any person wishes to speak of government affairs, or to interfere with the order of Governors, the others must not combine with him because the Cause of God is withdrawn entirely from political affairs; the political realm pertains only to the Rulers of those matters: it has nothing to do with the souls who are exerting their utmost energy to harmonizing affairs, helping character and inciting (the people) to strive for perfections. Therefore no soul is allowed to interfere with (political) matters, but only in that which is commanded. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 407)
Our task concerns the life of the soul, for this leads to our joy in the world:
Thy task concerneth the life of the soul, for this verily leadeth to man’s joy in the world of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)
The Bahá’ís would find themselves arousing antagonism instead of love
If the institutions of the Faith, God forbid, became involved in politics, the Bahá’ís would find themselves arousing antagonism instead of love. If they took one stand in one country, they would be bound to change the views of the people in other countries about the aims and purposes of the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 444)
If we build up the Bahá’í pattern, we can offer it as a remedy when all else has failed:
They can neither change nor help the world in any other way at present. If they become involved in the issues the governments of the world are struggling over, they will be lost. But if they build up the Bahá’í pattern they can offer it as a remedy when all else has failed. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)
We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us:
We must build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their way. We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)
Instead of changing the world or helping it, we would become lost and destroyed:
By becoming involved in political disputes, the Bahá’ís instead of changing the world or helping it, would themselves be lost and destroyed. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 444)
How has this helped you understand what we can and cannot do; and why? Post your comments below!
I recently had the bounty of trying to explain the concept of leadership in the Baha’i Faith to a non-Baha’i writing a university paper, and thought I’d share some of my ideas here. She asked three questions:
Is it possible to have leadership with out a designated leader?
If the traditional understandings of leadership point explicitly to the need for a specific and designated leader, can leadership avoid focusing on a leader and still be leadership?
Do the leadership styles that have been mentioned above apply to the Baha’i concept of leadership? If so, how?
She said: if leadership is the “action of leading a group of people or an organization as the Oxford definition suggests, then:
How is leadership recognized as leadership?
What actions need to be witnessed in order for an observer to say, “Yes! That is leadership!”
Her premise was that “the Baha’i Faith is understood to be ‘leaderless’ as they have no one single designated leader”; that it “opts for a form of group leadership in which there is an democratic approach to leadership where there is freedom of approach and position” and that “essentially their formula for leadership permits anyone to be a leader regardless of designation, title, or appointment.”
I told her that the Baha’i Faith doesn’t allow just “anyone to be a leader”! Although we don’t have clergy, we do have a highly refined administration (local and national Spiritual Assemblies), elected at the local and national levels every year, and at the international level (the Universal House of Justice) every five years.
In our election process, there is no campaigning or electioneering. Instead the names of all Baha’is in good standing over the age of 21 appear on the ballot. In April of every year, all Baha’is over the age of 21 must vote for exactly 9 people who they feel will best lead the community for the coming year. Each voter has the absolute freedom to choose without being biased or influenced by agendas, ambitions, or platforms.
The nine individuals who receive the highest number of votes form the Assembly for that year. Their job is to oversee a wide variety of activities which include the education of children and junior youth, devotional services, study classes, discussions, social events, the observance of holy days, marriages, divorces, and funeral services. They may also oversee ongoing small-scale educational, economic or environmental development projects, particularly at the National level.
The National Spiritual Assemblies are charged with guiding and coordinating Bahá’í activities within a given country. Their tasks range from the initiation and administration of large-scale social and economic development projects to book publishing; from overseeing relations with their respective national governments to the coordination and collaboration with other religious groups and non-governmental organizations.
The criterion for membershipon a Spiritual Assembly is:
One who is faithful, sincere, experienced, capable and competent
It is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 88)
The role of the Spiritual Assembly
The Spiritual Assembly is in no wise equivalent to the priest or clergy, but is responsible for upholding the teachings, stimulating active service, conducting meetings, maintaining unity, holding Bahá’í property in trust for the community, and representing it in its relations to the public and to other Bahá’í communities. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 180)
Obligations and Duties of the Local Spiritual Assembly include:
The matter of teaching, its direction, its ways and means, its extension, its consolidation, essential as they are to the interests of the Cause, constitute by no means the only issue which should receive the full attention to these Assemblies…
It is incumbent upon them to be vigilant and cautious, discreet and watchful, and protect at all times the Temple of the Cause from the dart of the mischief-maker and the onslaught of the enemy.
Promote amity and concord amongst the Friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness, and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and wholehearted co-operation for the service of the Cause.
They must do their utmost to extend at all times the helping hand to the poor, the sick, the disabled, the orphan, the widow, irrespective of colour, caste, and creed.
They must promote by every means in their power the material as well as the spiritual enlightenment of youth, the means for the education of children, institute, whenever possible, Bahá’í educational institutions, organize and supervise their work, and provide the best means for their progress and development
They must make an effort to maintain official, regular, and frequent correspondence with the various Bahá’í centres throughout the world, report to them their activities, and share the glad tidings they receive with all their fellow-workers in the Cause.
They must encourage and stimulate by every means at their command, through subscription, reports and articles, the development of the various Bahá’í magazines.
They must undertake the arrangement of the regular meetings of the Friends, the feasts, and the anniversaries, as well as the special gatherings designed to serve an promote the social, intellectual, and spiritual interests of their fellow-men.
They must supervise, in these days when the Cause is still in its infancy, all Baha’i publications and translations, and provide in general for a dignified and accurate presentation of all Bahá’í literature and its distribution to the general public. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p.39-40)
Obligations and Duties of the National Spiritual Assembly
Theirs is the duty, while retaining the sacred and exclusive right of final decision in their hands to:
invite discussion provide information ventilate grievances
welcome advice from even the most humble and insignificant member of the Bahá’í Family expose their motives
set forth their plans
justify their actions revise if necessary their verdict
foster the spirit of individual initiative and enterprise
fortify the sense of interdependence and co-partnership, of understanding and mutual confidence between them on one hand and all Local assemblies and individual believers on the other. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p 143-44)
Obligations and Duties of the Universal House of Justice
The Universal House of Justice is the supreme governing institution of the Baha’i Faith. It is a legislativeinstitution with the authority to supplement and apply the laws of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and exercises a judicial function as the highest appellate institution in the Baha’i administration.
While being empowered to legislate on matters, the Universal House of Justice has, since its inception, limited its exercise of this function. Instead it has generally provided guidance to Bahá’ís around the world through letters and messages. The books and documents published by the Universal House of Justice are considered authoritative and its legislative decisions are considered infallible to Bahá’ís.
The provenance, the authority, the duties, the sphere of action of the Universal House of Justice all derive from the revealed Word of Bahá’u’lláh which, together with the interpretations and expositions of `Abdu’l-Bahá and of Shoghi Effendi … constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation.
Some of the powers and duties according to the constitution include:
Promoting the spiritual qualities that characterize Bahá’í life individually and collectively
Preserving the Baha’i sacred texts
Defending and protecting the global Bahá’í community from repression and persecution
Preserving and developing the world spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá’í Faith
Encouraging the growth and maturation of the Bahá’í community and administration
Safeguarding individual personal rights, freedoms and initiatives
Applying Bahá’í principles and laws
Developing, abrogating and changing laws that are not recorded in the Bahá’í sacred texts, according to the requirements of the time
Pronouncing sanctions against violations of Baha’i law
Adjudicating and arbitrating of disputes referred to it
Administrating all religious funds and endowments such as Huqúqu’lláh that are entrusted to its care (Momen, Moojan (1989). “Bayt-al-`Adl (House of Justice)”. Encyclopædia Iranica)
Furthermore, the Universal House of Justice is instructed by Bahá’u’lláh to exert a positive influence on the general welfare of humankind, to promote a permanent peace among the nations of the world, ensure the “training of peoples, the up-building of nations, the protection of man and the safeguarding of his honour”
Individuals are also appointed at various levels to aid in the spread of the Faith and to protect the spiritual health of the Bahá’ís. They are called Counsellors, Auxiliary Board Members or Assistants to the Auxiliary Board and work closely with the Local and National Spiritual Assemblies.
No Individual Power or Authority
In the Baha’i Faith, individual members of all three levels of the administration have no power or authority on their own. Only when they are gathered together, meeting officially as an institution, are they considered to be divinely inspired.
The first quality for leadership
The first quality for leadership both among individuals and Assemblies is the capacity to use the energy and competence that exists in the rank and file of its followers. Otherwise the more competent members of the groups will go at a tangent and try to find elsewhere a field of work and where they could use their energy. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 33)
Ego has no place in Baha’i leadership:
Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names.” (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)
One of the distinguishing features of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic world order is that it does not harbour egotistical personalities. Bahá’u’lláh has conferred authority on its institutions, whether local, national or international, but the individuals who are privileged to serve on them are devoid of any authority. Unlike men who wield power in the world today and seek to acquire fame and popularity, members of Bahá’í institutions cannot but manifest humility and self-effacement if they are to remain faithful to Bahá’u’lláh. Those who do not succeed, through immaturity or lack of faith, in living up to these standards are indeed attached to the Kingdom of Names and become deprived of the bounties of God in this age. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25-26)
One thing that differentiates Baha’i elections is that despite the fact that the Spiritual Assemblies are not accountable to the people who elect them, but to God, consultation is the bedrock on which they function. Every 19 days, the community comes together for a “Feast” which has 3 parts: devotional, consultation and social. During the consultation portion, individuals share their concerns and recommendations with the Assembly and vice versa. The standards of consultation are very high:
The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are:
purity of motive
radiance of spirit
detachment from all else save God
attraction to His Divine Fragrance
humility and lowliness among his loved ones
patience and long suffering in difficulties
servitude to His exalted Threshold
Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Baha’ shall be vouchsafed to them….
The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and seteth forth his argument.
Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt, for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions
If, after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if; the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.
The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the Assembly. They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God, for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden.
Should harmony of thought and absolute unity be non-existent, that gathering shall be dispersed and that Assembly be brought to naught.
The second condition: They must, when coming together, turn their faces to the Kingdom on High and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views.
They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden.
The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts and is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority.
It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, P.42-43)
Individual Initiative and Universal Participation
Because there is no clergy in the Faith, we rely on individual initiative and universal participation:
In the human body, every cell, every organ, every nerve has its part to play. When all do so the body is healthy, vigorous, radiant, ready for every call made upon it. No cell, however humble, lives apart from the body, whether in serving it or receiving from it. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42)
It’s not easy to implement, since most Baha’is have not grown up in the Faith, and are used to waiting for other leaders to tell them what to do.
It is the bounden duty of every American believer … to initiate, promote, and consolidate, within the limits fixed by the administrative principles of the Faith, any activity he or she deems fit to undertake for the furtherance of the Plan…. Let him not wait for any directions, or expect any special encouragement, from the elected representatives of his community, nor be deterred by any obstacles which his relatives, or fellow-citizens may be inclined to place in his path, nor mind the censure of his critics or enemies.” (Shoghi Effendi, Unlocking the Power of Action)
Here is how the interaction between the individual and the institutions plays out:
The authority to direct the affairs of the Faith locally, nationally and internationally, is divinely conferred on elected institutions. However, the power to accomplish the tasks of the community resides primarily in the mass of the believers. The authority of the institutions is an irrevocable necessity for the progress of humanity; its exercise is an art to be mastered. The power of action in the believers is unlocked at the level of individual initiative and surges at the level of collective volition. In its potential, this mass power, this mix of individual potentialities, exists in a malleable form susceptible to the multiple reactions of individuals to the sundry influences at work in the world. To realize its highest purpose, this power needs to express itself through orderly avenues of activity. Even though individuals may strive to be guided in their actions by their personal understanding of the Divine Texts, and much can be accomplished thereby, such actions, untempered by the overall direction provided by authorized institutions, are incapable of attaining the thrust necessary for the unencumbered advancement of civilization. (Universal House of Justice, Unlocking the Power of Action)
In the Baha’i Faith, service is seen as the highest station.
The truth, however, is that the Bahá’í community has no leaders as such and those who are elected or appointed to administrative office are expected to be servants of the Cause, manifesting self-effacement, humility and detachment from the things of this world. An inherent characteristic of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is that it does not harbour egotistical personalities. Its watchword is the servitude exemplified by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whose supplication to God was to give Him ‘to drink from the chalice of selflessness’ and to make Him as ‘dust’ in the pathway of the loved ones of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 293)
Leadership in the Baha’i Faith is spiritual rather than material. We are promised:
These Spiritual Assemblies are aided by the Spirit of God. Their defender is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Over them He spreadeth His wings. What bounty is there greater than this? … These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: God Passes By, p. 332)
Leadership is seen as “community building”:
Those who serve in these settings, both local inhabitants and visiting teachers, would rightly view their work in terms of community building…. a process that seeks to raise capacity within a population to take charge of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development.” (Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message, 2010, paragraph 5)
We don’t yet understand the effects of this new form of leadership:
Therefore, in this organic, divinely guided, blessed and illumined body the participation of every believer is of the utmost importance, and is a source of power and vitality as yet unknown to us. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42)
For more information on the topic of leadership in the Baha’i Faith, you might also find these articles helpful:
Canada is going to the polls next week, to elect a new prime minister and the United States will soon be electing a president. Apathy is setting in on both sides of the border as many people are not planning to vote because they don’t think their vote will matter. We know, as Baha’is that the old world structures are crumbling, but what is more worrisome, is when people don’t vote in Baha’i elections either.
This week I got a story from an email from a friend, who reminds us that the right to vote was hard fought:
This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; who lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of ‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917,when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food–all of it colorless slop–was infested with worms.
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because–why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?
Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels. http://www.hbo.com/films/ironjawedangels ‘ It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote.
Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient. My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was–with herself. ‘One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,’ she said. ‘What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote?
All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.’ The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her ‘all over again.’HBO released the movie on video and DVD I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum.
I want it shown anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’
On a personal note: last year when I cast my vote, I was acutely aware that I was doing it for all of the women of my grandmother’s generation, who fought for my right to be there.
What are your thoughts on elections? Post your comments here: