When my son was born, I was a new Bahá’í (of 2 years), and my husband was Anglican. I had a vague idea that Bahá’ís didn’t baptize their children, but believed that unity in the family was a higher principle, so my son was baptized in the Anglican church and raised as a Bahá’í.
It would have been helpful to know this guidance at that time:
Children of such a union may be baptized if the Christian parent so wishes; from the Bahá’í point of view the baptism has no effect. It must be emphasized, however, that the Bahá’í parent, while perfectly free to attend the baptismal ceremony, should not undertake any commitment or vow contrary to Bahá’í law and should not surrender her parental right to impart the Bahá’í teachings to her child. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 139)
I promised to raise my child in the Anglican church, believing that to raise a Baha’i child was also to raise a Christian, Moslem, Jewish child. Now I wonder if this is the same kind of dissimulation Baha’is in Iran are rejecting when they are asked if they are Moslem and they say no? On the surface, they could answer yes, because Baha’is believe in all Faiths, but they don’t. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about this back then, so I was on my own. Fortunately I did not have to surrender any parental right to impart the Baha’i teachings to my son, otherwise I never would have gone through with it.
I wondered how many other families might be in the same situations, so I turned to the Writings to see what they had to teach us. Let’s have a look!
In the past, baptism was used to awaken people:
Reflect, also, that baptism in the days of John the Baptist was used to awaken and admonish the people to repent from all sin, and to watch for the appearance of the Kingdom of Christ. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 94-95)
Children don’t derive any spiritual benefit from baptism. In fact, many of them become agitated and ill.
But at present in Asia, the Catholics and the Orthodox Church plunge newly born children into water mixed with olive oil, and many of them become ill from the shock; at the time of baptism they struggle and become agitated. In other places, the clergy sprinkle the water of baptism on the forehead. But neither from the first form nor from the second do the children derive any spiritual benefit. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 95)
In this dispensation we don’t need a symbol of repentance and seeking forgiveness from sins:
No, this baptism with water was a symbol of repentance, and of seeking forgiveness of sins. But in the cycle of Bahá’u’lláh there is no longer need of this symbol; for its reality, which is to be baptized with the spirit and love of God, is understood and established. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Baptism doesn’t cause spiritual awakening or conversion – it’s only a custom we follow:
Other peoples are amazed and wonder why the infant is plunged into the water, since this is neither the cause of the spiritual awakening of the child, nor of its faith or conversion, but it is only a custom which is followed. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 95)
Religious laws are changed in accordance with the changes and alterations of the times:
Question. — Is the ablution of baptism useful and necessary, or is it useless and unnecessary? In the first case, if it is useful, why was it abrogated? And in the second case, if it is useless, why did John practice it?
Answer. — The change in conditions, alterations and transformations are necessities of the essence of beings, and essential necessities cannot be separated from the reality of things. So it is absolutely impossible to separate heat from fire, humidity from water, or light from the sun, for they are essential necessities. As the change and alteration of conditions are necessities for beings, so laws also are changed and altered in accordance with the changes and alterations of the times. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 93-94)
Material water doesn’t purify the heart:
For material water does not purify the heart of man; no, it cleanses his body. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Real baptism is through the divine teachings and the exhortations of Baha’u’llah:
The performance of baptismal celebration would cleanse the body, but the spirit hath no share; but the divine teachings and the exhortations of the Beauty of Bahá will baptize the soul. This is the real baptism. I hope that thou wilt receive this baptism. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 390)
It’s the heavenly water and spirit which makes the human heart good and pure:
But the heavenly water and spirit, which are knowledge and life, make the human heart good and pure; the heart which receives a portion of the bounty of the Spirit becomes sanctified, good and pure — that is to say, the reality of man becomes purified and sanctified from the impurities of the world of nature. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Real baptism removes evil qualities such as anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc.:
These natural impurities are evil qualities: anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc. Man cannot free himself from the rage of the carnal passions except by the help of the Holy Spirit. That is why He says baptism with the spirit, with water and with fire is necessary, and that it is essential — that is to say, the spirit of divine bounty, the water of knowledge and life, and the fire of the love of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
When we’re baptized this way, we will become filled with eternal bounty:
Man must be baptized with this spirit, this water and this fire so as to become filled with the eternal bounty. Otherwise, what is the use of baptizing with material water? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Baha’is don’t act as godparents either:
Your Assembly understands that a conscientious Bahá’í couple must not have their children baptized, nor should Bahá’ís ordinarily participate as godparents in a baptismal ceremony for this also may seem to imply their affiliation with the church. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 143)
For parents who are looking for a spiritual baptism ceremony to welcome the newly arrived babe, they can consider a naming ceremony:
Thou hast asked regarding the naming of children: When thou wishest to name a babe, prepare a meeting therefor; chant the verses and communes, and supplicate and implore the Threshold of Oneness and beg the attainment of guidance for the babe and wish confirmated firmness and constancy; then give the name and enjoy beverage and sweetmeat. This is spiritual baptism. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 149-150)
This would not be an official public ceremony, and would not involve any ritual:
We have no ‘baptismal service’ in the Cause, such as the Christians have. There could be no objection, however, for the friends to come together on such happy occasions, provided they do not hold an official public ceremony, and provided also they strictly avoid any uniformity and rigidity in all such practices. We feel that this activity should be left to the discretion of the parents. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 138)
How has this helped you understand the topic better? What’s been your experience? Post your comments below.
When I began to speak about the abuse that happened in our family, I wrote to the House of Justice about how much contact I should have with them and they suggested:
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 me, 9 September, 1992)
Based on this, I wrote letters to my parents, asking them to take responsibility for their actions by paying for my therapy and assuring me that my son would never be subjected to the same thing. They tried to have me declared crazy and have my son taken away. When that didn’t work, I was shunned by my parents and siblings, and no matter what efforts I made to overcome it, my parents passed away still estranged and my brothers have shown no desire to heal the rift between us.
For more information, you might want to look at:
Should I Send a Confrontation Letter?
As someone working to bring unity to the world, the fact that I could not have unity within my own family has been a considerable source of pain for most of my adult life.
As I look around though, I realize that there has always been estrangement in families. I’m not as unique as I once believed. It seems we were created that way:
Souls are inclined toward estrangement. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
The love of family is limited; the tie of blood relationship is not the strongest bond. Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
How often it happens that in a family, love and agreement are changed into enmity and antagonism. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 79-80)
In Ruhi Book 1 we spent much time discussing the 5 things that inflict the greatest harm on the Cause, estrangement being one of the five:
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
The Baha’i standard would have us love each other so much we’d spend our money and give up our own desires for each other:
Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)
That’s a hard standard to live up to!
What are the Causes?
This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings . . . This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)
Everything which conduces to separation and estrangement is satanic because it emanates from the purposes of self. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
Effects of Estrangement:
This “Most Great Separation”, as Bahá’u’lláh referred to the severing of the relationship [between Himself and Mírzá Yahyá], perplexed and confused believers who were unfamiliar with Mírzá Yahyá’s conduct … The anguish it brought upon Bahá’u’lláh is reflected in the term He used to refer to this period – Ayyám-i-Shidád, the “Days of Stress”. (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)
Death and Dissolution:
Consider how clearly it is shown in creation that the cause of existence is unity and cohesion and the cause of nonexistence is separation and dissension. By a divine power of creation the elements assemble together in affinity, and the result is a composite being. Certain of these elements have united, and man has come into existence . . . But when these elements separate, when their affinity and cohesion are overcome, death and dissolution of the body they have built inevitably follow. Therefore, affinity and unity among even these material elements mean life in the body of man, and their discord and disagreement mean death. Throughout all creation, in all the kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
‘Abdu’l-Baha becomes overwhelmed by grief:
I swear this by the beauty of the Lord: whensoever I hear good of the friends, my heart filleth up with joy; but whensoever I find even a hint that they are on bad terms one with another, I am overwhelmed by grief. Such is the condition of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Then judge from this where your duty lieth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 231)
How to Prevent Estrangement:
Through love, respect and courtesy:
Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives … If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456)
How to Live with Estrangement:
You may have to sever your ties:
Although Bahá’u’lláh tried to conceal Mírzá Yahyá’s attempt on his life from His companions, further acts of treachery and betrayal forced Him to sever all ties with His younger half brother. (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)
Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect. If a believer showeth kindness to one of the neglectful, and, with great love, gradually leadeth him to an understanding of the validity of the Holy Cause, so that he may come to know the fundamentals of God’s Faith and the implications thereof—such a one will certainly be transformed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
Ways to Overcome Estrangement:
Through the powers of the Holy Spirit:
It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love … No worldly power can accomplish the universal love … the Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)
Make every effort to remove any feelings of estrangement:
The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement. (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)
Fix your gaze on unity:
Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67)
Love each other in God and for God:
When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
Through truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness:
Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness; that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 445)
Through love, patience, resignation, forgiveness, friendship and reconciliation:
If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and reconciliation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)
Promote amity and concord and secure an active and whole-hearted cooperation:
They must endeavor to 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 whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 38)
Benefits of Overcoming Estrangement:
Heaven will support you:
Heaven will support you while you work in this in-gathering of the scattered peoples of the world … You will be servants of God, who are dwelling near to Him, His divine helpers in the service, ministering to all Humanity. All Humanity! Every human being! Never forget this! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
The Grace of the Holy Spirit will be given and we will become the centre of the Divine blessings:
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…. If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One…. Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88-89)
Here’s a book you might find helpful:
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below.
Recently I’ve had a series of discussion with people who are “different”, who wonder where their place is, in the Baha’i community. Maybe they are autistic; or deaf or have Down’s syndrome. Maybe they have mental illness; or lived through a traumatic event. No matter the circumstances of their lives, their stories are all the same: they feel excluded from Baha’i community events; and whenever they try to share their story with others, they are shut down, told to stop being so negative, told to focus their attention on the core activities.
“Go away, conform and leave us alone” is the message they are given, over and over again.
They ask me: Do I have a place in the Baha’i Community?
Of course they do! And it always hurts my heart to hear these stories!
Isn’t it obvious that we’re all one? What does oneness mean if not that they are welcome?
What is the Standard We’re Aiming For?
Let’s look at the concept of oneness for a moment.
Everything in God’s creation is unique – why would we expect individuals to be different?
In God’s creation there is only one of everything. No two things are the same. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 4, p. 198)
Every member of the human race is born into the world as a trust of the whole:
In this regard, each individual needs to understand that, since the body of humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the human race is born into the world as a trust of the whole and that the advantage of the part in a world society is best served by promoting the advantage of the whole. (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)
Bahá’u’lláh compared the world to the human body. Every part looks different, and has a different function but all are needed for the efficient functioning of the body. No one makes fun of the knee cap for not being able to see; or excludes the ear when going for a walk. So too with every human being, no matter how limited or “different” they may seem – they all contribute to the whole; and they all serve a specific purpose:
Bahá’u’lláh compared the world to the human body. There is, indeed, no other model in phenomenal existence to which we can reasonably look. Human society is composed not of a mass of merely differentiated cells but of associations of individuals, each one of whom is endowed with intelligence and will; nevertheless, the modes of operation that characterize man’s biological nature illustrate fundamental principles of existence. Chief among these is that of unity in diversity. Paradoxically, it is precisely the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body — and the perfect integration into it of the body’s cells — that permit the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements. No cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its functioning or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole. (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Mar 03, The Prosperity of Humankind)
In the Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah tells us we need to be even as one soul:
Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 68)
He’s asking us to put ourselves in another person’s life, understand reality from their perspective and walk with them.
We are all connected through the perfect wisdom of God, whether our body and mind fits the “norm” or not:
The beings, whether great or small, are connected with one another by the perfect wisdom of God, and affect and influence one another. If it were not so, in the universal system and the general arrangement of existence, there would be disorder and imperfection. But as beings are connected one with another with the greatest strength, they are in order in their places and perfect. This subject is worthy of examination. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 246)
We are all interconnected and influence each other:
. . . the human body, all the members of which are connected and linked with one another with the greatest strength. How much the organs, the members and the parts of the body of man are intermingled and connected for mutual aid and help, and how much they influence one another! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 244)
God has placed a crown on everyone’s head:
Bahá’u’lláh taught the Oneness of humanity; that is to say, all the children of men are under the mercy of the Great God. They are the sons of one God; they are trained by God. He has placed the crown of humanity on the head of every one of the servants of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 28)
Just because we are all one, doesn’t mean that we are all the same! Far from it!
Oneness, of course, should not be confused with sameness, which is a tedious, artificial thing, entirely alien to a world where no two grains of wheat have ever been alike. (Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 125)
Unity in Diversity
This is not just a faith of oneness, but a faith of unity in diversity too. We need diversity.
Diversity adds to the beauty:
Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest. (‘Abdul-Bahá, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 41)
Diversity should be the cause of love and harmony:
The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Advent of Divine Justice, p.32)
We need to work ceaselessly to develop a global consciousness based on unity in diversity, justice, love and service:
The Bahá’í world will work ceaselessly to develop in all its members – children, youth and adults – a . . . global consciousness based on the spiritual principles of unity in diversity, justice, love and service. (The Baha’i International Community, 1995 Apr 06, Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Baha’i Faith)
This includes education for all members of the community and immediate assimilation:
A unique administrative system, rooted in the concept of unity in diversity, both insists on education for all members of the community and allows for the immediate assimilation of all those who in the past have been deprived of their rights. (Baha’i International Community, 1993 Apr 05, Equality of Men & Women A New Reality)
The details of educational programs and activities aimed at promoting social integration will vary a great deal from the local to the national and international levels. However, in our increasingly interdependent world, all programs and initiatives must have certain aspects in common. (Baha’i International Community, 1994 Aug 23, Role of Education, Media Arts in Social Development)
We need to focus on people’s good qualities, and not on their shortcomings:
If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83)
‘Abdu’l-Baha agrees, as this story illustrates:
One day, Abdul-Bahá a group of friends were under a grove of trees near Lake Michigan and He said: “Some of you may have observed that I have not called attention to any of your individual shortcomings. I would suggest to you, that if you shall be similarly considerate in your treatment of each other, it will be greatly conducive to the harmony of your association with each other. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 117)
Finally, this is a Faith of justice.
If we truly want to be just, we need to choose for others what we want for ourselves:
And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 29)
Baha’u’llah tells us that justice is “the best beloved of all things” and if we want to be close to Him we can’t neglect it:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)
We achieve justice through seeing with our own eyes and knowing through our own knowledge:
By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)
It means letting go of the traditions of the past, and seeing things through God’s eyes:
If Thou wishest a discerning eye and seekest for a hearing ear, set thou aside that which thou hast heard from fathers and ancestors, for such things are imitation — and then seek for the truth with the utmost attention until the divine confirmation may reach thee and the matter may be properly disclosed unto thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i World Faith, p. 387)
It means freeing ourselves from idle fancy and copying what others do and seeing everyone with the eyes of oneness:
The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 157)
Sometimes in our Baha’i communities, those fighting for inclusion are told to forgive and let go of their own wants and needs, but the life of mankind depends on justice and not on forgiveness:
The canopy of existence . . . resteth upon the pole of justice, and not of forgiveness, and the life of mankind dependeth on justice and not on forgiveness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 28)
As forgiveness is one of the attributes of the Merciful One, so also justice is one of the attributes of the Lord. The tent of existence is upheld upon the pillar of justice, and not upon forgiveness. The continuance of mankind depends upon justice and not upon forgiveness. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 37)
This is the work of everyone:
Each man has been placed in a post of honour, which he must not desert. A humble workman who commits an injustice is as much to blame as a renowned tyrant. Thus we all have our choice between justice and injustice. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 159)
Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 159-160)
And the communities also have an important role in protecting the rights of everyone:
Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children, and relatives, and violate your honour, you should be submissive in the presence of these tyrannical foes, and allow them to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals towards each other: if one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 37-38)
How do we get there?
How do we “walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth” without listening, and using the powers of our imagination to understand life from their perspective?
First we have to get rid of our egos; our attachment to wanting everything to be the way we want it to be.
Ali Nakhjavani tells a great story about how the ego gets in the way of us becoming one:
I was asked to say a few words to the dear South African believers who are here today. I thought I could tell you about a tablet, a very short tablet, revealed by Abdu’l-Bahá. The contents of this Tablet are as follows: the Master says the relationships of the believers to the Cause of God are of two kinds. One kind is like the relationship of the flower to the garden. The other relationship is that of the ray of the sun to the sun. “I hope”, Master says, “that your relationship will be of the second kind”. And that is the end of the Tablet!
Now, I have been thinking about this Tablet, and I have been wondering why Abdu’l-Bahá says that he prefers the second kind to the first kind. There is nothing wrong in being a flower in the garden of Baha’u’llah. In fact, we have prayers, “O God, make me a flower in Thy garden”. Why is it that Abdu’l-Bahá prefers the other type, which is the ray of the sun? The sun is the Cause of God, and the ray emanates from it. So I am offering my views, my humble views, about this beautiful, simple tablet of Abdu’l-Bahá.
I thought like this, I said, OK, we have a flower in a garden, the flower says, “I like this garden”, in other words, we say, we like the Cause. “I like this garden, I grow in this garden, I am proud of my garden, I am named after this garden”. (I am a Baha’i) OK, this is all good. We take the ray of the sun. The ray says exactly all these things, he says, “I am from the sun, I am proud of the sun, I depend everything, all my life on the sun,” etc, etc, exactly the same thing. But, if you bring one ray and you bring a second ray, what happens? The two rays become one. But if you bring one flower and you bring another flower, they remain two flowers.
If on an Assembly or a Baha’i committee, you bring nine rays and bring them together, they become one strong united ray. But if you bring nine flowers and bring them together, they are a beautiful bouquet, a beautiful flower arrangement, but they are nine different flowers, and everyone, if we credit the flower with some thinking, some intelligence and some ego, the flower will say, “Really, I don’t want to say, but I think I’m better than the others. I think I’m more beautiful, I think I have a more beautiful scent. I don’t want to talk about it, but… never mind…” This is what the flower will do. Why, because of the ego. The ego is inside. And believe me, this animal ego is in all of us. If we have 20 people in this room, there are 20 egos, no exception. And this ego will be with us till the very last breath. When we go to the next world, we separate, we say goodbye. But until that day, it is with us, it suggests things to us, it deviates us from the right path, because that is the animal in us, it wants everything for itself.
OK, let’s go to the ray now. The ray says, “I have no name, it doesn’t matter. I don’t have colour, it doesn’t matter. I am from the sun. My job is to be faithful and to carry the light of the sun, the heat of the sun. That is my duty. And I am doing it.” It is so pure that if you take a chair, and you go outside where there is the sun, you say, “I am sitting in the sun.” Ha! You are not sitting in the sun. The sun is up there! But the ray is so faithful, so pure, that it carries all the qualities of the sun, in a pure way, so much so that you say I am sitting in the sun.
Now, another difference is that the flower is on the receiving end.” Soil, give me good soil, water, give me good water, light and sun, I want more light.” It’s all the time receiving. “Give me.” What does the ray do? It doesn’t want anything, the ray gives, it helps the flowers to grow. Big difference between the two!! So, that is why I think Abdu’l-Bahá says, “It’s good to be a flower in the garden, but better still is to be a ray of the sun. This is my first choice for you, this is what I prefer you to be. To be a ray from the sun, so that you give to others, you are a way of helping others. You are not thinking of yourself. You are thinking of others, to assist others all the time, to give the light, to give the heat, the warmth.” (Ali Nakhjavani, Pilgrim’s Notes)
Here are some other ideas to consider:
Those who are born into this world and face excessive difficulty are worthy of our sympathy:
As to the souls who are born into this world radiant entities and who through excessive difficulty are deprived of great benefits and thus leave the world — they are worthy of all sympathy, for in reality this is worthy of regret. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 542)
We need to see the honor and nobility in every human being:
Only if you perceive honour and nobility in every human being—this independent of wealth or poverty—will you be able to champion the cause of justice. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván Message 2008, paragraph 8)
We need to want for others what we want for ourselves:
Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 159-160)
We need to treat everyone with compassion:
The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 158)
We need to abandon all sense of superiority:
The recognition of the oneness of mankind would require the abandonment of all doctrines of superiority, many of which still persist implicitly. (Baha’i International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism)
We need love and affection for everyone:
Above and beyond all this, a great love and fountain of affection shall bind and blend these two remote peoples . . . The world of humanity has been expressed by Him as a unit — as one family. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 36)
We need to be kind to everyone:
He is kind to all; why should we be unkind? All live beneath the shadow of His love; why should we hate each other? (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 169)
We need to uplift the cause of unity by becoming one heart:
You must become of one heart, one spirit and one susceptibility. May you become as the waves of one sea, stars of the same heaven, fruits adorning the same tree, roses of one garden in order that through you the oneness of humanity may establish its temple in the world of mankind, for you are the ones who are called to uplift the cause of unity among the nations of the earth. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to become united and agreed among ourselves:
First, you must become united and agreed among yourselves. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to be Willing to forfeit our lives in the pathway of other people’s happiness:
You must be exceedingly kind and loving toward each other, willing to forfeit life in the pathway of another’s happiness. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to be ready to sacrifice our possessions for others:
You must be ready to sacrifice your possessions in another’s behalf. The rich among you must show compassion toward the poor, and the well-to-do must look after those in distress. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to be the servant of others
Your utmost desire must be to confer happiness upon each other. Each one must be the servant of the others, thoughtful of their comfort and welfare.(Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to entirely forget ourselves:
In the path of God one must forget himself entirely. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to seek the good pleasure of others:
He must not consider his own pleasure but seek the pleasure of others. He must not desire glory nor gifts of bounty for himself but seek these gifts and blessings for his brothers and sisters. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need to offer ourselves as sacrifices:
It is my hope that you may become like this, that you may attain to the supreme bestowal and be imbued with such spiritual qualities as to forget yourselves entirely and with heart and soul offer yourselves as sacrifices for the Blessed Perfection. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 214-215)
We need more fellowship and love:
He said that man must recognize the oneness of humanity, for all in origin belong to the same household and all are servants of the same God. Therefore mankind must continue in the state of fellowship and love, emulating the institutions of God and turning away from satanic promptings, for the divine bestowals bring forth unity and agreement whereas satanic leadings induce hatred and war. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 233)
We need to reject deeply ingrained prejudices:
That humanity constitutes a single people is a truth that, once viewed with skepticism, claims widespread acceptance today. The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness. (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)
We need to subordinate our impulses and interests:
It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 41-42)
We need to respect the rights of everyone:
To preserve and honor diversity without making differences a cause for conflict requires a new way of thinking, based on respect for the rights of every individual. This new way of thinking, characterized some years ago as a “culture of human rights,” must be developed and supported by human rights education. (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Aug 07, Prevention of Discrimination Protection of Minorities)
We need to reconceptualize the relationships that sustain society:
For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Baha’u’llah, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society. (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)
Long-term solutions will require a new and comprehensive vision of a global society, supported by new values. (Baha’i International Community, 1991 Aug 13, International Legislation for Environment Development)
We need to let go of the need for uniformity: It is inconsistent not only with any attempt to impose uniformity, but with any tendency towards excessive centralization. (Baha’i International Community, 1991 Aug 13, International Legislation for Environment Development)
We need to address inequities directed to ourselves and others, through lawful means:
Wherever they reside, Baha’is endeavour to uphold the standard of justice, addressing inequities directed towards themselves or towards others, but only through lawful means available to them, eschewing all forms of violent protest. (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)
How Do We Help Others Get There?
Education, Training and Healing:
There are certain people who are ignorant; they must be educated. Some are like children; they must be trained and educated until they reach maturity. Others are sickly, intellectually ill, spiritually ill; they must be treated and healed. But all are the servants of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 169)
By starting with education, numerous possibilities for policies, goals and programs emerge:
The first example of a spiritually based indicator explores the application of the principle of unity in diversity to educational policy. Beginning with a vision of development that accepts both the possibility and the necessity of a united and peaceful world, unity in diversity is identified as a spiritual principle essential to the realization of that future. A policy area is then chosen: in this case, education. By considering the principle of unity in diversity in education, numerous possibilities for policies, goals and programs emerge, several of which might be pursued. (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)
Sometimes we need to sacrifice for others, in order to advance the whole, as this story illustrates:
One day as I was standing near the border of a little stream on Mt. Carmel, I noticed a number of locusts that had not yet developed full wings. These insects wishing to pass from my side of the stream to the other in order to procure some food, threw themselves forward, each one trying to emulate the other in flinging itself into the water, so that a bridge was formed in order that the others might pass over and this was accomplished; yet those who gave themselves as a bridge finally perished. Consider how much solidarity makes for life as compared to the fighting for self interest which destroys it. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 187-188)
None of this comes easy! Like everything in the Faith, it takes courage to cling to these standards and demonstrate them to others:
To discharge your responsibilities, you will have to show forth courage, the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterized by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith. (The Universal House of Justice, message to the Paraguay Youth Congress, 2000)
Consequences of not being Inclusive
What happens when we are not inclusive?
Regard how numerous are the parts and members of the human organism, but the oneness of the spirit animating it keeps its various parts and elements together in perfect co-ordination and solidarity. It brings such a unity into the organism that were each member to be subjected to any injury or were it to become diseased, all the other members would sympathetically suffer, due to the existence of their perfect unity. (Baha’i Scriptures, p. 280)
The consequences of failing to respond appropriately will be disastrous:
The unifying, salutary effects of applying this principle to the redesign and development of communities the world over, would be incalculable, while the consequences of failing to respond appropriately to the challenges of an ever-contracting world will surely prove disastrous. (Baha’i International Community, 1996 Jun 07, Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World)
If we do not treat others with justice, God will not forgive us:
Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for 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 with My seal. (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian 64)
Benefits of Including Everyone
Learning to appreciate diversity of all sorts includes the following benefits:
We all prosper and grow:
Unity in diversity is at once a vision for the future and a principle to guide the world community in its response to these challenges. Not only must this principle come to animate relations among the nations of the planet, but it must also be applied within both local and national communities if they are to prosper and endure. (Baha’i International Community, 1996 Jun 07, Sustainable Communities in an Integrating World)
Misunderstandings will be removed and happiness guaranteed:
In proportion to the acknowledgment of the oneness and solidarity of mankind, fellowship is possible, misunderstandings will be removed and reality become apparent. Then will the light of reality shine forth, and when reality illumines the world, the happiness of humankind will become a verity. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 327-328)
We will vindicate the truth that humanity is one
By the rectitude of their conduct, the sincerity of their love for their fellow human beings, and the ardour of their desire to serve the peoples of the world, may they vindicate the truth proclaimed by Baha’u’llah that humanity is one. (Universal House of Justice, 20 October 2008, to the Bahá’ís of the World)
It’s a sign that we’ve entered the age of maturity:
As you know from your study of the Baha’i writings, the principle that is to infuse all facets of organized life on the planet is the oneness of humankind, the hallmark of the age of maturity. (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)
We will help raise civilization to a new level:
More importantly, by establishing the foundation for true co-operation, the recognition of this principle would raise civilization to a new level. (Baha’i International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism)
We’ll be able to share power and responsibility without fear:
At this higher level, no one need fear oppression, even those who were formerly oppressors. The sharing of power and responsibility among all citizens can then be implemented without fear, through appropriate legal measures and equitable social and economic policies. (Baha’i International Community, 1989 Feb 08, Eliminating Racism)
We’ll be able to offer the entire world a model of unity in diversity:
You should strive to create a Bahá’í community which will offer to the entire world a vibrant model of unity in diversity. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996 – North America)
We will learn to cherish people’s temperaments and talents, experiences and viewpoints, understanding that they contribute to the progress and well-being of society:
Unity in diversity stands in contrast to uniformity. It cherishes the natural diversity of temperament and talents among individuals as well as humanity’s variegated experiences, cultures and viewpoints, inasmuch as they contribute to the human family’s progress and well-being. (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)
We will become invincible champions of justice:
As you dedicate yourselves to healing the wounds with which your peoples have been afflicted, you will become invincible champions of justice. (The Universal House of Justice, message to the Paraguay Youth Congress, 2000)
Here are some prayers we can say, for our communities to become more inclusive:
O my God! O my God! Verily, these are servants at the threshold of Thy mercy, and maidservants at the door of Thy oneness. Verily, they have gathered in this temple to turn to Thy face of glory, holding to the hem of Thy garment and to Thy singleness, seeking Thy good pleasure and ascent into Thy Kingdom. They receive effulgence from the Sun of Reality in this glorious century, and they long for Thy goodwill in all great affairs. O Lord! Illumine their sight with a vision of Thy signs and riches, and quicken their ears with hearkening to Thy Word. Render their hearts replete with Thy love, and gladden their spirits with Thy meeting. Deign to bestow upon them spiritual good in Thine earth and heaven, and make them signs of unity among Thy servants in order that the real unity may appear and all may become one in Thy Cause and Kingdom. Verily, Thou art the Generous. Verily, Thou art the Mighty, the Spiritual. Thou art the Merciful, the Clement. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 193)
Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake! O Lord, make to descend upon them quietness and tranquillity! Shower upon them the clouds of Thy Mercy in full abundance, and make them to characterize themselves with the characteristics of the spiritual! O Lord, hold us firm in Thy noble command, and bestow upon us Thy Gifts through Thy bounty, grace and beneficence! Verily, Thou art the Generous, the Merciful, and the Benevolent. (Baha’i Scriptures, p. 263)
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 203)
O my God! O my God! Verily, I invoke Thee and supplicate before Thy threshold, asking Thee that all Thy mercies may descend upon these souls. Specialize them for Thy favor and Thy truth.
O Lord! Unite and bind together the hearts, join in accord all the souls, and exhilarate the spirits through the signs of Thy sanctity and oneness. O Lord! Make these faces radiant through the light of Thy oneness. Strengthen the loins of Thy servants in the service of Thy kingdom.
O Lord, Thou possessor of infinite mercy! O Lord of forgiveness and pardon! Forgive our sins, pardon our shortcomings, and cause us to turn to the kingdom of Thy clemency, invoking the kingdom of might and power, humble at Thy shrine and submissive before the glory of Thine evidences.
O Lord God! Make us as waves of the sea, as flowers of the garden, united, agreed through the bounties of Thy love. O Lord! Dilate the breasts through the signs of Thy oneness, and make all mankind as stars shining from the same height of glory, as perfect fruits growing upon Thy tree of life.
Verily, Thou art the Almighty, the Self-Subsistent, the Giver, the Forgiving, the Pardoner, the Omniscient, the One Creator. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 203-205)
For those who are battling for the right to be included in the Baha’i community, know that your efforts, no matter how miniscule, can uphold the standard:
Humanity is weary for want ofa pattern of life to which to aspire. A single soul can uphold a standard far above the low threshold by which the world measures itself. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2012)
The actions you take today are the first step in a process that will take decades and centuries to unfold:
Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades–nay, centuries–to unfold. (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of Iran, 2 March 2013)
I’d like to leave you with the two most uplifting sentences ever written:
Have hope. It will not always be so. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2015)
There will be a time when every Baha’i community welcomes those who are “different”.
What’s been your experience with inclusive Baha’i communities? Post your comments below!