Select Page

 

When most people marry, they hope it will be “till death do us part”, (if you’re Christian) or “through all the worlds of God” (if you’re Bahá’í).

Bahá’í marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart . . . Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity.   (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 118)

In our current society, the statistics for divorce are shocking!  Some studies suggest that 50% of all marriages end in divorce; about one in four as a result of abuse of some kind, typically infidelity or physical or mental cruelty.

So what can we do to turn this around?  The Writings of the Bahá’í Faith offer a number of “checks and balances” to prevent it from happening.

Recognize that it is a “Divine Institution”:  A Bahá’í marriage is not a legally binding covenant, but a divine institution with a sacred purpose to have children.

The Bahá’í Teachings do not only encourage marital life, considering it the natural and normal way of existence for every sane, healthy and socially-conscious and responsible person, but raise marriage to the status of a Divine institution, its chief and sacred purpose being the perpetuation of the human race — which is the very flower of the entire creation — and its elevation to the true station destined for it by God.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 281)

As an institution, it’s on par with other Bahá’í institutions such as:

  • Institution of the Guardianship (Shoghi Effendi)
  • Administrative institutions, both elected (Universal House of Justice, National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, Bahá’í Councils) and appointed (Hands of the Cause, counsellors, auxiliary board members and their assistants)
  • Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (or houses of worship), described as “one of the most vital institutions in the world”
  • War (a satanic institution)
  • The covenant as an institution
  • Charitable and philanthropic institutions
  • Temples of learning and scientific institutions
  • Parliaments
  • The Bahá’í Fund and Huqúqu’lláh (the Right of God)
  • Archives
  • 19 Day Feast
  • National Convention
  • Summer Schools

Why is this important?  Because your marriage is one more refuge for a distraught populace; one more link in the oneness of mankind and one more servant, ministering to the needs of an ailing world!

Every institution of this Divinely created Order is one more refuge for a distraught populace; every soul illumined by the light of the sacred Message is one more link in the oneness of mankind, one more servant ministering to the needs of an ailing world.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 327)

If we truly understand the sacred nature and purpose, we would approach marriage differently.

Chastity before marriage:  While Bahá’í marriage is both physical and spiritual, the primary goal is for each person to improve the spiritual life of the other, so they can enjoy everlasting unity through all the worlds of God:

The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 118)

For this reason, the standard is very high, the punishments are severe and the rewards are very great:

Chastity should be strictly practised by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life . . . and whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will incur the necessary punishment from society.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 344-345)

Chastity is “the only way to a happy and successful marital life”.  Without it, the marriage is doomed from the start.

If you feel pressured into having sex, keep this advice in mind:

Expect not that they who violate the ordinances of God will be trustworthy or sincere in the faith they profess. Avoid them, and preserve strict guard over thyself, lest their devices and mischief hurt thee. Turn away from them, and fix thy gaze upon God, thy Lord, the All-Glorious, the Most Bountiful.   (Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 47)

Assess each other’s character:  Since there is a correlation between growing up in an abusive home to growing up to become an abuser, part of your assessment should be to examine the intergenerational cycles of violence in your partner’s family.  See how they treat their parents, siblings, and co-workers.

Bahá’í marriage is union and cordial affection between the two parties. They must, however, exercise the utmost care and become acquainted with each other’s character.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 103)

Parental Consent is required in order to insure unity in the family.  Parents can often see fatal flaws in a budding relationship better than those who are “in lust”.

As for the question regarding marriage under the Law of God: first thou must choose one who is pleasing to thee, and then the matter is subject to the consent of father and mother.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 118)

Payment of a Dowry:  Although this is not incumbent on the Bahá’ís in the west yet, it’s still a law in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and should be considered as a way to help women escape abusive situations, since it provides her with a “nest egg” of her own.

No marriage may be contracted without payment of a dowry . . . to be paid by the bridegroom to the bride. It is fixed at 19 mithqals of pure gold for city-dwellers, and 19 mithqals of silver for village-dwellers (see note 94) . . . The law of Bahá’u’lláh . . . converts the dowry into a symbolic act whereby the bridegroom presents a gift of a certain limited value to the bride . . . The purpose is to promote the comfort of all, and to bring about concord and union among the people.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 209)

Bahá’í Marriage Vow:  Both partners in a marriage are required to repeat the same verse:

For men: “We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God.” For women: “We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God.”  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 105)

This is not just a verse to be said at the time of marriage, but a prescription for living.  It reminds both partners to always turn to God first, before making any decision or before consulting with each other.  This verse creates a bond which becomes a covenant for the marriage:

This eternal bond should be made secure by a firm covenant, and the intention should be to foster harmony, fellowship and unity and to attain everlasting life.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 103)

 The Bahá’í Standard of Marriage:  The Bahá’í Writings are full of wonderful descriptions about the ideal to strive towards; the rewards for doing so; and the punishments for not.  This is a great assistance to couples, who can use it to come back to with every interaction and every decision they make together.  This is one of my favorites:

The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other.  If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favour in the Kingdom of heaven. But if they do other than this, they will live out their lives in great bitterness, longing at every moment for death, and will be shamefaced in the heavenly realm.  Strive, then, to abide, heart and soul, with each other as two doves in the nest, for this is to be blessed in both worlds. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 122)

Baha’u’llah refers to marriage as a fortress for well-being and salvation:

Bahá’u’lláh, in one of His Tablets, states that God, in establishing this law, has made marriage “a fortress for well-being and salvation”.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 205)

A condition of this fortress is that you are no longer two separate people, but one:

Now you two are no longer two, but one. Bahá’u’lláh’s wish is that all men be of one mind and consider themselves of one great household, that the mind of mankind be not divided against itself.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 78)

Have you ever taken a string and tried to break it?  It can break fairly easily with enough pressure, but if you take the strings and braid them into rope, it’s a lot harder.  Everything a couple says and does needs to be mindful of their place in the fortress, with the intention of building it up and making it stronger.  If you are busy building, you won’t have time to tear it down.

Another analogy used for marriages is this:

In this glorious [Bahá’í] Cause the life of a married couple should resemble the life of the angels in heaven—a life full of joy and spiritual delight, a life of unity and concord, a friendship both mental and physical. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Compilation of Compilations, Vol. I, p. 397)

Before a couple even marries, they should be discussing these quotes as a part of getting to know each other’s character.  If they are not willing to adhere to these standards, it’s better to look for someone who will.  We often think that our love will change the other person, but it’s much more likely that the “red flags” you notice when you’re going out together, will stay with the person throughout the marriage.

Understanding the importance of its Spiritual Nature:  Many people agree to marry based on a mutual physical attraction to each other, which, while important, is not the most important.

Bahá’u’lláh has urged marriage upon all people as the natural and rightful way of life. He has also, however, placed strong emphasis on its spiritual nature, which, while in no way precluding a normal physical life, is the most essential aspect of marriage. That two people should live their lives in love and harmony is of far greater importance than that they should be consumed with passion for each other. The one is a great rock of strength on which to learn in time of need; the other a purely temporary thing which may at any time die out.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 378-379)

Confidentiality:  So much damage in a marriage is done by gossip and backbiting.  If an injured party “dumps” their frustration on someone else, venting their trouble and frustration, it causes alienation and estrangement, which compounds the problems.

If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

While it is possible to discuss problems without naming names;

You ask in your letter for guidance on the implications of the prohibitions on backbiting and more specifically whether, in moments of anger or depression, the believer is permitted to turn to his friends to unburden his soul and discuss his problem in human relations. Normally, it is possible to describe the situation surrounding a problem and seek help and advice in resolving it, without necessarily mentioning names. The individual believer should seek to do this, whether he is consulting a friend, Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, or whether the friend is consulting him.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)

It’s also important to keep certain matters confidential:

Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. Such matters, however, are but a small portion of the business of any Bahá’í institution. Most subjects dealt with are of common interest and can be discussed openly with anyone. Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy; on the other hand, every believer mist know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 334)

Understanding the cycles:  Sometimes I find quotes like this confusing:

Hold thy husband dear and always show forth an amiable temper towards him, no matter how ill tempered he may be. Even if thy kindness maketh him more bitter, manifest thou more kindliness, more tenderness, be more loving and tolerate his cruel actions and ill-treatment.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 226)

They make me think that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wants us to stay in abusive situations.  During my year of waiting, I was looking for a reason to stay in my marriage, beyond the fact that divorce is discouraged in the Writings.  I knew that there was one thing I needed to hear, and I didn’t hear it till many years later.  It was the concept that marriages go through cycles, just like the seasons.  Most people in difficult spots in their marriage are in the middle of winter; and assume it will always stay like that, forgetting that winter is followed by spring.  If I was able to understand this, I would have been able to hold on.

Before the coming of the spring, the earth looks as if dead and lifeless, but when it appears, all the world seems to spring into life and brightness  — into a new existence of beauty and joy. All nature is clad in fresh green, the grass springs up, the leaves bud, and the trees are covered with blossoms. But the spring passes, and then comes the summer, in which the promise of the spring is fulfilled; the spring blossoms ripen into fruit, and the fields are covered with yellow grain; the result of the new life of the spring is manifested. Then comes the autumn, in which the life of the spring and summer begins slowly to fade, and finally winter comes round, and the life of the earth seems to be completely extinct — dead. (Compilations, Baha’i Prayers 9, p. 57)

Behaviour inside the Marriage:  We are given specific guidance on how to treat our spouses:

As to thy respected husband: it is incumbent upon thee to treat him with great kindness, to consider his wishes and be conciliatory with him at all times, till he seeth that because thou hast directed thyself toward the Kingdom of God, thy tenderness for him and thy love for God have but increased, as well as thy concern for his wishes under all conditions.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 122)

Putting God between you and your spouse:

If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 315)

Using ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as a role model:

He feels you should by all means show your husband the greatest love and sympathy; if we are ever in any doubts as to how we should conduct ourselves as Bahá’ís we should think of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and study His life and ask ourselves what would He have done, for He is our perfect example in every way. And you know how tender He was, and how His affection and kindness shone like sunlight on everyone. “Your husband and your child have a right to your love, and give you a wonderful opportunity of demonstrating your faith in the Cause.” “Also you should pray to Bahá’u’lláh to help unite you with your husband and make your home a true and happy home.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 226)

Consultation:

Bahá’u’lláh also stressed the importance of consultation. We should not think this worthwhile method of seeking solutions is confined to the administrative institutions of the Cause. Family consultation employing full and frank discussion, and animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance, can be the panacea for domestic conflict. Wives should not attempt to dominate their husbands, nor husbands their wives.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453) 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)

The House of Justice feels it most essential for your husband and you to understand that marriage can be a source of well-being, conveying a sense of security and spiritual happiness. However, it is not something that just happens. For marriage to become a haven of contentment it requires the cooperation of the marriage partners themselves, and the assistance of their families. You mention your concern over your eldest daughter. It is suggested that you include her and perhaps your younger children in family consultations. As Bahá’ís we understand the importance of the consultative process and we should not feel it is to be used only by the Spiritual Assemblies.    (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)

Noting that you and your husband have consulted about your family problems with your Spiritual Assembly but did not receive any advice, and also discussed your situation with a family counsellor without success, the House of Justice feels it most essential for your husband and you to understand that marriage can be a source of well-being, conveying a sense of security and spiritual happiness. However, it is not something that just happens. For marriage to become a haven of contentment it requires the cooperation of the marriage partners themselves, and the assistance of their families. You mention your concern over your eldest daughter. It is suggested that you include her and perhaps your younger children in family consultations. As Bahá’ís we understand the importance of the consultative process and we should not feel it is to be used only by the Spiritual Assemblies.    (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)

Consulting with Assemblies:

The believers should learn to turn more often to their Assemblies for advice and help and at an earlier date, and the Assemblies, on the other hand, should act with more vigilance and a greater sense of community responsibility towards every situation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 80)

If a Bahá’í woman suffers abuse or is subjected to rape by her husband, she has the right to turn to the assembly for assistance and counsel, or to seek legal protection.  Such an abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage, and could well lead to a condition of irreconcilable antipathy.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

Consulting with the Universal House of Justice:

It’s very easy for Bahá’ís who need clarification from the highest level of authority in the Faith, to contact the Universal House of Justice directly, and many Baha’is take great comfort in hearing their response.  You can write to them for advice or to ask for prayers to be said on your behalf at the Shrines, at PO Box 155 Haifa, Israel 31001 Israel or email them at:  secretariat@bwc.org

Consulting Marriage Counsellors:

The House of Justice is pleased to learn from your letter that both you and your husband are receiving professional therapy, in addition to the counselling you are receiving from your Local Spiritual Assembly.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 July, 1987)

 Balancing service with strengthening your home life:

In considering the problems that you and your wife are experiencing, the House of Justice points out that the unity of your family should take priority over any other consideration. Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, we must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it. For example, service to the Cause should not produce neglect of the family. It is important for you to arrange your time so that your family life is harmonious and your household receives the attention it requires.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)

Surely Shoghi Effendi would like to see you and the other friends give their whole time and energy to the Cause, for we are in great need for competent workers, but the home is an institution that Bahá’u’lláh has come to strengthen and not to weaken. Many unfortunate things have happened in Bahá’í homes just for neglecting this point. Serve the Cause but also remember your duties towards your home. It is for you to find the balance and see that neither makes you neglect the other. We would have many more husbands in the Cause were the wives more thoughtful and moderate in their Bahá’í activities.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 220)

Year of Waiting:  Baha’u’llah has given us a wonderful tool for taking a “time out” from your marriage to work on the issues that could lead to divorce.  It’s a safety valve, which, when used in a timely fashion, could give an abusive partner time away to work on the issues contributing to being abusive; and the spouse to work on their co-dependent issues.

The Spiritual Assembly should always be concerned that the believers in its community are being deepened in their understanding of the Bahá’í concept of marriage, especially the young people, so that the very thought of divorce will be abhorrent to them . . . its first thought and action should be to reconcile the couple and to ensure that they know the Bahá’í teachings on the matter. God willing, the Assembly will be successful and no year of waiting need be started . . . During the year the couple have the responsibility of attempting to reconcile their difference, and the Assembly has the duty to help them and encourage them. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 390)

It always seems a pity that most couples go to their Assemblies to ask for a year of waiting when they’ve already decided to divorce, instead of using the time to sincerely work on the issues that led to this point.

Divorce:  While divorce is highly discouraged in the Faith, it is allowable only if one or both partners reach a stage of “irreconcilable antipathy”.  This could happen in cases of abuse:

If a Bahá’í woman suffers abuse or is subjected to rape by her husband, she has the right to turn to the assembly for assistance and counsel, or to seek legal protection.  Such an abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage, and could well lead to a condition of irreconcilable antipathy.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

 Conclusion:

When there is spousal abuse in the marriage, the feelings of one partner – maybe both – break. Those broken feelings eat away at the foundation of the fortress.  Once you’re in a marriage it’s much more difficult to get out, so it’s important to make sure that all of these tools are in place before going ahead with a marriage.   Being truthful with yourself about problems in any of these areas is a key.

Can you think of any others?  Do you have a story to contribute?  Post your comments here: