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Recently I was talking to someone who suggested that Baha’u’llah’s marriage law was written for the world the way it was 160 years ago, and wasn’t applicable today.  The House of Justice is frequently reminding us of the standard and how it’s meant to free us from untold spiritual and moral difficulties:

 As to chastity, this is one of the most challenging concepts to get across in this very permissive age, but Bahá’ís must make the utmost effort to uphold Bahá’í standards, no matter how difficult they may seem at first. Such efforts will be made easier if the youth will understand that the laws and standards of the Faith are meant to free them from untold spiritual and moral difficulties.  (Universal House of Justice, A Chaste and Holy Life, #4)

So what are the spiritual difficulties?  It retards the advancement of our soul in the next world.

When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life — so grievous is it . . . we see how clear are our teachings on these subjects.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

We often think of adultery as something committed inside a marriage, but in the Bahá’í Faith it can mean both:

The Arabic word “zina”, here translated as “adultery”, signifies both fornication and adultery. It applies not only to sexual relations between a married person and someone who is not his or her spouse, but also to extramarital sexual intercourse in general.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, note 36, p. 181)

The fact that it can retard the progress of the soul is hard to refute, since Baha’u’llah has more knowledge about this than we’ll ever have.  It’s helpful for us to accept His guidance in this area.

In terms of moral difficulties, sex before marriage can lead into abusive situations, believing that violent, jealous, possessive or intrusive behaviors are signs of love or that immoral behaviours are signs of maturity and independent.  Once sex is initiated, it can be difficult to break out of a relationship.

There are potent social pressures in Western society for all teenagers to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Lack of experience, perceived cultural norms, and abusive role-modeling are some of the factors that may mislead teenagers into believing that violent, jealous, possessive, or intrusive behaviors are signs of love or that immoral behaviors are signs of maturity and independence. Like adults, they may be drawn into a relationship and develop strong feelings for someone who is attentive during the early phase of a relationship before there are obvious signs of abuse. Or they may be drawn into dangerous or immoral situations out of pressure to belong. Once emotional bonds are established between two people, it can be as difficult for teens as for adults to break out of a relationship, particularly if the two share the same circle of friends.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 99)

Premarital sex lays the groundwork for comparisons, suspicions, and mistrust.   It causes you to wonder:

  • Have there been others before me?
  • Will there be others in the future too?
  • How do I compare with those who came before me?
  • How long did the previous liaisons last and what caused them to break up?

Over time, these questions can erode the trust necessary to a healthy marriage.

The Bahá’í standard is very high, especially compared to the world around us, but if we follow it, it will lead to happier, more stable marriages:

The Bahá’í standard is very high, more particularly when compared with the thoroughly rotten morals of the present world. But this standard of ours will produce healthier, happier, nobler people, and induce stabler marriages.  (Shoghi Effendi, A Chaste And Holy Life, #9)

Shoghi Effendi tells us the ONLY way to a happy and successful marriage is to strictly practice chastity before marriage:

The Bahá’í Teachings on this matter, which is of such vital concern and about which there is a wide divergency of views, are very clear and emphatic. Briefly stated the Bahá’í conception of sex is based on the belief that 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. Sex relationships of any form, outside marriage, are not permissible therefor, 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)

This includes not only intercourse, but even hugging and kissing:

The pilgrim’s note reports the Master as saying: ‘Women and men must not embrace each other when not married, or not about to be married. They must not kiss each other… If they wish to greet each other, or comfort each other, they may take each other by the hand.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 440-441)

One reason for this is that easy familiarity kindles desires which are hard to resist:

For desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned, a devouring fire that even the vast sea of their accumulated knowledge could never quench. How often has it happened that an individual who was graced with every attribute of humanity and wore the jewel of true understanding, nevertheless followed after his passions until his excellent qualities passed beyond moderation and he was forced into excess. His pure intentions changed to evil ones, his attributes were no longer put to uses worthy of them, and the power of his desires turned him aside from righteousness and its rewards into ways that were dangerous and dark. A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its centre of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 5960)

Still not convinced?  You’re not alone!  Many people dismiss the Bahá’í marriage law as archaic, irrelevant and out of step with today’s realities.

In fact, it’s an area where science and religion agree.  Numerous researchers are finding that couples who live together have a higher rate of divorce than couples who don’t cohabit before marrying. And prior to the divorce, these couples have lower rates of marital satisfaction.

Psychology Today reported the findings of Yale University sociologist Neil Bennett that cohabiting women were 80% more likely to separate or divorce than were women who had not lived with their spouses before marriage.

The National Survey of Families and Households indicates that “unions begun by cohabitation are almost twice as likely to dissolve within 10 years compared to all first marriages: 57% to 30%.”

Another five-year study by William Axinn of the University of Chicago of 800 couples reported in the Journal of Demography that those who cohabit are the most accepting of divorce.

In a Canadian study at the University of Western Ontario, sociologists found a direct relationship between cohabitation and divorce when investigating over 8,000 ever-married men and women (Hall and Zhoa 1995:421-427). It was determined that living in a non-marital union “has a direct negative impact on subsequent marital stability,” perhaps because living in such a union “undermines the legitimacy of formal marriage” and so “reduces commitment of marriage.”

A study by the National Council on Family Relations of 309 newlyweds found that those who cohabited first were less happy in marriage. Women complained about the quality of communication after the wedding. A physical relationship is an inadequate foundation upon which to build a lasting lifelong relationship.

A study by researchers Alfred DeMars and Gerald Leslie (1984) found that those who live together prior to marriage scored lower on tests rating satisfaction with their marriages than couples who did not cohabit.

A study by Dr. Joyce Brothers showed that cohabitation has a negative affect on the quality of a subsequent marriage (Scott 1994).

Cohabitors without plans to marry were found to be more inclined to argue, hit, shout and have an unfair division of labor than married couples (Brown and Booth 1997).

A study of 2,746 women in the National Survey of Family Growth performed by Dr. Kahn of the University of Maryland and Dr. London of the National Center for Health Statistics found that nonvirgin brides increase their odds of divorce by about 60%.

Still not convinced?  Again, you’re not alone!

Knowledge of the religious standard combined with scientific knowledge is still not enough to convince people to remain chaste:

 Exhortations to remain pure and chaste will only succeed to a limited degree in helping them to resist these forces.  (Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010 to the Continental Board of Counsellors)

As a result, those who have sex before marriage may be subject to administrative sanctions:

Living together without being married, on either a trial or immoral basis, is obviously unacceptable in Bahá’í teachings and is, moreover, an offence which, if persisted in, could call for deprivation of voting rights.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 378)

Or you will be required to pay a fine:

God hath imposed a fine on every adulterer and adulteress, to be paid to the House of Justice.  Although the term translated here as adultery refers, in its broadest sense, to unlawful sexual intercourse between either married or unmarried individuals (see note 36 for a definition of the term), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has specified that the punishment here prescribed is for sexual intercourse between persons who are unmarried. (See also Q and A 49.)  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 200)

God hath imposed a fine on every adulterer and adulteress, to be paid to the House of Justice: nine mithqals of gold, to be doubled if they should repeat the offence. Such is the penalty which He Who is the Lord of Names hath assigned them in this world; and in the world to come He hath ordained for them a humiliating torment. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 37)

At today’s rate, 9 Mithqals of gold equals $1694.06.  So if you have sex one time with someone you aren’t married to, this is what you would pay!  If you have sex a second time, it doubles to $3388.12!  If you have it a third time, it doubles again to $6776.24; and a fourth time to $13,552.48!  Hopefully that’s so far beyond someone’s ability to pay, that they won’t want to chance having sex before marriage!   Click here to see the current rate.

The reason for this fine is to expose and shame those who violate the law as a deterrent:

In one of His Tablets, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refers to some of the spiritual and social implications of the violation of the laws of morality and, concerning the penalty here described, He indicates that the aim of this law is to make clear to all that such an action is shameful in the eyes of God and that, in the event that the offence can be established and the fine imposed, the principal purpose is the exposure of the offenders — that they are shamed and disgraced in the eyes of society. He affirms that such exposure is in itself the greatest punishment.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 200)

Although this fine isn’t incumbent on the people of the west yet, it’s still important to understand it will be in the future.

I suspect the reason it’s so hard to accept this standard, is because sex before marriage is an epidemic and will take some time to change:

When the world becomes more spiritual there will not be such an exaggerated emphasis on sex, as there is today, and consequently it will be easier for young people to be chaste and control their passions.   (Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance v II, p. 69)

This is one of the best talks on this subject I’ve ever heard!  Give it a listen!



What other insights can you offer on this topic?  Post your comments here:


For more on this topic, please see:

Would God Forgive an Adulterer