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Can Baha’is Use Birth Control?

Birth Control is such a widely accepted practice these days, that the “right to choose” is often an unexamined assumption.  But what do the Baha’i Writings tell us?  Is it OK, or isn’t it?

First of all, we know that the soul of man comes into being at conception

You have raised the point about the time of the appearance of human soul. You are quite right in your deduction in this regard, as our teachings clearly confirm that the soul of man comes into being at conception.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

It should be pointed out, however, that the Teachings state that the soul appears at conception, and that therefore it would be improper to use a method, the effect of which would be to produce an abortion after the conception has taken place.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

According to the Bahá’í Teachings the human soul starts with the formation of the embryo, and continues to develop and pass through stages of existence after its separation from the body. Its progress is thus infinite.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 204)

Secondly, we know that the purpose of marriage is primarily to raise up a new generation who will know and worship God.

Both Baha’u’llah and the Báb emphasized the need of children in marriage.  The latter, for example, states that to beget children is the highest physical fruit of man’s existence.  But neither say whether the number of children should be limited or not.  Or if it is to be limited, what the proper method to be used.  (Shoghi Effendi, Throne of the Inner Temple. P. 6)

In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual he has further pointed out that the ‘chief and sacred purpose’ of marriage is ‘the perpetuation of the human race… and its elevation to the true station destined for it by God.’ In another letter written on his behalf it is stated: ‘…the fundamental purpose of marriage is to bring other souls into this world, to serve God and love Him.’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

To use birth control in order to have no children at all thwarts the purpose of marriage.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

So with that in mind, even though neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has revealed anything direct or explicit regarding this question, we can see that birth control, except in certain exceptional cases, is not permitted:

As to the problem of birth control. Neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has revealed anything direct or explicit regarding this question. But the Bahá’í Teachings, when carefully studied imply that such current conceptions like birth control, if not necessarily wrong and immoral in principle, have nevertheless to be discarded as constituting a real danger to the very foundation of our social life. For Bahá’u’lláh explicitly reveals in His Book of Laws that the very purpose of marriage is the procreation of children who, when grown up, will be able to know God and to recognize and observe His Commandments and Laws as revealed through His Messengers. Marriage is thus, according to the Bahá’í Teachings, primarily a social and moral act. It has purpose which transcends the immediate personal needs and interests of the parties.  Birth control, except in certain exceptional cases, is therefore not permissible.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

We are obligated to avoid any action which would permanently prevent us from bearing children: 

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

 This includes vasectomy:

Directly to your question about having a vasectomy, in general it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of avoiding having unwanted children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

And tubal ligation:

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter of April 29 asking about tubal ligation and has noted that you are familiar with general Bahá’í principles on the subject. However, it has directed us to say that under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

If vasectomy and tubal ligation are reversible and do not result in permanent sterility, they would not fall under this prohibition:

Under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. Bahá’ís considering such a step must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them, and their own consciences. If it is established that vasectomy and tubal ligation are operations the effects of which are reversible and which, therefore, do not result in permanent sterility, they would not fall under this prohibition.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

With regards to intrauterine devices, Bahá’ís will have to be guided by the best professional advice available and their own consciences:

As to the use of intrauterine devices, we understand that there is a difference of professional opinion as to how they work, i.e. whether they prevent conception or whether they prevent the fertilized ovum from attaching to the wall of the uterus.  However, the Guardian has stated that the individual life begins at conception.  In using such devices, therefore, Bahá’ís will have to be guided by the best professional advice available and their own consciences.  There is nothing in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, however, concerning the placing of foreign materials in the body for preventing birth.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 264)

Sterilization is permitted if required for medical reasons: 

Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Hysterectomies to prevent conception are inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act will be responsible before God:

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

Abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden:

Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. There may, however, be instances in which an abortion would be justified by medical reasons, and legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

If there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, the decision is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings:

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, in which case the decision, at present, is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

If a believer becomes pregnant as a consequence of rape, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings:

One of the most heinous of sexual offences is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and she is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings. If she gives birth to a child as a result of the rape, it is left to her discretion whether to seek financial support for the maintenance of the child from the father; however, his claim to any parental rights would, under Bahá’í law, be called into question, in view of the circumstances.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

With regards to terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgment of capable professionals and the consciences of the parents:

As to the permissibility of terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgement of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents. As you are aware, the Bahá’í Writings prohibit the practice of abortion solely for the purpose of terminating unwanted pregnancies; however, circumstances may occur in which an abortion would be justifiable. The Texts of the Faith do not specify what these circumstances are, and the House of Justice does not wish to legislate on this matter presently. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 21 May 1992, to an individual)

For more information on abortion please see Abortion and the Baha’i Faith

In making these decisions, Baha’is should be guided by:

  • the Bahá’í principles involved
  • the best professional advice available
  • their own consciences

It is clear that to have surgical operation merely to avoid unwanted children is not acceptable. However, as in the case of abortion, circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Self-discipline and restraint are acceptable ways to prevent conception:

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

For more on this topic, please see:  My Will vs God’s Will in Getting Pregnant 

With all of that in mind, it’s up to the couple to decide how many children to have:

There is nothing in the Sacred Writings specifically on the subjects of birth control, abortion or sterilization, but Bahá’u’lláh did state the primary  purpose of marriage was the procreation of children, and it is to this primary purpose that the beloved Guardian alludes in many of the letters which are quoted in the compilation. This does not imply that a couple are obliged to have as many children as they can; the Guardian’s secretary clearly stated on his behalf, in answer to an enquiry, that it was for the husband and wife to decide how many children they would have. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346-347)

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse. Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

For more on this topic, please see:  Having a Baby will Fix Everything

If we’re concerned about preventing a pregnancy which could result in undesirable family traits and tendencies, these matters will be decided by the House of Justice in the future, but for now this decision is left to the individual believers involved:

With regard to your question whether it would be permissible for a believer to limit the number of his children by the use of contraceptive methods, in order to prevent the transmission through inheritance of undesirable family traits and tendencies; this, the Guardian wishes me to inform you, is a question to which there is no specific reference in the Teachings, and should therefore be explained and decided upon by the International House of Justice. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

When asked about sterilization of the mentally deficient or the physically unfit the Guardian pointed out that there is no reference to this in the Teachings. Neither is there anything in the Teachings about the use of contraceptive methods in order to prevent the transmission through inheritance of undesirable family traits and tendencies. These are, therefore, matters which the Universal House of Justice will have to consider in future. We do not wish to legislate on such matters now, and therefore leave the decision in each case to the individual believers involved.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Whatever the number of children the couple decides on, it’s important to remember that God will protect His own so we do not have to face the future with fear, but with glad and assured hearts:

Regarding your question of whether you should have more children or not, the Guardian feels that this is a matter for you and your husband to decide.  However, we must always bear in mind that God will protect His own and that the Baha’i  children are the future servants of mankind who will help to carry the world forward into the glorious New Order which Baha’u’llah has prepared for it in this day of days.  We should not face the future with fear, but with glad and assured hearts.  (Universal House of Justice, Throne of the Inner Temple, p. 8)

A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless there was a medical reason why such a decision would be required:

A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless, of course, there were some medical reason why such a decision would be required.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346-347)

The House of Justice does not wish to comment on the effectiveness or possible hazards of present-day contraceptive agents:

As to birth control methods, the House of Justice does not wish to comment on the effectiveness or possible hazards of present-day contraceptive agents, and leaves it to individuals to decide what course of action they will take in light of the teachings and the best medical advice available.  (Universal House of Justice, Birth Control and Related Subjects, p. 3)

With regards to birth control as a means to slow down population explosion:

We have not discovered any specific reference in the texts to the problem of  population explosion in its relation to birth control. This question, of course, is a matter which is currently a subject of concern and speculation by many. A study of our teachings, however, indicates that in the future there will no doubt be a general improvement of standards of life and of health, but there will also be the full exploitation of unused and as yet unsuspected resources of the planet along with the control and tapping of its raw material, with a great increase in productivity.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

Guidance to a Physician:

Since you are a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, your professional decisions in this field are frequent and difficult ones. In each individual case your physician’s judgement and your Bahá’í conscience should guide you to the correct decision whenever permanent sterilization of a patient is contemplated. Of the four categories you have listed, only the first, grave sickness of the mother, clearly falls within Bahá’í permissibility. In the Second category, only grave genetic defects, but obviously not all genetic defects could be considered to be valid cause for intervention. As for lack of social and financial means, and anticipation of supernumerary children where individual maternal request is decisive, neither can be acceptable as reasons for permanent sterilization.  What can now be considered to be a form of family fertility control for some patients are those methods of intervention which are reversible and therefore do not necessarily bring about permanent sterility. Where such methods have been employed, the wish by patients to have additional children, for whatever reason, can be realized through a corrective operation.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 348-349)

All Bahá’ís are subject to Bahá’í law and Bahá’í standards. It would clearly be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose, or for a Bahá’í psychiatrist to publicly advocate sexual intercourse before marriage.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

Conclusion

Since there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject, Bahá’ís are not in a position to either condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it:

The Guardian has … given his careful consideration to your question regarding the Bahá’í view of birth control.  ‘…there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject. The utmost we can say is by way of reference from what Bahá’u’lláh has revealed regarding the nature, purpose and character of marriage.  ‘We, as Bahá’ís, are not therefore in a position either to condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

The Universal House of Justice will have to consider this issue in the future and give its verdict upon it.  In the meantime, individuals will have to make their own choices, based on these principles.

The Universal House of Justice feels that the time has not yet arrived for legislation on this matter, and that these instructions provide sufficient guidance for the friends for the time being.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  (Universal House of Justice, Legislating on Morality, 5 June 1988)

Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Although we might want to eliminate all grey areas, there should be enough information above for couples to allow their consciences to decide:

The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by `Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer. This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.  (Universal House of Justice, Legislating on Morality, 5 June 1988)

 

My Will vs God’s Will in Getting Pregnant

 

In an earlier article, Having a Baby will Fix Everything,  we looked at the need to consider spiritual, psychological and material resources before deciding to bring a child into the world.  Once we’ve considered these things, how do we know if it’s God’s will for us to have children?

It’s easy to know the will of God about getting pregnant, since He’s the one who creates each one of us.  We can create the conditions for a pregnancy to occur, but we don’t “make” the baby, God does.

Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 3)

O SON OF MAN!  I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 4)

We can pray for His Will, using prayers such as:

By Thy might! I ask not, whether sleeping or waking, but that which Thou dost desire. I am Thy servant and in Thy hands. Do Thou graciously aid me to do what will shed forth the fragrance of Thy good pleasure. This, truly, is my hope and the hope of them that enjoy near access to Thee. Praised be Thou, O Lord of the worlds!  (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 262)

I beseech Thee, by Thy name that hath unlocked the gates of Heaven and filled with ecstasy the Concourse on high, to enable me to serve Thee, in this Day, and to strengthen me to observe that which Thou didst prescribe in Thy Book. Thou knowest, O my Lord, what is in me; but I know not what is in Thee. Thou art the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 58)

I have renounced My desire for Thy desire, O my God, and My will for the revelation of Thy Will. By Thy glory! I desire neither Myself nor My life except for the purpose of serving Thy Cause, and I love not My being save that I may sacrifice it in Thy path.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 36)

I implore Thee Oh my God, by Thy Name the splendors of which have encompassed the heavens and the earth, to so surrender my will to what Thou hast revealed in Thy Tablets that I may cease to discover within me any desire except what Thou hast desired for me or any will except what Thou has willed for me by Thy will.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 242)

In the love I bear to Thee, O my Lord, my heart longeth for Thee with a longing such as no heart hath known. Here am I with my body between Thy hands, and my spirit before Thy face. Do with them as it may please Thee, for the exaltation of Thy word, and the revelation of what hath been enshrined within the treasuries of Thy knowledge. Potent art Thou to do what Thou willest, and able to ordain what Thou pleasest.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 242)

Make me ready, in all circumstances, O my Lord, to serve Thee and to set myself towards the adored sanctuary of Thy Revelation and of Thy Beauty. If it be Thy pleasure, make me to grow as a tender herb in the meadows of Thy grace, that the gentle winds of Thy will may stir me up and bend me into conformity with Thy pleasure, in such wise that my movement and my stillness may be wholly directed by Thee.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 240)

O Thou the Desire of the world and the Beloved of the nations! Thou seest me turning toward Thee, and rid of all attachment to anyone save Thee, and clinging to Thy cord, through whose movement the whole creation hath been stirred up. I am Thy servant, O my Lord, and the son of Thy servant. Behold me standing ready to do Thy will and Thy desire, and wishing naught else except Thy good pleasure. I implore Thee by the Ocean of Thy mercy and the Day-Star of Thy grace to do with Thy servant as Thou willest and pleasest. By Thy might which is far above all mention and praise! Whatsoever is revealed by Thee is the desire of my heart and the beloved of my soul. O God, my God! Look not upon my hopes and my doings, nay rather look upon Thy will that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth. By Thy Most Great Name, O Thou Lord of all nations! I have desired only what Thou didst desire, and love only what Thou dost love.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 317-318)

Ordain for me, O my Lord, and for those who believe in Thee that which is deemed best for us in Thine estimation, as set forth in the Mother Book, for within the grasp of Thy hand Thou holdest the determined measures of all things.  Thy goodly gifts are unceasingly showered upon such as cherish Thy love, and the wondrous tokens of Thy heavenly bounties are amply bestowed on those who recognize Thy divine Unity. We commit unto Thy care whatsoever Thou hast destined for us, and implore Thee to grant us all the good that Thy knowledge embraceth. Protect me, O my Lord, from every evil that Thine omniscience perceiveth, inasmuch as there is no power nor strength but in Thee, no triumph is forthcoming save from Thy presence, and it is Thine alone to command. Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed shall not be. There is no power nor strength except in God, the Most Exalted, the Most Mighty.  (The Báb, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 130)

Prayer must always be followed by action; and the best tool for this is Shoghi Effendi’s 5 Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems, which were suggested by the beloved Guardian to a believer as a means of finding a solution through the use of prayer.  Although these steps belong to a category of statements known as “pilgrims notes”, and as such have no authority, the House of Justice has said that since it seems to be particularly helpful and clear it was felt that believers should not be deprived of it.

1st Step: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

This is where you ask God your questions; say prayers of the Bab and Baha’u’llah and then wait for an answer.  During the “silence of contemplation”, write down all the answers that come to you, that seem to be an answer to a prayer, without judging or filtering out any of them.

2nd Step: Arrive at a decision and hold this.

After looking over your list, what’s your decision?  That’s what you go with, without second guessing it.  Then hold on to it!

This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

3rd Step: Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here.  The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

Many people get stopped here, because they don’t hold on to the decision.  Instead they try to second guess it and fear stops them from carrying it through.  It’s important to be forewarned about this, so that when it happens to you, you’ll be able to overcome it.

4th Step: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the 5th step.

You need faith and confidence.  Ask yourself what will give you this.

 5th Step: Act as though it had all been answered.

ACT!  God can’t move a parked car!  Do whatever you need to do to bring about the answer you got.

Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need.  But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered?

You can’t act as though it had all been answered unless you meet all these conditions:

  • Pray
  • Remain in the silence of contemplation
  • Arrive at a decision and hold it
  • Have faith and confidence
  • Have determination

How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 91)

This is a technique you will want to do every single day; with every single decision from which tomato to buy at the market to whether or not to have a baby.

Miscarriage

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage.  During the first trimester, the most common cause is chromosomal abnormality – meaning that something is not correct with the baby’s chromosomes. Most chromosomal abnormalities are the cause of a damaged egg or sperm cell, or are due to a problem at the time that the zygote went through the division process. Other causes for miscarriage include (but are not limited to):

  • Hormonal problems, infections or maternal health problems
  • Lifestyle (i.e. smoking, drug use, malnutrition, excessive caffeine  and exposure to radiation or toxic substances)
  • Implantation of the egg into the uterine lining does not occur properly
  • Maternal age
  • Maternal trauma

Although it can be a heart-breaking disappointment to lose a child to miscarriage, from a Bahá’í perspective, God has favored the child with His heavenly gifts.  If we were to understand the favor given to our child, there would be no reason for grief at this seeming calamity.

Be not grieved and afflicted for this calamity which hath befallen thee; nay, rather, rejoice that God hath favored (thy babe) with His heavenly gifts. Truly, I say unto thee, wert thou informed of that felicity which thy babe hath attained in the worlds of God, thy breast would be dilated and thy soul would be purified. Truly, I say unto thee, thy child will be fostered from the breast of the gift of God in the Exalted Kingdom and will be nursed in the bosom of mercy in the Supreme World of God. Therefore, be filled with delight, for the favor of thy Lord is very great. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 139-140)

We will see our child in the next world.

That beloved child addresseth thee from the hidden world: ‘O thou kind Mother, thank divine Providence that I have been freed from a small and gloomy cage and, like the birds of the meadows, have soared to the divine world — a world which is spacious, illumined, and ever gay and jubilant. Therefore, lament not, O Mother, and be not grieved; I am not of the lost, nor have I been obliterated and destroyed. I have shaken off the mortal form and have raised my banner in this spiritual world. Following this separation is everlasting companionship. Thou shalt find me in the heaven of the Lord, immersed in an ocean of light.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 201)

Patience is needed:

I beg of God to pour on thee becoming patience, so that thy heart may be consoled with the fragrance of His mercy and that thy breast may be dilated with His favors, that thou mayest attain to the spiritual states which are lasting forever and ever.  Thou oughtest to bear it with becoming patience. Again, thou oughtest to patiently bear this calamity which hath flowed thine eyes with tears and hath greatly afflicted thee.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 139-140)

When miscarriage happens, the fetus, no matter how young, should be treated with respect and not carelessly discarded into an incinerator:

From a Bahá’í point of view, the soul is present from conception and therefore the foetus, no matter how young, should not be treated with disrespect and carelessly discarded into an incinerator, if this can be prevented. The House of Justice knows of nothing in the writings specifically referring to the burial of embryos, and, in previous instances, has left such details to the discretion of the parents. In one case it was reported to the world center that the parents had buried the foetus in a corner of their own garden and had said a few prayers for the progress of their child’s soul. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 195)

Are Bahá’ís allowed to take extraordinary measures to facilitate the natural process of conception?

Sometimes, no matter how ready we might be to have children; we don’t seem able to get pregnant or carry a child to term.  In those cases, many parents look to other ways to fulfill their desire.  Let’s look at these options; and what the Bahá’í Writings have to say about each. 

Artificial Insemination

Artificial insemination is permitted as long as the husband is the father of the child (therefore  it would not be permissible under Bahá’í law for a Bahá’í couple use a sperm bank)

The beloved Guardian states in a letter written on his behalf to an individual believer, that “… there is no objection to having a baby by means of artificial insemination as long as your husband is the father of it”. In view of this, it would not be permissible under Bahá’í law for a Bahá’í couple seeking to have a child to utilize a sperm bank.  (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 2000)

 In-Vitro Fertilization

In-Vitro Fertilization is acceptable for Bahá’ís, as long as the egg cell of the wife is fertilized by the sperm of the husband

While artificial insemination is a very different process from in-vitro fertilization, the principle enunciated by the Guardian is the same, namely, that to be acceptable to Bahá’ís, the egg cell of the wife should be fertilized by the sperm of the husband in the procedure. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 5 April 1996, to an individual)

It’s for the couple to decide, and there is value in obtaining the best medical advice available:

For the present, it is left to the Bahá’í couple to decide whether or not they wish to use in vitro fertilization as a means of having children. The use of such procedures is clearly a matter of choice, and not a requirement. In this regard, there is value in obtaining the best medical advice available. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 6 May 1996, to the Research Department)

Surrogate Pregnancy

This procedure is not permissible for Bahá’ís, even when the embryo results from the fertilization of the husband’s sperm and the wife’s egg cell which is later implanted into the womb of the third party:

The spiritual and social implications involved in the use of surrogate mothers to provide for the gestation of the embryo, even when the embryo results from the fertilization of the husband’s sperm and the wife’s egg cell which is later implanted into the womb of the third party, are too far-reaching for such a procedure to be permissible to Bahá’ís.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 348)

The use of a surrogate raises a number of issues

  • legal questions
  • spiritual, emotional and psychological effects
  • effect on modesty, chastity and fidelity
  • the future impact on the child itself
  • the emotional ties between the surrogate and the child
  • the emotional ties between the donor of the ovum and the child

 Apart from legal questions to which such a procedure could give rise, it should be remembered that, since human beings are endowed with a spiritual nature, an accurate assessment of the implications of the physical actions in which an individual engages must include consideration of the spiritual, emotional and psychological effects of these actions; this interrelationship is evident on examining the emphasis placed in the Bahá’í teachings on modesty, chastity and fidelity. The use of a surrogate for the gestation of an embryo would raise a number of issues pertaining to the future impact on the child itself, as well as the emotional ties between the surrogate and the child, and also between the donor of the ovum and the child. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 22 November 1989, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

This procedure uses a mechanistic use of the human body, incompatible with the dignity assigned to the individual in the Bahá’í teachings:

____ has raised a number of questions in her search for a deeper understanding of the implications to which the House of Justice has referred. The proposed procedure [surrogacy] leads to a mechanistic use of the human body, incompatible with the dignity assigned to the individual in the Bahá’í teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 22 November 1989, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

Adoption

Adoption is truly a Bahá’í act especially lauded by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

It was a pleasure to Shoghi Effendi to receive your letter of May 26th and to hear about your adopted children. This is a truly Bahá’í act especially as it was often lauded both by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Guardian trusts that they will grow to become Bahá’í workers, and thus repay your kind generosity.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 140)

When we He that bring up the son of another, it is as though we’re bringing up a son of Gods; upon us will rest God’s Glory, loving Kindness, and Mercy:

He that bringeth up his son or the son of another, it is as though he hath brought up a son of Mine; upon him rest My Glory, My loving Kindness, My Mercy, that have compassed the world.  (Bahá’u’lláh: Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 16)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá longs for us to become a kind parent to orphaned children:

In this holy Cause the question of orphans hath the utmost importance. The greatest consideration must be shown towards orphans; they must be taught trained and educated. The Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, especially, must by all means be given to them as far as possible.  I supplicate God that thou mayest become a kind parent to orphaned children, quickening them with the fragrances of the Holy Spirit, so that they will attain the age of maturity as true servants of the world of humanity and as bright candles in the assemblage of mankind.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Bahá’í Education, p. 46)

Preventing Pregnancy

Although the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation of children, the husband and wife can decide how many children they want to have:

There is nothing in the Sacred Writings specifically on the subjects of birth control, abortion or sterilization, but Bahá’u’lláh did state the primary purpose of marriage was the procreation of children, and it is to this primary purpose that the beloved Guardian alludes in many of the letters which are quoted in the compilation. This does not imply that a couple are obliged to have as many children as they can; the Guardian’s secretary clearly stated on his behalf, in answer to an enquiry, that it was for the husband and wife to decide how many children they would have. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

There are many ways to prevent conception, including self-discipline and restraint:

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

We are obligated to avoid any action which would permanently prevent us from bearing children: 

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

This includes vasectomy:

Directly to your question about having a vasectomy, in general it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of avoiding having unwanted children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

And tubal ligation:

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter of April 29 asking about tubal ligation and has noted that you are familiar with general Bahá’í principles on the subject. However, it has directed us to say that under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

Sterilization is permitted if required for medical reasons: 

Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

 What To Do While You’re Waiting to Get Pregnant:

Back to our original question – how do I know if it’s time to have children?  I’d like to leave you with these thoughts:

Although the primary purpose of marriage is to have children:

They should realize, moreover, that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation of children.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 379)

It’s not the purpose of life!  The purpose of life is to know and worship God; and to acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world.  For more information, please see:

5 Ways to Achieve Our Purpose in Life

If and when God decides you are ready to take care of a new life, He will give it to you.  If He doesn’t, it’s because He has a better plan in mind.

Here are five things you can do while you’re waiting:

1.. Strengthen your relationship with God:

Learn to rely upon Him, and trust Him with every decision.

Rely upon God. Trust in Him. Praise Him, and call Him continually to mind. He verily turneth trouble into ease, and sorrow into solace, and toil into utter peace. He verily hath dominion over all things.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 320)

2.  Have patience: Sometimes patience is needed, while we put everything we need in place and make sure our marriage is strong enough to handle another person in the “nest”!  For more information on how to develop patience, please see:

I Want Patience and I Want it NOW:

3.  Live in the present: So while waiting to get pregnant, don’t forget to live in the present and get on with the purpose of your life!  Focus on making today the best it can be, trusting God to take care of tomorrow.  This is what He wants from you.

No one knows what the future holds for him, or to what degree he is spoiling it or creating it; therefore the thing to do is one’s daily best and let the future take care of itself. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 515)

4.  Be grateful for all you have. If you aren’t grateful for what you have now, what reason would God have to give you more?!

In short, thou shouldst thank God a hundred-thousand times . . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 510)

Don’t be so busy living in the future, or disappointed that you don’t have the life you want now, that you forget to thank God for today.

5.  Be content with God’s will, whatever it may be:

The source of all glory is acceptance of whatsoever the Lord hath bestowed, and contentment with that which God hath ordained.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 155)

This is your full time job, at all times and under all conditions!

How has this helped you understand your will vs God’s in your decision about having children?  Post your comments below!

Advice to Doctors

This is part ten of an eleven part series on the Baha’i Perspective on Disease.   In Part 1,  we looked at how I got interested in this topic and looked at some quotes on prevention of disease.  In Part 2, we looked at the reasons for disease.  In Part 3, we looked at the physical cause of disease, in Part 4 we looked at the spiritual causes, in Part 5 we looked at the effects of disease, in Part 6 we looked at the attitudes we want to strive for, when we are diseased, in Part 7 we looked at the spiritual treatments for disease,  in Part 8 we looked at the physical treatments for disease, in Part 9 we looked  at why people aren’t getting better, and in this part we look at advice given to doctors.

Study medicine:

Thou shouldst endeavour to study the science of medicine. It is extremely useful and serveth as the greatest instrument for the dissemination of the Cause. It is absolutely imperative that thou acquire this bounty. Strive day and night that thou mayest become highly qualified in this science.

And research:

These investigations you have so painstakingly pursued in the field of medical science, and on a subject which is still puzzling the minds of all the leading scientists in the world, cannot but be of a captivating interest and of a great value to all medical research workers.  It is significant that you as a believer should have undertaken a work of this nature, as we all know that the powers released by the Manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh in this day are destined, in the course of time, to reveal themselves through the instrumentality of His followers, and in every conceivable field of human endeavour.  That you should increasingly prove, through your confirmed researches in the domain of medicine, to be one of those instruments, is the fervent hope of our beloved Guardian.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 287)

Turn to God and ask for Help:

And when thou wishest to dispense treatment set thy heart toward the Abha Kingdom, entreating Divine confirmations.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

When giving medical treatment turn to the Blessed Beauty then follow the dictates of thy heart . . . Indeed, such a heavenly breath quickeneth every mouldering bone and reviveth the spirit of every sick and ailing one.     (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

Give God the credit:

Well is it with the physician who cureth ailments in My hallowed and dearly cherished Name.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

Diagnose then prescribe:

First diagnose the disease and identify the malady, then prescribe the remedy, for such is the perfect method of the skilful physician.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 269)

Know the spiritual causes as well as the physical:

Say to [Dr.] . . . . that “he studied physical medicine and he cured physical diseases. I beg of God that he may become a spiritual physician and heal the sickness of the ignorant ones.”  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 507)

Know the patient as well as disease and remedies:

Consequently, the doctor must be aware of, and know, all the members and parts, as well as the constitution and state of the patient, so that he can prescribe a medicine which will be beneficial against the violent poison of the disease. In reality the doctor deduces from the disease itself the treatment which is suited to the patient, for he diagnoses the malady, and afterward prescribes the remedy for the illness. Until the malady be discovered, how can the remedy and treatment be prescribed? The doctor then must have a thorough knowledge of the constitution, members, organs and state  of the patient, and be acquainted with all diseases and all remedies, in order to prescribe a fitting medicine.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 158)

Know the different remedies and medicines:

The skillful physician does not give the same medicine to cure each disease and each malady, but he changes remedies and medicines according to the different necessities of the diseases and constitutions. One person may have a severe illness caused by fever, and the skilled doctor will give him cooling remedies; and when at some other time the condition of this person has changed, and fever is replaced by chills, without doubt the skilled doctor will discard cooling medicine and permit the use of heating drugs. This change and alteration is required by the condition of the patient and is an evident proof of the skill of the physician.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 94)

Treat with foods:

When highly-skilled physicians shall fully examine this matter, thoroughly and perseveringly, it will be clearly seen that the incursion of disease is due to a disturbance in the relative amounts of the body’s component substances, and that treatment consisteth in adjusting these relative amounts, and that this can be apprehended and made possible by means of foods. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 154-155)

It is certain that in this wonderful new age the development of medical science will lead to the doctors’ healing their patients with foods . . .  Observe how an animal will graze in a field where there are a hundred thousand kinds of herbs and grasses, and how, with its sense of smell, it snuffeth up the odours of the plants, and tasteth them with its sense of taste; then it consumeth whatever herb is pleasurable to these senses, and benefiteth therefrom. Were it not for this power of selectivity, the animals would all be dead in a single day; for there are a great many poisonous plants, and animals know nothing of the pharmacopoeia. And yet, observe what a reliable set of scales they have, by means of which to differentiate the good from the injurious. Whatever constituent of their body hath decreased, they can rehabilitate by seeking out and consuming some plant that hath an abundant store of that diminished element; and thus the equilibrium of their bodily components is re-established, and they are rid of their disease.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 155-156)

At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 156)

Use spiritual and material forms of healing:

O thou distinguished physician!…Praise be to God that thou hast two powers: one to undertake physical healing and the other spiritual healing. Matters related  to man’s spirit have a great effect on his bodily condition. For instance, thou shouldst impart gladness to thy patient, give him comfort and joy, and bring him to ecstasy and exultation. How often hath it occurred that this hath caused early recovery. Therefore, treat thou the sick with both powers. Spiritual feelings have a surprising effect on healing nervous ailments      (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

Remedy the sick by means of heavenly joy and spiritual exultation cure the sorely afflicted by imparting to them blissful glad tidings and heal the wounded through His resplendent bestowals. When at the bedside of a patient, cheer and gladden his heart and enrapture his spirit through celestial power. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 285)

Circumcision:

The beloved Guardian says that the question of circumcision has nothing to do with the Bahá’í Teachings; and the believers are free to do as they please in the matter.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

Euthanasia, birth control and abortion:

We are impressed by the spirit of your letter of 15 Sultan seeking guidance concerning certain aspects of the medical profession. Your desire to avoid doing anything in your study of medicine which would be contrary to the Bahá’í Teachings is most commendable.  As you have keenly observed, the Universal House of Justice may consider it untimely to make definitive rulings on certain matters to which no direct reference can be found in the Sacred Text. Among these are euthanasia and certain aspects of birth control and abortion, and until such time as rulings are made, these matters are left to the consciences of those concerned who must weigh the medical advice on the case in the light of general guidance given in the Teachings. Your National Spiritual Assembly has specific references regarding birth control and abortion which might be useful to you.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

Organ Transplants:

We have not come across anything specific in the writings on transplants of hearts and other organs or regarding the time of death, and the Universal House of Justice does not wish to make any statements on these points at this time.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

There is nothing in the teachings which would forbid a Bahá’í to bequeath his eyes to another person or for a hospital; on the contrary it seems a noble thing to do.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 290)

Dissection:

When dissecting a human body for the purposes of medical study, should keep in mind that since the body was once the temple of the spirit it must be treated with respect even though there is no further connection between the two.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 290)

Avoid commissions:

The Guardian feels that your attitude towards the corrupt practice of accepting commissions from fellow physicians and pharmacists is most admirable. The more upright and noble the Bahá’ís are in their conduct, the more they will impress the public with the spiritual vitality of the Faith they believe in.  (Shoghi Effendi,, Lights of Guidance, p. 287)

Ethical Conduct:

Knowledge is praiseworthy when it is coupled with ethical conduct and virtuous character; otherwise it is a deadly poison, a frightful danger. A physician of evil character, and who betrayeth his trust, can bring on death, and become the source of numerous infirmities and diseases.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Scholarship, p. 21)

Bahá’í Holy Days:

He thinks it is better for Bahá’í doctors not to work on our 9 Holy Days — but, of course, that does not mean they should not attend to very sick people and emergencies on these days.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 287)

For more in this series:

Part 1: Intro to Disease

Part 2:  Reasons for Disease

Part 3:  Physical Causes of Disease

Part 4:  Spiritual Causes of Disease

Part 5:  Effects of Disease

Part 6:  Attitudes towards Disease

Part 7:  Spiritual Treatment for Disease

Part 8:  Physical Treatment for Disease

Part 9:  Why People Aren’t Getting Better

Part 10:  Advice to Doctors

Part 11:  Prayers for Health