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The Mission of the Báb Retrospective 1844-1994 BY DOUGLAS MARTIN

The Mission of the BábRetrospective 1844-1994

BY DOUGLAS MARTIN

In this article, first published in the 1994–5 edition of The Bahá’í World, Douglas Martin considers the Revelation of the Báb in the context of its impact on the Western writers of the period and its subsequent influence.

The year 1994 marked the 150th anniversary of the declaration of His mission by the Báb (Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, 1819–1850), one of the two Founders of the Bahá’í Faith. The moment invites an attempt to gain an overview of the extraordinary historical consequences that have flowed from an event little noticed at the time outside the confines of the remote and decadent society within which it occurred.

The first half of the 19th century was a period of messianic expectation in the Islamic world, as was the case in many parts of Christendom. In Persia a wave of millenialist enthusiasm had swept many in the religiously educated class of Shí‘ih Muslim society, focused on belief that the fulfillment of prophecies in the Qur’án and

the Islamic traditions was at hand. It was to one such ardent seeker1 that, on the night of 22–23 May 1844, the Báb (a title meaning “Gate”) announced that He was the Bearer of a Divine Revelation destined not only to transform Islam but to set a new direction for the spiritual life of humankind.

During the decade that followed, mounting opposition from both clergy and state brought about the martyrdom of the Báb, the massacre of His leading disciples and of several thousands of His followers, and the virtual extinction of the religious system that He had founded. Out of these harrowing years, however, emerged a successor movement, the Bahá’í Faith, that has since spread throughout the planet and established its claim to represent a new and independent world religion.

It is to Bahá’u’lláh (Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí, 1817–1892), that the worldwide Bahá’í community looks as the source of its spiritual and social teachings, the authority for the laws and institutions that shape its life, and the vision of unity that has today made it one of the most geographically widespread and ethnically diverse of organized bodies of people on the planet. It is from Bahá’u’lláh that the Faith derives its name and toward Whose resting place in the Holy Land that the millions of Bahá’ís around the world daily direct their thoughts when they turn to God in prayer.

These circumstances in no way diminish, however, the fact that the new Faith was born amid the bloody and terrible magnificence surrounding the Báb’s brief mission, nor that the inspiration for its worldwide spread has been the spirit of self- sacrifice that Bahá’ís find in His life and the lives of the heroic band that followed Him. Prayers revealed by the Báb and passages from His voluminous writings are part of the devotional life of Bahá’ís everywhere. The events of His mission are commemorated

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as annual holy days in tens of thousands of local Bahá’í communities.2 On the slopes of Mount Carmel, the golden-domed Shrine where His mortal remains are buried dominates the great complex of monumental buildings and gardens constituting the administrative center of the Faith’s international activities.

In contemporary public awareness of the Bahá’í community and its activities, however, the life and person of Bahá’u’lláh have largely overshadowed those of the Báb. In a sense, it is natural that this should be the case, given the primary role of Bahá’u’lláh as the fulfillment of the Báb’s promises and the Architect of the Faith’s achievements. To some extent, however, this circumstance also reflects the painfully slow emergence of the new religion from obscurity onto the stage of history. In a perceptive comment on the subject, the British historian Arnold Toynbee compared the level of appreciation of the Bahá’í Faith in most Western lands with the similarly limited impression that the mission of Jesus Christ had succeeded in making on the

educated class in the Roman Empire some 300 years after His death.3 Since most of the public activity of the Bahá’í community over the past several decades has focused on the demanding task of presenting Bahá’u’lláh’s message, and elaborating the implications of its social teachings for the life of society, the Faith’s 19th-century Persian origins have tended to become temporarily eclipsed in the public mind.

Indeed, Bahá’ís, too, are challenged by the implications of the extraordinary idea that our age has witnessed the appearance of two almost contemporaneous Messengers of God. Bahá’u’lláh describes the phenomenon as one of the distinguishing characteristics of the new religion and as a mystery central to the plan

of God for the unification of humankind and the establishment of a global civilization.4Fundamental to the Bahá’í conception of the evolution of civilization is an

analogy to be found in the writings of both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. It draws a parallel between the process by which the human race has gradually been civilized and that whereby each one of its individual members passes through the successive stages of infancy, childhood, and adolescence to adulthood. The idea throws a measure of light on the relationship which Bahá’ís see between the missions of the two Founders of their religion.

Both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh—the former implicitly and the latter explicitly— describe the human race as standing now on the brink of its collective maturity. Apart from the Báb’s role as a Messenger of God, His advent marks the fruition of the process of the refining of human nature which thousands of years of Divine revelation have cultivated. It can be viewed, in that sense, as the gateway through which humankind must pass as it takes up the responsibilities of maturity. Its brevity itself

seems symbolic of the relative suddenness of the transition.5
At the individual level, no sooner does one cross the critical threshold of

maturity in his or her development than the challenges and opportunities of adulthood beckon. The emerging potentialities of human life must now find expression through the long years of responsibility and achievement: they must become actualized through marriage, a profession and family, and service to society. In the collective life of humanity, it is the mission of Bahá’u’lláh, the universal Messenger of God anticipated in the scriptures of all the world’s religions.

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Even as late as the end of the 19th century, however, it was the Báb who figured as the central Personality of the new religion among most of those Westerners who had become aware of its existence. Writing in the American periodicalForum in 1925, the French literary critic Jules Bois remembered the extraordinary impact which the story of the Báb continued to have on educated opinion in Europe as the 19th century closed:

All Europe was stirred to pity and indignation … . Among the littérateurs of my generation, in the Paris of 1890, the martyrdom of the Báb was still as fresh a topic as had been the first news of His death in 1850. We wrote poems about Him. Sarah Bernhardt entreated Catulle Mendès for a play on the theme of this

historic tragedy.6

Writers as diverse as Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, Edward Granville Browne, Ernest Renan, Aleksandr Tumanskiy, A.L.M. Nicolas, Viktor Rosen, Clément Huart, George Curzon, Matthew Arnold, and Leo Tolstoy were affected by the spiritual drama that had unfolded in Persia during the middle years of the 19th century. Not until the early part of our own century did the name the “Bahá’í Cause,” which the new religion had already adopted for itself as early as the 1860s, replace the designation of “Bábí

movement” in general usage in the West.7

That this should have been the case was no doubt a reflection of the degree to which the brief but incandescent life of the Báb seemed to catch up and embody cultural ideals that had dominated European thought during the first half of the 19th century, and which exercised a powerful influence on the Western imagination for many decades thereafter. The concept commonly used to describe the course of Europe’s cultural and intellectual development during the first five or six decades of the 19th century is Romanticism. By the century’s beginning, European thought had begun to look beyond its preoccupation with the arid rationalism and mechanistic certainties of the Enlightenment toward an exploration of other dimensions of existence: the aesthetic, the emotional, the intuitive, the mystical, the “natural,” the “irrational.” Literature, philosophy, history, music, and art all responded strongly and gradually exerted a sympathetic influence on the popular mind.

In England, where the tendency was already gathering force as the century opened, one effect was to produce perhaps the most spectacular outpouring of lyrical poetry that the language has ever known. Over the next two to three decades these early insights were to find powerful echoes throughout Western Europe. A new order of things, a whole new world, lay within reach, if man would only dare what was needed. Liberated by the intellectual upheaval of the preceding decades, poets, artists and musicians conceived of themselves as the voice of immense creative capacities latent in human consciousness and seeking expression; as “prophets” shaping a new conception of human nature and human society. With the validity of traditional religion now shrouded in doubt, mythical figures and events from the classical past were summoned up to serve as vehicles for this heroic Ideal:

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than Death or Night; To defy Power which seems Omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates From its own wreck the thing it contemplates …This alone is Life, Joy, Empire and Victory.8The same longings had awakened in America in the decades immediately preceding the Civil War and were to leave an indelible imprint on public consciousness. All of the transcendentalists became deeply attracted by the mystical literature of the Orient: the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Upanishads, as well as the works of the major Islamic poets, Rúmí, Háfiz, and Sa‘dí. The effect can be appreciated in such influential writings of Emerson as the Divinity School Address:I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty which ravished the souls of those eastern Men, and chiefly those of the Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also … I look for the new Teacher that shall follow so far those shining laws that He shall see them come full circle; … shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show … that Duty is one thing withScience, with Beauty, and with Joy.9As the century advanced, the early Romantic optimism found itself increasingly mired in the successive disappointments and defeats of the revolutionary fervor it had helped arouse. Under the pressure of scientific and technological change, the culture of philosophical materialism to which enlightenment speculation had originally given rise gradually consolidated itself. The wars and revolutionary upheavals of the middle years of the century contributed further to a mood of “realism,” a recognition that great ideals must somehow be reconciled with the obdurate circumstances of human nature.Even in the relatively sober atmosphere of Victorian public discourse, however, Romantic yearnings retained a potent influence in Western consciousness. They produced a susceptibility to spiritual impulses which, while different from that which had characterized the opening decades of the century, now affected a broad public. If the revolutionary figure of Prometheus no longer spoke to English perceptions of the age, the Arthurian legend caught up the popular hope, blending youthful idealism with the insights of maturity, and capturing the imagination of millions precisely on that account:The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways,Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.10It is hardly surprising that, on minds formed in this cultural milieu, the figure of the Báb should exert a compelling fascination, as Westerners became acquainted with His story in the latter years of the century. Particularly appealing was the purity of His life, an unshadowed nobility of character that had won the hearts of many among His fellow countrymen who had come as doubters or even enemies and stayed to lay down their lives in His cause. Words which the Báb addressed to the first group of His

disciples suggest the nature of the moral standards He held up as goals for those who responded to His call:

Purge your hearts of worldly desires, and let angelic virtues be your adorning. … The days when idle worship was deemed sufficient are ended. The time is come when naught but the purest motive, supported by deeds of stainless purity, can ascend to the throne of the Most High and be acceptable unto Him. … Beseech the Lord your God to grant that no earthly entanglements, no worldly affections, no ephemeral pursuits, may tarnish the purity, or embitter the sweetness, of that

grace which flows through you.11

Purity of heart was coupled with a courage and willingness for self-sacrifice that Western observers found deeply inspiring. The commentaries of Ernest Renan and others drew the inescapable parallel with the life of Jesus Christ. As the extraordinary

drama of His final moments convincingly demonstrated,12 the Báb could have at any moment saved Himself and achieved mastery over those who persecuted Him by taking advantage of the folly of His adversaries and the superstition of the general populace. He scorned to do so, and accepted death at the hands of His enemies only when satisfied that His mission had been completed in its entirety and in conformity with the Will of God. His followers, who had divested themselves of all earthly attachments and advantages, were barbarously massacred by adversaries who had sworn on the Qur’án to spare their lives and their honor, and who shamefully abused their wives and children after their deaths. Renan writes:

Des milliers de martyrs sont accourus pour lui avec l’allégresse au devant de la mort. Un jour sans pareil peut-être dans l’histoire du monde fut celui de la grande boucherie qui se fit des Bábís, à Téhéran. “On vit ce jour-là dans les rues et les bazars de Téhéran,” dit un narrateur qui a tout su d’original, “un spectacle que la population semble devoir n’oublier jamais. … Enfants et femmes s’avançaient en chantant un verset qui dit: En vérité nous venons de Dieu et nous

retournons à Lui.”13

Purity of heart and moral courage were matched by an idealism with which most Western observers could also readily identify. By the 19th century, the Persia to which the Báb addressed Himself and which had once been one of the world’s great civilizations, had sunk to an object of despair and contempt among foreign visitors. A population ignorant, apathetic, and superstitious in the extreme was the prey of a profoundly corrupt Muslim clergy and the brutal regime of the Qájár shahs. Shí‘ih Islam had, for the most part, degenerated into a mass of superstitions and mindless legalisms. Security of life and property depended entirely on the whims of those in authority.

Such was the society that the Báb summoned to reflection and self-discipline. A new age had dawned; God demanded purity of heart rather than religious formulae, an inner condition that must be matched by cleanliness in all aspects of daily life; truth was a goal to be won not by blind imitation but by personal effort, prayer, meditation, and detachment from the appetites. The nature of the accounts which Western writers like Gobineau, Browne, and Nicolas were later to hear from surviving followers of the Báb can be appreciated from the words in which Mullá Husayn-i-Bushrú’í described the effect on him of his first meeting with the Báb:

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I felt possessed of such courage and power that were the world, all its peoples and its potentates, to rise against me, I would, alone and undaunted, withstand their onslaught. The universe seemed but a handful of dust in my grasp. I seemed to be the Voice of Gabriel personified, calling unto all mankind: “Awake, for, lo!the morning Light has broken.”14European observers, visiting the country long after the Báb’s martyrdom, were struck by the moral distinction achieved by Persia’s Bahá’í community. Explaining to Western readers the success of Bahá’í teaching activities among the Persian population, in contrast to the ineffectual efforts of Christian missionaries, E.G. Browne said:To the Western observer, however, it is the complete sincerity of the Bábís [sic], their fearless disregard of death and torture undergone for the sake of their religion, their certain conviction as to the truth of their faith, their generally admirable conduct towards mankind and especially towards their fellow-believers, which constitutes their strongest claim on his attention.15The figure of the Báb appealed strongly also to aesthetic sensibilities which Romanticism had awakened. Apart from those of His countrymen whose positions were threatened by His mission, surviving accounts by all who met Him agree in their description of the extraordinary beauty of His person and of His physical movements. His voice, particularly when chanting the tablets and prayers He revealed, possessed a sweetness that captivated the heart. Even His clothing and the furnishings of His simple house were marked by a degree of refinement that seemed to reflect the inner spiritual beauty that so powerfully attracted His visitors.Particular reference must be made to the originality of the Báb’s thought and the manner in which He chose to express it. Throughout all the vicissitudes of the 19th century, the European mind had continued to cling to the ideal of the ‘man of destiny’ who, through the sheer creative force of his untrammeled genius, could set a new course in human affairs. At the beginning of the century, Napoleon Bonaparte had seemed to represent such a phenomenon, and not even the disillusionment that had followed his betrayal of the ideal had discouraged the powerful current of individualism that was one of the Romantic movement’s principal legacies to the century and, indeed, to our own.Out of the Báb’s writings emerges a sweeping new approach to religious truth. Its sheer boldness was one of the principal reasons for the violence of the opposition that His work aroused among the obscurantist Muslim clergy who dominated all serious discourse in 19th-century Persia. These challenging concepts were matched by the highly innovative character of the language in which they were communicated.In its literary form, Arabic possesses an almost hypnotic beauty—a beauty which, in the language of the Qur’án, attains levels of the sublime which Muslims of all ages have regarded as beyond imitation by mortal man. For all Muslims, regardless of their sect, culture, or nation, Arabic is the language of Revelation par excellence. The proof of the Divine origin of the Qur’án lay not chiefly in its character as literature, but in the power its verses possessed to change human behavior and attitudes. Although, like Jesus and Muhammad before Him, the Báb had little formal schooling, He used both Arabic and His native Persian, alternately, as the themes of His discourse required.

To His hearers, the most dramatic sign of the Báb’s spiritual authority was that, for the first time in more than 12 centuries, human ears were privileged to hear again the inimitable accents of Revelation. Indeed, in one important respect, the Qur’án was far surpassed. Tablets, meditations, and prayers of thrilling power flowed effortlessly from the lips of the Báb. In one extraordinary period of two days, His writings exceeded in quantity the entire text of the Qur’án, which represented the fruit of 23 years of Muhammad’s prophetic output. No one among His ecclesiastical opponents ventured to take up His public challenge: “Verily We have made the revelation of verses to be a testimony for Our message to you.” i.e., In the Qur’án God had explicitly established the “miracle” of the Book’s power as His sole proof. “Can ye produce a

single letter to match these verses? Bring forth, then, your proofs ….”16
Moreover, despite His ability to use traditional Arabic forms when He chose to

do so, the Báb showed no hesitancy in abandoning these conventions as the requirements of His message dictated. He resorted freely to neologisms, new grammatical constructions, and other variants on accepted speech whenever He found existing terms inadequate vehicles for the revolutionary new conception of spiritual reality He vigorously advanced. Rebuked by learned Shí‘ih mujtahids at His trial in Tabríz (1848) for violations of the rules of grammar, the Báb reminded those who followed Him that the Word of God is the Creator of language as of all other things,

shaping it according to His purpose.17 Through the power of His Word, God says “BE,” and it is.

The principle is as old as prophetic religion;—is indeed, central to it:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. … He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the

world knew him not.18

The implications for humanity’s response to the Messenger of God at His advent is touched on in a passage of one of Bahá’u’lláh’s major works, The Four Valleys. Quoting the Persian poet Rúmí, He says:

The story is told of a mystic knower who went on a journey with a learned grammarian for a companion. They came to the shore of the Sea of Grandeur. The knower, putting his trust in God, straightway flung himself into the waves, but the grammarian stood bewildered and lost in thoughts that were as words that are written on water. The mystic called out to him, “Why dost thou not follow?” The grammarian answered, “O brother, what can I do? As I dare not advance, I must needs go back again.” Then the mystic cried, “Cast aside what thou hast learned from Síbavayh and Qawlavayh, from Ibn-i-Ḥájib and Ibn-i- Málik, and cross the water.”

With renunciation, not with grammar’s rules, one must be armed: Be nothing, then, and cross this sea unharmed.19

For the young seminarians who most eagerly responded to Him, the originality of the Báb’s language, far from creating an obstacle to their appreciation of His message, itself represented another compelling sign of the Divine mission He claimed.

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It challenged them to break out of familiar patterns of perception, to stretch their intellectual faculties, to discover in this new Revelation a true freedom of the spirit.However baffling some of the Báb’s writings were to prove for His later European admirers, the latter also perceived Him to be a unique figure, one who had found within His own soul the vision of a transcendent new reality and who had acted unhesitatingly on the imperative it represented. Most of their commentaries tended to reflect the Victorian era’s dualistic frame of mind and were presented as scientifically motivated observations of what their authors considered to be an important religious and cultural phenomenon. In the introduction to his translation of A Traveler’s Narrative, for example, the Cambridge scholar Edward Granville Browne took pains to justify the unusual degree of attention he had devoted to the Bábí movement in his research work:…here he [the student of religion] may contemplate such personalities as by lapse of time pass into heroes and demi-gods still unobscured by myth and fable; he may examine by the light of concurrent and independent testimony one of those strange outbursts of enthusiasm, faith, fervent devotion, and indomitable heroism—or fanaticism, if you will—which we are accustomed to associate with the earlier history of the human race; he may witness, in a word, the birth of a faith which may not impossibly win a place amidst the great religions of theworld.20The electrifying effect that the phenomenon exerted, however—even on a cautious and scientifically trained European intellect and after the passage of several decades—can be appreciated from Browne’s concluding remarks in a major article inReligious Systems of the World, published in 1892, the year of Bahá’u’lláh’s passing:I trust that I have told you enough to make it clear that the objects at which this religion aims are neither trivial nor unworthy of the noble self-devotion and heroism of the Founder and his followers. It is the lives and deaths of these, their hope which knows no despair, their love which knows no cooling, their steadfastness which knows no wavering, which stamp this wonderful movement with a character entirely its own. … It is not a small or easy thing to endure what these have endured, and surely what they deemed worth life itself is worth trying to understand. I say nothing of the mighty influence which, as I believe, the Bábí faith will exert in the future, nor of the new life it may perchance may breathe into a dead people; for, whether it succeed or fail, the splendid heroismof the Bábí martyrs is a thing eternal and indestructible.21So powerful was this impression that most Western observers tended to lose sight of the Báb’s purpose through fascination with His life and person. Browne himself, whose research made him pre-eminent among the second generation of European authorities on the Bábí movement, largely failed to grasp the role the Báb’s mission played in preparing the way for the work of Bahá’u’lláh or, indeed, the way in which the achievements of the latter represented the Báb’s eventual triumph andvindication.22 The French writer A.L.M. Nicolas was much more fortunate, in part simply because he lived long enough to benefit from a greater historical perspective. Initially antagonistic toward what he saw as Bahá’u’lláh’s “supplanting” of the Báb, he came finally to appreciate the Bahá’í view that the Báb was one of two successive
Manifestations of God whose joint mission is the unification and pacification of the planet.23***This brief historical framework will be of assistance in understanding the thrust of the Báb’s teachings. In one sense, His message is abundantly clear. As He repeatedly emphasized, the purpose of His mission and the object of all His endeavors was the proclamation of the imminent advent of “Him Whom God will make manifest,” that universal Manifestation of God anticipated in religious scriptures throughout the ages of human history. Indeed, all of the laws revealed by the Báb were intended simply to prepare His followers to recognize and serve the Promised One at His advent:We have planted the Garden of the Bayán [i.e., His Revelation] in the name of Him Whom God will make manifest, and have granted you permission to livetherein until the time of His manifestation; …24The Báb’s mission was to prepare humanity for the coming of an age of transformation beyond anything the generation that heard Him would be able to understand. Their duty was to purify their hearts so that they could recognize the One for Whom the whole world was waiting and serve the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The Báb was thus the “Door” through which this long-awaited universal theophany would appear.At the time of the appearance of Him Whom God will make manifest the most distinguished among the learned and the lowliest of men shall both be judged alike. How often the most insignificant of men have acknowledged the truth,while the most learned have remained wrapt in veils.25Significantly, the initial references to the Promised Deliverer appear in the Báb’s first major work, the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, passages of which were revealed by Him on the night of the declaration of His mission. The entire work is ostensibly a collection of commentaries on the Súrih of Joseph in the Qur’án, which the Báb interprets as foreshadowing the coming of the Divine “Joseph,” that “Remnant of God” Who will fulfill the promises of the Qur’án and of all the other scriptures of the past. More than any other work, the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’ vindicated for Bábís the prophetic claims of its Author and served, throughout the early part of the Báb’s ministry, as the Qur’án or the Bible of His community.O peoples of the East and the West! Be ye fearful of God concerning the Cause of the true Joseph and barter Him not for a paltry price established by yourselves, or for a trifle of your earthly possessions, that ye may, in very truth, be praised by Him as those who are reckoned among the pious who stand nigh unto thisGate.26In 1848, only two years before His martyrdom, the Báb revealed the Bayán, the book which was to serve as the principal repository of His laws and the fullest expression of His theological doctrines. Essentially the book is an extended tribute to the coming Promised One, now invariably termed “Him Whom God will make

manifest.” The latter designation occurs some 300 times in the book, appearing in virtually every one of its chapters, regardless of their ostensible subject. The Bayán and all it contains depend upon His Will; the whole of the Bayán contains in fact “nought but His mention”; the Bayán is “a humble gift” from its Author to Him Whom God will make manifest; to attain His Presence is to attain the Presence of God. He is

“the Sun of Truth,” “the Advent of Truth,” “the Point of Truth,” “the Tree of Truth”:27

I swear by the most holy Essence of God—exalted and glorified be He—that in the Day of the appearance of Him Whom God shall make manifest a thousand perusals of the Bayán cannot equal the perusal of a single verse to be revealed by

Him Whom God shall make manifest.28

Some of the most powerful references to the subject are contained in tablets which the Báb addressed directly to Him Whom God would soon make manifest:

Out of utter nothingness, O great and omnipotent Master, Thou hast, through the celestial potency of Thy might, brought me forth and raised me up to proclaim this Revelation. I have made none other but Thee my trust; I have clung to no will but Thy Will. Thou art, in truth, the All-Sufficing and behind Thee standeth the

true God, He Who overshadoweth all things.29

Apart from this central theme, the Báb’s writings present a daunting problem for even those Western scholars familiar with Persian and Arabic. To a considerable degree, this is due to the fact that the works often address minute matters of Shí‘ih Islamic theology which were of consuming importance to His listeners, whose minds had been entirely formed in this narrow intellectual world and who could conceive of no other. The study of the organizing spiritual principles within these writings will doubtless occupy generations of doctoral candidates as the Bahá’í community continues to expand and its influence in the life of society consolidates. For the Bábís, who received the writings at first hand, a great deal of their significance lay in their demonstration of the Báb’s effortless mastery of the most abstruse theological issues, issues to which His ecclesiastical opponents had devoted years of painstaking study and dispute. The effect was to dissolve for the Báb’s followers the intellectual foundations on which the prevailing Islamic theological system rested.

A feature of the Báb’s writings which is relatively accessible is the laws they contain. The Báb revealed what is, at first sight, the essential elements of a complete system of laws dealing with issues of both daily life and social organization. The question that comes immediately to the mind of any Western reader with even a cursory familiarity with Bábí history is the difficulty of reconciling this body of law which, however diffuse, might well have prevailed for several centuries, with the Báb’s reiterated anticipation that “He Whom God will make manifest” would shortly appear and lay the foundations of the Kingdom of God. While no one knew the hour of His coming, the Báb assured several of His followers that they would live to see and serve Him. Cryptic allusions to “the year nine” and “the year nineteen” heightened the anticipation within the Bábí community. No one could falsely claim to be “He Whom God will make manifest,” the Báb asserted, and succeed in such a claim.

It is elsewhere that we must look for the immediate significance of the laws of the Bayán. The practice of Islam, particularly in its Shí‘ih form, had become a matter of adherence to minutely detailed ordinances and prescriptions, endlessly elaborated by

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generations of mujtahids, and rigidly enforced. The sharí‘a, or system of canon law, was, in effect, the embodiment of the clergy’s authority over not only the mass of the population but even the monarchy itself. It contained all that mankind needed or could use. The mouth of God was closed until the Day of Judgment when the heavens would be cleft asunder, the mountains would dissolve, the seas would boil, trumpet blasts would rouse the dead from their graves, and God would “come down” surrounded by angels “rank on rank.”

For those who recognized the Báb, the legal provisions of the Bayán shattered the clergy’s institutional authority at one blow by making the entire sharí‘a structure

irrelevant.30 God had spoken anew. Challenged by a superannuated religious establishment which claimed to act in the name of the Prophet, the Báb vindicated His claim by exercising, in their fullness, the authority and powers that Islam reserved to the Prophets. More than any other act of His mission, it was this boldness that cost Him His life, but the effect was to liberate the minds and hearts of His followers as no other influence could have done. That so many laws of the Bayán should shortly be superseded or significantly altered by those laid down by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-

Aqdas31 was, in the perspective of history and in the eyes of the mass of the Bábís who were to accept the new Revelation, of little significance once the Báb’s purpose had been accomplished.

In this connection, it is interesting to note the way in which the Báb dealt with issues that had no part in His mission, but which, if not addressed, could have become serious obstacles to His work because they were so deeply and firmly imbedded in Muslim religious consciousness. The concept of jihád or “holy war,” for example, is a commandment laid down in the Qur’án as obligatory for all able-bodied male Muslims and one whose practice has figured prominently in Islamic societies throughout the ages. In the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’, the Báb is at pains to include a form of jihád as one of the prerogatives of the station which He claims for Himself. He made any engagement in jihád, however, entirely dependent on His own approval, an approval which He declined to give. Subsequently, the Bayán, although representing the formal promulgation of the laws of the new Dispensation, makes only passing reference to a subject which had so long seemed fundamental to the exercise of God’s Will. In ranging across Persia to proclaim the new Revelation, therefore, the Báb’s followers felt free to defend themselves when attacked, but their new beliefs did not include the

old Islamic mandate to wage war on others for purposes of conversion.32
In the perspective of history, it is obvious that the intent of these rigid and

exacting laws was to produce a spiritual mobilization, and in this they brilliantly succeeded. Foreseeing clearly where the course on which he was embarked would lead, the Báb prepared His followers, through a severe regimen of prayer, meditation, self-discipline, and solidarity of community life, to meet the inevitable consequences of their commitment to His mission.

The prescriptions in the Bayán extend, however, far beyond those immediate purposes. Consequently, when Bahá’u’lláh took up the task of establishing the moral and spiritual foundations of the new Dispensation, He built directly on the work of the Báb. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the “Mother Book” of the Bahá’í era, while not presented in the form of a systematic code, brings together for Bahá’ís the principal laws of their Faith. Guidance that relates to individual conduct or social practice is set in the framework of passages which summon the reader to a challenging new conception of human nature and purpose. A 19th-century Russian scholar who made one of the early

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attempts to translate the book compared Bahá’u’lláh’s pen writing the Aqdas to a bird, now soaring on the summits of heaven, now descending to touch the homeliest questions of everyday need.The connection with the writings of the Báb is readily apparent to anyone who examines the provisions of the Aqdas. Those laws of the Bayán which have no relevance to the coming age are abrogated. Other prescriptions are reformulated, usually through liberalizing their requirements and broadening their applications. Still other provisions of the Bayán are retained virtually in their original form. An obvious example of the latter is Bahá’u’lláh’s adoption of the Báb’s calendar, which consists of 19 months of 19 days each, with provision for an “intercalary” period of four or five days devoted to social gatherings, acts of charity, and the exchange of gifts with friends and family.***The only avenue of approach to the Divine Reality behind existence is through the succession of Messengers Whom He sends. God “manifests” Himself to humanity in this fashion, and it is in the Person of His Manifestation that human consciousness can become aware of both the Divine Will and the Divine attributes. What the scriptures have described as “meeting God,” “knowing God,” “worshiping God,” “serving God,” refers to the response of the soul when it recognizes the new Revelation. The advent of the Messenger of God is itself “the Day of Judgment.” The Báb thus denies the validity of Súfí belief in the possibility of the individual’s mystical merging with the Divine Being through meditation and esoteric practices:Deceive not your own selves that you are being virtuous for the sake of God when you are not. For should ye truly do your works for God, ye would be performing them for Him Whom God shall make manifest and would be magnifying His Name. … Ponder awhile that ye may not be shut out as by a veilfrom Him Who is the Dayspring of Revelation.33Going far beyond the orthodox Islamic conception of a “succession” of the Prophets that terminates with the mission of Muhammad, the Báb also declares the Revelation of God to be a recurring and never-ending phenomenon whose purpose is the gradual training and development of humankind. As human consciousness recognizes and responds to each Divine Messenger, the spiritual, moral, and intellectual capacities latent in it steadily develop, thus preparing the way for recognition of God’s next Manifestation.The Manifestations of God—including Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad— are one in essence, although their physical persons differ, as do those aspects of their teachings that relate to an ever-evolving human society. Each can be said to have two “stations”: the human and the Divine. Each brings two proofs of His mission: His ownApart from the specific laws of the Bayán, the Báb’s writings also contain the seeds of new spiritual perspectives and concepts which were to animate the worldwide Bahá’í enterprise. Beginning from the belief universally accepted by Muslims that God is one and transcendent, the Báb cuts sharply through the welter of conflicting doctrines and mystical speculations that had accumulated over more than 12 centuries of Islamic history. God is not only One and Single; He is utterly unknowable to humankind and will forever remain so. There is no direct connection between the Creator of all things and His creation.

Person and the truths He teaches. Either of these testimonies is sufficient for any sincerely inquiring soul; the issue is purity of intention, and this human quality is particularly valued in the Báb’s writings. Through unity of faith, reason and behavior, each person can, with the confirmations of God, reach that stage of development where one seeks for others the same things that one seeks for oneself.

Those who sincerely believe in the Messenger whose faith they follow are prepared by it to recognize the next Revelation from the one Divine Source. They thus become instruments through which the Word of God continues to realize its purpose in the life of humankind. This is the real meaning of the references in past religions to “resurrection.” “Heaven” and “hell,” similarly, are not places but conditions of the soul. An individual “enters” paradise in this world when he recognizes God’s Revelation and begins the process of perfecting his nature, a process that has no end, since the soul itself is immortal. In the same way, the punishments of God are inherent in a denial of His Revelation and disobedience to laws whose operation no one can escape.

Many of these concepts in the Báb’s writing can appeal to various references or at least intimations in the scriptures of earlier religions. It will be obvious from what has been said, however, that the Báb places them in an entirely new context and draws from them implications very different from those which they bore in any previous religious system.

The Báb described His teachings as opening the “sealed wine” referred to in both the Qur’án and New Testament. The “Day of God” does not envision the end of the world, but its perennial renewal. The earth will continue to exist, as will the human race, whose potentialities will progressively unfold in response to the successive impulses of the Divine. All people are equal in the sight of God, and the race has now advanced to the point where, with the imminent advent of Him Whom God will manifest, there is neither need nor place for a privileged class of clergy. Believers are encouraged to see the allegorical intent in passages of scriptures which were once viewed as references to supernatural or magical events. As God is one, so phenomenal reality is one, an organic whole animated by the Divine Will.

The contrast between this evolutionary and supremely rational conception of the nature of religious truth and that embodied by 19th-century Shí‘ih Islam could not have been more dramatic. Fundamental to orthodox Shí‘ism—whose full implications are today exposed in the regime of the Islamic Republic in Iran—was a literalistic understanding of the Qur’án, a preoccupation with meticulous adherence to the sharí‘a, a belief that personal salvation comes through the “imitation” (taqlíd) of clerical mentors, and an unbending conviction that Islam is God’s final and all-sufficient revelation of truth to the world. For so static and rigid a mindset, any serious consideration of the teachings of the Báb would have unthinkable consequences.

The Báb’s teachings, like the laws of the Bayán, are enunciated not in the form of an organized exposition, but lie rather embedded in the wide range of theological and mystical issues addressed in the pages of His voluminous writings. It is in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh that, as with the laws of the Bayán, these scattered truths and precepts are taken up, reshaped, and integrated into a unified, coherent system of belief. The subject lies far beyond the scope of this brief paper, but the reader will find in Bahá’u’lláh’s major doctrinal work, the Kitáb-i-Íqán (“Book of Certitude”), not only echoes of the Báb’s teachings, but a coherent exposition of their central concepts.

***

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Finally, a striking feature of the Báb’s writings, which has emerged as an important element of Bahá’í belief and history, is the mission envisioned for “the peoples of the West” and admiration of the qualities that fit them for it. This, too, was in dramatic contrast to the professed contempt for farangi and “infidel” thought that prevailed in the Islamic world of His time. Western scientific advancement is particularly praised, for example, as are the fairness of mind and concern for cleanliness that the Báb saw Westerners on the whole as tending to display. His appreciation is not merely generalized but touches on even such mundane matters as postal systems and printing facilities.At the outset of the Báb’s mission, the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá’ called on “the peoples of the West” to arise and leave their homes in promotion of the Day of God:Become as true brethren in the one and indivisible religion of God, free from distinction, for verily God desireth that your hearts should become mirrors unto your brethren in the Faith, so that ye find yourselves reflected in them, and theyin you. This is the true Path of God, the Almighty ….34To a British physician who treated Him for injuries inflicted during his interrogation in Tabríz, the Báb expressed His confidence that, in time, Westerners, too, would embrace the truth of His mission.This theme is powerfully taken up in the work of Bahá’u’lláh. A series of “tablets” called on such European rulers as Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, Kaiser Wilhelm I, and Tsar Alexander II to examine dispassionately “the Cause of God.” The British monarch is warmly commended for the actions of her government in abolishing slavery throughout the empire and for the establishment of constitutional government. Perhaps the most extraordinary theme the letters contain is a summons, a virtual mandate to “the Rulers of America and the Presidents of the Republics therein.” They are called on to “bind … the broken with the hands of justice” and to “crush theoppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of their Lord.”35Anticipating the decisive contribution which Western lands and peoples aredestined to make in founding the institutions of world order, Bahá’u’lláh wrote:In the East the Light of His Revelation hath broken; in the West have appeared the signs of His dominion. Ponder this in your hearts, O people ….36It was on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that responsibility devolved to lay the foundations for this distinctive feature of the missions of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Visiting both Western Europe and North America in the years 1911–1913, He coupled high praise for the material accomplishments of the West with an urgent appeal that they be balanced with the essentials of “spiritual civilization.”During the years of World War I, after returning to the Holy Land, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá drafted a series of letters addressed to the small body of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers in the United States and Canada, summoning them to arise and carry the Bahá’í message to the remotest corners of the globe. As soon as international conditions permitted, these Bahá’ís began to respond. Their example has since been followed by members of the many other Bahá’í communities around the world which have proliferated during subsequent decades.To the North American believers, too, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá confided the task of laying the foundations of the democratically elected institutions conceived by Bahá’u’lláh for
the administration of the affairs of the Bahá’í community. The entire decision-making structure of the present-day administrative system of the Faith at local, national, and international levels, had its origins in these simple consultative assemblies formed by the American and Canadian believers.Bahá’ís see a parallel pattern of response to the Divine mandate, however unrecognized, in the growing leadership Western nations have assumed throughout the present century in the efforts to bring about global peace. This is particularly true of the endeavor to inaugurate a system of international order. For his own vision in this respect, as well as for the lonely courage that the effort to realize it required, “the immortal Woodrow Wilson” won an enduring place of honor in the writings of the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith.Bahá’ís are likewise aware that it has been such governments as those of Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia which have taken the lead in the field of human rights. The Bahá’í community has experienced at first hand the benefits of this concern in the successful interventions undertaken on behalf of its members in Iran during the recurrent persecutions under the regimes of the Pahlavi shahs and the Islamic Republic.Nothing of what has been said should suggest an uncritical admiration of European or North American cultures on the part of either the Báb or Bahá’u’lláh nor an endorsement of the ideological foundations on which they rest. Far otherwise. Bahá’u’lláh warns in ominous tones of the suffering and ruin that will be visited upon the entire human race if Western civilization continues on its course of excess. During His visits to Europe and America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá called on His hearers in poignant language to free themselves, while time still remained, from racial and national prejudices, as well as materialistic preoccupations, whose unappreciated dangers, He said, threatened the future of their nations and of all humankind.***Today, a century and a half after the Báb’s mission was inaugurated, the influence of His life and words has found expression in a global community drawn from every background on earth. The first act of most Bahá’í pilgrims on their arrival at the World Centre of their Faith is to walk up the flower-bordered avenue leading to the exquisite Shrine housing the Báb’s mortal remains, and to lay their foreheads on the threshold of His resting place. They confidently believe that, in future years, “pilgrim kings” will reverently ascend the magnificent terraced staircase rising from the foot of the “Mountain of God” to the Shrine’s entrance, and place the emblems of their authority at this same threshold. In the countries from which the pilgrims come, countless children from every background and every language today bear the names of the Báb’s martyred companions—Tahirih, Quddús, Husayn, Zaynab, Vahid, Anís— much as children throughout the lands of the Roman empire began 2,000 years ago to carry the unfamiliar Hebrew names of the disciples of Jesus Christ.Bahá’u’lláh’s choice of a resting place for the body of His Forerunner—brought with infinite difficulty from Persia—itself holds great significance for the Bahá’í world. Throughout history the blood of martyrs has been “the seed of faith.” In the age that is witnessing the gradual unification of humankind, the blood of the Bábí martyrs has become the seed not merely of personal faith, but of the administrative institutions which are, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, “the nucleus and the very pattern” of the World Order conceived by Bahá’u’lláh. The relationship is symbolized by the supreme
position that the Shrine of the Báb occupies in the progressive development of the administrative center of the Bahá’í Faith on Mount Carmel.Few there must be among the stream of Bahá’í pilgrims entering these majestic surroundings today whose minds do not turn to the familiar words in which the Báb said farewell 150 years ago to the handful of His first followers, all of them bereft of influence or wealth and most of them destined, as He was, soon to lose their lives:The secret of the Day that is to come is now concealed. It can neither be divulged nor estimated. The newly born babe of that Day excels the wisest and most venerable men of this time, and the lowliest and most unlearned of that period shall surpass in understanding the most erudite and accomplished divines of this age. Scatter throughout the length and breadth of this land, and, with steadfast feet and sanctified hearts, prepare the way for His coming. Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty. … Arise in His name, put your trust wholly in Him, and beassured of ultimate victory.37Author’s note: I am indebted to Dr. Muhammad Afnan and Ms. Elizabeth Martin for advice and assistance in the preparation of this article.***NotesMullá Husayn-i-Bushru’í.The anniversary of the birth of the Báb is commemorated on the day following the occurrence ofthe eighth new moon in the Bahá’í year, which moves between mid-October and mid-November;His declaration, 23 or 24 May; and His martyrdom, 9 or 10 July.Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, vol. 8 (London: Oxford, 1954). 117.Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh: Selected Letters, 2d rev ed (Wilmette: Bahá’íPublishing Trust, 1974), 123–24.I owe this interesting suggestion to Dr. Hossain Danesh.Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By (1944; reprint, Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974), 56, and TheBahá’í World, vol. 9, 1940–1944 (1945; reprint, Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1981), 588.Persistent use of the term “Bábí” in Iranian Muslim attacks on the Bahá’í Faith over the years hastended to be a reflection of the spirit of animosity incited by its original 19th-century clericalopponents.Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, bk. 4, ll. 569–78.Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Divinity School Address,” Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, S.E.Wricher, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), 115–16.Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur, ll. 408–10.Muhammad-i-Zarandí (Nabil-i-A’zam), The Dawn-breakers: Nabil’s Narrative of the Early Days of theBahá’í Revelation, translated from the Persian by Shoghi Effendi (1932; reprint, Wilmette: Bahá’íPublishing Trust, 1974), 93.The Báb, together with a young follower, was suspended by ropes from a courtyard wall in thecitadel in Tabriz, and an Armenian Christian regiment, whose commander had expressed great uneasiness about the assignment, was ordered to open fire on the prisoners. When the smoke from the 750 rifles had cleared, near pandemonium broke out among the crowd of spectators thronging the roofs and walls. The Báb’s companion was standing uninjured at the foot of the wall, and the Báb Himself had disappeared from view. The entire volley had done no more than sever the ropes. The Báb had returned to the room in which He had been held, in order to complete instructions to His amanuensis, which had been interrupted by His jailers.The Armenian regiment immediately left the citadel, refusing any further participation. It would

have taken only a gesture of encouragement from the Báb for the crowd, now in a state of intense excitement aroused by what they regarded as “a miracle,” to have delivered Him from His captors. When He did not take advantage of this opening, the authorities eventually recovered their composure and summoned a regiment of Muslim soldiers who carried out the planned execution. Though dramatic, the incident was not an isolated event in the Báb’s ministry. Four years earlier, the wealthy and powerful Governor of Isfáhán, Manúchir Khán, who was the Báb’s host and warm admirer, had offered to march on the capital with his army and induce Persia’s feeble ruler, Muhammad Sháh, to meet the Báb and listen to His message. The offer was courteously declined, and Manúchir Khán’s subsequent death led directly to the Báb’s arrest, imprisonment and execution.

  1. Ernest Renan, Les Apôtres, translated from the French by William G. Hutchison (London: Watts & Co., 1905), 134. “For his sake, thousands of martyrs flocked to their death. A day unparalleled perhaps in the world’s history was that of the great massacre of the Bábís at Teheran. ‘On that day was to be seen in the streets and bazaars of Teheran,’ says a narrator, who has first-hand knowledge, ‘a spectacle which it does not seem that the populations can ever forget…. Women and children advanced, singing a verse, which says: ‘In truth we come from God, and unto him we return.’’” The narrator referred to is J.A. de Gobineau, 3d ed., Les Religions et les Philosophies dan l’Asie Centrale (Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1900), 304 et seq.
  2. The Dawn-breakers, 65.
  3. E.G. Browne, introduction to Myron H. Phelps, Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi, 2d rev ed (NewYork; London: G.P. Putname’s Sons: The Knickerbocker Press, 1912), xvi.
  4. The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1976), 43.
  5. The Dawn-breakers, 321–22.
  6. John 1:1–10, Authorized (King James) Version.
  7. Bahá’u’lláh, The Call of the Divine Beloved (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 219), 88–89. At the time ofthis article’s original publication, an earlier translation of The Four Valleys was used. This articlehas been updated to reflect the new authorized translation of the work.
  8. E.G. Browne, Introduction to A Traveler’s Narrative: Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb, by‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Trans. E.G. Browne (New York: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1930), viii.
  9. E.G. Browne, “Bábíism,” Religious Systems of the World, 3d ed (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.and New York: MacMillan & Co., 1892), 352–53.
  10. Browne’s objectivity appears to have been clouded, as well, by his hope that the Bábís would focustheir energies on the political reform of Persia itself. Criticizing what he saw as Bahá’u’lláh’s diversion of Bahá’í energies from domestic politics to the cause of world unity, he complained that “… just now it is men who love their country above all else that Persia needs.” English introduction to the Nuqtatu’l-Káf, cited in H.M. Balyuzi, Edward Granville Browne and the Bahá’í Faith (London: George Ronald, 1970), 88.
  11. The Bahá’í World, vol. 9, 1940–44 (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1945), 584–85.
  12. Selections from the Writings of the Báb, 135.
  13. Ibid., 91.
  14. Selections from the Writings of the Báb, 49.
  15. Persian Bayán, unpublished manuscript. References to units and chapters 7.1; 5.7; 4.1; and 7.11.
  16. Selections from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 104.
  17. Ibid., 59.
  18. The challenge came into sharp focus for the Báb’s leading followers at a conference held at thesmall hamlet of Badasht in 1848. Interestingly, the figure who took the lead in bringing about a realization of the magnitude of the spiritual and intellectual changes set in motion by the Báb was a woman, the gifted poetess Táhirih who was also later to suffer martyrdom for her beliefs.
  19. “The Most Holy Book,” Bahá’u’lláh’s charter for a new world civilization, written in Arabic in 1873.
  20. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá’u’lláh formally abolishes holy war as a feature of religious life. See William S. Hatcher and J. Douglas Martin, The Bahá’í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), 13–14.
  21. Selections from the Writings of the Báb, 86.
  22. Selections from the Writings of the Báb, 56.
  23. Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, para. 88.
  24. Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá’í PublishingTrust, 1988), 13.
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37. The Dawn-breakers, 94.

Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

The Bahá’í community’s commitment to social and economic development is rooted in its sacred scriptures, which state that all human beings “have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.”

Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”

Fundamental to Bahá’í belief is the conviction that every person, every people, every nation has a part to play in building a peaceful and prosperous global society.

Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind and bettereth the condition thereof . . .”

“For the Betterment of the World” The Worldwide Bahá’í Community’s Approach to Social and Economic Development

27 April 2018
Publication explores advancements in development efforts worldwide
The newly-released edition of For the Betterment of the World provides an illustration of the Baha’i community’s ongoing process of learning and action in the field of social and economic development.
The newly-released edition of For the Betterment of the World provides an illustration of the Baha’i community’s ongoing process of learning and action in the field of social and economic development.

BAHA’I WORLD CENTRE — Released online today and distributed to delegates at the 12th International Baha’i Convention, a new edition of the publication For the Betterment of the World provides an illustration of the Baha’i community’s ongoing process of learning and action in the field of social and economic development.

The publication, prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development at the Baha’i World Centre, highlights fundamental concepts that guide Baha’i efforts in social action. Among its core premises are that “[a]ll of the earth’s inhabitants should be able to enjoy the fruits of a materially and spiritually prosperous society” and that “every population has the right and responsibility to mark out the path of its own progress.”

Much of the publication is dedicated to providing practical examples of projects undertaken in diverse parts of the world, irrespective of typical dichotomies—rural and urban, “North” and “South.” It describes a sampling of Baha’i development endeavors across a broad spectrum, ranging from grassroots efforts of limited duration undertaken by individuals or small groups, to sophisticated programs of social and economic development implemented by Baha’i-inspired nongovernmental organizations. The publication also explains how, most often, development endeavors emerge and advance within localities that have a pronounced sense of community and a growing collective consciousness.

For the Betterment of the World describes a sampling of Baha’i development endeavors across a broad spectrum. Baha’i social and economic development initiatives address various aspects of community life, and the publication explores some of these, such as education, health, agriculture, the economic life of communities, arts and media, and the advancement of women.
For the Betterment of the World describes a sampling of Baha’i development endeavors across a broad spectrum. Baha’i social and economic development initiatives address various aspects of community life, and the publication explores some of these, such as education, health, agriculture, the economic life of communities, arts and media, and the advancement of women.

Baha’i social and economic development initiatives address various aspects of community life, and For the Betterment of the World explores some of these, such as education, health, agriculture, the economic life of communities, arts and media, and the advancement of women. The publication also explores how knowledge is being captured and systematized by organizations and Baha’i institutions at various levels of society, from the grassroots to the international.

Regardless of the specific nature or scale of an initiative, Baha’i endeavors for social and economic development operate on the principle that populations should be the protagonists of their own material, spiritual, and intellectual advancement, not just recipients of aid or mere participants. All Baha’i-inspired initiatives are motivated by a desire to serve humanity and seek to promote the social and material well-being of all people. Taken together, Baha’i social action efforts represent a growing process of learning that is concerned with applying the teachings of Baha’u’llah, along with knowledge accumulated in different fields of human endeavor, to social reality.

This edition of For the Betterment of the World is the third, following versions published in 2003 and 2008. Copies of the new publication have been made available to the more than 1,300 delegates that have arrived for the International Baha’i Convention, which begins on 29 April 2018. A copy of the new edition can also be accessed on Bahai.org.

BICENTENARY OF THE BIRTH OF BAHÁ’U’LLÁH – Mauritius – Stories of Celebrations

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Throughout the island of Mauritius, celebrations marking the bicentenary highlighted the profound influence Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings have had on the lives of the people there.

The Prime Minister, Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, wrote a special message to the Bahá’í community about the bicentenary of the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, noting that, “At the heart of the Bahá’í teachings is the goal of a unified world order that emphasizes the prosperity of all nations, irrespective of races, creeds and classes.”

https://stories.bicentenary.bahai.org/mauritius/

 

 

Common Threads: A Theory and Practice of Community Development

BACKGROUND

In 1992, in response to the call for the development of human resources, we designed a program to teach practical skills of love, support and belonging. We were inspired by the following statement by the Guardian on the integration of science and religion.

“It is hoped that all Bahá’í students will.. Be led to investigate and analyze the principles of the Faith and to correlate them with the modern aspects of philosophy and science. Every intelligent and thoughtful young Bahá’í should always approach the Cause in this way, for there in lies the very essence of the principle of independent investigation of the Truth.”
Aug. 6, 1933 Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer.

We were further encouraged by the May 19, 1994-letter from the Universal House of Justice and its encouragement to pursue individual initiatives. We, therefore, continued to develop both a theory and a practice of community growth and development.

Utilizing the principle of the harmony of science and religion, this program employs the empirically validated findings from the behavioral and social sciences and correlates them with the spiritual principles of the Bahá’í Faith. We found supplementing spiritual principles with scientific findings generates practical interventions crucial to uniting the hearts of a humanity gripped by the developmental crisis of adolescence: Intimacy vs. Isolation.

The results of our collaboration are a two-day workshop, a book, a presenter’s manual, a video tape for trainers, which is under construction, and a research study which gives us an inside view of what Bahá’ís need most from their communities.

THE CHALLENGE

The Bahá’í Community has been given the call to massively increase its numbers while transforming souls. The primary focus of the 4 YEAR PLAN is “the significant advancement of the process of entry by troops” and the assimilation of thousands of new believers. Yet, as we will show in our research people have a predominant need for support, friendship and “family feeling” which is best achieved in small, close-knit circles of people/families.
How do we balance entry by troops with the strong needs of people to belong and feel loved? How can we bring large numbers of people into vibrant growing communities and not simply become large impersonal meetings? How do we avoid becoming a revolving door for people who are attracted to the warmth, love and fellowship of the community, and yet drop out because they cannot find a way to integrate themselves into the life and service of that continually expanding community? Have we created a situation, which accepts, as the price of intimacy, a willingness to stay small and accept a high rate of dropout and inactivity? How do we intentionally cultivate communities which meet the need to belong and while expanding their numbers?

        Your challenge is to demonstrate the efficacy of the message of Bahá’u’lláh in ministering to their needs and in recreating the very foundation of individual and social life. The Universal House of Justice Ridvan, 1996

OVERVIEW

The Common Threads program is designed to empower Bahá’í Communities to embrace the spiritually starving masses of new believers and to retain them throughout their lives as active servants and promoters of the Cause of God. We offer solutions to the consolidation problems of rapid growth and the maintenance issues of long term communities; insight into mastering the art of transforming a small community into a larger community; tools for meeting the needs of present and future members; retention practices which will help stop attrition and ideas for intervening with believers on the Dropout-Track.

Our purpose is to introduce skills and practical tools which empower believers to effectively produce vibrant, cohesive communities which are animated by a climate of love and support, and infused with the power of spiritual dynamism. Utilizing tools for the systematic needs-assessment, expansion and consolidation are both accomplished by planning and implementing systems which insure that there are opportunities for the most important needs to be met. Our most ardent hope is that communities will expand their capacities to better meet the collective needs of a suffering humanity and begin to recreate “the very foundation of individual and collective life.”

WHAT ARE THE NEEDS OF THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY OF THIS AGE?

Be ye anxiously concerned with the need of the age in which ye live and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.        Bahá’u’lláh

If we are to demonstrate the efficacy of the message of Bahá’u’lláh in meeting the needs of this age, then we need to know what the most pressing individual and social needs are. This very thing has been the subject of countless social and behavioral studies. The question is, what are the needs of our community?

HYPOTHESIS

The primary hypothesis was that the need to belong would be the primary need of Bahá’í members. It therefore follows that consolidation, retention, and consecration of adherents hinges upon the community’s ability to meet the need to belong. If we are recognized as a statistically valid sample of the greater community in which we reside then the secondary hypothesis is that the need for belonging is the primary attractor which draws people into a spiritual organization. Therefore, the success of programs aimed at the growth and expansion of the Bahá’í Faith likewise, depended upon the community’s ability to meet the belonging or love needs.

THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

In order to organize the need assessment data gathered, we must have a theoretical framework. If we simply ask the question, “What do you need from your Bahá’í Community?” without using some form of scientifically valid means of sorting those needs into meaningful information, we merely have a flatland of responses to which no physical, social or spiritual priorities can be assigned. Therefore, we created an Enhanced Needs Hierarchy which is grounded in the work of Abraham Maslow plus 40 years of research on human needs conducted since his death. This is augmented by the seminal Work of Ken Wilbur who outlines a spectrum of consciousness which includes within the domain of science transpersonal states of consciousness previously relegated to the domain of spirituality and perennial wisdom traditions. These scientific findings are correlated with spiritual principles. Converging the physical/mental needs hierarchy of Maslow with the mystical needs hierarchy gives us an entirely new way to view the full spectrum of human needs.

The tenants of this expanded needs theory and the complete operational definition of needs are detailed in the Enhanced Needs Hierarchy theory in the Common Threads book. (Deahl-Coy, 1995, & 1998 pp.9- 62)

GENERAL TENANTS OF NEEDS THEORY

For the purposes of this paper the tenants of needs theory are briefly summarized.

  • Needs theory proposes that human behavior is motivated by an attempt to satisfy needs
  • Needs emerge from the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of human nature.
  • The needs hierarchy includes the following levels: basic, safety, knowledge, belonging, meaning, self esteem, self actualization, surrender and servitude. Needs are met from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top.
  • Needs are universal – the means to meet needs is cultural and individual. There is no one formula to meet a universal need; that is the challenge of application.
  • Hierarchies operate on the principle of transcend and include. They move from the simplest level to the most complex and inclusive levels.

BAHA’I ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE

  • Human beings were created with a noble and good nature, whose fullest potential would be reached through education and the acquisition of virtues.
  • A human being possesses three degrees of reality: the body, the rational soul and the spirit.
  • While each individual is endowed with the responsibility to make choices, the overall progress of the soul is unidirectional toward greater perfections and increasing complexities.

AN ENHANCED NEEDS HIERARCHY

BASIC NEEDS

Basic needs are necessary to maintain life. Although most discussions center on physiological needs, a case can be made that humans have basic needs for each of the aspects of human nature physical, mental/emotion, and spiritual. Physical needs include breath, water, food, rest, protection from extremes of the elements of nature, circadian rhythm, reproduction of the species, and homoeostatic balance. Basic mental/emotional needs include the bonding of the newborn to a primary care giver, usually first the mother then later the family. Social needs include the life long need for human contact and communication. Basic spiritual needs include the need to believe, hope and to have faith. As the individual matures, spiritual needs include daily prayer and reading of scared writings.

SAFETY NEEDS

The inner core of personal safety and self trust begins at birth and is the first developmental challenge of children according to Erick Erickson, who describes this stage as Trust vs. Mistrust. When children’s basic needs are met by care givers, then trust in others develops and the door to increasing maturity is opened.

“Abdul Bahá says that the very first instinct the children have is the sense of protection. Even a child of one day is always searching for protection.” ( Abdu’l-Qasim Faizi -Core Curriculum)

People have life long safety needs which include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual safety which are grounded in the virtues of trust and trustworthiness.

KNOWLEDGE NEEDS

Bahá’u’lláh says that the need to know God and to love Him is the generating impulse and purpose for creation. (Gleanings, p. 65) Thus, we must have a need to acquire knowledge. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget traces the development of cognition through a sequential set of stages, which delineate how patterns of cognition and thinking mature in children. William Perry presents a theory explaining how intellectual development continues to mature throughout adulthood. The need to know involves both the acquisition of facts and the later ability to conceptualize, interpret, apply, and research a new hypothesis. There is also the need to know ones self and to actualize the potentials which lie latent in the soul.

BELONGING NEEDS

We have a primary need to love and be loved by others and to belong to something bigger than ourselves and to contribute to that end. Love needs are defined by Maslow as both Deficit-love which is the need to receive love; and Being-love which is the need to give and exchange love. Deficit-love is the kind of love children initially need to get started in life. As children mature, they experience less “love hunger” and become healthy adults who need to receive love in small steady, maintenance doses and may transcend even that need if there is a meaningful reason for love’s absence.

Being-love is unselfish, undemanding, non-possessive, peaceful, and enjoyable. People who have relationships based in being love are more independent, autonomous and individual, less jealous, needy, threatened and fearful; thus, they are capable of simultaneously acting synergistically, independently and interdependently toward mutual aims. These relationships are characterized by the spiritual virtues of trust, unconditional positive regard, forgiveness, acceptance, perseverance and mutual support. Maslow suggests that this form of love is not only profound, but when experienced, its effects on the partners are testable. This loving relationship enhances self esteem, endows the recipient with a positive self image, self acceptance, and a feeling of love worthiness. So critical is this need, Maslow questions whether the full development of human potential is possible without it. (Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, p. 43)

MEANING

The need for meaning is the forgotten twin need of Belonging. Victor Frankel discusses the need for meaning as a fundamental motivational force which drives man to find meaning and to actualize as many value potentialities as possible. Developing a sense of purpose and vision endows people with the capacity for self transcendence and self detachment. Thus, when life’s inevitable suffering and tests beset people, they can transcend the moment of suffering for some greater purpose. A sense of meaning allows people to endure the deprivation of all but the most basic physiological needs.

SELF ESTEEM

Beyond the affirmation of others which meets our belonging needs, we need to value ourselves, trust our own internal process and assume responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Self esteem involves the twin processes of developing autonomy and accountability. No longer can past experiences or others be blamed for the outcome of present choices. “For the faith of no man can be conditioned by anyone except himself” (Gleanings, p. 143) The individual leaves “the valley of imitation” and rises above peer pressure to develop personal integrity and the inner strength of convictions enacted as dedication to some personally meaningful motivator. (Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, p.5)

SELF ACTUALIZATION

With its privileged place atop the hierarchy of needs, self actualization has been considered the pinnacle of human development toward which to strive. The hallmark of self actualization is the motivational shift which occurs in healthy, mature people from motivation based on deficit needs to motivation based on “growth needs.” Self actualizing people are healthy, can meet their basic needs, use their talents and capacities positively and are devoted to some task outside themselves to which they selflessly dedicate their energies. (Maslow, Further Reaches, p.219)

Self actualization is a matter of degree, attained bit by bit over a life time of choices. Some characteristics include the ability to listen to and trust their own inner voice, accountability, honesty, unending pursuit of self knowledge, meaningful work, sense of wholeness, adaptability, creativity, autonomy, transcendence and humility. Self actualization needs encompass truth, beauty, music, privacy, justice, joy, harmony, virtues and spiritual values.

SURRENDER

Perhaps self actualizing is all we can hope to attain and deserves its place atop the hierarchy. Perhaps that is all we need to survive, but for centuries spiritual teachers have taught there were stages of growth beyond the human ego. Now with the work of Ken Wilber there is the psychological study of surrender; the suspension of the normal ego boundary and transpersonal stages of development (Wilber, Spectrum of Conscientiousness). Surrender is characterized by a shift of the psychic center to the “Higher Self”(Ken Wilber), the”inner self of mankind” (Abdu’l Bahá), the “collective unconscious”(Carl Jung). Surrender needs include a detachment from self, a letting go of control, and an attachment to a cosmic spiritual center. This results in the integration of opposites, the view of the organic wholeness of the universe, and the Taoistic nonstriving approach to life. Unlike other need levels, surrender is likely to be a momentary experience, a leap of faith, rather than a long stage of development.

SERVITUDE (UNITIVE CONSCIENCE)

The Apex of Consciousness is described by Bahá’u’lláh as the “realm of full self awareness” and of “utter self effacement” (Seven Valley’s, p. 60) The highest level of consciousness is described as the result of actualizing our full potential then surrendering the ego’s control and transferring control to the will of a Supreme Consciousness. Actualizing one’s potential anchors the individual’s identity firmly in his/her own being enabling them to “see through there own eyes and not through the eyes of others. “Surrendering control makes acts of devotion and love toward fellow beings still more unrestricted because it is no longer threatening or dangerous to his/her sense of individuality.” (Jacobi, p. 112) With the detachment from self people can transcend the limited identity associated with time, culture, race, class, nation interests, religion, intelligence, etc. and provide loving service to all. They think globally and see mankind as one community and the cosmos as one interconnected being. (Maslow, Further Reaches, p. 278; Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Abdu’l Bahá, Selected Writings, p. 19)

Surrender and the emergence of unitive consciousness cannot fail to involve a sense of detachment and distance. The experience of unitive consciousness includes the perception of Divine Unity in which the cosmos is experienced as one organic whole composed of a complex web if relationships whose natural function is to work for the common good of all.

Having emptied themselves of preconceived ideas and dogmas, they are open and receptive to the new experiences of life; they focus on unity, sacred vision, virtues, and spiritual teachings. (Maslow,Further Reaches, p. 272). For these people the transcendent, sacred experience is the most important and defining experience in their lives. They can see the sacredness in all things at the same time they see the practical Deficit levels of needs and can address both the physical and spiritual needs. (Maslow, Further Reaches, p 273). As Abdu’l Bahá says, they can walk the spiritual path with practical feet.

Abdu’l Bahá says that the station of servitude to God is the highest station that mankind can hope to attain. In the Bahá’í writings this state of conscience is best described by Bahá’u’lláh in Seven Valleys and Four Valleys.

METHODOLOGY

Needs assessment data was collected from the Common Threads community growth and development workshops. During the needs assessment activity people were asked, “What do you need from your Bahá’í Community?” They gave at least five responses. In the second activity people were asked, “What do you have to offer the community building process?” and third, “What can you do to create the community you said you needed?”

Following the first two activities people heard a lecture about the Enhanced Needs Hierarchy. After this talk the presenter showed the group the responses to the question, “What do you need from your Bahá’í Community?” and asked the group to identify what need was most represented.

This resulted in a Community Needs Hierarchy which reflected the blending of individual needs into a collective pattern. A Community “is transformed from being the mere sum of its parts to assuming a whole new personality as an entity in which its members blend without losing their individual uniqueness.” (UHJ, May 19, 1994) This Community Needs Hierarchy can be used as the basis for systematic planning by Assemblies which can focus at least part of their energies upon the creations of systems and organizations which can address needs in an ongoing process.

Then People were asked what they can do to meet the needs identified by the community needs hierarchy. The answer to this created a set of pregoals for the community. These pre goals were then sorted as short medium and long term according to how much time was required to accomplish the tasks. The attaching of timing to pregoals produced a preplan which the community can use as a bases for consultation as a comprehensive community growth and development plan is designed.

RESULTS

The chart shows the responses of 435 people.

As a result of the Needs Assessment component of the Community Development Workshop, we saw two results. First, a pattern of community needs begins to emerge. Once community members saw the hierarchy that they created, their view of the community was never the same again. The preponderance of the belonging need always drew the same subjective response of surprise. With this awareness alone there appeared to be increased sensitivity to each other and attempts to deepen connections within the workshop itself.

Second, communities which participated in the weekend institute became more unified, intentional, and effective in identifying and planning to meet needs.

CONCLUSIONS

The preliminary results of the needs assessment appears to confirm the first hypothesis that consolidation, retention, and community development is at least in part dependent upon the community’s ability to meet people’s need to belong, to experience loving relationships, to have a place where their presence matters.

By a margin of nearly five to one responses fell within the definition of belonging. This amplifies the Guardians statement:

Unless and until the believers really come to realize they are one spiritual family, knit together by a bond more lasting that any more physical ties can ever be, they will not be able to create that warm community atmosphere which can alone attract the hearts of humanity, frozen for lack of real love and feeling. (The Power of Unity, p. 99)

If this is the predominate need of the lovers of Bahá’u’lláh, how much more must this be true of a suffering humanity?

BELONGING THE CULTURAL CENTER OF GRAVITY

Belonging is such a large category of responses that to make it meaningful, it has been divided into natural subcategories. The number one component of the need to belong is support followed by guidance and counseling needs. Guidance and counseling is a category that includes: elements of helping relationships, such as acceptance, unconditional positive regard, and rapport; requests for guidance and healing; and the desire to be heard with the ears of nonjudgement and compassion. The chart shows the entire breakout.

Belonging is the predominate need of the age in which we live – the cultural center of gravity around which much of our efforts and deepest longings are focused.

Our challenge is to use the resources we have to meet the most compelling needs identified in our communities. When needs are satisfied higher levels of behaviors are attained, and metaneeds emerge in our growth toward the Apex of Consciousness.

IMPLICATIONS FOR EXPANSION

If we assume for the sake of discussion, that the Bahá’í Community is a microcosm of the larger community within which it rests, we might consider the implications of the findings of this needs assessment for teaching and consolidation plans. We must first project an image of love, spiritual family and warmth and not just intellectual principles. Second, we must actually offer a sense of community.

As our numbers grow, it becomes increasingly important to cultivate vibrant communities which demonstrate the transforming effects of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, for “it is in the local Bahá’í Communities that the most widespread presentation of the faith can take place.” (UHJ, Ridvan, 1983)

Yet, our emphasis on proclamation-based growth, while effective in meeting knowing needs, has neglected the consolidating effects of a caring and loving community which accepts diverse people through the intentional practice of the skills of inclusion and communication.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CONSOLIDATION

Where a community’s teaching activities are crowned with success, retention is often poor. The main question facing a growing community quickly becomes how to retain the new believers. Traditionally we have been instructed to involve them in the teaching work. Although this is good short term advise, it is insufficient for the long term retention of new believers who often feel inadequately prepared to teach. More recently the approach is to teach the fundamental verities of the Faith as quickly as possible. As vital as this is, it is not sufficient to fully integrate people into the social network of the community. Could it be that North Americans need a new experience of love and fellowship as much or more than new knowledge?

The compelling dominance of the belonging need led us to investigate the available tools which will aid us to create communities with climates of love, support and unity. We found that the needs of the community in general and its Belonging Needs in particular are most readily met in small support groups which serve as laboratories for the practice of love, spiritual virtues and fellowship.

It is in the small group that a community’s sense of divine love, acceptance and support are best conveyed. It is there that the best proofs of the transforming effects of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh are demonstrated. Therefore, consolidation plans will not only ensure that the new believer rapidly acquires a better understanding of their new faith, but will also foster the development of groups within the community with the skills to meet their needs and confirm them in steadfast, vibrant membership.

FAILING TO EFFECTIVELY ADDRESS THESE NEEDS OPENS THE REVOLVING DOOR OF ATTRITION WHICH LEADS TO ALIENATION, INACTIVITY AND LOSS OF THE SPARK OF FAITH.

THE SMALL GROUP MODEL OF MICRO COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
One of the most under utilized tools available to communities is the well-facilitated small need-centered group. We propose that the community consists of a webbed matrix of small, vibrant, personal/spiritual support groups that , by either accident or design , meet the locally identified needs of its members. These groups include the new Local Spiritual Assemblies, special interest groups, study groups, collective centers and family clusters. We further propose that the dynamic life of a growing community is dependent upon the existence and health of these satellite groups.

If this is so, then what do we know about the life cycle of these groups? What causes them to form? What causes them to grow? What holds them together? Why do they dissolve?

This model attempts to answer these questions by correlating a large body of well-researched literature about group process gleaned from both business and human services with the virtues which comprise the consultative atmosphere.

The optimum size of a group is from five to 15 people. As the number of people in a small group grows past 15 people, that group, like cells undergoing mitosis, must divide for the whole to expand. As this growth occurs, the new groups continue the teaching work, provide support, spiritual education, conduct outreach activities and do whatever is needed. The active cultivation of need-centered small groups, linked by common bonds to the larger community, is potentially the means of mastering the art of growing from small community to large community. Small groups help a small community grow larger by fostering expansion, and a large community feel smaller by fostering intimacy.
As a group struggles to progress from a mass gathering of strangers to a community of true friends, they encounter a predictable, well researched pattern of group process. The stages that a newly formed group is likely to face are false unity, chaos, surrender, identity development (large group consultation), and cohesive unity. Group process is like peeling an onion, it strips away the layer upon layer of learned differences to reveal our radiant commonalities. Through the process of sharing, disagreeing and learning to listen we peel away our differences and at last realize that our unity was prior to our diversity. We achieve cohesive unity.

DYNAMICS OF GROUP PROCESS

FALSE UNITY

When a group of people begin the task of community making, they almost always begin with false unity. False unity appears as “instant community.” Unfortunately, unity is usually an illusion because real relationships take time and contact to build. False unity is an orientation period during which people exhibit their best behavior and trust is at its lowest point. Members avoid conflict and self disclosure while squelching their real inner negative emotions and concerns.

This stage can create a safe entry point for the long process of becoming acquainted with each others character. Bahá’í’s have all kinds of well-meaning reasons to avoid conflict and maintain harmony, but if it is at the cost of suppressing individual differences and requiring conformity, then it is false unity.
The call to a frank and honest exchange of views demands that the community deepen their ties beyond this superficial first step.

CHAOS

Chaos begins when individual differences come bursting out into the open. The good news is that trust and safety needs have been met and real sharing of self has begun. The group now has the courage to explore differences of opinion and clashes can results. There are three primary tasks in this stage ; first, to become acquainted with each others character; second, to define the purpose of the groups existence and third, the search for how the individual belongs in the group.

What makes this stage chaos is that everyone talks and no one listens as the group attempts to eliminate individual differences. We discuss some of the difficult behaviors and roles which hamper progress and teach skills which members can utilize to move the group towards unity.

There are three routes out of chaos: dropout, formalize or surrender. Dropouts lead to the demise of the embryonic community and formalizing the structure leads back to false unity. The ONLY route to community is through surrender.

SURRENDER

Just as the route to servitude is through the surrender of the ego, the route to community is also through the valley of surrender, emptiness and detachment. During the tumultuous stage of chaos it becomes evident in all the talk there is very little communication and the situation seems hopeless. When people are ready to quit talking and start listening they move forward.

IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

As the group emerges from surrender a new level of detachment and listening is evident. This enables people to hear each other’s stories and become acquainted with each other’s character. Now the group can coalesce a common vision of their purpose and they feel like a team. In summary, they resolve the three issues of the chaos stage. People are now more committed to working together. The joy of fellowship, happiness of unity and warmth of love animate the climate of the group. This energy spreads to the larger community and into the teaching work. As one person said, “We felt so good that we wanted everyone to experience this love and unity that we had created.”

Each community/group forms an identity and a view of its role within the larger matrix of the Bahá’í community and within the still larger context of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.

THE FACES OF COHESIVE UNITY

SUPPORTIVE UNITY

The hallmark of cohesive unity is two fold, first is honest, open self disclosure from the “deep heart’s core” about what has befallen us in the path of our personal and spiritual development; second, is genuine listening with a “sin covering eye” and unconditional positive regard. It is when members feel comfortable and safe enough to say anything; and the community can provide supportive, loving ears to hear anything which is being said – THEN the community has arrived at cohesive unity.

The emergence of cohesive unity depends upon safety, knowing and belonging needs being consistently met.

Cohesive community is not merely a group which meets to conduct effective business meetings, consultations, feasts, and activities. The very structure of these activities set the boundaries of decorum, cordial affection, dignity and limited self disclosure. These are not the proper settings for the sharing of brokenness, struggle, and imperfection which are a natural part of our journey. Yet, experiencing Being love relationships, sharing and receiving support is at the heart of the need to belong. Sharing at this level will meet the needs most often expressed in the Needs Assessment: love, support, acceptance, understanding, and unity. Thus, the Bahá’í community needs to create small groups, for members & nonmember alike, which offer the transformative influence of deeper intimacy and support.

CONSULTATIVE UNITY

The hallmark of consultative unity is the community’s ability to craft decisions based on consultation and consensus and to leave things unresolved until a consensus can be found at a later time. While consultative unity lacks the deep self revealing intimacy and sense of community found in supportive small groups, the restraint, limited self disclosure and decorum practiced in consultation is not to be confused with false unity. Unlike false unity, individual differences are out in the open. With higher trust and a sense of detachment from ideas, authentic feelings and needs can be presented to the group without chaos, premature foreclosure, criticism or rejection. In an atmosphere of trust, respect, love, cooperation, freedom within parameters, nurturing relationships and spiritual devotion, the community is “transformed from being merely the sum of its parts to assuming a whole new personality as an entity in which its members blend without losing their individual uniqueness. The possibility for manifesting such a transformation exists almost immediately at the local level.” (UHJ, May, 19, 1994)

THE CYCLICAL NATURE OF MAINTAINING COMMUNITY INTEGRITY

As well as cohesive unity meets needs and produces results, it is rarely maintained for long. The warmth tends encouraging sharing the experience with others which attracts new members who bring with them a life time of experiences, new views and needs must be heard and respected. The challenge and chaos of individual differences is back with it’s full potential to destroy the group. That is the cycle of crisis and victory.

The means of maintaining the community are:

  • the recognition of what phase of group process they are in and then using appropriate skills to move the process forward toward consultation and true unity;
  • periodically assessing the needs of the members and adjusting the activities of the group to match the needs and resources;
  • propagate new groups when enrollment grows and
  • prayer, patience and persistence.

The whole life model also recognizes that small groups, which are not a part of the Bahá’í administrative structure, have a life span which may include death. When a group has served the purpose for which is was convened, rather than let slow dropouts drag out a painful demise, the group members may wish to celebrate the closure of the group and thus signal the greater community the members are ready to move on to another endeavors. Maintenance is the struggle to constantly reassess and adjust to changing needs

WHAT MAKES GROUPS SUCCESSFUL?

Generally, people who form needs centered groups have little formal understanding of group process, except for what they have learned in life. They have few group maintenance skills and, under stress, may let their virtues lapse. What conditions give groups a greater chance of success?

There are three key variables which contribute to the success of the small need centered groups.
The FIRST is that the more thoroughly all the participants have incorporated Spiritual Virtues into their behaviors, the more competently the group can navigate through the process. This is of vital importance, but we must never lose sight of the fact that communities that stumble accidentally into a unified state, can’t repeat the process on demand because their understanding of what they did is unclear.

The SECOND variable is the training of as many members as possible in the dynamics of group process and the skills needed to facilitate it. Empowering members with practical skills and intervention techniques will equip our growing community with the tools needed to deepen the bonds of unity.

If you can’t train everyone in the community, then the THIRD variable is to develop a cadre of trained group facilitators who can facilitate the training of new small groups of seekers and new Bahá’ís to use the process of consultation and to improve communication by practicing spiritual virtues.

In the face of Entry By Troops we cannot afford to rely on serendipity to meet the need for love, support and belonging. Therefore, we should educate as many members of the community as possible. Remember, the role of Local Spiritual Assemblies is to provide for the training of the members of the community. Once trained, it is the responsibility of the individual believer to make the needs centered groups in the community succeed.

WEAVING THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY

We offer you this theory and practice of community development as a pioneering effort to develop the science of consolidation which acts as the balancing wing to the massive energy invested in the science of teaching. As Shoghi Effendi has said, “These two processes must be regarded as inseparable.”

We have the community-making technology to develop vibrant cohesive communities, we have no excuse for high rates of attrition following teaching campaigns or high rates of dropout/inactivity in larger communities. We know how to diagnosis the needs of the community and we have the technology both spiritually and materially to “demonstrate the efficacy of the message of Bahá’u’lláh in meeting those needs.” We have the Spiritual guidance and governance of the Administrative order and we have access to the skills which have been tested in business, human services, education and social science and found effective in deepening human relationships and fostering unity. We have no excuse for not using these tested skills to achieve the repeatable results of producing vibrant cohesive communities.

Our challenge is develop skilled and deepened Consolidators to secure the victories of our well-trained Teachers.

REFERENCES

Abdu’l-Bahá. The Secret of Divine Civilization. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Abdu’l-Bahá. Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Abdu’l-Bahá. Selections form the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Bahá’u’lláh. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1952.

Bahá’u’lláh. The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Bahá’u’lláh. The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Bahá’u’lláh. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Corey, Gerald, Corey, M. S., Callanan, Patrick, and Russell, J. Michael. Group Techniques. Moterey: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1982.

Deahl-Coy, Lin. Common Threads: Weaving the Fabric of Community. Unpublished manuscript, 1995.

Erikson, Erick. Childhood and Society. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1963.

Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.

Glasser, William. Reality Therapy. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Hidas, Andrew. Psychotherapy and Surrender: A Psychospiritual Perspective, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.

Jacobi, Jolande. The Psychology of C. G. Jung. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973 Ed.

Jordan, Daniel. Becoming Your True Self. London: The Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1993.

Jung, Carl. The Undiscovered Self. New York: Signet, 1958.

Keen, Sam. Hymns to an Unknown God.

Lample, Paul, compiler. A Wider Horizon Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice 1982- 1982. Riveriea Beach, FL: Palabra, 1992.

Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being. 2nd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968.

Maslow, Abraham. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penquin, 1971.

Peck, M. Scott, M.D. A Difference Drum – Community Making and Peace. New York: Bantam

Peck, M Scott,M.D. A World Waiting to Be Born – Civility Rediscovered. New York: Bantam, 1993.

Savage, John. Calling and Caring workshop

Universal House of Justice, Letter. May 19,1994.

Wilber, Ken. No Boundary. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc, 1979.

Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc, 1995.

Wilber, Ken. Spectrum of Conscouisness. Boston: Shambala Publications, 1977.

How Bahá’í voters should vote

ARASH ABIZADEH

 

Abstract:

Two widespread misconceptions among Bahá’ís are that, according to Shoghi Effendi, (a) Bahá’í voters should not discuss how they should vote prior to Bahá’í elections and (b) the only relevant criteria for voting are the qualifications of the individuals voted for. Shoghi Effendi in fact suggests that Bahá’í voters should discuss the criteria for voting, but without reference to particular individuals. Moreover, he provides four different types of criteria that voters should consider: criteria concerning (1) the qualifications of individual Assembly members, (2) the collective makeup of the Assembly as a whole, (3) changes in the individual Assembly members over time, and (4) changes in the collective makeup of the Assembly over time.

Résumé:

Deux conceptions erronées assez répandues chez les Bahá’ís sont que, selon Shoghi Effendi, (a) les électeurs Bahá’ís ne devraient pas discuter entre eux de la manière de voter avant des élections bahá’íes, et (b) les seuls critères qu’il est pertinent de considérer sont les qualifications des personnes à élire. En fait, Shoghi Effendi encourage les électeurs Bahá’ís à discuter entre eux des critères à considérer en vue du vote, mais sans faire référence toutefois à des personnes en particulier. En outre, il énumère quatre types de critères dont les électeurs devraient tenir compte : (1) les qualifications des membres individuels de l’Assemblée, (2) la composition de l’Assemblée dans son ensemble, (3) des changements observés au fil du temps chez les membres de l’Assemblée, et (4) des changements observés au fil du temps dans la composition de l’Assemblée.

 

Téléchargement:  How Bahais Should vote

Une société sans violence, un don à faire à nos enfants

Hossain B. Danesh, M.D., F.R.C.P. (C)* Traduction française de Danielle Finné-MacDonnell

La version originale de cet ouvrage, publié en anglais sous le titre “The Violence-Free Society: A Gift for Our Children” était le volume 6 de cette série.

Préface

Il est banal de dire que, pour survivre, la race humaine doit créer une société mondiale fondée sur la coopération universelle. Il va de soi aussi qu’une telle société, tant au cours de son évolution qu’à son apogée, ne peut tolérer la violence, encore moins s’édifier sur elle. Pourtant, au moment même ou le genre humain fait ses premiers pas vers l’unité mondiale, la violence, tant physique que mentale, devient le trait caractéristique de la société moderne. La violation des droits de l’homme, la deformation de la verité, les bouleversements dans les rapports humains, l’avilisscment de la nature humaine, la destruction pure et simple constituent le thème principal de la littérature modeme el alimentent sans cesse les média, qui en arrivent parfois à glorifier de tels comportements. La violence imprègne tout, et peu d’enfants qui naissent de nos jours pourront espérer connaître une vie où celle-ci n’existe pas.

La tentative des savants et des moralistes d’analyser ce problème et de suggérer des solutions dans le contexte culturel actuel a échoué pour deux raisons: d’abord, les causes mêmes de la violence leur ont échappé: ensuite, les changements sociaux nécessaires pour opérer une transformation sont beaucoup plus fondamentaux qu’on ne le suppose généralement. Le Dr Hossain B. Danesh, psychiatre, traite en profondeur ces deux thèmes. Il offre une explication convaincante des raisons qui poussent l’homme à avoir recours à la violence. Il cite des études anthropologiques et sociologiques montrant à quel point la violence peut faire partie de la structure sociale.

II applique les enseignements de la foi bahá’íe et ses propres perceptions à l’analyse de la violence et esquisse la structure d’une société fonctionnant comme une entité organique, en  harmonie avec la nature profonde de l’homme, et dans laquelle la compréhension de la nature humaine et la justice sociale libéreront l’humanité de cette plaie qu’est la violence.

Peter P. Morgan

* Je tiens à remercier Linda O’Neil et Christine Zerbinis de leur aide extrêmement précieuse lors de la rédaction de cet ouvrage.

Téléchargement: Une société sans violence; un don à faire à nos enfants