Among the more salient objectives to be attained by the Local Spiritual Assembly in its process of development to full maturity are to act as a loving shepherd to the Bahá’í flock, promote unity and concord among the friends, direct the teaching work, protect the Cause of God, arrange for Feasts, Anniversaries and regular meetings of the community, familiarize the Bahá’ís with its plans, invite the community to offer its recommendations, promote the welfare of youth and children, and participate, as circumstances permit, in humanitarian activities. In its relationship to the individual believer, the Assembly should continuously invite and encourage him to study the Faith, to deliver its glorious message, to live in accordance with its teachings, to contribute freely and regularly to the Fund, to participate in community activities, and to seek refuge in the Assembly for advice and help, when needed.
As you well know, Bahá’u’lláh has stated: “Ḥuqúqu’lláh is indeed a great law. It is incumbent upon all to make this offering, because it is the source of grace, abundance, and of all good. It is a bounty which shall remain with every soul in every world of the worlds of God, the All-Possessing, the All-Bountiful.” The devoted believer who is privileged to pay “the right of God”, far from seeking excuses for evading this spiritual obligation, will do his utmost to meet it. On the other hand, inasmuch as obedience to this Law is a matter of conscience, and payment of Ḥuqúqu’lláh is a voluntary act, it would not be seemly to go beyond informing the … friends of their spiritual obligation, and leaving to them to decide what they wish to do about it.
The same principle applies to those friends who spend lavishly on their families, who purchase or build residences and furnish them far in excess of their needs, and rationalize these expenditures in their desire to avoid payment of Ḥuqúqu’lláh.
The proper education of children is of vital importance to the progress of mankind, and the heart and essential foundation of all education is spiritual and moral training. When we teach our fellow-men the truths and way of life of the Bahá’í Faith we have to struggle against barriers of indifference, materialism, superstition and a multitude of erroneous preconceptions; but in our new-born children we are presented with pure souls, untarnished by the world. As they grow they will face countless tests and difficulties. From their earliest moments we have the duty to train them, both spiritually and materially, in the way that God has shown, and thus, as they come to adulthood, they can become champions of His Cause and spiritual and moral giants among mankind, equipped to meet all tests, and will be, indeed, “stars of the heaven of understanding”, “soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men.”
Noting that you and your husband have consulted about your family problems with your Spiritual Assembly but did not receive any advice, and also discussed your situation with a family counsellor without success, the House of Justice feels it most essential for your husband and you to understand that marriage can be a source of well-being, conveying a sense of security and spiritual happiness. However, it is not something that just happens. For marriage to become a haven of contentment it requires the cooperation of the marriage partners themselves, and the assistance of their families.
The Bahá’í concept of the role of women in society is unique. In contrast to the present tendency to devalue motherhood, the Faith affirms that this function is highly responsible and is of vital importance to the sound development of the new generation and thus, to the creation and maintenance of an ever-advancing civilization. The assignment of the primary responsibility for education of children to the mother derives directly from the fact that she is bearer of the baby. Her attitude, her prayers, even what she eats and her physical condition have a great influence on the child when it is still in the womb….
However, the Bahá’í Teachings do not call for women to be confined to the home and do not require them to be occupied solely with their domestic functions. Some indication of the role envisaged for women in the Bahá’í Dispensation is provided in the statements of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that “women must advance and fulfil their mission in all departments of life, becoming equal to men”, and that
In the Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, women are advancing side by side with men. There is no area or instance where they will lag behind: they have equal rights with men, and will enter, in the future, into all branches of the administration of society. Such will be their elevation that, in every area of endeavour, they will occupy the highest levels in the human world. Rest thou assured. Look not upon their present state. In future, the world of womankind will shine with lustrous brilliance, for such is the will and purpose of Bahá’u’lláh.
… The Teachings of the Faith are quite clear on the necessity for attention to the education of children and the fostering of family life. The problem to which you have called attention arises when believers are confronted with insistent calls for assistance in the promotion of the Faith, in the administrative activities of the Bahá’í community, and in the consolidation work. Their challenge is to decide how to respond to these calls without neglect of their responsibilities to children and other family members, having regard to the limitations of time, energy and resources with which all Bahá’ís are confronted.
There is no single correct approach to meeting this challenge, since individual circumstances vary so greatly. However, it is clear that Bahá’ís should strive for balance, in which the legitimate needs of children and family are considered, together with the needs of the external Bahá’í community and its growth. As the family develops, a conscious effort should be made to draw all of its members into the work of the Faith in such manner that the children identify with it and do not resent the involvement of the parents; this should come about through a process of encouragement and nurturing, and the motivation of the family members sustained through family consultation.
Your questions all pertain to the vital issue of the Bahá’í education of children. The House of Justice regards it as being of the utmost importance that Bahá’í parents strive to assist their children to make a sustained and systematic study of the Teachings, to spiritualize their lives, and to form their characters in accordance with the standards of Bahá’u’lláh. Success in the fulfilment of these vital duties on the part of the parents will lessen the danger of their children’s being caught up in the destructive forces which are a distinguishing feature of a declining social order sorely in need of regeneration, and of their being deprived of the healing grace of Bahá’u’lláh.
Protecting children from the immoral influences of present-day society stands as one of the mighty challenges facing Bahá’í parents. Your expression of concern about the effect which media, especially television programmes, has on children, has been sympathetically noted. As you well know, there is no practical way children can be shielded entirely from the moral problems of the society in which they are growing up. It therefore devolves upon parents to do all they can to ensure that their children receive spiritual education from their earliest years, both through Bahá’í classes sponsored by institutions of the Faith and through the moral instruction and example they receive at home. The published compilation on Bahá’í education offers many useful guidelines.
Since it is impossible for Bahá’í children to avoid exposure to unsavoury behaviour, it becomes important that the encounters that children may have with such behaviour through the media and in daily life be used wisely by parents as a means of guiding and assisting them to appreciate the practical as well as spiritual importance of being different. The extent to which you seek to reduce your child’s exposure to such influences is left to your best judgement in the light of the Teachings.
The House of Justice is moved to learn of your love for the Blessed Beauty and your ardent desire to serve His Cause and win His good pleasure. There are many ways in which one can serve, and each person has to choose what he or she can do best within his or her possibilities and limits. Opportunities to serve the Cause do not necessarily exclude the possibility of rendering assistance to one’s family. It is important to note that every aspect of a person’s life is an element of service to Bahá’u’lláh: the love and respect one has for one’s parents; the pursuit of one’s education; the nurturing of good health; the acquisition of a trade or profession; one’s behaviour toward others and the upholding of a high moral standard; one’s marriage and the rearing of one’s children; one’s activities in teaching the Faith and in building up the strength of the Bahá’í community; and, of course, one’s daily prayer and study of the Writings.
Regarding the question of whether you must seek the consent of your parents to marry, there are certain rare circumstances which can render this requirement inoperable in the case of one or both of the parents: if the parent has died; if he or she is certifiably insane and thus unable to give a legal decision; if he or she is untraceable; if he or she has disowned or officially relinquished responsibility for the child; if he or she has seriously abused the child. Cases of the last two types cover such a wide range of situations that they usually have to be referred to the House of Justice for consideration on a case-by-case basis.
You are concerned about the application of this principle9 in relation to the training of children and youth and ask whether it would be acceptable for your child to choose not to be a Bahá’í. A way of understanding the purpose of independent investigation of truth in this context is to recognize the fairness of leaving individuals free to decide for themselves on the basis of their own enquiry and inner conviction what they will believe and of not imposing on them any obligation to accept automatically what their parents or others believe. It means, too, that the mature individual must take responsibility for deciding to what system of belief he will commit himself. Children who have been reared in the knowledge of the Faith by Bahá’í parents will know from the very character of the instruction they have received that they must exercise that responsibility personally for themselves. This point is made clear in Shoghi Effendi’s advice, as conveyed in a letter written on his behalf to a National Spiritual Assembly: “Once the child comes of age … he should be given full freedom to choose his religion, irrespective of the wishes and desires of his parents.”
Nonetheless, children need moral training from an early age to enable them at least to develop well in their social interaction with others. A common core of moral instruction can be found in all revealed scriptures, and it is appropriate, indeed necessary, for Bahá’í parents to abide by their own principles in guiding their children towards becoming spiritual beings and decent, upstanding members of society. Bahá’u’lláh has, after all, given each of His followers the duty to teach His Cause, describing it as the most meritorious of all deeds. It would truly be strange if, knowing this, a Bahá’í mother were to keep from her child what she is teaching to everyone else about the latest Revelation from God. Moreover, He has bidden parents to offer their children spiritual instruction from an early age, but to do so in a manner that does not conduce to fanaticism.
Left entirely on their own to find their way through life, children encounter dim prospects, as the deplorable situation with young people in present-day society so glaringly demonstrates. Among the things to be inculcated in children so as to prepare them for the future is the virtue of justice, which underscores the importance of one’s seeing with one’s own eyes and for one’s own self—the importance, in other words, of independent investigation. Without some form of training or orientation one cannot investigate truth. This is so for a scientist who would hardly be able to discover material reality without preparation by some form of training. The open attitude of the Faith to learning should encourage confidence in the friends that they are being endowed with the ability to develop searching minds. The more they study the Teachings the more is this ability awakened and increased.