To Set the World in Order: Building and Preserving Strong Marriages


The Ideal Milieu for Learning the Principles of Consultation

All should know, and in this regard attain the splendours of the sun of certitude, and be illumined thereby: Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God. The Dawning-Place of the Light of God sheddeth its radiance upon all with the same effulgence. Verily God created women for men, and men for women. The most beloved of people before God are the most steadfast and those who have surpassed others in their love for God, exalted be His glory….

The friends of God must be adorned with the ornament of justice, equity, kindness and love. As they do not allow themselves to be the object of cruelty and transgression, in like manner they should not allow such tyranny to visit the handmaidens of God. He, verily, speaketh the truth and commandeth that which benefiteth His servants and handmaidens. He is the Protector of all in this world and the next.

(Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet—translated from the Arabic and Persian) [31]

In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached. In a Spiritual Assembly this dilemma is resolved by a majority vote. There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife. There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other.

(From a letter dated 28 December 1980 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly) [32]

You have asked … for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives. This the House of Justice does not wish to do, and it feels that there is already adequate guidance included in the compilation on this subject;4 for example the principle that the rights of each and all in the family unit must be upheld, and the advice that loving consultation should be the keynote, that all matters should be settled in harmony and love, and that there are times when the husband and the wife should defer to the wishes of the other. Exactly under what circumstances such deference should take place is a matter for each couple to determine. If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family.

(From a letter dated 16 May 1982 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [33]

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter of 7 December 1984 expressing the views of your husband concerning the authority that he feels the Writings have bestowed upon the husband in a marriage, and has asked us to convey the following on its behalf.

The guidelines on the subject which have been made available to the friends emphasize that the rights of each and all in the family unit must be upheld, that loving consultation should be the keynote, that all matters should be settled in harmony and love, and that there are times when the husband or the wife should defer to the wishes of the other. Exactly under what circumstances such deference should take place is a matter for each couple to determine.

(From a letter dated 2 January 1985 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [34]

The work patterns of both men and women may well change in the future to permit both to participate more readily in professional activity without neglect of family life.

(From a letter dated 11 January 1988 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [35]

As you know, the principle of the oneness of mankind is described in the Bahá’í Writings as the pivot round which all the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve. It has widespread implications which affect and remould all dimensions of human activity. It calls for a fundamental change in the manner in which people relate to each other, and the eradication of those age-old practices which deny the intrinsic human right of every individual to be treated with consideration and respect.

Within the family setting, the rights of all members must be respected. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated:

The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother—none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved….

The use of force by the physically strong against the weak, as a means of imposing one’s will and fulfilling one’s desires, is a flagrant transgression of the Bahá’í Teachings. There can be no justification for anyone compelling another, through the use of force or through the threat of violence, to do that to which the other person is not inclined. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written, “O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned.” Let those who, driven by their passions or by their inability to exercise discipline in the control of their anger, might be tempted to inflict violence on another human being be mindful of the condemnation of such disgraceful behaviour by the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh.

Among the signs of moral downfall in the declining social order are the high incidence of violence within the family, the increase in degrading and cruel treatment of spouses and children, and the spread of sexual abuse. It is essential that the members of the community of the Greatest Name take utmost care not to be drawn into acceptance of such practices because of their prevalence. They must be ever mindful of their obligation to exemplify a new way of life distinguished by its respect for the dignity and rights of all people, by its exalted moral tone, and by its freedom from oppression and from all forms of abuse.

Consultation has been ordained by Bahá’u’lláh as the means by which agreement is to be reached and a collective course of action defined. It is applicable to the marriage partners and within the family, and indeed, in all areas where believers participate in mutual decision making. It requires all participants to express their opinions with absolute freedom and without apprehension that they will be censured or their views belittled; these prerequisites for success are unattainable if the fear of violence or abuse is present.

A number of your questions pertain to the treatment of women, and are best considered in light of the principle of the equality of the sexes which is set forth in the Bahá’í Teachings. This principle is far more than the enunciation of admirable ideals; it has profound implications in all aspects of human relations and must be an integral element of Bahá’í domestic and community life. The application of this principle gives rise to changes in habits and practices which have prevailed for many centuries. An example of this is found in the response provided on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a question whether the traditional practice whereby the man proposes marriage to the woman is altered by the Bahá’í Teachings to permit the woman to issue a marriage proposal to the man; the response is, “The Guardian wishes to state that there is absolute equality between the two, and that no distinction or preference is permitted….” With the passage of time, during which Bahá’í men and women endeavour to apply more fully the principle of the equality of the sexes, will come a deeper understanding of the far-reaching ramifications of this vital principle. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated, “Until the reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible.”…

For a man to use force to impose his will on a woman is a serious transgression of the Bahá’í Teachings. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated that:

The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy.

Bahá’í men have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world around them a new approach to the relationship between the sexes, where aggression and the use of force are eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation. The Universal House of Justice has pointed out in response to questions addressed to it that, in a marriage relationship, neither husband nor wife should ever unjustly dominate the other, and that there are times when the husband and the wife should defer to the wishes of the other, if agreement cannot be reached through consultation; each couple should determine exactly under what circumstances such deference is to take place.

(From a letter dated 24 January 1993 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [36]

The issue you have raised is of vital importance to Bahá’í couples striving to address the various needs and opportunities with which they are confronted in present-day society. As in so many other aspects of daily life, the resolution of this issue must be sought through the comprehension and application of the Teachings of the Faith. The believers should clearly understand and remain untroubled by the fact that the resulting solutions may well not be regarded as adequate by those not blessed with the bounty of acceptance of the Promised One and who are enmeshed in patterns of thought which are alien to the Bahá’í Teachings despite widespread acceptance of such patterns by the generality of humankind.

Central to the consideration of this matter must be the purpose in life of all faithful followers of Bahá’u’lláh: to know and worship God. This involves service to one’s fellow human beings and in the advancement of the Cause of God. In pursuing this purpose, they should strive to develop their talents and faculties to whatever extent is possible by exploring the avenues before them.

It is inevitable, because of the limitations of this earthly plane, that believers will, in many instances, find themselves deprived of the opportunity to develop their talents to the fullest. This may be due to lack of economic resources or educational facilities, or to the necessity of meeting other obligations and fulfilling other duties, such as the freely chosen responsibilities associated with marriage and parenthood. In some circumstances it may be the result of a conscious decision to make sacrifices for the sake of the Cause, as when a pioneer undertakes to serve in a post which lacks the facilities for the development of his or her special skills and talents. However, such deprivations and limitations do not carry with them the implication that the Bahá’ís concerned are unable to fulfil their fundamental, divinely ordained purpose; they are simply elements of the universal challenge to evaluate and balance the many calls on one’s time and effort in this life.

There is no one universally applicable response to the questions you have raised about the decisions to be made by marriage partners when both husband and wife are pursuing career opportunities which appear to be leading them along divergent paths, since circumstances vary so widely. Each couple should rely on the process of Bahá’í consultation to determine what is the best course of action. In so doing they might well consider the following factors, among others:

  • the sense of equality which should inform consultation between husband and wife;

  • The Universal House of Justice has stated previously, in response to questions, that loving consultation should be the keynote of the marriage relationship. If agreement cannot be reached, there are times when either the husband or the wife should defer to the wishes of the other; exactly under what circumstances such deference should take place is a matter for each couple to decide.

  • the strong emphasis placed in the Bahá’í Writings on the preservation of the marriage bond and the strengthening of the unity between the marriage partners;

  • the concept of a Bahá’í family, in which the mother is the first educator of the children, and the husband takes primary responsibility for the financial support of his family;

  • As has been stated elsewhere by the House of Justice, this by no means implies that these functions are inflexibly fixed and cannot be changed and adjusted to suit particular family situations.

  • various special circumstances which might arise, such as job prospects during a period of widespread unemployment, unusual opportunities or abilities which one marriage partner may have, or pressing needs of the Cause which a sacrificial response may be called for.

The success of such consultation will doubtless be influenced by the prayerful attitude with which it is approached, the mutual respect of the parties for each other, their earnest desire to devise a solution which will preserve unity and harmony for themselves and the other members of their family, and their willingness to make compromises and adjustments within the context of equality.

As society evolves in the decades and centuries ahead under the transforming influence of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, it will surely experience fundamental changes which will facilitate the social application of the Bahá’í Teachings, and will ease the difficulties faced by couples seeking to fulfil their ardent desire to serve the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh through their professional activities.

(From a letter dated 26 June 1996 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) [37]

Among the signs of moral decay in the present social order is the weakening of the spiritual ties that bind the family. Failure within the household to acknowledge the equality of the sexes and to respect the rights of children gives rise to a culture that belittles women and children, condones the imposition of a single will upon others, and opens the way for aggression and violence—first in the family, then at school and work, and eventually in the streets and in society at large. Under such circumstances, the family environment, potentially the ideal milieu for learning the principles of consultation and collective decision making, serves to perpetuate tyranny and oppression in society.

(The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 24 November 2009 to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith) [38]

Just as the appearance of the rational soul in this realm of existence is made possible through the complex association of countless cells, whose organization in tissues and organs allows for the realization of distinctive capacities, so can civilization be seen as the outcome of a set of interactions among closely integrated, diverse components which have transcended the narrow purpose of tending to their own existence. And just as the viability of every cell and every organ is contingent upon the health of the body as a whole, so should the prosperity of every individual, every family, every people be sought in the well-being of the entire human race….

If the web of relationships alluded to above is to take shape and give rise to a pattern of life distinguished by adherence to the principle of the oneness of humankind, certain foundational concepts must be carefully examined. Most notable among them is the conception of power…. Associated with power in this sense are words such as “release”, “encourage”, “channel”, “guide” and “enable”. Power is not a finite entity which is to be “seized” and “jealously guarded”; it constitutes a limitless capacity to transform that resides in the human race as a body.

(The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 2 March 2013 to the Bahá’ís of Iran) [39]

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