O people of God! Be not occupied with yourselves. Be intent on the betterment of the world and the training of nations.
Religion the Basis of Civilization
According to the Bahá’í view, the problems of human life, individual and social, are so inconceivably complex that the ordinary human intellect is incapable of itself of solving them aright. Only the Omniscient fully knows the purpose of creation and how that purpose may be achieved. Through the Prophets He shows to mankind the true goal of human life and the right path of progress; and the building up of a true civilization depends upon faithful adherence to the guidance of prophetic Revelation. Bahá’u’lláh says:—
Religion is verily the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquillity amongst its peoples. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the foolish and emboldened them and made them more arrogant. Verily I say: The greater the decline of religion, the more grievous the waywardness of the ungodly. This cannot but lead in the end to chaos and confusion.…
Consider the civilization of the West, how it hath agitated and alarmed the peoples of the world. An infernal engine hath been devised, and hath proved so cruel a weapon of destruction that its like none hath ever witnessed or heard. The purging of such deeply-rooted and overwhelming corruptions cannot be effected unless the peoples of the world unite in pursuit of one common aim and embrace one universal faith.…
O people of Bahá! Each one of the ordinances We have revealed is a mighty stronghold for the preservation of the world of being.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Words of Paradise.
The present state of Europe and of the world in general eloquently confirms the truth of these words written so many years ago. Neglect of the prophetic commands and the prevalence of irreligion have been accompanied by disorder and destruction on the most terrible scale, and, without the change of heart and aim which is the essential characteristic of true religion, the reform of society seems an utter impossibility.
In the little book of Hidden Words, in which Bahá’u’lláh gives in brief the essence of the prophetic teachings, His first counsel refers to the individual life: “Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart.” The next indicates the fundamental principle of true social life:—
O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.
The first essential of social life is that individuals should become capable of discerning the true from the false and right from wrong, and of seeing things in their true proportions. The greatest cause of spiritual and social blindness, and the greatest foe of social progress, is selfishness. Bahá’u’lláh says:—
O ye sons of intelligence! The thin eyelid prevents the eye from seeing the world and what is contained therein. Then think of the result when the curtain of greed covers the sight of the heart!
O people! The darkness of greed and envy obscures the light of the soul as the cloud prevents the penetration of the sun’s rays. (Tablet to a Zoroastrian.)
Long experience is at last convincing men of the truth of the prophetic teaching that selfish views and selfish actions inevitably bring social disaster, and that if humanity is not to perish ingloriously, each must look on the things of his neighbor as of equal importance with his own, and subordinate his own interests to those of humanity as a whole. In this way the interests of each and all will ultimately be best served. Bahá’u’lláh says:—“O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself.”—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Words of Paradise.
The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh contain two different types of reference to the question of true social order. One type is exemplified in the tablets revealed to the Kings, which deal with the problem of government as existing in the world during Bahá’u’lláh’s life on earth; the other references are to the new order to be developed within the Bahá’í community itself.
Hence arises the sharp contrast between such passages as: “The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth” and “It beseemeth all men, in this Day, to take firm hold on the Most Great Name, and to establish the unity of all mankind. There is no place to flee to, no refuge that any one can seek, except Him.”—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
The apparent incompatibility of these two views is removed when we observe the distinction which Bahá’u’lláh makes between the “Lesser Peace” and the “Most Great Peace.” In His tablets to the Kings Bahá’u’lláh called upon them to assemble and take measures for the maintenance of political peace, the reduction of armaments and the removal of the burdens and insecurity of the poor. But His words make it perfectly clear that their failure to respond to the needs of the time would result in wars and revolutions leading to the overthrow of the old order. Therefore, on the one hand He said: “What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority,” and on the other, “Those men who, having amassed the vanities and ornaments of the earth, have turned away disdainfully from God—these have lost both this world and the world to come. Erelong, will God, with the Hand of Power, strip them of their possessions, and divest them of the robe of His bounty.” “We have a fixed time for you, O peoples. If ye fail, at the appointed hour, to turn towards God, He, verily, will lay violent hold on you, and will cause grievous afflictions to assail you from every direction.” “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective.” “We have pledged Ourselves to secure Thy triumph upon earth and to exalt Our Cause above all men, though no king be found who would turn his face towards Thee.”—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
The Great Being, wishing to reveal the prerequisites of the peace and tranquillity of the world and the advancement of its peoples, hath written: The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized. The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means as will lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace amongst men. Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the sake of the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth, to be fully reconciled among themselves. Should any kind take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him.—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
By such counsel, Bahá’u’lláh revealed the conditions under which public responsibility must be discharged in this Day of God. Appealing for international solidarity on the one hand, He no less clearly warned the rulers that continuance of strife would destroy their power. Now modern history confirms this warning, in the rise of those coercive movements which in all civilized nations have attained such destructive energy, and in the development of warfare to the degree that victory is no longer attainable by any party. “Now that ye have refused the Most Great Peace, hold ye fast unto this, the Lesser Peace, that haply ye may in some degree better your own condition and that of your dependents.” “That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. This can in no wise be achieved except through the power of a skilled, an all-powerful and inspired Physician.”—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
By the Lesser Peace is meant a political unity of states, while the Most Great Peace is a unity embracing spiritual as well as political and economic factors. “Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.”—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
In former ages, a government could concern itself with external matters and material affairs, but today the function of government demands a quality of leadership, of consecration and of spiritual knowledge impossible save to those who have turned to God.
Although advocating as the ideal condition a representative form of government, local, national and international, Bahá’u’lláh teaches that this is possible only when men have attained a sufficiently high degree of individual and social development. Suddenly to grant full self-government to people without education, who are dominated by selfish desires and are inexperienced in the conduct of public affairs, would be disastrous. There is nothing more dangerous than freedom for those who are not fit to use it wisely. Bahá’u’lláh writes in the Book of Aqdas:—
Consider the pettiness of men’s minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance.
Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench. Thus warneth you He Who is the Reckoner, the All-Knowing. Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal. That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness.
Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth. We approve of liberty in certain circumstances, and refuse to sanction it in others. We, verily, are the All-Knowing.
Say: True liberty consisteth in man’s submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things. Say: The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven.—Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
For improving the condition of backward races and nations, the Divine teachings are the sovereign remedy. When both people and statesmen learn and adopt these teachings the nations will be freed from all their bonds.
Bahá’u’lláh forbids tyranny and oppression in the most emphatic terms. In Hidden Words He writes:—
O Oppressors of Earth! Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed it with My seal of glory.
Those entrusted with the framing and administration of laws and regulations must “hold fast to the cord of consultation and adopt and enforce that which is conducive to the security, prosperity, wealth and tranquillity of the people. For were any measure other than this to be adopted, it could not but result in chaos and commotion.”—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of the World.
On the other hand, the people must be law-abiding and loyal to the just government. They must rely on educational methods and on the force of good example, not on violence, for bringing about a better state of affairs in the nation. Bahá’u’lláh says:—
In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Glad Tidings.
…O people of God! Adorn your temples with the adornment of trustworthiness and piety. Help, then, your Lord with the hosts of goodly deeds and a praiseworthy character. We have forbidden you dissension and conflict in My Books, and My Scriptures, and My Scrolls, and My Tablets, and have wished thereby naught else save your exaltation and advancement.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ishráqát.
In making appointments, the only criterion must be fitness for the position. Before this paramount consideration, all others, such as seniority, social or financial status, family connection or personal friendship, must give way. Bahá’u’lláh says in the Tablet of Ishráqát:—
Governments should fully acquaint themselves with the conditions of those they govern, and confer upon them positions according to desert and merit. It is enjoined upon every ruler and sovereign to consider this matter with the utmost care that the traitor may not usurp the position of the faithful, nor the despoiler rule in the place of the trustworthy.
It needs but little consideration to show that when this principle becomes generally accepted and acted upon, the transformation in our social life will be astounding. When each individual is given the position for which his talents and capabilities specially fit him he will be able to put his heart into his work and become an artist in his profession, with incalculable benefit to himself and the rest of the world.
The Bahá’í teachings insist in the strongest terms on the need for reform in the economic relations of rich and poor. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá says:—
The arrangements of the circumstances of the people must be such that poverty shall disappear, that everyone, as far as possible, according to his rank and position, shall share in comfort and well-being. We see among us men who are overburdened with riches on the one hand, and on the other those unfortunate ones who starve with nothing; those who possess several stately palaces, and those who have not where to lay their head.… This condition of affairs is wrong, and must be remedied. Now the remedy must be carefully undertaken. It cannot be done by bringing to pass absolute equality between men. Equality is a chimera! It is entirely impracticable. Even if equality could be achieved it could not continue; and if its existence were possible, the whole order of the world would be destroyed. The Law of Order must always obtain in the world of humanity. Heaven has so decreed in the creation of man.… Humanity, like a great army, requires a general, captains, underofficers in their degree, and soldiers, each with their appointed duties. Degrees are absolutely necessary to ensure an orderly organization. An army could not be composed of generals alone, or of captains only, or of nothing but soldiers without anyone in authority.
Certainly, some being enormously rich and other lamentably poor, an organization is necessary to control and improve this state of affairs. It is important to limit riches, as it is also of importance to limit poverty. Either extreme is not good.… When we see poverty allowed to reach a condition of starvation, it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny. Men must bestir themselves in this matter, and no longer delay in altering conditions which bring the misery of grinding poverty to a very large number of people.
The rich must give of their abundance; they must soften their hearts and cultivate a compassionate intelligence, taking thought for those sad ones who are suffering from lack of the very necessaries of life.
There must be special laws made, dealing with these extremes of rich and want.… The government of the countries should conform to the Divine Law which gives equal justice to all.… Not until this is done will the Law of God be obeyed.
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá suggests that each town and village or district should be entrusted as far as possible with the administration of fiscal matters within its own area and should contribute its due proportion for the expenses of the general government. One of the principal sources of revenue should be a graduated income tax. If a man’s income does not exceed his necessary expenditure he should not be required to pay any tax, but in all cases where income exceeds the necessary expenditure a tax should be levied, the percentage of tax increasing as the surplus of income over necessary expenditure increases.
On the other hand, if a person, through illness, poor crops, or other cause for which he is not responsible, is unable to earn an income sufficient to meet his necessary expenses for the year, then what he lacks for the maintenance of himself and his family should be supplied out of public funds.
There will also be other sources of public revenue, e.g. from intestate estates, mines, treasure trove and voluntary contributions; while among the expenditures will be grants for the support of the infirm, of orphans, of schools, of the deaf and blind, and for the maintenance of public health. Thus the welfare and comfort of all will be provided for.1
In a letter to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace, written in 1919, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá says:—
Among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is voluntary sharing of one’s property with others among mankind. This voluntary sharing is greater than (legally imposed) equality, and consists in this, that one should not prefer oneself to others, but rather should sacrifice one’s life and property for others. But this should not be introduced by coercion so that it becomes a law which man is compelled to follow. Nay, rather, man should voluntarily and of his own choice sacrifice his property and life for others, and spend willingly for the poor, just as is done in Persia among the Bahá’ís.
One of the most important instructions of Bahá’u’lláh in regard to the economic question is that all must engage in useful work. There must be no drones in the social hive, no able-bodied parasites on society. He says:—
It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. Ponder ye in your hearts the grace and the blessings of God and render thanks unto Him at eventide and at dawn. Waste not your time in idleness and sloth. Occupy yourselves with that which profiteth yourselves and others. Thus hath it been decreed in this Tablet from whose horizon the daystar of wisdom and utterance shineth resplendent.
The most despised of men in the sight of God are those who sit idly and beg. Hold ye fast unto the cord of material means, placing your whole trust in God, the Provider of all means.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Glad Tidings.
How much of the energy employed in the business world of today is expended simply in canceling and neutralizing the efforts of other people—in useless strife and competition! And how much in ways that are still more injurious! Were all to work, and were all work, whether of brain or hand, of a nature profitable to mankind, as Bahá’u’lláh commands, then the supplies of everything necessary for a healthy, comfortable and noble life would amply suffice for all. There need be no slums, no starvation, no destitution, no industrial slavery, no health-destroying drudgery.
According to the Bahá’í teachings, riches rightly acquired and rightly used are honorable and praiseworthy. Services rendered should be adequately rewarded. Bahá’u’lláh says in the Tablet of Ṭarázát:—“The people of Bahá should not deny to any soul the reward due to him, … One must speak with fairness and appreciate such bounty.”
With regard to interest on money, Bahá’u’lláh writes in the Tablet of Ishráqát as follows:—
… Many people stand in need of this. Because if there were no prospect for gaining interest, the affairs of men would suffer collapse or dislocation. One can seldom find a person who would manifest such consideration towards his fellowman, his countryman or towards his own brother and would show such tender solicitude for him as to be well-disposed to grant him a loan on benevolent terms. Therefore as a token of favor towards men We have prescribed that interest on money should be treated like other business transactions that are current amongst men.…
However, this is a matter that should be practised with moderation and fairness. Our Pen of Glory hath, as a token of wisdom and for the convenience of the people, desisted from laying down its limit. Nevertheless We exhort the loved ones of God to observe justice and fairness, and to do that which would prompt the friends of God to evince tender mercy and compassion towards each other.
[T]he conduct of these affairs hath been entrusted to the men of the House of Justice that they may enforce them according to the exigencies of the time and the dictates of wisdom.
In the Book of Aqdas Bahá’u’lláh forbids slavery, and ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá has explained that not only chattel slavery, but also industrial slavery, is contrary to the law of God. When in the United States in 1912, He said to the American people:—
Between 1860 and 1865 you did a wonderful thing; you abolished chattel slavery; but today you must do a much more wonderful thing: you must abolish industrial slavery.…
The solution of economic questions will not be brought about by array of capital against labor, and labor against capital, in strife and conflict, but by the voluntary attitude of goodwill on both sides. Then a real and lasting justness of conditions will be secured.…
Among the Bahá’ís there are no extortionate, mercenary and unjust practices, no rebellious demands, no revolutionary uprisings against existing governments.…
It will not be possible in the future for men to amass great fortunes by the labors of others. The rich will willingly divide. They will come to this gradually, naturally, by their own volition. It will never be accomplished by war and bloodshed.
It is by friendly consultation and cooperation, by just copartnership and profit-sharing, that the interests of both capital and labor will be best served. The harsh weapons of the strike and lockout are injurious, not only to the trades immediately affected, but to the community as a whole. It is, therefore, the business of the governments to devise means for preventing recourse to such barbarous methods of settling disputes. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá said at Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1912:—
Now I want to tell you about the law of God. According to the divine law, employees should not be paid merely by wages. Nay, rather they should be partners in every work. The question of socialization is very difficult. It will not be solved by strikes for wages. All the governments of the world must be united, and organize an assembly, the members of which shall be elected from the parliaments and the noble ones of the nations. These must plan with wisdom and power, so that neither the capitalists suffer enormous losses, nor the laborers become needy. In the utmost moderation they should make the law, then announce to the public that the rights of the working people are to be effectively preserved; also the rights of the capitalists are to be protected. When such a general law is adopted, by the will of both sides, should a strike occur, all the governments of the world should collectively resist it. Otherwise the work will lead to much destruction, especially in Europe. Terrible things will take place.
One of the several causes of a universal European war will be this question. The owners of properties, mines and factories, should share their incomes with their employees, and give a fairly certain percentage of their profits to their workingmen, in order that the employees should receive, besides their wages, some of the general income of the factory, so that the employee may strive with his soul in the work.
Bahá’u’lláh states that a person should be free to dispose of his possessions during his lifetime in any way he chooses, and it is incumbent on everyone to write a will stating how his property is to be disposed of after his death. When a person dies without leaving a will, the value of the property should be estimated and divided in certain state proportions among seven classes of inheritors, namely, children, wife or husband, father, mother, brothers, sisters and teachers, the share of each diminishing from the first to the last. In the absence of one or more of these classes, the share which would belong to them goes to the public treasury, to be expended on the poor, the fatherless and the widows, or on useful public works. If the deceased has no heirs, then all his property goes to the public treasury.
There is nothing in the law of Bahá’u’lláh to prevent a man from leaving all his property to one individual if he pleases, but Bahá’ís will naturally be influenced, in making their wills, by the model Bahá’u’lláh has laid down for the case of intestate estates, which ensures distribution of property among a considerable number of heirs.
One of the social principles to which Bahá’u’lláh attaches great importance is that women should be regarded as the equals of men and should enjoy equal rights and privileges, equal education and equal opportunities.
The great means on which He relies for bringing about the emancipation of women is universal education. Girls are to receive as good an education as boys. In fact, the education of girls is even more important than that of boys, for in time these girls will become mothers, and, as mothers, they will be the first teachers of the next generation. Children are like green and tender branches; if the early training is right they grow straight, and if it is wrong they grow crooked; and to the end of their lives they are affected by the training of their earliest years. How important, then, that girls should be well and wisely educated!
During His Western tours, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá had frequent occasion to explain the Bahá’í teachings on this subject. At a meeting of the Women’s Freedom League in London in January 1913, He said:—
Humanity is like a bird with its two wings—the one is male, the other female. Unless both wings are strong and impelled by some common force, the bird cannot fly heavenwards. According to the spirit of this age, women must advance and fulfill their mission in all departments of life, becoming equal to men. They must be on the same level as men and enjoy equal rights. This is my earnest prayer and it is one of the fundamental principles of Bahá’u’lláh.
Some scientists have declared that the brains of men weigh more than those of women, and claim this as a proof of man’s superiority. Yet when we look around us we see people with small heads, whose brains must weigh little, who show the greatest intelligence and great powers of understanding; and others with big heads, whose brains must be heavy, and yet they are witless. Therefore the avoirdupois of the brain is no true measure of intelligence or superiority.
When men bring forward as a second proof of their superiority the assertion that women have not achieved as much as men, they use poor arguments which leave history out of consideration. If they kept themselves more fully informed historically, they would know that great women have lived and achieved great things in the past, and that there are many living and achieving great things today.
Here ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá described the achievements of Zenobia and other great women of the past, concluding with an eloquent tribute to the fearless Mary Magdalene, whose faith remained firm while that of the apostles was shaken. He continued:—
Amongst the women of our own time is Qurratu’l-’Ayn, the daughter of a Muḥammadan priest. At the time of the appearance of the Báb she showed such tremendous courage and power that all who heard her were astonished. She threw aside her veil despite the immemorial custom of the women of Persia, and although it was considered impolite to speak with men, this heroic woman carried on controversies with the most learned men, and in every meeting she vanquished them. The Persian Government took her prisoner; she was stoned in the streets, anathematized, exiled from town to town, threatened with death, but she never failed in her determination to work for the freedom of her sisters. She bore persecution and suffering with the greatest heroism; even in prison she gained converts. To a Minister in Persia, in whose house she was imprisoned, she said: “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” At last the end of her tragic life came; she was carried into a garden and strangled. She put on, however, her choicest robes as if she were going to join a bridal party. With such magnanimity and courage she gave her life, startling and thrilling all who saw her. She was truly a great heroine. Today in Persia, among the Bahá’ís, there are women who also show unflinching courage, and who are endowed with great poetic insight. They are most eloquent, and speak before large gatherings of people.
Women must go on advancing; they must extend their knowledge of science, literature, history, for the perfection of humanity. Erelong they will receive their rights. Men will see women in earnest, bearing themselves with dignity, improving the civil and political life, opposed to warfare, demanding suffrage and equal opportunities. I expect to see you advance in all phases of life; then will your brows be crowned with the diadem of eternal glory.
When woman’s point of view receives due consideration and woman’s will is allowed adequate expression in the arrangement of social affairs, we may expect great advancement in matters which have often been grievously neglected under the old regime of male dominance—such matters as health, temperance, peace, and regard for the value of the individual life. Improvements in these respects will have very far-reaching and beneficent effects. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá says:—
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. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.—Star of the West, vol. iii. [from report of remarks made aboard the S.S. Cedric on arrival in New York].
In bringing about the emancipation of women as in other matters, Bahá’u’lláh counsels His followers to avoid methods of violence. An excellent illustration of the Bahá’í method of social reform has been given by the Bahá’í women in Persia, Egypt and Syria. In these countries it is customary for Muḥammadan women outside their homes to wear a veil covering the face. The Báb indicated that in the New Dispensation women would be relieved from this irksome restraint, but Bahá’u’lláh counsels His followers, where no important question of morality is involved, to defer to established customs until people become enlightened, rather than scandalize those amongst whom they live, and arouse needless antagonism. The Bahá’í women, therefore, although well aware that the antiquated custom of wearing the veil is, for enlightened people, unnecessary and inconvenient, yet quietly put up with the inconvenience, rather than rouse a storm of fanatical hatred and rancorous opposition by uncovering their faces in public. This conformity to custom is in no way due to fear, but to an assured confidence in the power of education and in the transforming and life-giving effect of true religion. Bahá’ís in these regions are devoting their energies to the education of their children, especially their girls, and to the diffusion and promotion of the Bahá’í ideals, well knowing that as the new spiritual life grows and spreads among the people, antiquated customs and prejudices will by and by be shed, as naturally and inevitably as bud scales are shed in spring when the leaves and flowers expand in the sunshine.
Education—the instruction and guidance of men and the development and training of their innate faculties—has been the supreme aim of all the Holy Prophets since the world began, and in the Bahá’í teachings the fundamental importance and limitless possibilities of education are proclaimed in the clearest terms. The teacher is the most potent factor in civilization and his work is the highest to which men can aspire. Education begins in the mother’s womb and is as unending as the life of the individual. It is a perennial necessity of right living and the foundation of both individual and social welfare. When education on right lines becomes general, humanity will be transformed and the world will become a paradise.
At present a really well educated man is the rarest of phenomena, for nearly everyone has false prejudices, wrong ideals, erroneous conceptions and bad habits drilled into him from babyhood. How few are taught from their earliest childhood to love God with all their hearts and dedicate their lives to Him; to regard service to humanity as the highest aim in life; to develop their powers to the best advantage for the general good of all! Yet surely these are the essential elements of a good education. Mere cramming of the memory with facts about arithmetic, grammar, geography, languages, etc., has comparatively little effect in producing noble and useful lives.
Bahá’u’lláh says that education must be universal:—
Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet. He that putteth away that which is commanded unto him, the Trustees are then to take from him that which is required for their instruction, if he be wealthy and, if not, the matter devolveth upon the House of Justice. Verily, have We made it a shelter for the poor and needy. He that bringeth up his son or the son of another, it is as though he hath brought up a son of Mine; upon him rest My glory, My loving-kindness, My mercy, that have compassed the world.—Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupation, for the training and education of children, to be spent for this purpose with the knowledge of the Trustees of the House of Justice.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of the World.
In the Bahá’í view the child’s nature is not like so much wax that can be molded indifferently to any shape according to the will of the teacher. Nay, each from the first has his own God-given character and individuality which can develop to the best advantage only in a particular way; and that way in each case is unique. No two people have exactly the same capabilities and talents, and the true educator will never attempt to force two natures into the same mold. In fact, he will never attempt to force any nature into any mold. Rather he will reverently tend the developing powers of the young nature, encourage and protect them, and supply the nourishment and assistance which they need. His work is like that of a gardener tending different plants. One plant likes the bright sunshine, another the cool shade; one loves the water’s edge and another the dry knoll; one thrives best on sandy soil and another on rich loam. Each must have its needs appropriately supplied, else its perfections can never be fully revealed. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá says:—
The Prophets acknowledge that education hath a great effect upon the human race, but They declare that minds and comprehensions are originally different. We see that certain children of the same age, nativity and race, nay, from the same household, under the tutorship of the same teacher, differ in minds and comprehensions. No matter how the shell is educated (or polished) it can never become the radiant pearl. The black stone will not become the world-illuminating gem. The thorny cactus can never by training and development become the blessed tree. That is to say, training doth not change the essential nature of the human gem, but it produceth a marvelous effect. By this effective power all that is latent, of virtues and capacities in the human reality, will be revealed.
The thing of paramount importance in education is character training. With regard to this, example is more effective than precept, and the lives and characters of the child’s parents, teachers and habitual associates are factors of the utmost importance.
The Prophets of God are the great educators of mankind, and Their counsels and the story of Their lives should be instilled into the child’s mind as soon as it is able to grasp them. Especially important are the words of the Supreme Teacher, Bahá’u’lláh, Who reveals the root principles on which the civilization of the future must be built up. He says:—
Teach your children the verses revealed from the heaven of majesty and power, so that, in most melodious tones, they may recite the Tablets of the All-Merciful in the alcoves within the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár.
Training in arts, sciences, crafts and useful professions is regarded as important and necessary. Bahá’u’lláh says:—
Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world. Unto this beareth witness the Mother Book on the day of His return. Happy are those possessed of a hearing ear. In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Tajallíyát.
In a talk on the right method of treating criminals, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá spoke as follows:—
… the most essential thing is that the people must be educated in such a way … that they will avoid and shrink from perpetrating crimes, so that the crime itself will appear to them as the greatest chastisement, the utmost condemnation and torment. Therefore no crimes which require punishment will be committed.…
… if someone oppresses, injures, and wrongs another, and the wronged man retaliates, this is vengeance, and is censurable.… If ‘Amru dishonours Zaid, the latter has not the right to dishonour ‘Amru; if he does so, this is vengeance, and is very reprehensible. No, rather he must return good for evil, and not only forgive, but also, if possible, be of service to his oppressor. This conduct is worthy of man; for what advantage does he gain by vengeance? The two actions are equivalent; if one action is reprehensible, both are reprehensible. The only difference is that one was committed first, the other later.
But the community has the right of defense and of self-protection; moreover, the community has no hatred nor animosity for the murderer: it imprisons or punishes him merely for the protection and security of others.…
Thus when Christ said: “Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the left one also,” it was for the purpose of teaching men not to take personal revenge. He did not mean that if a wolf should fall upon a flock of sheep and wish to destroy it, that the wolf should be encouraged to do so. No, if Christ had known that a wolf had entered the fold and was about to destroy the sheep, most certainly he would have prevented it.…
… the constitution of the communities depends upon justice.… Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children, and relatives, and violate your honor, you should be submissive in the presence of these tyrannical foes, and allow them to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals towards each other: if one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man.…
One thing remains to be said: it is that the communities are day and night occupied in making penal laws, and in preparing and organizing instruments and means of punishment. They build prisons, make chains and fetters, arrange places of exile and banishment, and different kinds of hardships and tortures, and think by these means to discipline criminals; whereas, in reality, they are causing destruction of morals and perversion of characters. The community, on the contrary, ought day and night to strive and endeavor with the utmost zeal and effort to accomplish the education of men, to cause them day by day to progress and to increase in science and knowledge, to acquire virtues, to gain good morals and to avoid vices, so that crimes may not occur.—Some Answered Questions.
The importance of the press as a means of diffusing knowledge and educating the people, and its power as a civilizing force, when rightly directed, are fully recognized by Bahá’u’lláh. He writes:—
In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However, it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing.
Concerning this Wronged One, most of the things reported in the newspapers are devoid of truth. Fair speech and truthfulness, by reason of their lofty rank and position, are regarded as a sun shining above the horizon of knowledge.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ṭarázát.