During the past century scientists have devoted an immense amount of study to the struggle for existence in the plant and animal world, and, amid the perplexities of social life, many have turned for guidance to the principles which have been found to hold good in the lower world of nature. In this way they have come to regard rivalry and conflict as necessities of life, and the ruthless killing out of the weaker members of society as a legitimate or even necessary means of improving the race. Bahá’u’lláh tells us, on the other hand, that, if we wish to ascend the scale of progress, instead of looking backward to the animal world, we must direct our gaze forward and upward, and must take not the beasts, but the Prophets as our guides. The principles of unity, concord and compassion taught by the Prophets are the very antithesis of those dominating the animal struggle for self-preservation, and we must choose between them, for they cannot be reconciled. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—
In the world of nature the dominant note is the struggle for existence—the result of which is the survival of the fittest. The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin of all difficulties. It is the cause of war and strife, hatred and animosity, between human beings. In the world of nature there is tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance, usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy attributes which are defects of the animal world. Therefore, so long as the requirements of the natural world play paramount part among the children of men, success and prosperity are impossible. Nature is warlike, nature is bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are natural to the animal world.
Therefore the Lord of mankind, having great love and mercy, has caused the appearance of the prophets and the revelation of the Holy Books, so that through divine education humanity may be released from the corruption of nature and the darkness of ignorance, be confirmed with ideal virtues and spiritual attributes, and become the dawning-place of merciful emotions.…
A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice, unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another, thus causing the retardation of general progress. This retrogression comes from the fact that the principles of divine civilization are completely abandoned, and the teachings of the prophets are forgotten.
In all ages the Prophets of God have foretold the coming of an era of “peace on earth, goodwill among men.” As we have already seen Bahá’u’lláh, in the most glowing and confident terms, confirms these prophecies and declares that their fulfillment is at hand. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—
… in this marvelous cycle, the earth will be transformed, and the world of humanity arrayed in tranquillity and beauty. Disputes, quarrels, and murders will be replaced by peace, truth, and concord; among the nations, peoples, races, and countries, love and amity will appear. Cooperation and union will be established, and finally war will be entirely suppressed.… Universal peace will raise its tent in the centre of the earth, and the Blessed Tree of Life will grow and spread to such an extent that it will overshadow the East and the West. Strong and weak, rich and poor, antagonistic sects and hostile nations—which are like the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and kid, the lion and calf—will act towards each other with the most complete love, friendship, justice, and equity. The world will be filled with science, with the knowledge of the reality of the mysteries of beings, and with the knowledge of God.—Some Answered Questions.
One of the most fertile causes of war has been religious prejudice. With regard to this the Bahá’í teachings show clearly that animosity and conflict between people of different religions and sects have always been due, not to true religion, but to the want of it, and to its replacement by false prejudices, imitations and misrepresentations.
Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division it would be better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure, but if the remedy only aggravates the complaint, it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.
From the beginning of human history down to the present time the various religions of the world have anathematized and accused each other of falsity.… They have shunned each other most rigidly, exercising mutual animosity and rancor. Consider the record of religious warfare.… One of the greatest religious wars, the Crusades, extended over a period of two hundred years.… Sometimes the crusaders were successful, killing, pillaging and taking captive the Muslim people; sometimes the Muslims were victorious, inflicting bloodshed, death and ruin in turn upon the invaders. So they continued for two centuries, alternately fighting with fury and relaxing from weakness, until the European religionists withdrew from the East, leaving ashes of desolation behind them and finding their own nations in a condition of turbulence and upheaval.… Yet this was only one of the “Holy wars.” Consider and reflect.
Religious wars have been many. Nine hundred thousand martyrs to the Protestant cause was the record of conflict and difference between that sect of Christians and the Catholics.… How many languished in prisons! How merciless the treatment of captives! All in the name of religion! …
[T]he Christians and Muslims considered the Jews satanic and the enemies of God. Therefore, they cursed and persecuted them. Great numbers of Jews were killed, their houses burned and pillaged, their children carried into captivity. The Jews in turn regarded the Christians as infidels and the Muslims as enemies and destroyers of the law of Moses. Therefore, they call down vengeance upon them and curse them even to this day.…
When the light of Bahá’u’lláh dawned from the East, He proclaimed the promise of the oneness of humanity. He addressed all mankind, saying, “Ye are all the fruits of one tree. There are not two trees: one a tree of divine mercy, the other the tree of Satan.”… it is not meet that one human being should consider another human being as bad; nay, rather, all mankind are the servants of one God; God is the Father of all; there is not a single exception to that law. There are no people of Satan; all belong to the Merciful. There is no darkness; all is light. All are the servants of God, and man must love humanity from his heart. He must, verily, behold humanity as submerged in the divine mercy.”
Bahá’u’lláh has made no exception to this rule. He said that among mankind there may be those who are ignorant; they must be trained.… Some are sick; they must be treated. Some are immature; they must be helped to attain maturity. In other respects humanity is submerged in the ocean of divine mercy.
The Bahá’í doctrine of the unity of mankind strikes at the root of another cause of war, namely, racial prejudice. Certain races have assumed themselves to be superior to others and have taken for granted, on the principle of “survival of the fittest,” that this superiority gives them the right to exploit for their own advantage, or even to exterminate, weaker races. Many of the blackest pages in the world’s history are examples of the pitiless application of this principle. According to the Bahá’í view people of every race are of equal value in the sight of God. All have wonderful innate capacities which only require suitable education for their development, and each can play a part, which, instead of impoverishing, will enrich and complete the life of all the other members of the body of humanity. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says:—
Concerning the prejudice of race; it is an illusion, a superstition pure and simple, for God created us all of one race.… In the beginning also there were no limits and boundaries between the different lands; no part of the earth belonged more to one people than to another. In the sight of God there is no difference between the various races. Why should man invent such a prejudice? How can we uphold war caused by such an illusion? God has not created men that they should destroy one another. All races, tribes, sects and classes share equally in the bounty of their Heavenly Father.
Equally mischievous with racial prejudice is political or patriotic prejudice. The time has now come when narrow national patriotisms should be merged in the wider patriotism whose country is the world. Bahá’u’lláh says:—
Of old it hath been revealed: “Love of one’s country is an element of the Faith of God.” The Tongue of Grandeur hath … in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: “It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.” Through the power released by these exalted words He hath lent a fresh impulse, and set a new direction, to the birds of men’s hearts, and hath obliterated every trace of restriction and limitation from God’s Holy Book.—Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of the World.
Many are the wars which have been fought over pieces of territory whose possession has been coveted by two or more rival nations. The greed of possession has been as fertile a cause of strife among nations as among individuals. According to the Bahá’í view, land rightly belongs not to individual men or individual nations but to humanity as a whole; nay, rather, it belongs to God alone, and all men are but tenants.
On the occasion of the Battle of Benghazi1, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:—
The news of the Battle of Benghazi grieves my heart. I wonder at the human savagery that still exists in the world: How is it possible for men to fight from morning till night, killing each other, shedding the blood of their fellowmen? And for what object? To gain possession of a part of the earth! Even the animals when they fight have an immediate and more reasonable cause for their attacks. How terrible is it that men who are of the higher kingdom can descend to slaying and bringing misery to their fellow beings for the possession of a tract of land—the highest of created beings fighting to obtain the lowest form of matter, earth.
If more land is required for the improvement of the condition of the people, for the spread of civilization … surely it would be possible to acquire peaceably the necessary extension of territory. But war is made for the satisfaction of men’s ambition. For the sake of worldly gain to the few terrible misery is brought to numberless homes, breaking the hearts of hundred of men and women.…
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of his heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. When soldiers of the world draw their swords to kill, soldiers of God clasp each other’s hands. So may all the savagery of men disappear by the mercy of God, working through the pure in heart and the sincere of soul. Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain. Nothing is impossible to the divine benevolence of God. If you desire with all your heart friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger until it reaches the minds of all men.
Having glanced at the principal causes of war and how they may be avoided, we may now proceed to examine certain constructive proposals made by Bahá’u’lláh with a view to achieving the Most Great Peace.
The sixth Ishráq is union and concord amongst the children of men. From the beginning of time the light of unity hath shed its divine radiance upon the world, and the greatest means for the promotion of that unity is for the peoples of the world to understand one another’s writing and speech. In former Epistles We have enjoined upon the Trustees of the House of Justice either to choose one language from among those now existing or to adopt a new one, and in like manner to select a common script, both of which should be taught in all the schools of the world. Thus will the earth be regarded as one country and one home.
About the time when this proposal of Bahá’u’lláh was first given to the world, there was born in Poland a boy named Ludovic Zamenhof, who was destined to play a leading part in carrying it into effect. Almost from his infancy, the ideal of a universal language became a dominant motive in Zamenhof’s life, and the result of his devoted labors was the invention and widespread adoption of the language known as Esperanto, which has now stood the test of many years and has proved to be a very satisfactory medium of international intercourse. It has the great advantage that it can be mastered in about a twentieth part of the time required to master such languages as English, French or German. At an Esperanto banquet given in Paris in February 1913, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:—
Today one of the chief causes of the differences in Europe is the diversity of languages. We say this man is a German, the other is an Italian, then we meet an Englishman and then again a Frenchman. Although they belong to the same race, yet language is the greatest barrier between them. Were a universal auxiliary language in operation they would all be considered as one.
His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh wrote about this international language more than forty years ago. He says that as long as an international language is not adopted, complete union between the various sections of the world will be unrealized, for we observe that misunderstandings keep people from mutual association, and these misunderstandings will not be dispelled except through an international auxiliary language.
Generally speaking, the whole people of the Orient are not fully informed of events in the West, neither can the Westerners put themselves in sympathetic touch with the Easterners; their thoughts are enclosed in a casket—the international language will be the master key to open it. Were we in possession of a universal language, the Western books could easily be translated into that language, and the Eastern peoples be informed of their contents. In the same way the books of the East could be translated into that language for the benefit of the people in the West. The greatest means of progress towards the union of East and West will be a common language. It will make the whole world one home and become the strongest impulse for human advancement. It will upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity. It will make the earth one universal commonwealth. It will be the cause of love between the children of men. It will cause good fellowship between the various races.
Now, praise be to God that Dr. Zamenhof2 has invented the Esperanto language. It has all the potential qualities of becoming the international means of communication. All of us must be grateful and thankful to him for this noble effort; for in this way he has served his fellowmen well. With untiring effort and self-sacrifice on the part of its devotees Esperanto will become universal. Therefore every one of us must study this language and spread it as far as possible so that day by day it may receive a broader recognition, be accepted by all nations and governments of the world, and become a part of the curriculum in all the public schools. I hope that Esperanto will be adopted as the language of all the future international conferences and congresses, so that all people need acquire only two languages—one their own tongue and the other the international language. Then perfect union will be established between all the people of the world. Consider how difficult it is today to communicate with various nations. If one studies fifty languages one may yet travel through a country and not know the language. Therefore I hope that you will make the utmost effort, so that this language of Esperanto may be widely spread.
While these allusions to Esperanto are specific and encouraging, it remains true that until the House of Justice has acted on the matter in accordance with Bahá’u’lláh’s instruction the Bahá’í Faith is not committed to Esperanto nor to any other living or artificial tongue. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself said: “The love and effort put into Esperanto will not be lost, but no one person can construct a Universal Language.”—‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London.
Another proposal frequently and powerfully advocated by Bahá’u’lláh was that a Universal League of Nations should be formed for the maintenance of international peace. In a letter to Queen Victoria, written while He was still a prisoner in the barracks of ‘Akká,3 He said:—
Be united, O Kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your people find rest.… Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.
In 1875, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a forecast of the establishment of a Universal League of Nations, which is especially interesting at the present time4 in view of the strenuous attempts now being made to establish such a league. He wrote:—
True civilization will unfurl its banner in the midmost heart of the world whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns—the shining exemplars of devotion and determination—shall, for the good and happiness of all mankind, arise, with firm resolve and clear vision, to establish the Cause of Universal Peace. They must make the Cause of Peace the object of general consultation, and seek by every means in their power to establish a Union of the nations of the world. They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant, the provisions of which shall be sound, inviolable and definite. They must proclaim it to all the world and obtain for it the sanction of all the human race. This supreme and noble undertaking—the real source of the peace and well-being of all the world—should be regarded as sacred by all that dwell on earth. All the forces of humanity must be mobilized to ensure the stability and permanence of this Most Great Covenant. In this all-embracing Pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed, the principles underlying the relations of governments towards one another definitely laid down, and all international agreements and obligations ascertained. In like manner, the size of the armaments of every government should be strictly limited, for if the preparations for war and the military forces of any nation should be allowed to increase, they will arouse the suspicion of others. The fundamental principle underlying this solemn Pact should be so fixed that if any government later violate any one of its provisions, all the governments on earth should arise to reduce it to utter submission, nay the human race as a whole should resolve, with every power at its disposal, to destroy that government. Should this greatest of all remedies be applied to the sick body of the world, it will assuredly recover from its ills and will remain eternally safe and secure.—The Secret of Divine Civilization.
Bahá’ís see grave deficiencies in the structure of the League of Nations5 which falls short of the type of institution which Bahá’u’lláh described as essential to the establishment of world peace. On December 17, 1919, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declared:—
At present Universal Peace is a matter of great importance, but unity of conscience is essential, so that the foundation of this matter may become secure, its establishment firm and its edifice strong.… Although the League of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing Universal Peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh has described will fulfill this sacred task with the utmost might and power.
Bahá’u’lláh also advocated the establishment of an international court of arbitration, so that differences arising between nations might be settled in accordance with justice and reason, instead of by appeal to the ordeal of battle.
About fifty years ago in the Book of Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh commanded people to establish universal peace and summoned all the nations to the divine banquet of international arbitration, so that the questions of boundaries, of national honor and property, and of vital interests between nations might be settled by an arbitral court of justice, and that no nation would dare to refuse to abide by the decisions thus arrived at. If any quarrel arise between two nations it must be adjudicated by this international court and be arbitrated and decided upon like the judgment rendered by the Judge between two individuals. If at any time any nation dares to break such a decision, all the other nations must arise to put down this rebellion.
A supreme tribunal shall be established by the peoples and governments of every nation, composed of members elected from each country and government. The members of this great council shall assemble in unity. All disputes of an international character shall be submitted to this court, its work being to arrange by arbitration everything which otherwise would be a cause of war. This mission of this tribunal would be to prevent war.
During the quarter of a century preceding the establishment of the League of Nations a permanent Court of Arbitration was established at The Hague (1900), and many arbitration treaties were signed, but most of these fell far short of the comprehensive proposals of Bahá’u’lláh. No arbitration treaty was made between two great Powers in which all matters of dispute were included. Differences affecting “vital interests,” “honor” and “independence” were specifically excepted. Not only so, but effective guarantees that nations would abide by the terms of the treaties into which they had entered were lacking. In the Bahá’í proposals, on the other hand, questions of boundaries, of national honor and of vital interest are expressly included, and agreements will have the supreme guarantee of the World League of Nations behind them. Only when these proposals are completely carried out will international arbitration attain the full scope of its beneficent possibilities and the curse of war be finally banished from the world.
By a general agreement all the governments of the world must disarm simultaneously. It will not do if one lays down its arms and the others refuse to do so. The nations of the world must concur with each other concerning this supremely important subject, so that they may abandon together the deadly weapons of human slaughter. As long as one nation increases her military and naval budget other nations will be forced into this crazed competition through their natural and supposed interests.—Diary of Mírzá Aḥmad Sohrab, May 11–14, 1914.
As a religious body, Bahá’ís have, at the express command of Bahá’u’lláh, entirely abandoned the use of armed force in their own interests, even for strictly defensive purposes. In Persia many, many thousands of the Bábís and Bahá’ís have suffered cruel deaths because of their faith. In the early days of the Cause the Bábís on various occasions defended themselves and their families by the sword, with great courage and bravery. Bahá’u’lláh, however, forbade this. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes:—
When Bahá’u’lláh appeared, He declared that the promulgation of the truth by such means must on no account be allowed, even for purposes of self-defense. He abrogated the rule of the sword and annulled the ordinance of “Holy War.” “If ye be slain,” said He, “it is better for you than to slay. It is through the firmness and assurance of the faithful that the Cause of the Lord must be diffused. As the faithful, fearless and undaunted, arise with absolute detachment to exalt the Word of God, and, with eyes averted from the things of this world, engaged in service for the Lord’s sake and by His power, thereby will they cause the Word of Truth to triumph. These blessed souls bear witness by their lifeblood to the truth of the Cause and attest it by the sincerity of their faith, their devotion and their constancy. The Lord can avail to diffuse His Cause and to defeat the froward. We desire no defender but Him, and with our lives in our hands face the foe and welcome martyrdom.” (Written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for this book.)
Gracious God! This people need no weapons of destruction, inasmuch as they have girded themselves to reconstruct the world. Their hosts are the hosts of goodly deeds, and their arms the arms of upright conduct, and their commander the fear of God. Blessed that one that judgeth with fairness. By the righteousness of God! Such hath been the patience, the calm, the resignation and contentment of this people that they have become the exponents of justice, and so great hath been their forbearance, that they have suffered themselves to be killed rather than kill, and this notwithstanding that these whom the world hath wronged have endured tribulations the like of which the history of the world hath never recorded, nor the eyes of any nation witnessed. What is it that could have induced them to reconcile themselves to these grievous trials, and to refuse to put forth a hand to repel them? What could have caused such resignation and serenity? The true cause is to be found in the band which the Pen of Glory hath, day and night, chosen to impose, and in Our assumption of the reins of authority, through the power and might of Him Who is the Lord of all mankind.—Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.
The soundness of Bahá’u’lláh’s nonresistance policy has already been proved by results. For every believer martyred in Persia, the Bahá’í Faith has received a hundred new believers into its fold, and the glad and dauntless way in which these martyrs cast the crowns of their lives at the feet of their Lord has furnished to the world the clearest proof that they had found a new life for which death has no terrors, a life of ineffable fullness and joy, compared with which the pleasures of earth are but as dust in the balance, and the most fiendish physical tortures but trifles light as air.
Although Bahá’u’lláh, like Christ, counsels His follows as individuals and as a religious body to adopt an attitude of nonresistance and forgiveness toward their enemies, He teaches that it is the duty of the community to prevent injustice and oppression. If individuals are persecuted and injured it is wrong for a community to allow pillage and murder to continue unchecked within its borders. It is the duty of a good government to prevent wrongdoing and to punish offenders.6 So also with the community of nations. If one nation oppresses or injures another, it is the duty of all other nations to unite to prevent such oppression. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes:—“It may happen that at a given time warlike and savage tribes may furiously attack the body politic with the intention of carrying on a wholesale slaughter of its members; under such a circumstance defense is necessary.”
Hitherto the usual practice of mankind has been that if one nation attacked another, the rest of the nations of the world remained neutral, and accepted no responsibility in the matter unless their own interests were directly affected or threatened. The whole burden of defense was left to the nation attacked, however weak and helpless it might be. The teaching of Bahá’u’lláh reverses this position and throws the responsibility of defense not specially on the nation attacked, but on all the others, individually and collectively. As the whole of mankind is one community, an attack on any one nation is an attack on the community, and ought to be dealt with by the community. Were this doctrine generally recognized and acted on, any nation contemplating an aggression on another would know in advance that it would have to reckon with the opposition not of that other nation only, but of the whole of the rest of the world. This knowledge alone would be sufficient to deter even the boldest and most bellicose of nations. When a sufficiently strong league of peace-loving nations is established war will, therefore, become a thing of the past. During the period of transition from the old state of international anarchy to the new state of international solidarity aggressive wars will still be possible, and in these circumstances, military or other coercive action in the cause of international justice, unity and peace may be a positive duty. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes that in such case:—
A conquest can be a praiseworthy thing, and there are times when war becomes the powerful basis of peace, and ruin the very means of reconstruction. If, for example, a high-minded sovereign marshals his troops to block the onset of the insurgent and the aggressor, or again, if he takes the field and distinguishes himself in a struggle to unify a divided state and people, if, in brief, he is waging war for a righteous purpose, then this seeming wrath is mercy itself, and this apparent tyranny the very substance of justice and this warfare the cornerstone of peace. Today, the task befitting great rulers is to establish universal peace, for in this lies the freedom of all peoples.—The Secret of Divine Civilization.
Another factor which will help in bringing about universal peace is the linking together of the East and the West. The Most Great Peace is no mere cessation of hostilities, but a fertilizing union and cordial cooperation of the hitherto sundered peoples of the earth which will bear much precious fruit. In one of His talks in Paris, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said:—
In the past, as in the present, the Spiritual Sun of Truth has always shone from the horizon of the East. In the East Moses arose to lead and teach the people. On the Eastern horizon rose the Lord Christ. Muḥammad was sent to an Eastern nation. The Báb arose in the Eastern land of Persia. Bahá’u’lláh lived and taught in the East. All the great spiritual teachers arose in the Eastern world.
But although the Sun of Christ dawned in the East, the radiance thereof was apparent in the West, where the effulgence of its glory was more clearly seen. The divine light of His teaching shone with a greater force in the Western world, where it has made more rapid headway than in the land of its birth.
In these days the East is in need of material progress and the West is in need of a spiritual ideal. It would be well for the West to turn to the East for illumination, and to give in exchange its scientific knowledge. There must be this interchange of gifts. The East and the West must unite to give to each other what is lacking. This union will bring about true civilization where the spiritual is expressed and carried out in the material. Receiving thus, the one from the other, the greatest harmony will prevail, all people will be united, a state of great perfection will be attained, there will be a firm cementing, and this world will become a shining mirror for the reflection of the attributes of God.
We all, the Eastern and the Western nations, must strive day and night, with heart and soul, to achieve this high ideal, to cement the unity between all the nations of the earth. Every heart will then be refreshed, all eyes will be opened, the most wonderful power will be given, the happiness of humanity will be assured.… This will be the Paradise which is to come on earth, when all mankind will be gathered together under the Tent of Unity in the Kingdom of Glory.