and the New Era:|
Chapter Nine: True Civilization
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 prupose of creation and how that prupose 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. Baha'u'llah says: --
Religion is the greatest instrument for the order of the world and the tranquillity of all existent beings. The weakening of the pillars of religion has encouraged the ignorant and rendered them audacious and arrogant. Truly I say, whatever lowers the lofty station of religion will increase heedlessness in the wicked, and finally result in anarchy. ...
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
In the little book of Hidden Words, in which Baha'u'llah 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 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. Baha'u'llah says: --
O ye sons of intelligence! The thin eye lid 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!
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. Baha'u'llah says: -- "O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards
mercy, forsake the things that proft 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." -- Words of Paradise.
The teachings of Baha'u'llah 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 Baha'u'llah'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 Baha'u'llah, pp. 206, 203.
The apparent incompatibility of these two views is removed when we observe the distinction which Baha'u'llah makes between the "Lesser Peace" and the "Most Great Peace." In His tablets to the Kings Baha'u'llah 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. Ere long, 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 Baha'u'llah, pp. 207, 209, 214, 216, 248-249.
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 Baha'u'llah, p. 249.By such counsel, Baha'u'llah 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 Baha'u'llah, pp. 254, 255.
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 Baha'u'llah, p. 7.
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
Although advocating as the ideal condition a representative form of government, local, national and international, Baha'u'llah 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. Baha'u'llah 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.
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.
Baha'u'llah 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 rope of Consultation, and decide upon and execute that which is conducive to the people's security, affluence, welfare and tranquillity; for if matters be arranged otherwise, it will lead to discord and tumult." -- 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. Baha'u'llah says: --
In every country where any of this community reside, they must behave toward the government of that country with faithfulness, truthfulness, and obedience. -- Glad Tidings.
Appointment and Promotion
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. Baha'u'llah says in the Tablet of Ishraqat: --
The fifth Ishraq (Effulgence) is the knowledge by governments of the condition of the governed, and the conferring of ranks according to desert and merit. Regard to this matter is strictly enjoined upon every chief and ruler, that haply traitors may not usurp the positions of trustworthy men nor spoilers occupy the seats of guardians.
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 Bahá'í teachings insist in the strongest terms on the need for reform in the economic relations of rich and poor. Abdu'l-Baha 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.
Abdu'l-Baha 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.
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-Baha says: --
Among the teachings of Baha'u'llah 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.
Work for All
One of the most important instructions of Baha'u'llah 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 on every one of you to engage in some occupation -- some art, trade or the like. We have made this -- your occupation -- identical with the worship of God, the True One. Reflect, O people, upon the Mercy of God and upon His Favors, then thank Him in the mornings and evenings.
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 Baha'u'llah 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
According to the Bahá'í teachings, riches rightly acquired and rightly used are honorable and praiseworthy. Services rendered should be adequately rewarded. Baha'u'llah says in the Tablet of Tarazat: -- "The people of Baha must not refuse to discharge the due reward of anyone, and must respect possessors of talent, ... One must speak with justice and recognize the worth of benefits."
With regard to interest on money, Baha'u'llah writes in the Tablet of Ishraqat as follows: --
Most of the people are found to be in need of this mattter; for if no interest be allowed, affairs (business) will be trammeled and obstructed. ... A person is rarely found who would lend money to anyone upon the principle of "Qar-i-hasan" (literally "good loan," i.e. money advanced without interest and repaid at the pleasure of the borrower). Consequently, out of favor to the servants, We have appointed "profit on money" to be current, among other business transactions which are in force among people. That is ... it is allowable, lawful and pure to charge interest on money ... but this matter must be conducted with moderation and justice. The Pen of Glory has withheld itself from laying down its limits, as a Wisdom from His Presence and as a convenience for His servants. We exhort the friends of God to act with fairness and justice, and in such a way that the mercy of His beloved ones, and their compassion, may be manifested toward each other. ...
No Industrial Slavery
In the Book of Aqdas Baha'u'llah forbids slavery, and Abdu'l-Baha 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. ...
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-Baha 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.
Bequest and Inheritance
Baha'u'llah 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.
is nothing in the law of Baha'u'llah 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 Baha'u'llah has laid down for the case of intestate
estates, which ensures distribution of property among a considerable number of
One of the social principles to which Baha'u'llah 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-Baha 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 Baha'u'llah.
He continued: --
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-Baha says: --
bringing about the emancipation of women as in other matters, Baha'u'llah 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 in Persia, Egypt and Syria.
In these countries it is customary for Muhammadan women outside their homes to
wear a veil covering the face. The Bab indicated that in the New Dispensation
women would be relieved from this irksome restraint, but Baha'u'llah 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 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.
Baha'u'llah says that education must be universal: --
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-Baha says: --
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, Baha'u'llah, Who reveals the root principles on which the civilization of the future must be built up. He says: --
Training in arts, sciences, crafts and useful professions is regarded as important and necessary. Baha'u'llah says: --
In a talk on the right method of treating criminals, Abdu'l-Baha spoke as follows: --
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 Baha'u'llah. He writes: