In the Holy Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad enjoins the law of Pilgrimage. And unlike the Baha'i Pilgrimage which occurs throughout the course of the year, in the Muslim Pilgrimage, all the pilgrims go at one time.
Social scientists more than a thousand years later have observed the effects of the Hajj on the Muslim world, and they have discovered that the Pilgrimage served a unique and remarkable purpose. It was a unique gathering-- there was nothing else like it on the face of the earth. Pilgrims came from China in the East, and from Spain in the West, and everywhere in between. And as a result of their being together for the period of Pilgrimage, and for the days preceding and following it, it took only one year for news and inventions and social advancements of all kinds, to spread from one end of the Islamic Empire to the other. And in those days, this was absolutely unique, and it set Muslim society above and apart from the rest of the world.
Muhammad did not say in the Qur'an, "Go on Pilgrimage because it will establish a means of communication, which is necessary for the advancement of society." No, He only presented this as having spiritual benefits to the pilgrims. But the Manifestation of God in each Age is the Physician for that age, and He brings what is needed for not only the spiritual, but also for the social and intellectual advancement of humanity. The Prophet Muhammad is the nation-builder, and He brought the essentials of what is needed for the nation. A part of that is a method for sharing; and the annual Hajj served as a kind of nervous system for the entire Muslim world before newspapers and telegraphs were invented. It brought messages to the center, and then back out again.
In the late 1840's there was a Hungarian physician, named Ignaz Semmelweis, who was dedicated to cleanliness. At the time the number of women delivering babies who died in the hospitals was higher than if they gave birth at home. One of the reasons was, that physicians often went from performing autopsies on dead bodies, to the maternity ward to deliver babies, without washing their hands. Up to that time, germs had not yet been discovered by science. Semmelweis instructed the medical students at his hospital to wash their hands after performing autopsies. He then went to the Vienna Medical Society and presented his findings. He produced scientific proof that the death rate among mothers and newborns plummeted, if the physicians simply washed their hands upon entering the maternity ward. Semmelweis was laughed to scorn, and was later sent to an insane asylum, where he died a few days later. Now, his contribution is recognized as one of the greatest advances in medicine, something we take for granted today. And science "discovered" just 160 years ago that washing one's hands is beneficial to society.
One of Muhammad's laws revealed almost 1400 years ago, was the law of ablutions. And among the requirements of this law is that, five times per day, the believers would wash their hands and their forearms, all the way up to the elbow. Five times per day the entire Muslim world washed its hands, and just across the Mediterranean, Western society didn't catch up for more than a thousand years. And again, the Prophet Muhammad did not say, "Wash your hands for reasons of public health." He simply made it a law, and couched it in spiritual terms, as a preparation for prayer. But again, the Prophet of God is the divine Physician for His day, and His laws advance society, not only spiritual condition of the individual.
And now we come to the laws of Baha'u'llah, the divine Physician for this Day, and one of His laws is the law requiring that a couple obtain the consent of their parents before they are allowed to marry. In paragraph 65 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha'u'llah says something very interesting about His law:
"It hath been laid down in the Bayan that marriage is dependent upon the consent of both parties. Desiring to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants, We have conditioned it, once the couple's
wish is known, upon the permission of their parents, lest enmity and rancour should arise amongst them. And in this We have yet other purposes."
Humanity will discover, over the centuries, as this law is eventually universally practiced by the human race, what these "other purposes" are. Maybe it will take a thousand years for humanity to realize these other effects. And just as the laws of the hajj and of ablutions in Muhammad's time had a profound effect on society, maybe Baha'u'llah's "personal" laws will also have profound beneficial effects on areas of society where today, we cannot see the connection. Just as the Universal House of Justice pointed out in The Promise of World Peace that the establishment of peace requires a whole range of apparently unrelated principles to be carried out, including the establishment of equality between men and women; perhaps economic matters, or health matters, or human mental health, will be found to be improved by adherence to the parental consent law. And I do not feel that it is only this law of Baha'u'llah that has "other purposes." His laws that are apparently "physical" in nature, will be found to have spiritual effects. And who knows, but that the laws of prayer or fasting or ablutions in this day, will eventually be found to have economic and social effects. All we know is that these laws -- commanding prayer, and fasting, and burying the dead body in a stone or crystal coffin, and providing music as "a ladder for our souls," and prohibiting adultery and homosexual acts and polygamy and the use of intoxicants, and with restrictions on the cut of the hair, and requiring paring of one's nails -- all of His major and minor laws, and all of the laws enacted by the Universal House of Justice under His inspiration, will be found to have effects beyond what we can presently conceive. They are the product of Universal Mind. So it behooves us to practice them consciously, and wholeheartedly, because they are His remedy today; they are an important part of our work for the establishment of peace and justice in the world. And as we practice them, then the Universal House of Justice can tell the world, "Observe the effects of Baha'u'llah's laws on the Baha'is, and their families."
As Abdu'l-Baha told a gathering in New York City:
"The world of humanity may be likened to the individual man himself; it has its illness and ailments. A patient must be diagnosed by a skillful physician. The Prophets of God are the real Physicians. In whatever age or time They appear They prescribe for human conditions. They know the sicknesses; They discover the hidden sources of disease and indicate the necessary remedy. Whosoever is healed by that remedy finds eternal health. For instance, in the day of Jesus Christ the world of humanity was afflicted with various ailments. Jesus Christ was the real Physician. He appeared, recognized the symptoms and prescribed the real remedy. What was that remedy? It was His revealed teaching especially applicable to that age. Later on many new ailments and disorders appeared in the body politic. The world became sick; other severe maladies appeared, especially in the peninsula of Arabia. God manifested Muhammad there. He came and prescribed for the conditions so that the Arabs became healthy, strong and virile in that time.
"In this present age the world of humanity is afflicted with severe sicknesses and grave disorders which threaten death. Therefore, Bahá'u'lláh has appeared. He is the real Physician, bringing divine remedy and healing to the world of man. He has brought teachings for all ailments -- the Hidden Words, Ishraqat, Tarazat, Tajalliyat, Words of Paradise, Glad Tidings, etc. These Holy Words and teachings are the remedy for the body politic, the divine prescription and real cure for the disorders which afflict the world. Therefore, we must accept and partake of this healing remedy in order that complete recovery may be assured. Every soul who lives according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is free from the ailments and indispositions which prevail throughout the world of humanity; otherwise, selfish disorders, intellectual maladies, spiritual sicknesses, imperfections and vices will surround him, and he will not receive the life-giving bounties of God.
"Bahá'u'lláh is the real Physician. He has diagnosed human conditions and indicated the necessary treatment. The essential principles of His healing remedies are the knowledge and love of God, severance from all else save God, turning our faces in sincerity toward the Kingdom of God, implicit faith, firmness and fidelity, loving-kindness toward all creatures and the acquisition of the divine virtues indicated for the human world. These are the fundamental principles of progress, civilization, international peace and the unity of mankind. These are the essentials of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, the secret of everlasting health, the remedy and healing for man.
"It is my hope that you may assist in healing the sick body of the world through these teachings so that eternal radiance may illumine all the nations of mankind."
(The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 204)
All research or scholarship questions
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I wholeheartedly agree with BB; this is a very important subject that needs to be addressed in an independent paper much like what you've written here.
"To be a Bahá'í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood." -- `Abdu'l-Bahá