#1: Pilgrim's Note from Ann Boylan
FROM THE TEACHINGS OF ABDU'L-BAHA
Recorded by Ann M. Boylan
Walking today in the gardens by the Hudson River in the early
morning, I had the privilege of being with Abdu'l-Bahá, and I
told Him how some people have tried to spread the untruth
that the Bahá'ís teach "free love."
He answered: "The marriage bond is very important."
He repeated it again: "Very, very important. Marriage must be
strict and pure. You must all be very careful about this."
He continued: "Women and men must not embrace each other
when not married, or not about to be married. They must not
kiss each other. If women kiss women, that is not bad. If men
kiss men, that is not bad. But men and women must not embrace.
Such conduct is not taught in the Bahá'í Revelation. AND IT
MUST NOT BE DONE. IT IS NOT PERMITTED. If they
wish to greet each other, or comfort each other, they may take
each other by the hand.
"Describe how you have seen the women of the East, as in Haifa.
The Blessed Beauty directed that there should be great modesty
in the women, that they should not bare the neck and bosom,
and that the women in the East should wear a veil.*
"The conditions are different in the West, but the women of the West must
see the spiritual significance of this Teaching. Do not distress them by
saying that they should not have done this or that. They will see by
themselves. Talk about this only, so to speak, one by one, with the
friends, when you have the opportunity."
Notes of a talk with
Abdu'l-Bahá, New York City, June 7, 1912
*Editor's note [J.W., 2003]: The meaning of this statement about the veil
can be understood via reference to this passage from J.E. Esslemont's
Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, pp. 149-150:
"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 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 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."
#2: Letter from John B. Cornell to The Guardian
Laguna Honda Home
San Francisco 16, California
September 21, 1947
Beloved Shoghi Effendi,
These questions have perplexed me and a number of my
1. Some of the friends consider that your letter of February
23, 1924, means that local and national assemblies are infallible,
or at least not to be criticized, even in the business discussions
of the 19-Day Feast. If the assembly decision is "the voice of
truth, never to be challenged . . . its verdict truly inspired," does
this mean infallibility, with its implications of no need for community
or other advice and of the heretical nature of any criticism of an
assembly policy or decision?
When `Abdu'l-Bahá says that it is better to agree on a subject
even though it be wrong than to disagree and be in the right, does
He refer only to co-ordinating our actions or does He mean (by this
and by ". . . if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should
arise . . .") that we should also avoid disagreeing with anyone in
assembly or community consultations?
2. Does the desirability of unanimity in assembly decisions imply
that a member with a minority opinion should vote against his
conscience? If he feels very strongly that the other eight members
were wrong may he, while obedient to the majority decision, bring
the matter up at a subsequent assembly meeting and try to persuade
the others to his point of view; or does the instruction to not "object
to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, a decision arrived at
previously" preclude such reconsideration?
Some societies have artificial methods of achieving unanimity, such
as motions "that the secretary be directed to cast a unanimous ballot."
Is it proper, where the "voice of the majority" is regarded as "the voice
of truth, never to be challenged," for an assembly to achieve a
unanimous vote by taking a revote following a majority decision,
in which case it is considered wrong for anyone to vote opposed
once the voice of truth has been discovered and established?
3. Although the principle of chastity has been strongly emphasized,
I have been unable to find any authoritative writings that explain
clearly enough what it means for Bahá'ís. English dictionaries define
chastity as freedom from unlawful sexual intercourse, and no believer
doubts this requirement, so that free love, companionate marriage,
etc., are regarded as wrong. However, not all can agree on whether
any of the forms of sexual activity which stop short of intercourse are
forbidden. A pilgrim's note by Ann Boylan reports the Master as
saying: "Women and men must not embrace each other when not
married, or not about to be married. They must not kiss each other . . .
If they wish to greet each other, or comfort each other, they may take
each other by the hand." Many believers do not know this or do not
believe it. The term, "easy familiarity," is thought by many to mean
simply rudeness and not applicable to invited or accepted
demonstrations. Even some of the most unquestionably loyal
follow the Christian custom of "kissing the bride" at Bahá'í weddings.
Would you explain for us what our conduct should be in order to
uphold the Bahá'í concept of chastity?
Do you give your permission to publication of your answers to
the above questions in "Bahá'í News"?
Yours in His service,
(Signed) John Bernard Cornell
John Bernard Cornell
#3: Response from the Guardian to John. B. Cornell:
Written on his behalf by R. Rabbani (Ruhiyyih Khanum?), with a note of encouragement by Shoghi Effendi
Oct. 19, 1947
Dear Bahá'í Brother:
Your letter dated Sept. 21st has been received and our beloved
Guardian has instructed me to answer it on his behalf.
Regarding your questions: No. 1. There are only two institutions
which are infallible, one is the guardianship, the other the International
House of Justice. What the Master desired to protect
the friends against was continual bickering and opinionatedness.
A believer can ask the Assembly why they made a certain decision
and politely request them to reconsider. But then he must leave it
at that, and not go on disrupting local affairs through insisting on his
own views. This applies to an Assembly member as well. We all
have a right to our opinions, we are bound to think differently; but
a Bahá'í must accept the majority decision of his Assembly, realizing
that acceptance and harmony--even if a mistake has been made--
are the really important things, and when we serve the Cause properly,
in the Bahá'í way, God will right any wrongs done in the end.
No. 2. Bahá'ís are not required to vote on an Assembly against
their consciences. It is better if they submit to the majority view
and make it unanimous. But they are not forced to. What they
must do, however, is to abide by the majority decision, as this is
what becomes effective. They must not go around undermining
the Assembly by saying they disagreed with the majority. In other
words, they must put the Cause first and not their own opinions.
He (an S.A. member) can ask the Assembly to reconsider a matter,
but he has no right to force them or create inharmony because they
won't change. Unanimous votes are preferable, but certainly cannot
be forced upon Assembly members by artificial methods such as are
used by other societies.
What Bahá'u'lláh means by chastity certainly does not include the
kissing that goes on in modern society. It is detrimental to the morals
of young people, and often leads them to go too far, or arouses
appetites which they cannot perhaps at the time satisfy legitimately
through marriage, and the suppression of which is a strain on them.
The Bahá'í standard is very high, more particularly when compared
with the thoroughly rotten morals of the present world. But this
standard of ours will produce healthier, happier, nobler people,
and induce stabler marriages. The Master's words to Ann Boylan,
which you quoted, can certainly be taken as the true spirit of the
teachings on the subject of sex. We must strive to achieve this
Assuring you of his loving prayers for the success of your
With warm greetings,
P.S. If the N.S.A. wish to publish this in Bahá'í News he has
May the Beloved bless your efforts, guide your steps, and
enable you to promote the best interests of His Faith,
Your true brother
#4: Letter from the Universal House of Justice quoting #1 and #3
February 10, 1974
From: Universal House of Justice
To: National Spiritual Assembly of the United States
We have your letter...asking about a Tablet of
'Abdu'l-Bahá on the subject of embracing. We have seen no
such Tablet, but we have seen reference to a pilgrim's note and
the comment of the beloved Guardian on it.
The pilgrim's note reports the Master as saying: 'Women and
men must not embrace each other when not married, or not about
to be married. They must not kiss each other....If they wish to greet
each other, or comfort each other, they may take each other by
In a letter to an individual written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi
it is said: 'The Master's words to..., which you quoted, can
certainly be taken as the true spirit of the teachings on the subject
of sex. We must strive to achieve this exalted standard.'
(Bahá'í National Review, June, 1979, p. 5; partially cited in
Lights of Guidance, pp. 440-441)