Address at Queen's Birthday Weekend Conference, Aukland
Intro: Dr. Peter Khan gave the keynote address at the National Teaching Committee's conference in Auckland over Queen's Birthday weekend. Dr. Khan spoke about the New Zealand Bahá'í community in the perspective of the world-wide progress of the Faith. His survey of the Faith's recent achievements and future prospects was immensely encouraging. At the same time, the significant challenges he identified for the community to face, were deeply challenging. The supreme need at this time, he said, is to develop a "heightened spiritual consciousness".
INTRODUCTIONDr. Khan began by introducing his topic, which had two parts. First, where the Faith has progressed over the past few years, and second, what is most needed in the near and longer-term future.
CONDITION OF THE FAITH AROUND THE WORLD AT THE PRESENT TIMEThe Four Year Plan just ended was far more successful than any other international Bahá'í plan since the Ten Year Crusade (which ended in 1963). The Ten Year Crusade stands unique. But since that time no Bahá'í plan has been as significant or as rich in accomplishment as the plan just concluded. The accomplishments took place on several fronts.
Spread of Faith and rise in receptivity
During the Four Year Plan, the Bahá'í community has succeeded in spreading the Faith to all parts of the world both near and far. It is surprising to world leaders and dignitaries visiting the Bahá'í World Centre to discover how far we have managed to spread the Faith and maintain its work, even in difficult environments. For example, Cuba, Mozambique, and the Sudan all sustained their National Spiritual Assemblies despite the internal difficulties of those countries. Pitcairn Island has been opened by two Bahá'ís from New Zealand who secured positions there. This was one of the last remaining spots on the globe where it had been difficult for Bahá'ís to gain entry and live there, so this was a great achievement by the New Zealand community. Together with that geographical spread of the Faith, there has been a distinct rise in receptivity to the Bahá'í Faith, particularly in the United States. As the result of an effective and comprehensive publicity campaign, enquirers made 60,000 calls to ask for information. However, these calls were significant not just in quantity but also for the high calibre of the enquiries, which were often far more in depth and serious than was usual in the past, including such matters as "where can we send our children to Bahá'í children's classes", and learning about the spiritual virtues of the Faith. There is a growing discernible interest in learning about the Faith in the Western world. If this sense of growth is not apparent in New Zealand yet, it surely will be, as the rest of the world is caught up in this.
Completion of Arc projects
Financial sacrifices by the believers around the Bahá'í world have brought us to the completion of the Mount Carmel projects, which are now in their final stages. No matter how many visual representations one sees, nothing can compare with the impact of actually seeing the one kilometre of the Terraces stretching from the foot of the mountain to the top. The House of Justice may choose to comment on the financial aspects of the projects at a later date. However, what can be said now is that despite high quality of all the work completed, coupled with many difficulties, including inflation, upheavals such as missiles during the Gulf War, and so forth, the project has been carried out in a highly economical manner.
Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the ornaments and buildings on the Arc and Terraces are only material objects, and therefore of secondary importance. The most important aspect is not the beauty of the buildings and gardens, but that the prophecies of Isaiah have been fulfilled. This is an event of great spiritual significance. Generations in the future will be amazed at what the Bahá'ís have accomplished at this time. We must beware not to let the physical magnificence divert us from the spiritual significance.
Triumph over persecution
Another notable feature of the Four Year Plan period is that the Faith has demonstrated its ability to triumph over extreme persecution in Iran. It has now become apparent that all the efforts to stamp out the Faith in Iran not only fail but prove to be counterproductive (from the perspective of those who wish to oppose the Faith). There are now indications that our opponents are realising this. Their effort to eradicate the Faith has instead resulted in greater knowledge of it around the world. For example, a British parliamentary group crossing party lines, "Friends of the Bahá'í Faith in the House of Commons" was initiated by Members of Parliament themselves, as a result of this. When will this persecution end? Dr. Khan pointed out that the House of Justice cannot say. It is divinely guided but not omniscient. It is not a prophetic body. What we can be sure of is that the persecutions are leading to greater victories for the Cause that you or I can possible imagine or predict.
Cultural change in the Bahá'í community
Further evidence of a new level of progress is the major change of tone or emphasis which has taken place in the Bahá'í community, towards acquiring a systematic knowledge of the Faith through study circles, institutes, and so forth. This has introduced a new element into the life of the community. As yet, about 100,000 people have participated in some type of organised learning. This is a most impressive accomplishment, but no more than a very good beginning, considering that there are considered to be five to six million Bahá'ís in the world. Systematic deepening and training will be a fundamental element of Bahá'í activity and life in the future.
Increase in the stature of the Faith
There has been a notable increase in the stature of the Faith in the public eye. Among the signs of this is that Bahá'ís played an important role in organising the Millennium Forum of non-governmental organisations at the United Nations recently. This is an example of how non-governmental organisations have a great deal of respect for the Bahá'ís.
Another significant event was Bahá'í participation in an inter-faith gathering organised by the Catholic Church to welcome the Pope when he visited New Delhi recently. This has far reaching consequences. Previously, Bahá'ís had either not been admitted, or admitted as observers only, at Roman Catholic gatherings of this nature. At this gathering, the Bahá'í representative, Counsellor Zena Sorabjee, was the only woman to address an overwhelmingly male gathering. She spoke briefly, quoting from the Words of Bahá'u'lláh, and added a few words of comment on religious unity. Afterwards, she found herself surrounded by an informal group of senior clergymen who wanted a copy of her speech. She was asked as to where she had studied theology!
Similarly, Bahá'ís in Capetown, South Africa, were asked to help in the organisation of the World Parliament of Religions, and took a prominent role in the proceedings. Dr. Robert Henderson, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, was selected by his fellow delegates as a spokesperson for the gathering.
PRESSING ISSUESOur purpose
Turning to the needs--the pressing issues--that the Bahá'í community must address now, Dr. Khan began by reminding the listeners that our purpose lies in building the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, which is the matrix for the development of world civilisation. In this divine World Order, generations to come will find justice and unity. It rests upon the foundation of the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas. In the unfoldment of the World Order, there are three themes which interact one with another and must be pursued together progressively. These are:
Vast amounts of work will occupy us for centuries to come to build on the foundations which have been established.
A heightened sense of spiritual consciousness
At this stage in our development, there is one supreme great need for the Bahá'í world, particularly the Western world. This most pressing need at the present time and in the years to come is a simple one, and a very difficult one: "to develop a heightened sense of spiritual consciousness".
Today, society is measuring everything by material standards. Indeed, it is becoming more and more so-inclined. Therefore, Bahá'ís have to swim against the tide. We have to develop ourselves into people who have a deep and ever-present awareness of the spiritual purpose of our creation and our spiritual life.
We are here on this earth to develop our spiritual essence. We have a responsibility and a duty to develop a heightened sense of spiritual consciousness, and if we don't we will be swept away on the tide of materialism. Regrettably, this is already happening, as a few are becoming bitter, disillusioned, and drifting away from the Bahá'í community. This can be seen as a result of the failure of these individuals in their duty to develop this heightened sense of spiritual consciousness. It will happen to us, too, if we do not cultivate our spirituality.
To protect ourselves, we must attend to the spiritual disciplines such as obligatory prayer, the law of fasting, scrupulous attention to reading the Writings each day, deepening our understanding of the Cause, observance of the law of Huququ'llah, following the prescriptions of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and participation in Bahá'í community life. A persistent and devoted effort through these means, can transform us into spiritual beings in our outlook on life, and our way of thinking.
The whole question of obedience to the laws of the Faith is not a rational issue but a spiritual issue. A spiritual perspective must be present which leads the believer to say, not "why must I do this?", but acknowledge that "He doeth whatsoever He willeth".* Even if we don't understand the reasons why, we must follow the laws. Obedience to the Covenant and the Central Body of the Cause (at this time the Universal House of Justice) is a spiritual issue, not a logical one. It is a sense of spiritual perspective which allows us to accept the concept that the decisions of the Universal House of Justice are divinely guided by the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, and are freed from error. This perspective rests on acceptance of the claim of Bahá'u'lláh to be a Manifestation of God.
Moral life of the Bahá'í community
One of the most pressing needs is a big improvement in the moral life. This situation exists in the New Zealand Bahá'í community, along with a number of other countries which face similar challenges.
A far greater commitment is needed than we have at the present time, to the moral and ethical teachings of the Faith, particularly regarding a chaste and holy life, rectitude of conduct, freedom from narcotics and avoidance of criminal activities. A big improvement in the moral character of the believers should be given the highest priority in the New Zealand community, especially among the youth, but not only the young people-in fact by all members of the community. So serious is this matter, that if the necessary improvement does not occur, the community will disintegrate, and large numbers will drift from the Faith.
Local Spiritual Assemblies have a responsibility to administer Bahá'í law with justice and fairness, but in a resolute way. It is not right for Local Spiritual Assemblies to close their eyes to delinquencies of Bahá'í law. Assembly members, when performing their role, must resist the tendency to shut their eyes, being tempted to think "who am I to judge, I have my own weaknesses". This is different from the duty of believers as individuals, who should not judge each other. The institutions must preserve the purity and integrity of the Faith. Failure to administer justice will lead to weakening of the fibre of the community and lead to serious consequences. An example was given from another country, involving criminal behaviour with a fatal outcome--which indicated just how dangerous it can be for the individual and the community, when a Local Spiritual Assembly ignores a flagrant problem and lets it get worse and worse.
New Zealand is at a point where the Local Spiritual Assemblies must give far greater attention to enforcement of Bahá'í laws.
On the other hand, ultimately, if people say they don't like the laws and they don't want to be part of the Faith, that is between them and God. Whether or not to be a Bahá'í is something that individuals decide for themselves.
Attention to the systematic Bahá'í education of children is important. As the Universal House of Justice has pointed out in the recent Ridvan message, we must avoid having children grow up undisciplined, and unaware of the Faith. Children of Bahá'í parents ought to grow up with a sound knowledge of the Faith, and display behaviours which are consistent with the Bahá'í teachings. If we wait until the children are 14 or 15 it is probably too late for attempts at systematic Bahá'í education to be effective, and those children will probably be lost. It is therefore important to concentrate on the younger ones.
Deepening in the Covenant
A central aspect of the prevailing need for spiritualisation is a greater commitment on the part of the friends to deepen in the Covenant. This implies much more than learning the names of the various administrative bodies of the Faith and what they do. What is required is a philosophic understanding of the role of authority in religion. Such deepening in the Covenant is needed in all countries of the world, but particularly in New Zealand. Recently the Universal House of Justice has been deeply disturbed to receive letters from a few believers in New Zealand, written in distasteful language, because these individuals have disagreed with the House of Justice's actions on a particular matter.
In contrast to the situation in New Zealand, what is normal is to have a number of Bahá'ís in the community who have a good knowledge of the Covenant who can share the knowledge with the rest of the community. Sharp, urgent, and prolonged attention to a far greater understanding of the Covenant, is called for.
Study of the writings of Shoghi Effendi
A key to the strengthening and protection of the community is for the believers to get a deep insight into the profound wisdom of the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. His writings are not being studied nearly well enough. We need people in this country to study and master these writings, especially Shoghi Effendi's books from the 1930s and 1940s. (Some of these books are described on page 2 of this newsletter). If this happens, the New Zealand Bahá'í community will become spiritually strong, gain a sense of spiritual integrity, a sense of holiness, and of commitment. The authority of the Faith will grow, which will bring in vast numbers of people.
There is a challenge before New Zealand at this time--if it is not met or only partially met, this will see difficulties increase. Dr. Khan said it was up to those in the room and others to arise to this challenge. "It is up to you", he said.