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Published as Section 6 of Bahá'í World 18, preceding a section on "Relationship to Government."
See Bahá'í World volume 18 table of contents.

The Non-Political Character of the Bahá'í Faith:
Excerpts from the Writings of Shoghi Effendi

by Shoghi Effendi

published in Bahá'í World, Vol. 18 (1979-1983), pages 589-594
Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1986
page 589

THE Bahá'í principles clearly define and explain the non-political character of the Faith, and serve as a guide for conduct in the relations of Bahá'ís with one another, with their fellow men, and in their relations with different departments of the civil government. A brief summary of excerpts from the Bahá'í Writings will show that non-participation in political affairs is one of the basic axioms of Bahá'í action.

   The keynote to this theme may be found in the Writings of Bahá`u'lláh. He has stated:       That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. In another passage He hath proclaimed: It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.1

   Sow not the seeds of discord among men, and refrain from contending with your neighbour . . . Open, O people, the city of the human heart with the key of your utterance . . .

    That which beseemeth you is the love of God, and the love of Him Who is the Manifestation of His Essence, and the observance of whatsoever He chooseth to prescribe unto you, did ye but know it.

    Say:  Let truthfulness and courtesy be your adorning. Suffer not yourselves to be deprived of the robe of forbearance and justice, that the sweet savours of holiness may be wafted from your hearts upon all created things. Say: Beware, O people of Bahá, lest ye walk in the ways of them whose words differ from their deeds. Strive that ye may be enabled to manifest to the peoples of the earth the signs of God, and to mirror forth His commandments. Let your acts be a guide unto all mankind, for the professions of most men, be they high or low, differ from their conduct. It is through your deeds that ye can distinguish yourselves from others. Through them the brightness of your light can be shed upon the whole earth . . .2

    The aim of the Faith is to produce the reality of virtue in souls and evolve institutions capable of dealing with social matters justly, in the light of the revealed truths. This is entirely distinct from the province filled by partisan civil institutions.

    `Abdu'l-Bahá counseled the Bahá`ís from the early beginnings of the American Bahá`í community not to discuss political affairs.

    . . . All conferences (i.e., all consultation and discussion) must be regarding the matters of benefit, both as a whole and individually, such as the guarding of all in all cases, their protection and preservation, the improvement of character, the training of children, etc.

    If any person wishes to speak of government affairs, or to interfere with the order of government, the others must not combine with him because the Cause of God is withdrawn entirely from political affairs; the political realm pertains only to the Rulers of those matters; it has nothing to do with the souls who are exerting their utmost energy to harmonizing affairs, helping character and inciting (the people) to strive for perfections. Therefore no soul is allowed to interfere with (political) matters, but only in that which is commanded.3

    With the development of a world-wide administrative structure within the Bahá`í Faith, institutions have been set up in national and local areas which assure the unity and integrity of the Faith. In unfolding these

    1 Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá`u'lláh, p. 250.

    2 ibid., pp. 303-305.

    3 Bahá`í World Faith, p. 407.

page 590

administrative institutions Shoghi Effendi has reiterated the importance of the non-political character of the Bahá`í teachings in a letter written 21 March 1932, to the Bahá`ís of the United States and Canada:

    `I feel it, therefore, incumbent upon me to stress, now that the time is ripe, the importance of an instruction which, at the present stage of the evolution of our Faith, should be increasingly emphasized, irrespective of its application to the East or to the West. And this principle is no other than that which involves the non-participation by the adherents of the Faith of Bahá`u'lláh, whether in their individual capacities or collectively as Local or National Assemblies, in any form of activity that might be interpreted, either directly or indirectly, as an interference in the political affairs of any particular government. Whether it be in the publications which they initiate and supervise; or in their official and public deliberations; or in the posts they occupy and in the services they render; or in the communications they address to their fellow-disciples; or in their dealings with men of eminence and authority; or in their affiliations with kindred societies and rganizations, it is, I am firmly convinced, their first and sacred obligation to abstain from any word or deed that might be construed as a violation of this vital principle. Theirs is the duty to demonstrate, on one hand, their unqualified loyalty and obedience to whatever is the considered judgement of their respective governments.

    `Let them refrain from associating themselves, whether by word or by deed, with the political pursuits of their respective nations, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programmes of parties and factions. In such controversies they should assign no blame, take no side, further no design, and identify themselves with no system prejudicial to the best interests of that worldwide Fellowship which it is their aim to guard and foster. Let them beware lest they allow themselves to become the tools of unscrupulous politicians, or to be entrapped by the treacherous devices of the plotters and the perfidious among their countrymen. Let them so shape their lives and regulate their conduct that no charge of secrecy, of fraud, of bribery, or of intimidation may, however ill-founded, be brought against them. Let them rise above all particularism and partisanship, above the vain disputes, the petty calculations, the transient passions that agitate the face, and engage the attention, of a changing world. It is their duty to try to distinguish, as clearly as they possibly can, and if needed with the aid of their elected representatives, such posts and functions as are either diplomatic or political from those that are purely administrative in character, and which under no circumstances are affected by the changes and chances that political activities and party government, in every land, must necessarily involve. Let them affirm their unyielding determination to stand, firmly and unreservedly, for the way of Bahá`u'lláh, to avoid the entanglements and bickerings inseparable from the pursuits of the politician, and to become worthy agencies of that Divine Polity which incarnates God's immutable Purpose for all men.

    ``It should be made unmistakably clear that such an attitude implies neither the slightest indifference to the cause and interests of their own country, nor involves any insubordination on their part to the authority of recognized and established governments. Nor does it constitute a repudiation of their sacred obligation to promote, in the most effective manner, the best interests of their government and people. It indicates the desire cherished by every true and loyal follower of Bahá`u'lláh to serve, in an uselfish, unostentatious and patriotic fashion, the highest interests of the country to which he belongs, and in a way that would entail no departure from the high standards of integrity and truthfulness associated with the teachings of his Faith.

    `As the number of the Bahá'í communities in various parts of the world multiplies and their power, as a social force, becomes increasingly apparent, they will no doubt find themselves increasingly subjected to the pressure which men of authority and influence, in the political domain, will exercise in the hope of obtaining the support they require for the advancement of their aims. These communities will moreover, feel a growing need of the good-will and the assistance of their respective governments in their efforts to widen the scope, and to consolidate the foundations, of the institutions committed to their charge. Let them beware lest, in their eagerness to further the aims of their beloved Cause, they should be led unwittingly to bargain with their Faith, to compro-

page 591

mise with their essential principles, or to sacrifice, in return for any material advantage which their institutions may derive, the integrity of their spiritual ideals. Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Bahá`u'lláh, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments. Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavouring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.

    `It should also be borne in mind that the very extension of the activities in which we are engaged, and the variety of the communities which labour under divers forms of government so essentially differrent in their standards, policies, and methods, make it absolutely essential for all those who are the declared members of any one of these communities to avoid any action that might, by arousing the suspicion or exciting the antagonism of any one government, involve their brethren in fresh persecutions or complicate the nature of their task. How else, might I ask, could such a far-flung Faith, which transcends political and social boundaries, which includes within its pale so great a variety of races and nations, which will have to rely increasingly, as it forges ahead, on the good will and support of the diversified and contending governments of the earth--how else could such a Faith succeed in preserving its unity, in safeguarding its interests, and in ensuring the steady and oeaceful development of its institutions?

    `Such an attitude, however, is not dictated by considerations of selfish expediency, but is actuated, first and foremost, by the broad principle that the followers of Bahá`u'lláh will, under no circumstances, suffer themselves to be involved, whether as individuals or in their executive capacities, in matters that would entail the slightest departure from the fundamental verities and ideals of their Faith. Neither the charges which the uninformed and the malicious may be led to bring against them, nor the allurements of honours and rewards, will ever induce them to surrender their trust or to deviate from their path. Let their words proclaim, and their conduct testify, that they who follow Bahá`u'lláh, in whatever land they reside, are actuated by no selfish ambition, that they neither thirst for power, nor mind any wave of unpopularity, of distrust or citicism, which a strict adherence to their standards might provoke.'1

    And again:  `The Bahá'í Faith as it forges ahead throughout the western world and particularly in lands where the political machinery is corrupt and political passions and prejudices are dominant among the masses, should increasingly assert and demonstrate the fact that it is non-political in character, that it stands above the party, that it is neither apathetic to national interests nor opposed to any party or faction, and that it seeks through administrative channels, rather than through diplomatic and political posts to establish, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the capacity, the sane patriotism, the integrity and high-mindedness of its avowed adherents. This is the general and vital principle; it is for the National representatives to apply it with fidelity and vigour.'2

    These instructions raised the question whether Bahá'ís should vote in any public election. A Tablet revealed by `Abdu'l-Bahá to Mr. Thornton Chase was sent to the Guardian, and the following reply was received, dated 26 January 1933:

    `The Guardian fully recognizes the authenticity and controlling influence of this instruction from `Abdu'l-Bahá upon the question. He, however, feels under the responsibility of stating that the attitude taken by the Master (that is, that American citizens are in duty bound to vote in public elections) implies certain reservations. He, therefore, lays it upon the individual conscience to see that in following the Master's instructions no Bahá'í vote for an officer nor Bahá'í participation in the affairs of the Republic shall involve acceptance by that individual of a programme or policy that contravenes any vital principle, spiritual or social, of the Faith.'  The Guardian added to this letter the following postrscript:  `I feel it incumbent upon me to clarify the above statement, written

    1 The World Order of Bahá`u'lláh,pp. 64-67.

    2 U.S. Bahá'í News, December 1932.

page 592

in my behalf, by stating that no vote cast, or office undertaken, by a Bahá'í should necessarily constitute acceptance, by the voter or office holder, of the entire programme of any political party. No Bahá'í can be regarded as either a Republican or Democrat, as such. He is, above all else, the supporter of the principles enunciated by Bahá`u'lláh, with which, I am firmly convinced, the programme of no political party is completely harmonious.'1

    In a letter dated 16 March 1933, the Guardian sent these further details:

    `As regards the non-political character of the Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi feels that there is no contradiction whatsoever between the Tablet (to Thornton Chase, referred to above) and the reservations to which he has referred. The Master surely never desired the friends to use their influence towards the realization and promotion of policies contrary to any of the principles of the Faith. The friends may vote, if they can do it, without identifying themselves with one party or another. To enter the arena of party politics is surely dewtrimental to the best interests of the Faith and will harm the Cause. It remains for the individuals to so use their right to vote as to keep aloof from party politics, and always bear in mind that they are voting on the merits of the individual, rather than because he belongs to one party or another. The matter must be made perfectly clear to the individuals, who will be left free to exercise their discretion and judgement. But if a certain person does enter into party politics and labours for the ascendancy of one party over another, and continues to do it against the expressed appeals and warnings of the Assembly, then the Assembly has the right to refuse him the right to vote in Bahá elections.'2

    That this principle, as do all Bahá principles, has world-wide application is made clear by Shoghi Effendi in a letter dated 11 March 1936.

    `The Faith of Bahá`u'lláh has assimilated, by virtue of its creative, its regulative and ennobling energies, the varied races, nationalities, creeds and classes that have sought its shadow, and have pledged unswerving fealty to its cause.It has changed the hearts of its adherents, burned away their prejudices, stiilled their passions, exalted their conceptions, enobled their motives, co-ordinated their efforts, and transformed their outlook. While preserving their patriotism and safeguarding their lesser loyalties, it has made them lovers of mankind, and the determined upholders of its best and truest interests. While maintaining intact their belief in the Divine origin of their respective religions, it has enabled them to visualize the underlying purpose of these religions, to discover their merits, to recognize their sequence, their interdependence, their wholeness and unity and to acknowledge the bond that vitally links them to itself. This universal, this transcending love which the followers of the Bahá Faith feel for their fellow-men, of whatever race, creed, class or nation, is neither mysterious nor can it be said to have been artificially stimulated. It is both spontaneous and genuine. They whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God's creative love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognize in every human face a sign of His reflected glory.

    `Of such men and women it may be truly said that to them "every foreign land is a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land." For their citizenship, it must be remembered, is in the Kingdom of Bahá`u'lláh. Though willing to share to the utmost the temporal benefits and the fleeting joys which this earthly life can confer, though eager to participate in whatever activity that conduces to the richness, the happiness and peace of that life, they can, at no time, forget that it constitutes no more than a transient, a very brief stage of their existence, that they who live it are but pilgrims and wayfarers whose goal is the Celestial City, and whose home the Country of never-failing joy and brightness.

    `Though loyal to their respective governments, though profoundly interested in anything that affects their security and welfare, though anxious to share in whatever promotes their best interests, the Faith with which the followers of Bahá`u'lláh stand identified is one which they firmly believe that God has raised high above the storms, the divisions, and controversies of the political arena. Their Faith they conceive to be essentially non-political, supra-national in character, rigidly non-partisan, and entirely dissociated from nationalistic ambitions, pursuits and purposes. Such a Faith knows no division of class or of party. It sub-

    1 U.S. Bahá'í News, April 1933.

    2 ibid., January 1934.

page 593

ordinates, without hesitation or equivocation, every particularistic interest, be it personal, regional, or national to the paramount interests of humanity, firmly convinced that in a world of interdependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected.'1

    The unity of Bahá'í action throughout the world is further emphasized in a letter from Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'ís of Vienna, written in 1947 through his secretary, in which he said in part:

    `We Bahá'ís are one the world over; we are seeking to build up a new world order, divine in origin. How can we do this if every Bahá'í is a member of a different political party--some of them diametrically opposite to each other? Where is our unity then? We would be divided because of politics, against ourselves and this is the opposite of our purpose. Obviously if one Bahá'í in Austria is given freedom to choose a political party and join it, however good its aims may be, another Bahá'í in Japan or America, or India, has the right to do the same thing and he might belong to a party the very opposite in principle to that which the Austrian Bahá'í belongs to. Where would be the unity of the Faith then? These two spiritual brothers would be working against each other because of their political affiliations (as the Christians of Europe have been doing in so many fratricidal wars). The best way for a Bahá'í to serve his country and the world is to work for the establishment of Bahá`u'lláh's World Order, which will gradually unite all men and do away with divisive political systems and religious creeds . . .'2

    In the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá the Bahá'ís are instructed to obey and be the well-wishers of the governments of the land, regard disloyalty to a just king as disloyalty to God Himself and wishing evil to the government a transgression of the Cause of God.3 In explanation of this statement the Guardian wrote, in a letter dated 3 July 1948:

    `Regarding your question about politics and the Master's Will:  the attitude of the Bahá'ís must be twofold, complete obedience to the government of the country they reside in, and no interference whatsoever in political matters or questions. What the Master's statement really means is obedience to a duly constituted government, whatever that government may be in form. We are not the ones, as individual Bahá'ís, to judge our government as just or unjust--for each believer would be sure to hold a different viewpoint, and within our own Bahá'í fold a hotbed of dissention would spring up and destroy our unity. We must build up our Bahá'í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their way. We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us.'4

    Another application of this principle concerns the right, propriety or usefulness of exerting Bahá'í influence for the enactment of legislative measures reflecting more or less the purpose of some Bahá'í principle or teaching. For example, should a Bahá'í community, local or national, lend the name of the Bahá'í Faith to support legislation which seeks to abolish race and religious discrimination in matters of industrial employment, or intervene when measures concerning military training of youth are before a legislature?

    The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States has stated that, `as a general policy subject to the Guardian's specific direction in special cases, Bahá'ís and their administrative institutions should not feel obligated to adopt a "Bahá'í" attitude or course of action on matters of civil legislation. Our teachings and basic principles speak for themselves. These we can always declare and set forth with all possible energy whenever occasions arise. But a truth which is sundered from its sustaining spiritual Source, lifted out of its organic relationship to the Bahá'í community, broken off from the other truths, and made subject to the storm and stress of secular controversy, is no longer a truth with which we can usefully have concern. It has become an enactment to be carried out by institutions and groups committed to other enactments, other aims and purposes and methods not in conformity with the "Divine Polity" entrusted to those alone who give full loyalty to Bahá`u'lláh. Far better for us to strive to mirror forth radiantly the individual and community virtues and a new era than to hope that others than

    1 The World Order of Bahá`u'lláh, pp. 197-198.

    2 U.S. Bahá'í News, April 1949.

    3 Bahá'í Administration (1960 ed.), p. 4.

    4 U.S. Bahá'í News, January 1949.

page 594

believers will achieve the holy mission of the Faith. We Bahá'ís have in reality accepted a world order and not merely a new decalogue of truths or commands. On the other hand, obedience to civil government is an obligation laid by Bahá`u'lláh upon every Bahá'í.'1

    Shoghi Effendi points out, as a guiding principle of Bahá'í conduct, that `in connection with their administrative activities, no matter how grievously interference with them might affect the course of the existence of the Movement, and the suspension of which does not constitute in itself a departure from the principle of loyalty to their Faith, the considered judgement and authoritative decrees issued by their responsible rulers must, if they be faithful to Bahá`u'lláh's and `Abdu'l-Bahá's express injunctions, be thoroughly respected and loyally obeyed. In matters, however, that vitally affect the integrity and honour of the Faith of Bahá`u'lláh and are tantamount to a recantation of their faith and repudiation of their innermost belief, they [the Bahá'&iacurity of their conviction, that no power on earth, neither the arts of the most insidious adversary nor the bloody weapons of the most tyrannical oppressor, can ever succeed in extorting from them a word or deed that might tend to stifle the voice of their consciete;s] are convinced, and are unhesitatingly prepared to vindicate by their life-blood the sincence or tarnish the purity of their faith.2

    `Small wonder if by the Pen of Bahá`u'lláh these pregnant words, written in anticipation of the present state of mankind, should have been revealed:  It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens. And again, That one indeed is a man who today dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. Through the power released by these exalted words, He explains, 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.'3

    1 The Bahá'í World, vol. X, pp.278-179.

    2 Bahá'í Administration (1960 ed.), p. 162.

    3 The World Order of Bahá`u'lláh, p. 198.

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