Bahá'u'lláh's teachings are concerned not just with issues within a particular society but also with global issues. Indeed the Bahá'í teachings maintain that many of the problems that afflict us at present can only be solved if they are tackled at the global level.
In some of his writings, Bahá'u'lláh calls himself the Divine Physician called to diagnose and treat the illness of the world. He says that his diagnosis of the disease afflicting humanity is its disunity. Only by establishing unity can there be peace and prosperity, and only the teachings that he has brought can establish this unity.
Bahá'u'lláh calls on all human beings to set their faces towards unity and to allow its powerful healing effects to cure the ills of society.The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.(1)
The application of this principle of unity would see far-reaching changes in many aspects of community life. Adversarial principles govern many of our social institutions: politics, the courts, business, and even many professional and social activities. To an even greater extent do adversarial principles govern the running of international affairs. When statesmen come together in international bodies such as the United Nations, it is almost axiomatic that their only concern will be what is best for their own country regardless of what effect this may have on the rest of the world. Bahá'u'lláh asserts that this combative approach is undesirable. Society should be regarded as an organism, such as the human body. The organs of the body are different from each other, and yet, for the body to function effectively, the various parts need to work in unity and harmony.(3)Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day-Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.(2)
Many people have misgivings about greater degrees of social unity and integration, fearing the dictatorial power envisaged in Orwell's novel 1984. In fact however, history shows that greater degrees of social unity have led to increasing freedom for individuals to develop their potential and increased safeguards of human rights against oppressive measures taken by those in authority. Thus for example, the present moves towards European unity gives the individual citizen greater rights and freedoms than before: the right to take his or her own government to the European Court of Human Rights, for example.
Bahá'u'lláh sees this coming together of the peoples of the world as an inevitable occurrence. Most of the problems that the world faces (including environmental pollution, desertification, global warming, and the gap between the rich and poor nations) are only soluble if they are dealt with at a global level. These problems will therefore continue to get worse until the world wakes up to this fact.
Unity is of various kinds. Limited unities, such as unity based on a common language, a common nationality, or a common race are no longer adequate in the present age. `Abdu'l-Bahá defined two levels of unity which yield benefit to humankind today. The first is an intellectual realization that humanity is one interdependent organic whole; and so any harm that befalls one part of it affects all.(5)As our thinking becomes more universal, there gradually evolves within the individual, a global consciousness, an awareness of the oneness of all humanity at the spiritual level. This results in a spiritual regeneration of humankind and in a higher level of unity, a spiritual unity, which is even more beneficial for humanity.Behold the disturbances which, for many a long year, have afflicted the earth, and the perturbation that hath seized its peoples. It hath either been ravaged by war, or tormented by sudden and unforeseen calamities. Though the world is encompassed with misery and distress, yet no man hath paused to reflect what the cause or source of that may be. Whenever the True Counsellor uttered a word in admonishment, lo, they all denounced Him as a mover of mischief and rejected His claim . . . The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union. The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. (Bahá'u'lláh)(4)
Another unity is the spiritual unity which emanates from the breaths of the Holy Spirit. This is greater than the unity of mankind. Human unity or solidarity may be likened to the body whereas unity from the breaths of the Holy Spirit is the spirit animating the body. This is a perfect unity. It creates such a condition in mankind that each one will make sacrifices for the other and the utmost desire will be to forfeit life and all that pertains to it in behalf of another's good . . . This unity is the very spirit of the body of the world . . . His Holiness Jesus Christ . . . promulgated this unity among mankind. Every soul who believed in Jesus Christ became revivified and resuscitated through this spirit, attained to the zenith of eternal glory, realized the life everlasting, experienced the second birth and rose to the acme of good fortune.(6)
|THE NEED FOR A GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS|
In October 1911, Italian forces landed in Tripoli and Benghazi, thus occupying the last part of North Africa that was still part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. (This event signalled the culmination of the European colonization of Africa). One day in November 1911 in Paris, `Abdu'l-Bahá said:
I have just been told that there has been a terrible accident in this country. A train has fallen into the river and at least twenty people have been killed. This is going to be a matter for discussion in the French Parliament today, and the Director of the State Railway will be called upon to speak. He will be cross-examined as to the condition of the railroad and as to what caused the accident, and there will be a heated argument. I am filled with wonder and surprise to notice what interest and excitement has been aroused throughout the whole country on account of the death of twenty people, while they remain cold and indifferent to the fact that thousands of Italians, Turks, and Arabs are killed in Tripoli! The horror of this wholesale slaughter has not disturbed the Government at all! Yet these unfortunate people are human beings too.
Why is there so much interest and eager sympathy shown towards these twenty individuals, while for five thousand persons there is none? They are all men, they all belong to the family of mankind, but they are of other lands and races. It is no concern of the disinterested countries if these men are cut to pieces, this wholesale slaughter does not affect them! How unjust, how cruel is this, how utterly devoid of any good and true feeling! The people of these other lands have
We should not think that this ideal of unity is one which is for others to pursue or something that is the responsibility of governments to bring about. Bahá'u'lláh makes it the duty of all of us as individuals to work for peace and unity.
Bahá'u'lláh calls upon his followers to put aside everything that causes dissension and division (such as religious, racial and national differences) and to come together in unity, to replace narrow parochial and partisan loyalties with a wider loyalty to the human race as a whole.. . . 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 . . .The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. (Bahá'u'lláh)(7)
Commenting on this last statement of Bahá'u'lláh, Shoghi Effendi declares that the Bahá'í teachings do not condemn a "sane and intelligent patriotism in men's hearts."(9)Indeed, he asserts that some degree of national autonomy is necessary in order to counter the evils of excessive centralization. There must, however, also be a wider loyalty, an aspiration to a higher universal level of unity.Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished . . . Of old it hath been revealed: "Love of one's country is an element of the Faith of God." The Tongue of Grandeur hath, however, in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: "It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world."(8)
Some people think that unity inevitably means uniformity. The Bahá'í aim, however, is to preserve the rich diversity of human language, culture, tradition, and thought on this planet, while at the same time removing the causes of conflict and contention that exist. The mere fact that there are differences between people should not inevitably lead to dissension and strife. Looked at from another perspective, the existence of differences could be celebrated as a source of richness and variety. Shoghi Effendi states that the watchword of the Bahá'ís is "unity in diversity."(10)
|UNITY IN DIVERSITY|
Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest. Naught but the celestial potency of the Word of God, which ruleth and transcendeth the realities of all things, is capable of harmonizing the divergent thoughts, sentiments, ideas and convictions of the children of men. (`Abdu'l-Bahá quoted in Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 42).
Shoghi Effendi calls Bahá'u'lláh's teaching of the oneness of humankind the "pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh revolve."(11)
The first stage in the achievement of world unity would be for the leaders of the world to come together and agree on peace. Bahá'u'lláh put forward the conditions for such a conference over a century ago:In like manner all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day. Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved.(13)
Such a conference must lead to a full conciliation of all disputes and provisions for mutually-guaranteed security.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.(14)
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 king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. If this be done, the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of maintaining internal order within their territories. This will ensure the peace and composure of every people, government and nation.(15)
|For a statement by the Universal House of Justice on world peace, click here|
|For further material about the Bahá'í teachings on world peace, click here|
Shoghi Effendi asserts that the result of such a process will be the establishment of a world commonwealth.
Eventually, however, it will be necessary for a number of international institutions to come into being. These will regulate international affairs so that wars will no longer be necessary. Shoghi Effendi outlines his vision of what will be needed as part of the world order:The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.(16)
Other features of this world commonwealth envisioned by Shoghi Effendi include:This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of:a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples.A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth.A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system.A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity.A world metropolis will act as the nerve centre of a world civilization, the focus towards which the unifying forces of life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate.A world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing languages and will be taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an auxiliary to their mother tongue.A world script, a world literature, a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and facilitate intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of mankind. (emphasis added)(17)
As the result of such a development, the Bahá'í writings envisage that the whole picture of the planet will be changed:In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will cooperate, and will harmoniously develop. The press will, under such a system, while giving full scope to the expression of the diversified views and convictions of mankind, cease to be mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public, and will be liberated from the influence of contending governments and peoples. The economic resources of the world will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized, its markets will be coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.(18)
To many people, passages such as the above may seem to depict an impossible utopia and such people may regard Bahá'ís as dreamers and fools for imagining such an eventuality. A Bahá'í might reply that it is the Bahá'ís who are awake to the reality of our present global inter-dependence and the environmental, economic and social crises facing the world, and that the vision of the future that they are advocating is the only one that will enable humanity to survive, and that the dreamers are those who imagine that humanity can survive if it continues on its present path, using inadequate political structures that were created in the nineteenth century (and did not even serve that century well) and adhering to such outworn political dogmas as unfettered national sovereignty.National rivalries, hatred, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and cooperation. The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race. (Shoghi Effendi)(19)
The field of social and economic development is usually associated with the poorer countries of the world. In the view of the Bahá'í teachings, however, there is no society that is not in urgent need of some aspect of the Bahá'í programme of development. Even the most affluent societies are suffering from grave problems, such as racism, substance abuse, crime, and a widening gulf between the advantaged and disadvantaged members of society. It is, nevertheless, the world's poorer nations that are the special focus of the development effort.
Many may think of the social and economic development of the poorer nations as rather remote from their day-to-day concerns. The Bahá'í teaching of the oneness of humankind imply, however, the development of a global consciousness that would require each person to think of every other person in the world as their brother or sister or at least as their neighbour. This is a reflection of what is both physical reality (global mutual inter-dependence and interaction) and spiritual reality (the brotherhood and sisterhood of all human beings). The problems of those in the poorer nations of the world should therefore be the concern of those in the richer nations. Bahá'u'lláh, moreover, encourages his followers to concern themselves with just such problems: "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements."(20) The concept that we are all trustees of the welfare of every other person on the planet is a theme that recurs frequently in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá.
The Bahá'í approach to social and economic development arises from two main considerations. The first, which has already been referred to above, is the understanding that humankind is one organically whole entity. Thus whatever affects a part affects the whole. If one part of this entity is diseased, weak, or in distress, then the whole will suffer. The second consideration is that no plan for human development will ever succeed if it devotes itself solely to the physical aspects and neglects the spiritual. Many development projects are conceived with just economic and materialistic goals in view. The Bahá'í viewpoint is that for prosperity to be sustainable and equitable, attention must also be paid to the spiritual dimensions of the process. Only such considerations will lead to a progress that benefits all and is not damaging to the moral, social and environmental foundations of the community.
The immediate objectives of Bahá'í development projects may be tangible benefits (such as improved crops or the building of a school). There is, however, just as much concern that the project should be the outcome of universal consultation and participation and should result in a greater degree of unity in the community. Improvements in education, agriculture, literacy, and the social advancement of women are all important goals. Equally important, however, are the moral and spiritual progress of the individuals in the community, the uprightness and probity of those entrusted with responsibilities, and the increased self-confidence and self-reliance of those who have been oppressed and down-trodden in society. The development of qualities such as trustworthiness, self-sacrifice and moral courage is just as important a goal as more tangible benefits.
An important principle in the Bahá'í attitude towards development planning is the need for the involvement of those for whom the plans are being made in the planning and execution of the task. For too long the rich have presumed to know what the poor need and have set about providing this, without consulting the intended recipients of their aid. The Bahá'í Faith proceeds on the basis of the equality of all Bahá'ís and the process of consultation among all involved. Communities are, therefore, encouraged to identify their own needs and initiate their own projects, which are then supported as needed by national and international Bahá'í bodies.
|For further reading on the Bahá'í approach to setting up
social and economic development projects, click here
|For further information on the Bahá'í approach to
sustainable development, click here
|For a statement by the Universal House of Justice called
"The Prosperity of Humankind" that deals with issues such as
the environment and sustainable development, click here
|For some statements made by the Bahá'í International Community on the subject of
social development to various United Nations conferences, click here
The unity of humankind, envisaged in the Bahá'í scriptures (see above), can only come about if there is also justice in the world. As long as people feel unfairly treated, there will be dissatisfaction and dissension in society.
For too long have the rich and powerful individuals in society and the rich and powerful countries in the world manipulated international structures and development projects to their own advantage. This has led to a great deal of justifiable cynicism on the part of the poor towards the rich. Only if there is consultation and collective decision-making in which all participate and which is guided by the dictates of justice can the requisite degree of unity of purpose and action be achieved to ensure a successful conclusion. Bahá'u'lláh links the principle of unity with the ideal of justice and the tool of consultation in a statement that summarises the way in which personal morality and social action are linked:The light of men is Justice. Quench it not with the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny. The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men . . . Were mankind to be adorned with this raiment, they would behold the day-star of the utterance, `On that day God will satisfy everyone out of His abundance,' shining resplendent above the horizon of the world . . . Verily I say, whatever is sent down from the heaven of the Will of God is the means for the establishment of order in the world and the instrument for promoting unity and fellowship among its peoples.(21)
One of the social principles that advocated in the Bahá'í writings and that is closely associated with the principle of social justice is the abolition of extremes of poverty and wealth. This is to be achieved not by any communist programme of forcible redistribution of wealth, but by directing resources at the problem. We have the means available to solve most of these problems thanks to the progress of science and technology. At present, this is used to produce goods for a small proportion of the people of the world and to generate profits for a tiny elite. The challenge for humanity is to harness this potential and to channel it towards those who really need it. A re-ordering of priorities and a reformation of the economic structures of the world are needed. But underlying this is the necessity for a new morality built on a different, more spiritual assessment of what human beings are.Say: no man can attain his true station except through his justice. No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.(22)
One example of the sort of measures that characterize the Bahá'í effort towards this goal of social and economic development is the voluntary wealth tax called Huqúqu'lláh. Each Bahá'í who manages to accumulate a certain amount of wealth (i.e. income that is in excess of necessary expenditure) voluntarily contributes 19% of this to the World Centre of the Bahá'í Faith. This money is then used in whatever way the World Centre determines. In practice much of the money is in effect transferred from the richer countries to the Bahá'í communities in the poorer countries of the world. This transfer is thus achieved without any strings attached by the donor. Its use is decided using consultative processes usually involving the Bahá'í administrations in those countries, thus making it less likely that the money will be misused.
Apart from the payment of Huqúqu'lláh, all Bahá'ís are also involved to some degree in social and economic development insofar as they participate in building up the Bahá'í administrative order. This is in itself a tool for development in that it enables local communities to consult widely and organise themselves to be able to carry out plans (see, for example, the list of the duties of a spiritual assembly).
Extracted and condensed from The Baha'i Faith: A Beginner's Guide
© Moojan Momen 1996. All Rights Reserved
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1. Gleanings, no. 131, p. 286.
2. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14.
3. Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, v. 58, p. 40; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 55; `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections, no. 225, p. 291
4. Gleanings, no. 112, p. 218
5. Bahá'í World Faith, pp. 257-8.
6. Bahá'í World Faith, pp. 258-9.
7. Gleanings, no. 117, pp. 249-50.
8. Gleanings, no. 43, p. 95.
9. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 41.
10. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 42
11. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 42.
12. Selections, pp. 31.
13. Selections, pp. 31-2.
14. Gleanings, no. 117, pp. 249-50.
15. Gleanings, no. 117, pp. 249-50.
16. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203.
17. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203.
18. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 203-204.
19. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 204.
20. Gleanings, p. 213.
21. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 66-67; the quotation in the middle of this passage is from Qur'an 4:129.
22. Compilation of Compilations, no. 167, p. 93.