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6

The Baha'i Community


In the previous chapter, an outline was given of the social teachings of Baha'u'llah. But these are not just ideas that he has put forward and then left the Baha'is to put them into practice as best they can. Baha'u'llah has also given an outline of the social structures that will enable these principles to be put into practice. As we have discussed previously, the social structures that now exist in Hinduism (as well as in the other religions and countries of the world) are no longer adequate. They now hold mankind back from progress and development. The present social structures tend to reinforce those factors that divide society. They give strength to caste and race differences. They increase the gap between the poor and the rich. They often mean that only the most wealthy and influential have a say in the running of the affairs of the community.

Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah has given mankind the plans for a new way of organizing society. This way is designed to lead to a society in which there will no longer be any extremes of poverty and wealth and in which all people will be more involved in the affairs of the community. Above all, it will lead to greater social justice. Baha'is around the world are at present trying to put these plans into effect within their Baha'i communities.

Membership of the Baha'i community in any area is open to all. It does not matter what a person's race, sex, caste or religious background is. The Baha'i community of an area consists of all adults who have voluntarily stated their belief in Baha'u'llah. They are registered as Baha'is together with their children. In the Baha'i Faith there are no castes. All Baha'is, men and women, young and old, are equal within the community. The only difference lies in that children under the age of 15 are not obliged to fulfil the personal laws (see Chapter 7) and that anyone under the age of 21 is not able to vote or to be voted for in elections.
 

Baha'i institutions

In the Baha'i community, there are no priests or leaders. No individual person has authority by virtue of his or her learning, sanctity or birth. The source of authority in each local Baha'i community rests entirely with elected councils called Local Spiritual Assemblies. A Baha'i election is carried out by secret ballot. There are no parties, candidates or electioneering. At the local level, all of the adult Baha'is of an area, male or female, are eligible to vote and to be voted for. The Local Spiritual Assembly consists of the nine persons who receive the highest number of votes.

Baha'is from several neighbouring communities gather at area conventions once a year. This is to elect delegates to a National Convention which then elects a National Spiritual Assembly. Once again, the system of election involves no candidates, no parties and no electioneering. All of the adult Baha'is in the country are eligible to be elected. India also has Regional Conventions to elect State Spiritual Assemblies. All of these institutions are elected to serve for one year. But once every four years the members of all of the National Spiritual Assemblies in the world meet for an International Convention. At this they elect the Universal House of Justice, which is the highest authority in the Baha'i world.

It is these institutions that have authority in the Baha'i Faith. No person, even if elected onto these institutions, has any individual authority.

There are a small number of individuals, called Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members, who have a responsibility to advise and encourage the Baha'i community. They have no administrative role however. At present they are appointed for terms of five years.
 

Nineteen Day Feasts

As noted below, the Baha'i month consists of nineteen months of nineteen days. Once every Baha'i month, in other words every nineteen days, the whole Baha'i community in each area meets. The meeting is held in three parts: the first part consists of prayers, chants and other devotional activity; the second part is administrative when the Local Spiritual Assembly reports to the community and the community consults gives its suggestions to the Assembly; the third part consists of food and social activities.
 

Consultation

Authority is vested in the institutions of the Baha'i Faith. But at all levels of the Baha'i administration the key factor that forms the basis for the making of decisions is consultation. The steps in the process of consultation are as follows:

- the Baha'is must gather together in a spiritual atmosphere with prayer

- the facts relating to the situation that requires a decision must be presented

- the spiritual principles involved in the situation must be found and discussed

- there must be a free and frank discussion of the issue, taking care that all present their opinions and that no one dominates the proceedings

- a decision is arrived at preferably by consensus but otherwise by majority vote

- the decision is carried out by all in complete unity - in other words, with no regard to whether one voted for or against the decision.

Baha'is believe that this process of consultation is able to tap the full resources of knowledge, wisdom and capabilities in the community.
 

Spiritual guidance and leadership

We have already noted above that there are no priests or gurus in the Baha'i community. What then do Baha'is do when they have spiritual problems or need guidance? The Baha'i teachings indicate that this age in which we are living is the age in which humanity has reached its spiritual maturation. Therefore human beings should become more and more able to deal with these matters for themselves instead of needing to rely on others. But there is help with this in two ways. First, education for all is one of the social teachings of Baha'u'llah. All Baha'is should try hard to become literate so that they can read the scriptures for themselves. Through this, together with prayer and meditation, they can obtain divine guidance directly. Second, Baha'is are encouraged to bring any problems that they cannot deal with by themselves to their Local Spiritual Assembly. The method of consultation described above can be used not only for the administration of the community but also for spiritual guidance. In this way, each Baha'i is able to draw on and use the collective wisdom of the group to help him or her.
 

The Baha'i World Centre

The world centre of the Baha'i Faith is in the Haifa-`Akka area to which Baha'u'llah was exiled by the Turkish Sultan. At that time it was part of the Turkish province of Syria. Now it is part of the state of Israel. This is both the spiritual and administrative centre of the Baha'i Faith.

Haifa and `Akka are two towns that face each other across a bay. Behind Haifa there rises Mount Carmel. On Mount Carmel are situated the shrines of the Bab and `Abdu'l-Baha. There will also be a group of buildings on Mount Carmel, two of which have already been built. These two are the Seat of the Universal House of Justice and the International Archives Building. Three other buildings remain to be built. These form the world administrative centre of the Baha'i Faith. In Indian belief, Mount Meru is the cosmic mount at the centre of the world. For Baha'is, the spiritual centre of the world is Mount Carmel. Shoghi Effendi has written of the shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel as the centre of a number of concentric spiritual centres that radiate out to the rest of the world.
 
 
 
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Text taken from Hinduism and the Baha'i Faith

© Moojan Momen 1996. All Rights Reserved