Transition to a New World Order:
The Role of Bahá’ís in Responding to
Confusion, and Calamity in Today’s World*
Selections from the Bahá’í Writings
…Shoghi Effendi always draws the reader’s attention to the end-point. By means of crises, calamities, setbacks, and reverses, opportunities are provided to assist in the spread and eventual universal recognition of the world religion whose affairs he directed. His interventionist concept of the teleological grand scheme of human history has it that the “Hand of Providence” is working behind the scenes, not as an artificial, invisible dues ex machina, but rather as an Omnipotent Hand that seeks willing collaborators to participate in the ongoing development of the gestating new world order. (J.A. McLean, A Celestial Burning, p. 271 (in Chapter 6, “Providential History – The Renewal of an Ancient Idea”)).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
* This selection of writings was assembled by Gary Colliver (email@example.com) in October 2015, using the search program “Ocean” (http://www.bahai-education.org/) and from personal reading. The selections are not meant to be comprehensive but, hopefully, representative of the themes covered. It is hoped that the selection of the quotes presented here avoid the “difficulties” in “understanding the totality of the vision conveyed in the messages” that may occur, as noted by the Universal House of Justice, “when phrases and sentences are taken out of context and viewed as isolated fragments.” (Letter: “28 December 2010, To the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors”, in The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p.56, ¶3.37)
Setting the Stage
We are indeed living in an age which, if we would correctly appraise it, should be regarded as one which is witnessing a dual phenomenon. The first signalizes the death pangs of an order, effete and godless, that has stubbornly refused, despite the signs and portents of a century-old Revelation, to attune its processes to the precepts and ideals which that Heaven-sent Faith proffered it. The second proclaims the birth pangs of an Order, divine and redemptive, that will inevitably supplant the former, and within Whose administrative structure an embryonic civilization, incomparable and world-embracing, is imperceptibly maturing. The one is being rolled up, and is crashing in oppression, bloodshed, and ruin. The other opens up vistas of a justice, a unity, a peace, a culture, such as no age has ever seen. The former has spent its force, demonstrated its falsity and barrenness, lost irretrievably its opportunity, and is hurrying to its doom. The latter, virile and unconquerable, is plucking asunder its chains, and is vindicating its title to be the one refuge within which a sore-tried humanity, purged from its dross, can attain its destiny. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 17) 1
Mid-afternoon on the eleventh day of the Ridvan festival one hundred years ago, `Abdu’l-Bahá, standing before an audience several hundred strong, lifted a workman's axe and pierced the turf covering the Temple site at Grosse Pointe, north of Chicago. Those invited to break the ground with Him on that spring day came from diverse backgrounds—Norwegian, Indian, French, Japanese, Persian, indigenous American, to name but a few. It was as if the House of Worship, yet unbuilt, was fulfilling the wishes of the Master, expressed on the eve of the ceremony, for every such edifice: ““that humanity might find a place of meeting” and “that the proclamation of the oneness of mankind shall go forth from its open courts of holiness”.
His listeners on that occasion, and all who heard Him in the course of His travels to Egypt and the West, must have but dimly comprehended the far-reaching implications of His words for society, for its values and preoccupations. Still today, can anyone claim to have glimpsed anything but an intimation, distant and indistinct, of the future society to which the Revelation of Baha'u'llah is destined to give rise? For let none suppose that the civilization towards which the divine teachings impel humankind will follow merely from adjustments to the present order. Far from it. In a talk delivered some days after He laid the cornerstone of the Mother Temple of the West, 'Abdu'l-Baha stated that “among the results of the manifestation of spiritual forces will be that the human world will adapt itself to a new social form,” that “the justice of God will become manifest throughout human affairs”. These, and countless other utterances of the Master to which the Baha'i community is turning time and again in this centennial period, raise awareness of the distance that separates society as it is now arranged from the stupendous vision His Father gifted to the world.
Alas, notwithstanding the laudable efforts, in every land, of well-intentioned individuals working to improve circumstances in society, the obstacles preventing the realization of such a vision seem insurmountable to many. Their hopes founder on erroneous assumptions about human nature that so permeate the structures and traditions of much of present-day living as to have attained the status of established fact. These assumptions appear to make no allowance for the extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to any illumined soul who draws upon it; instead, they rely for justification on humanity's failings, examples of which daily reinforce a common sense of despair. A layered veil of false premises thus obscures a fundamental truth: The state of the world reflects a distortion of the human spirit, not its essential nature. The purpose of every Manifestation of God is to effect a transformation in both the inner life and external conditions of humanity. And this transformation naturally occurs as a growing body of people, united by the divine precepts, collectively seeks to develop spiritual capacities to contribute to a process of societal change. Akin to the hard earth struck by the Master a century ago, the prevailing theories of the age may, at first, seem impervious to alteration, but they will undoubtedly fade away, and through the “vernal showers of the bounty of God”, the “flowers of true understanding” will spring up fresh and fair.
We yield thanks to God that, through the potency of His Word, you—the community of His Greatest Name—are cultivating environments wherein true understanding can blossom. Even those enduring imprisonment for the Faith are, by their untold sacrifice and steadfastness, enabling the “hyacinths of knowledge and wisdom” to flower in sympathetic hearts. Across the globe, eager souls are being engaged in the work of constructing a new world through the systematic implementation of the provisions of the Five Year Plan. So well have its features been grasped that we feel no need to comment further on them here. Our supplications, offered at the Threshold of an All-Bountiful Providence, are for the assistance of the Supreme Concourse to be vouchsafed to every one of you in contributing to the progress of the Plan. Our fervent desire, bolstered by witnessing your consecrated efforts during the past year, is that you will intensify your sure-footed application of the knowledge you are acquiring through experience. Now is not the time to hold back; too many remain unaware of the new dawn. Who but you can convey the divine message? “By God,” Baha'u'llah, referring to the Cause, affirms, “this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being.” (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2012, To the Baha'is of the World”, pp. 1-2)
The call to carry out and support this work is directed to every follower of Bahá'u'lláh, and it will evoke a response in every heart that aches at the wretched condition of the world, the lamentable circumstances from which so many people are unable to gain relief. For, ultimately, it is systematic, determined, and selfless action undertaken within the wide embrace of the Plan's framework that is the most constructive response of every concerned believer to the multiplying ills of a disordered society. Over the last year, it has become clearer still that, in different nations in different ways, the social consensus around ideals that have traditionally united and bound together a people is increasingly worn and spent. It can no longer offer a reliable defense against a variety of self-serving, intolerant, and toxic ideologies that feed upon discontent and resentment. With a conflicted world appearing every day less sure of itself, the proponents of these destructive doctrines grow bold and brazen. We recall the unequivocal verdict from the Supreme Pen: “They hasten forward to Hell Fire, and mistake it for light.” Well-meaning leaders of nations and people of goodwill are left struggling to repair the fractures evident in society and powerless to prevent their spread. The effects of all this are not only to be seen in outright conflict or a collapse in order. In the distrust that pits neighbour against neighbour and severs family ties, in the antagonism of so much of what passes for social discourse, in the casualness with which appeals to ignoble human motivations are used to win power and pile up riches-in all these lie unmistakable signs that the moral force which sustains society has become gravely depleted. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2015, To the Peoples of the World”, p. 1)
Seizing Opportunities, Accepting Responsibilities, Setting an Example
In the midst of a civilization torn by strifes and enfeebled by materialism, the people of Baha are building a new world. We face at this time opportunities and responsibilities of vast magnitude and great urgency. Let each believer in his inmost heart resolve not to be seduced by the ephemeral allurements of the society around him, nor to be drawn into its feuds and short-lived enthusiasms, but instead to transfer all he can from the old world to that new one which is the vision of his longing and will be the fruit of his labours. (18 December 1963, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 27; see also, Lights of Guidance # 451, p. 135)
As humanity plunges deeper into that condition of which Bahá'u'lláh wrote, “to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly,” so must the believers increasingly stand out as assured, orientated and fundamentally happy beings, conforming to a standard which, in direct contrast to the ignoble and amoral attitudes of modern society, is the source of their honour, strength and maturity. F91 It is this marked contrast between the vigour, unity and discipline of the Bahá'í community on the one hand, and the increasing confusion, despair and feverish tempo of a doomed society on the other, which, during the turbulent years ahead will draw the eyes of humanity to the sanctuary of Bahá'u'lláh's world-redeeming Faith. [F91. GWB, p. 118.] 2 (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1966, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 82; see also, Lights of Guidance #441, p. 131-32)
The Faith is passing through a time of tremendous opportunity and development, as well as of increasing opposition and of growing complexity in the problems confronting it. These opportunities must be seized and these problems overcome, for so crucial are these times that the future course of human history is daily in the balance. (Universal House of Justice, Message to the International Convention, Ridvan 1978, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 380)
As lawlessness spreads in the world, as governments rise and fall, as rival groups and feuding peoples struggle, each for its own advantage, the plight of the oppressed and the deprived wrings the heart of every true Bahá'í, tempting him to cry out in protest or to arise in wrath at the perpetrators of injustice. For this is a time of testing which calls to mind Bahá'u'lláh's words, “O concourse of the heedless! I swear by God! The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: 'Taste ye what your hands have wrought!'“F473 [F473. Quoted in Advent of Divine Justice, p. 81.]
Now is the time when every follower of Bahá'u'lláh must cling fast to the Covenant of God, resist every temptation to become embroiled in the conflicts of the world, and remember that he is the holder of a precious trust, the Message of God which, alone, can banish injustice from the world and cure the ills afflicting the body and spirit of man. We are the bearers of the Word of God in this day and, however dark the immediate horizons, we must go forward rejoicing in the knowledge that the work we are privileged to perform is God's work and will bring to birth a world whose splendour will outshine our brightest visions and surpass our highest hopes. (Universal House of Justice, Naw-Ruz 1979, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 406-407; see also, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 9)
The Coming Calamity: Working in the Present Disintegrating World, Seeing the Glorious Distant Future
Bahá'ís Should not Waste Time Speculating on the Coming Calamity 3
The House of Justice points out that Bahá'u'lláh in no uncertain terms has said “O ye peoples of the world! Know, verily, that an unforeseen calamity followeth you, and grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not that which ye have committed hath been effaced in My sight.” Therefore it considers that it would be fruitless to attempt to foresee the time or the nature of a calamity which Bahá'u'lláh Himself said was ‘unforeseen’. No doubt the remarkable progress being made in scientific endeavour holds true in the study by experts of geological upheavals. But we cannot be certain that predictions of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tidal waves caused by such phenomena can be identified as the cataclysmic events to which Bahá'u'lláh refers.
In letters to other believers who have asked questions similar to yours, the House of Justice has emphasized that the friends should not waste their time and energies in fruitless speculations on this question. Rather, they should concentrate every ounce of energy on the winning of the goals of the Five Year Plan [1974-1979], which they have clearly before them, confident in the knowledge that whatever may happen in the world, however calamitous it may outwardly appear, will promote God's unalterable purpose for the unification of mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, #428, p. 128)
Not ours, however, to unriddle the workings of a distant future, or to dwell upon the promised glories of a God-impelled and unimaginably potent Revelation. Ours, rather, the task to cast our eyes upon, and bend our energies to meet, the challenging requirements of the present hour. (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 6)
We Bahá'ís are indeed most blessed in that we know that, however dark the days immediately ahead of the human race, the future is blessed and glorious. It is for this future that the believers must labour day and night, heedless of the state of the world and the dangers threatening. (Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 97)
Dearly-beloved friends! It is not for us, at this crucial hour, to delve into the future, to speculate on the possibilities of the Plan and its orientation, to conjecture on its impact on the unfoldment of an embryonic World Order, or to dwell on the glories and triumphs which it may hold in store, or to seek to delineate the mysterious course which a God-given Mission, impelled by forces beyond our power to predict or appraise, may pursue. .....
However dark the outlook, however laborious the task, however strange and inhospitable the environment, however vast the distances that must be traversed, however scarce the amenities of life, however irksome the means of travel, however annoying the restrictions, however listless and confused the minds of the peoples and races contacted, however trying the setbacks that may be suffered, we must, under no circumstances, either falter or flinch. Our reliance on the unfailing grace of an all-loving, all-preserving, ever-sustaining, ever-watchful Providence, must, however much we may be buffeted by circumstances, remain unshaken until the very end. Shall we not, when hardships seethe about us, and our hearts momentarily quail, recall the ardent desire so poignantly voiced by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in those immortal Tablets that enshrine forever His last wishes for His chosen disciples: “Oh! that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of 'Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá' in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the Divine teachings! This, also, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.” (Shoghi Effendi, This Decisive Hour, pp. 126-127)
Bahá'ís Can Help to Mitigate Suffering of Mankind
No doubt to the degree we Bahá'ís the world over –strive to spread the Cause and live up to its teachings, they will be some mitigation to the suffering of the peoples of the world. But it seems apparent that the great failure to respond to Bahá'u'lláh's instructions, appeals and warnings issued in the 19th Century, has now sent the world along a path, and released forces, which must culminate in a still more violent upheaval and agony. The thing is out of hand, so to speak, and it is too late to avert catastrophic trials. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, January 8, 1949, in Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, #431, p. 129)
Stage of Purgation is Indispensable-Bahá'ís
Should not Hope to Remain Unaffected ... You seem to complain about the calamities, that have befallen humanity. In the spiritual development of man a stage of purgation is indispensable, for it is while passing through it that the over-rated material needs are made to appear in their proper light. Unless society learns to attribute more importance to spiritual matters, it would never be fit to enter the golden era foretold by Bahá'u'lláh. The present calamities are parts of this process of purgation, through them alone will man learn his lesson. They are to teach the nations, that they have to view things internationally, they are to make the individual attribute more importance to his moral, than his material welfare.
In such a process of purgation, when all humanity is in the throes of dire suffering, the Bahá'ís should not hope to remain unaffected. Should we consider the beam that is in our own eye, we would immediately find that these sufferings are also meant for ourselves, who claimed to have attained. Such world crisis is necessary to awaken us to the importance of our duty and the carrying on of our task. Suffering will increase our energy in setting before humanity the road to salvation, it will move us from our repose for we are far from doing our best in teaching the Cause and conveying the Message with which we have been entrusted... (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer in reply to a letter dated October 14, 1931: Bahá'í News, No. 58, January 1932, p. 1, in Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, #447, p. 134)
Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation is vast. It calls for profound change not only at the level of the individual but also in the structure of society. “Is not the object of every Revelation”, He Himself proclaims, “to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?” The work advancing in every corner of the globe today represents the latest stage of the ongoing Bahá’í endeavor to create the nucleus of the glorious civilization enshrined in His teachings, the building of which is an enterprise of infinite complexity and scale, one that will demand centuries of exertion by humanity to bring to fruition. There are no shortcuts, no formulas. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2010, To the Bahá’ís of the World”, ¶25)
Our Duty as Baha’is: Spreading the Faith, Spiritualizing Humankind, Service to Humanity
But in our concern for...immediate obvious calls upon our succour we must not allow ourselves to forget the continuing, appalling burden of suffering under which millions of human beings are always groaning—a burden which they have borne for century upon century and which it is the mission of Bahá'u'lláh to lift at last. The principal cause of this suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred, untrustworthiness, selfishness and tyranny among men. It is not merely material well- being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives—they need to know who they are, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act towards one another; and, once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to everyday behaviour. It is to the solution of this basic problem of mankind that the greater part of all our energy and resources should be directed. There are mighty agencies in this world, governments, foundations, institutions of many kinds with tremendous financial resources which are working to improve the material lot of human beings. Anything we Bahá'ís could add to such resources in the way of special funds or contributions would be a negligible drop in the ocean. However, alone among men we have the divinely given remedy for the real ills of mankind; no one else is doing or can do this most important work, and if we divert our energy and our funds into fields in which others are already doing more than we can hope to do, we shall be delaying the diffusion of the Divine Message which is the most important task of all.
Because of such an attitude, and also because of our refusal to become involved in politics, Bahá'ís are often accused of holding aloof from the “real problems” of their fellowmen. But when we hear this accusation let us not forget that those who make it are usually idealistic materialists to whom material good is the only “real” good, whereas we know that the working of the material world is merely a reflection of spiritual conditions and until the spiritual conditions can be changed there can be no lasting change for the better in material affairs. (Universal House of Justice, 19 November 1974, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 283; also Lights of Guidance, p. 122)
Your concern about the future in these troubled times is understandable. There is every reason to expect that the world will experience travail and testing as never before, but we do not know what form these upheavals will take, when exactly they will come, how severe they will be, nor how long they will last. In a letter dated 30, September 1950 written on behalf of the beloved Guardian to an individual believer, it is stated:
He does not feel that fear—for ourselves or for others—solves any problems, or enables us to better meet it if it ever does arise. We do not know what the future holds exactly, or how soon we may all pass through another ordeal worse than the last one.
The important aspect for the Bahá'ís is that their attitude and actions in response to the pending catastrophe be correct. We all know that the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh is the world's only salvation, and that our duty is to actively teach receptive souls, and to do our utmost to help in the consolidation of the institutions of the Faith. Only in this way can we contribute our share of servitude at His Threshold, and we should then leave the rest to Him. … (Department of the Secretariat, to an individual, 13 May 1980, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 451-452)
Beloved friends, the world moves deeper into the heart of darkness as its old order is rolled up. Pursing our objectives with confidence, optimism, and an unshakeable resolve, we must never forget that our service is a spiritual one. Mankind is dying for lack of true religion and this is what we have to offer to humanity. It is the love of God, manifest in the appearance of Bahá'u'lláh, which will feed the hungry souls of the world and eventually lead the peoples out of the present morass into the orderly, uplifting, and soul-inspiring task of establishing God's Kingdom on earth. (Universal House of Justice, March 1981, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 479)
The Development of the Soul and the Reconstruction of Society
To an individual Bahá'í
Dear Bahá’í Friend:
… [T]he fundamental purpose of all religion is the spiritual development of the souls of human beings. This is expressed in the Short Obligatory Prayer, and also there is the following very clear statement written on behalf of the beloved Guardian to an individual believer on 8 December 1935: …
Indeed, the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is a lack of spirituality. The materialistic civilization of our age has so much absorbed the energy and interest of mankind, that people in general no longer feel the necessity of raising themselves above the forces and conditions of their daily material existence. …
… The Bahá'í Faith[’s] … chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man that has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide. Laws and institutions, as viewed by Bahá'u'lláh, can become really effective only when our inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. Otherwise religion will degenerate into a mere organization, and become a dead thing. … [Published in US Bahá'í News, No. 102, August 1936, p. 3]
The Central Purpose of Bahá'u'lláh's Dispensation
In addition to this fundamental purpose underlying all Revelation, there is a particular central purpose for each Dispensation. The one for this Dispensation is the establishment of the oneness of the world of humanity, and it is a Bahá'í teaching that the spiritual development of the soul requires not merely prayer and meditation, but also active service to one's fellowmen in accordance with the laws and principles of the Revelation of God. The reconstruction of human society and the spiritual advancement of individual souls go hand in hand. (Department of the Secretariat, to an individual, 12 June 1984, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 629-630)
Reaching Out to the Wider World
There can be no doubt that the progress of the Cause from this time onward will be characterized by an ever increasing relationship to the agencies, activities, institutions and leading individuals of the non-Bahá'í world. We shall acquire greater stature at the United Nations, become better known in the deliberations of governments, a familiar figure to the media, a subject of interest to academics, and inevitably the envy of failing establishments. Our preparation for and response to this situation must be a continual deepening of our faith, an unwavering adherence to its principles of abstentions from partisan politics and freedom from prejudices, and above all an increasing understanding of its fundamental verities and relevance to the modern world. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 1984, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 624, §394.9; Compilation of Compilations Vol. II, p. 264; see also, Lights of Guidance, #1933, p. 570)
The Nature and Extent of Believer's Involvement must Vary from Country to Country
... the House of Justice wishes us to stress that the nature and extent of the believers' involvement in social and economic development must vary from country to country, both in relation to the general conditions of that country and in relation to the state of development of the Bahá'í community. It is only because a number of Bahá'í communities have sufficiently increased their membership numerically, and have developed strongly functioning Bahá'í administrative institutions that the House of Justice has been able to contemplate the launching of this new stage in the work of the Cause. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, January 30, 1984: Extracts Concerning Bahá'í Social and Economic Development, a compilation prepared by the International Teaching Centre of communications written by or on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, January 1985, in Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, #1856, p. 547)
The time has come for the Bahá'í community to become more involved in the life of the society around it, without in the least supporting any of the world's moribund and divisive concepts, or slackening its direct teaching efforts, but rather, by association, exerting its influence towards unity, demonstrating its ability to settle differences by consultation rather than by confrontation, violence or schism, and declaring its faith in the divine purpose of human existence. …
…[I]t is in the local Bahá'í communities that the most widespread presentation of the Faith can take place. It is here that the real pattern of Bahá'í life can be seen. It is here that the power of Bahá'u'lláh to organize human affairs on a basis of spiritual unity can be most apparent. Every Local Spiritual Assembly which unitedly strives to grow in maturity and efficiency and encourages its community to fulfil its destiny as a foundation stone of Bahá'u'lláh's World Order can add to a growing ground swell of interest in and eventual recognition of the Cause of God as the sole hope for mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1985, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 667, § 427.5)
An especially notable feature of the last twelve months has been the frequency with which the Baha'i community is being identified, in a wide variety of contexts, with efforts to bring about the betterment of society in collaboration with like-minded people. From the international arena to the grassroots of village life, leaders of thought in all kinds of settings have expressed their awareness that not only do Baha'is have the welfare of humanity at heart, but they possess a cogent conception of what needs to be accomplished and effective means for realizing their aspirations. These expressions of appreciation and support have also come from some previously unexpected quarters. For example, even in the Cradle of the Faith, despite formidable obstacles placed by the oppressor in their path, the Baha'is are increasingly recognized for the profound implications their message holds for the state of their nation and respected for their unbending determination to contribute to the progress of their homeland. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2013, To the Baha'is of the World”, p.4)
We are filled with hope by the successive evidences we see of the spread of Bahá'u'lláh’s message, the reach of its influence, and the growing awareness of the ideals it enshrines. In this season of anniversaries, we call to remembrance that “Day of supreme felicity”, separated from this Ridván by a century and a half, when the Abhá Beauty first proclaimed His Mission to His companions in the Najibiyyih Garden. From that sanctified spot, the Word of God has gone forth to every city and every shore, summoning humanity to an encounter with its Lord. And from that initial retinue of God-intoxicated lovers, a diverse community of purpose has blossomed, variegated flowers in the garden He has reared. With each passing day, rising numbers of newly awakened souls turn in supplication towards His Shrine, the place where we, in honour of that blessed Day and in gratitude for every bounty bestowed upon the community of the Greatest Name, bow our heads in prayer at the Sacred Threshold. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2013, To the Baha'is of the World”, p.5)
In this long-term process of capacity building, the Bahá’í community has devoted nearly a decade and a half to systematizing its experience in the teaching field, learning to open certain activities to more and more people and to sustain its expansion and consolidation. All are welcome to enter the community’s warm embrace and receive sustenance from Bahá’u’lláh’s life-giving message. No greater joy is there, to be sure, than for a soul, yearning for the Truth, to find shelter in the stronghold of the Cause and draw strength from the unifying power of the Covenant. Yet every human being and every group of individuals, irrespective of whether they are counted among His followers, can take inspiration from His teachings, benefiting from whatever gems of wisdom and knowledge will aid them in addressing the challenges they face. Indeed, the civilization that beckons humanity will not be attained through the efforts of the Bahá’í community alone. Numerous groups and organizations, animated by the spirit of world solidarity that is an indirect manifestation of Bahá’u’lláh’s conception of the principle of the oneness of humankind, will contribute to the civilization destined to emerge out of the welter and chaos of present-day society. It should be clear to everyone that the capacity created in the Bahá’í community over successive global Plans renders it increasingly able to lend assistance in the manifold and diverse dimensions of civilization building, opening to it new frontiers of learning. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2010, To the Peoples of the World”, in The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 17, ¶1.26)
… Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization—each individual according to his or her talents and abilities. Justice demands universal participation. Thus, while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world. Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another. The scope and complexity of social action must be commensurate with the human resources available in a village or neighborhood to carry it forward. Efforts best begin, then, on a modest scale and grow organically as capacity within the population develops. Capacity rises to new levels, of course, as the protagonists of social change learn to apply with increasing effectiveness elements of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, together with the contents and methods of science, to their social reality. This reality they must strive to read in a manner consistent with His teachings—seeing in their fellow human beings gems of inestimable value and recognizing the effects of the dual process of integration and disintegration on both hearts and minds, as well as on social structures.
Effective social action serves to enrich participation in the discourses of society, just as the insights gained from engaging in certain discourses can help to clarify the concepts that shape social action. At the level of the cluster, involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Bahá’í ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern—climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. It entails, as well, meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighborhoods.
In this connection, we feel compelled to raise a warning: It will be important for all to recognize that the value of engaging in social action and public discourse is not to be judged by the ability to bring enrollments. Though endeavors in these two areas of activity may well effect an increase in the size of the Bahá’í community, they are not undertaken for this purpose. Sincerity in this respect is an imperative. Moreover, care should be exercised to avoid overstating the Bahá’í experience or drawing undue attention to fledgling efforts, such as the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, which are best left to mature at their own pace. The watchword in all cases is humility. While conveying enthusiasm about their beliefs, the friends should guard against projecting an air of triumphalism, hardly appropriate among themselves, much less in other circumstances.
In describing for you these new opportunities now opening at the level of the cluster, we are not asking you to alter in any way your current course. Nor should it be imagined that such opportunities represent an alternative arena of service, competing with the expansion and consolidation work for the community’s limited resources and energies. Over the coming year, the institute process and the pattern of activity that it engenders should continue to be strengthened, and teaching should remain uppermost in the mind of every believer. Further involvement in the life of society should not be sought prematurely. It will proceed naturally as the friends in every cluster persevere in applying the provisions of the Plan through a process of action, reflection, consultation and study, and learn as a result. Involvement in the life of society will flourish as the capacity of the community to promote its own growth and to maintain its vitality is gradually raised. It will achieve coherence with efforts to expand and consolidate the community to the extent that it draws on elements of the conceptual framework which governs the current series of global Plans. And it will contribute to the movement of populations towards Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a prosperous and peaceful world civilization to the degree that it employs these elements creatively in new areas of learning. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2010, To the Peoples of the World”, in The Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, pp. 20-22, ¶1.29-1.32)
As the community grows in size and in capacity to maintain vitality, the friends will, we have indicated in the past, be drawn further into the life of society and be challenged to take advantage of the approaches they have developed to respond to a widening range of issues that face their village. The question of coherence, so essential to the growth achieved thus far, and so fundamental to the Plan’s evolving framework for action, now assumes new dimensions. Much will fall on the Local Assembly, not as an executor of projects but as the voice of moral authority, to make certain that, as the friends strive to apply the teachings of the Faith to improve conditions through a process of action, reflection and consultation, the integrity of their endeavors is not compromised. (Universal House of Justice, Letter “28 December 2010, To the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors”, in The Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 46, ¶3.24)
Apart from the spiritual requisites of a sanctified Bahá’í life, there are habits of thought that affect the unfoldment of the global Plan, and their development has to be encouraged at the level of culture. There are tendencies, as well, that need to be gradually overcome. Many of these tendencies are reinforced by approaches prevalent in society at large, which, not altogether unreasonably, enter into Bahá’í activity. The magnitude of the challenge facing the friends in this respect is not lost on us. They are called upon to become increasingly involved in the life of society, benefiting from its educational programs, excelling in its trades and professions, learning to employ well its tools, and applying themselves to the advancement of its arts and sciences. At the same time, they are never to lose sight of the aim of the Faith to effect a transformation of society, remolding its institutions and processes, on a scale never before witnessed. To this end, they must remain acutely aware of the inadequacies of current modes of thinking and doing—this, without feeling the least degree of superiority, without assuming an air of secrecy or aloofness, and without adopting an unnecessarily critical stance towards society. There are a few specific points we wish to mention in this connection.
It is heartening to note that the friends are approaching the study of the messages of the Universal House of Justice related to the Plan with such diligence. The level of discussion generated as they strive to put into practice the guidance received, and to learn from experience, is impressive. We cannot help noticing, however, that achievements tend to be more enduring in those regions where the friends strive to understand the totality of the vision conveyed in the messages, while difficulties often arise when phrases and sentences are taken out of context and viewed as isolated fragments. The institutions and agencies of the Faith should help the believers to analyze but not reduce, to ponder meaning but not dwell on words, to identify distinct areas of action but not compartmentalize. We realize that this is no small task. Society speaks more and more in slogans. We hope that the habits the friends are forming in study circles to work with full and complex thoughts and to achieve understanding will be extended to various spheres of activity. (Universal House of Justice, Letter “28 December 2010, To the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors”, in The Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, pp. 55-56, ¶3.36-3.37)
Over the same period [the previous year], cumulative instances of political upheaval and economic turmoil on various continents have shaken governments and peoples. Societies have been brought to the brink of revolution, and in notable cases over the edge. Leaders are finding that neither arms nor riches guarantee security. Where the aspirations of the people have gone unfulfilled, a store of indignation has accrued. We recall how pointedly Bahá’u’lláh admonished the rulers of the earth: “Your people are your treasures. Beware lest your rule violate the commandments of God, and ye deliver your wards to the hands of the robber.” A word of caution: No matter how captivating the spectacle of the people’s fervor for change, it must be remembered that there are interests which manipulate the course of events. And, so long as the remedy prescribed by the Divine Physician is not administered, the tribulations of this age will persist and deepen. An attentive observer of the times will readily recognize the accelerated disintegration, fitful but relentless, of a world order lamentably defective. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2011, To the Peoples of the World”, in The Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 66, ¶5.3)
An Integrated Approach – the Spiritual Transformation of Individuals and Material Well-Being of Humanity
The amelioration of the conditions of the world requires the reconstruction of human society and efforts to improve the material well-being of humanity. The Bahá'í approach to this task is evolutionary and multifaceted, involving not only the spiritual transformation of individuals but the establishment of an administrative system based on the application of justice, a system which is at once the “nucleus” and the “pattern” of the future World Order, together with the implementation of programmes of social and economic development that derive their impetus from the grass roots of the community.F749 Such an integrated approach will inevitably create a new world, a world where human dignity is restored and the burden of inequity is lifted from the shoulders of humanity. Then will the generations look back with heartfelt appreciation, for the sacrifices made by Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís alike, during this most turbulent period in human history. [F749. WOB, p. 144.] (Department of the Secretariat, to an individual, 14 March 1985, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 663)
A worldwide community is refining its ability to read its immediate reality, analyse its possibilities, and apply judiciously the methods and instruments of the Five Year Plan. As anticipated, experience is most rapidly accumulating in clusters where the frontiers of learning are being consciously advanced. In such places, the means for enabling an ever-rising number of individuals to strengthen their capacity for service are well understood. A vibrant training institute functions as the mainstay of the community's efforts to advance the Plan and, as early as possible, skills and abilities developed through participation in institute courses are deployed in the field. Some, through their everyday social interactions, encounter souls who are open to the exploration of spiritual matters carried out in a variety of settings; some are in a position to respond to receptivity in a village or neighbourhood, perhaps by having relocated to the area. Growing numbers arise to shoulder responsibility, swelling the ranks of those who serve as tutors, animators, and teachers of children; who administer and coordinate; or who otherwise labour in support of the work. The friends' commitment to learning finds expression through constancy in their own endeavours and a willingness to accompany others in theirs. Further, they are able to keep two complementary perspectives on the pattern of action developing in the cluster firmly in view: one, the three-month cycles of activity—the rhythmic pulse of the programme of growth—and the other, the distinct stages of a process of education for children, for junior youth, and for youth and adults. While understanding clearly the relationship that connects these three stages, the friends are aware that each has its own dynamics, its own requirements, and its own inherent merit. Above all, they are conscious of the operation of powerful spiritual forces, whose workings can be discerned as much in the quantitative data that reflect the community's progress as in the array of accounts that narrate its accomplishments. What is especially promising is that so many of these distinctive and salient features which characterize the clusters furthest advanced are also evident in communities at much earlier points in their development. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2013, To the Baha'is of the World”, pp. 1-2)
Yet there is reassurance in the knowledge that, amidst the disintegration, a new kind of collective life is taking shape which gives practical expression to all that is heavenly in human beings. We have observed how, especially in those places where intensity in teaching and community-building activities has been maintained, the friends have been able to guard themselves against the forces of materialism that risk sapping their precious energies. Not only that, but in managing the various other calls upon their time, they never lose sight of the sacred and pressing tasks before them. Such attentiveness to the needs of the Faith and to humanity's best interests is required in every community. Where a programme of growth has been established in a previously unopened cluster, we see how the initial stirrings of activity arise out of the love for Bahá'u'lláh held in the heart of a committed believer. Notwithstanding the orders of complexity that must eventually be accommodated as a community grows in size, all activity begins with this simple strand of love. It is the vital thread from which is woven a pattern of patient and concentrated effort, cycle after cycle, to introduce children, youth, and adults to spiritual ideas; to foster a feeling for worship through gatherings for prayer and devotion; to stimulate conversations that illuminate understanding; to start ever-growing numbers on a lifetime of study of the Creative Word and its translation into deeds; to develop, along with others, capacity for service; and to accompany one another in the exercise of what has been learned. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2015, To the Baha'is of the World”, p. 2)
Finally, a significant advance in culture, one which we have followed with particular interest, is marked by the rise in capacity to think in terms of process. That, from the outset, the believers have been asked to be ever conscious of the broad processes that define their work is apparent from a careful reading of even the earliest communications of the Guardian related to the first national plans of the Faith. However, in a world focused increasingly on the promotion of events, or at best projects, with a mindset that derives satisfaction from the sense of expectation and excitement they generate, maintaining the level of dedication required for long-term action demands considerable effort. The expansion and consolidation of the Bahá’í community encompasses a number of interacting processes, each of which contributes its share to the movement of humanity towards Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order. The lines of action associated with any given process provide for the organization of occasional events, and from time to time, activities take the shape of a project with a clear beginning and a definite end. If, however, events are imposed on the natural unfoldment of a process, they will disrupt its sound evolution. If the projects undertaken in a cluster are not made subordinate to the explicit needs of the processes unfolding there, they will yield little fruit.
To understand the nature of the interacting processes that, in their totality, engender the expansion and consolidation of the Faith is vital to the successful execution of the Plan. In your efforts to further such understanding, you and your auxiliaries are encouraged to bear in mind a concept that lies at the foundation of the current global enterprise and, indeed, at the very heart of every stage of the Divine Plan, namely, that progress is achieved through the development of three participants—the individual, the institutions, and the community. Throughout human history, interactions among these three have been fraught with difficulties at every turn, with the individual clamoring for freedom, the institution demanding submission, and the community claiming precedence. Every society has defined, in one way or another, the relationships that bind the three, giving rise to periods of stability, interwoven with turmoil. Today, in this age of transition, as humanity struggles to attain its collective maturity, such relationships—nay, the very conception of the individual, of social institutions, and of the community— continue to be assailed by crises too numerous to count. The worldwide crisis of authority provides proof enough. So grievous have been its abuses, and so deep the suspicion and resentment it now arouses, that the world is becoming increasingly ungovernable—a situation made all the more perilous by the weakening of community ties. (Universal House of Justice, Letter “28 December 2010, To the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors”, in The Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, pp. 57-58, ¶3.39-3.40)
Providing Hope to the World’s Peoples: A Theme to Ponder and Meditate upon
Writing of religion as a social force, Bahá'u'lláh said: “Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein.” Referring to the eclipse or corruption of religion, he wrote: “Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.”F769 In an enumeration of such consequences the Bahá'í Writings point out that the “perversion of human nature, the degradation of human conduct, the corruption and dissolution of human institutions, reveal themselves, under such circumstances, in their worst and most revolting aspects. Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished.”F770 [F769. Quoted in WOB, pp. 186, 186-87.] [F770. WOB, p. 187.] (Universal House of Justice, "The Promise of World Peace", October 1985. Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 684)
How tragic is the record of the substitute faiths that the worldly-wise of our age have created. In the massive disillusionment of entire populations who have been taught to worship at their altars can be read history's irreversible verdict on their value. The fruits these doctrines have produced, after decades of an increasingly unrestrained exercise of power by those who owe their ascendancy in human affairs to them, are the social and economic ills that blight every region of our world in the closing years of the twentieth century. Underlying all these outward afflictions is the spiritual damage reflected in the apathy that has gripped the mass of the peoples of all nations and by the extinction of hope in the hearts of deprived and anguished millions. (Universal House of Justice, "The Promise of World Peace", October 1985, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 685)
Wherefore, O ye illumined youth, strive by night and by day to unravel the mysteries of the mind and spirit, and to grasp the secrets of the Day of God. Inform yourselves of the evidences that the Most Great Name hath dawned. Open your lips in praise. Adduce convincing arguments and proofs. Lead those who thirst to the fountain of life; grant ye true health to the ailing. Be ye apprentices of God; be ye physicians directed by God, and heal ye the sick among humankind. Bring those who have been excluded into the circle of intimate friends. Make the despairing to be filled with hope. Waken them that slumber; make the heedless mindful.
Such are the fruits of this earthly life. Such is the station of resplendent glory. Upon you be Bahá'u'l-Abhá. (Bahá'u'lláh, The Compilation of Compilations Vol. II, #2234, p. 415)
But the paramount purpose of all Bahá'í activity is teaching. All that has been done or will be done revolve around this central activity, the “head corner-stone of the foundation itself”, to which all progress in the Cause is due. The present challenge calls for teaching on a scale and of a quality, a variety, and intensity outstripping all current efforts. The time is now, lest opportunity be lost in the swiftly changing moods of a frenetic world. Let it not be imagined that expedience is the essential motive arousing this sense of urgency. There is an overarching reason: it is the pitiful plight of masses of humanity, suffering and in turmoil, hungering after righteousness, but “bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes, or hear His Melody with their own ears”. They must be fed. Vision must be restored where hope is lost, confidence built where doubt and confusion are rife. In these and other respects, The Promise of World Peace is designed to open the way. Its delivery to national governmental leaders having been virtually completed, its contents must now be conveyed, by all possible means, to peoples everywhere from all walks of life. This is a necessary part of the teaching work in our time and must be pursued with unabated vigour. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 145, 1988, in A Wider Horizon - Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1983-1992, p.58; and Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001, p. 83-84)
The Order brought by Bahá'u'lláh is intended to guide the progress and resolve the problems of society. Our numbers are as yet too small to effect an adequate demonstration of the potentialities inherent in the administrative system we are building, and the efficacy of this system will not be fully appreciated without a vast expansion of our membership. With the prevailing situation in the world the necessity to effect such a demonstration becomes more compelling. It is all too obvious that even those who rail against the defects of the old order, and would even tear it down, are themselves bereft of any viable alternative to put in its place. Since the Administrative Order is designed to be a pattern for future society, the visibility of such a pattern will be a signal of hope to those who despair. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 147, 1990, in A Wider Horizon - Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1983-1992, pp. 80-81; Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001, p. 166)
The affairs of mankind have reached a stage at which increasing calls will be made upon our community to assist, through advice and practical measures, in solving critical social problems. It is a service that we will gladly render, but this means that our Local and National Spiritual Assemblies must adhere more scrupulously to principle. With increasing public attention being focused on the Cause of God, it becomes imperative for Bahá'í institutions to improve their performance, through a closer identification with the fundamental verities of the Faith, through greater conformity to the spirit and form of Bahá'í administration and through a keener reliance on the beneficial effects of proper consultation, so that the communities they guide will reflect a pattern of life that will offer hope to the disillusioned members of society. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 147, 1990, in A Wider Horizon - Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1983-1992, p. 82; Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001, p. 167)
Whatever our private reflections or response to duty may lead us to do, of one thing we must be sure: that the Name of Him Who is the Lifegiver of the World becomes known throughout the earth among high and low alike. Considering that it is already a whole century since the Blessed Beauty ascended, and given the crushing weight of the ills burdening the peoples of the world, and seeing that a veritable cry of anguish is issuing more loudly from the hearts of those who long for some hope of relief, we, His avowed servants, can neither falter nor fail in this primary and urgent duty. For He, Bahá'u'lláh, is the Supreme Manifestation, the Unifier and Redeemer of all mankind, the Fountainhead of Justice, the immortal Beloved; for, according to His own unerring proclamation, “He Who is the Unconditioned is come, in the clouds of light, that He may quicken all created things with the breezes of His Name, the Most Merciful, and unify the world, and gather all men around this Table which hath been sent down from heaven.” Let us bear His Name with dignity to those who must hear It, offer It as a treasure to those who must receive It, speak It with love to those who must embrace It. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 149, 1992, in A Wider Horizon - Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1983-1992, pp. 108; Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001, p. 273)
In these days when tribal tensions are increasing in Africa the friends should be vigilant lest any trace of prejudice or hatred, God forbid, may enter their midst. On the contrary, they should endeavour to bring into the Faith an ever-larger representation of the various tribes in each country, and through complete lack of prejudice as well as through the love that Bahá'ís have for each other and for their non-Bahá'í neighbours, demonstrate to their countrymen what the Word of God can do. They will thus provide, for the scrutiny of the leaders and rulers of their countries, a shining example of a unified community, working together in full concord and harmony, demonstrating a hope that is attainable, and a pattern worthy to be emulated. (Universal House of Justice, 8 February 1970, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 166)
May this Conference [the International Teaching Conference, Hong Kong—November 1976] become a landmark in the process of attracting vast numbers of the great Chinese race scattered throughout the world. May it be a prelude to the unprecedented expansion of the Faith in all the countries of Asia. May it become a source of strength to the supporters of the Most Great Name so that despite the rising tide of trials and upheavals afflicting the world, and whatever forces of opposition may be mounted against the Cause of God itself, the believers will not waver or become diverted from their course, but be ever more confirmed in their determination to raise the edifice of the Faith of God as the last bastion of hope to a lost and wayward humanity. (Universal House of Justice, November 1976, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 347)
YOU MEET AT HIGHLY CRITICAL MOMENT HISTORY WHEN TURMOIL ASSOCIATED WITH THIS ERA OF TRANSITION INTENSIFIES. WITHIN CAUSE ITSELF CAN BE SEEN ON ONE HAND UNPRECEDENTED CAMPAIGN PERSECUTION LONG-SUFFERING IRANIAN BRETHREN AND ON OTHER HAND RESOUNDING TRIUMPHS SEVEN YEAR PLAN INDUCED BY THEIR SACRIFICES AND SYMBOLIZED BY OCCUPANCY PERMANENT SEAT UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE. MANKIND RAPIDLY APPROACHES RECKONING WITH BAHÁ'U'LLÁH'S INJUNCTION THAT IT BE UNITED. FROM FAR AND NEAR ANGUISHED MULTITUDES CRY FOR PEACE BUT BEING LARGELY IGNORANT HIS LIFE-REDEEMING MESSAGE THEY FEEL NO HOPE. SITUATION THUS PRESENTS BAHÁ'Í YOUTH WITH GREAT OPPORTUNITIES INESCAPABLE CHALLENGE TO RESCUE THEIR PEERS FROM SLOUGH DESPONDENCY POINTING THEM TOWARDS HOPE-RESTORING BANNER MOST GREAT NAME. (Universal House of Justice, to Youth Conference, Costa Rica & Honduras, 17 March 1983, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 573)
The dark horizon faced by a world which has failed to recognize the Promised One, the Source of its salvation, acutely affects the outlook of the younger generations; their distressing lack of hope and their indulgence in desperate but futile and even dangerous solutions make a direct claim on the remedial attention of Bahá'í youth, who, through their knowledge of that Source and the bright vision with which they have thus been endowed, cannot hesitate to impart to their despairing fellow youth the restorative joy, the constructive hope, the radiant assurances of Bahá'u'lláh's stupendous Revelation. (Letter: “To the Bahá’í Youth of the World”, 8 May 1985, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 668, §428.5)
… [I]t is in the local Bahá'í communities that the most widespread presentation of the Faith can take place. It is here that the real pattern of Bahá'í life can be seen. It is here that the power of Bahá'u'lláh to organize human affairs on a basis of spiritual unity can be most apparent. Every Local Spiritual Assembly which unitedly strives to grow in maturity and efficiency and encourages its community to fulfil its destiny as a foundation stone of Bahá'u'lláh's World Order can add to a growing ground swell of interest in and eventual recognition of the Cause of God as the sole hope for mankind. (Universal House of Justice, "Ridvan Message 1985", Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 667, §427.5)
The proper functioning of these institutions [Spiritual Assemblies] depends largely on the efforts of their members to familiarize themselves with their duties and to adhere scrupulously to principle in their personal behaviour and in the conduct of their official responsibilities. Of relevant importance, too, are their resolve to remove all traces of estrangement and sectarian tendencies from their midst, their ability to win the affection and support of the friends under their care and to involve as many individuals as possible in the work of the Cause. By their constantly aiming at improving their performance, the communities they guide will reflect a pattern of life that will be a credit to the Faith and will, as a welcome consequence, rekindle hope among the increasingly disillusioned members of society. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 150, 1993; in Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 47; Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001, p. 331, §151.10)
Most important of all is that love and unity should prevail in the Bahá'í Community, as this is what people are most longing for in the present dark state of the world. Words without the living example will never be sufficient to breathe hope into the hearts of a disillusioned and often cynical generation. (Shoghi Effendi, “Living the Live”, in The Compilation of Compilations Vol. II, #1307, p. 15)
The Role of Bahá'ís in Today's World
May you all arise to seize the tasks of this crucial moment. May each inscribe his or her own mark on a brief span of time so charged with potentialities and hope for all humanity. Lest you become distracted or preoccupied with the drastic happenings of this age of transition, bear ever in mind the advice of our infallible guide, Shoghi Effendi: “Not ours, puny mortals that we are, to attempt, at so critical a stage in the long and checkered history of mankind, to arrive at a precise and satisfactory understanding of the steps which must successively lead a bleeding humanity, wretchedly oblivious of its God, and careless of Bahá'u'lláh, from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection.... Ours rather the duty, however confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources we dispose of, to labour serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which, as marshalled and directed by Bahá'u'lláh, are leading humanity out of the valley of misery and shame to the loftiest summits of power and glory.”10 [10 The Promised Day is Come, (Wilmette, 1980), p. 124] (The Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 153, To the Bahá’ís of the World”, 1996, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001, p. 494-495)
Comments on the Subject of Politics
To an individual Bahá'í
Dear Bahá'í friend,
The Universal House of Justice received your letter of 15 May conveying your thoughts on the need for Bahá'ís to become involved as may be necessary in political affairs and to participate in activities aimed at the eradication of injustice. The sincerity which prompted you to write such a letter and to candidly express your sentiments deeply touched the Universal House of Justice. We have been asked to convey its comments to you.
The Divine Physician's Remedy
You ask if silence on the part of Bahá'ís will not allow chaos and human humiliation to be a permanent feature on earth, and state that shunning of politics by the Bahá'ís can but weaken the freedom fighters of the world. When viewing the conditions of our society we see a world beset by ills and groaning under the burden of suffering. This suffering, Bahá'u'lláh has Himself testified, is because the “body” of the world, “though created whole and perfect, has been afflicted, through divers causes, with grave ills and maladies,” and “its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of unskilled physicians who have spurred on the steed of their worldly desires and have erred grievously.” Bahá'u'lláh's statement in this passage concludes with the assertion that the “sovereign remedy” lies in turning and submitting to the “skilled,” the “all- powerful,” and “inspired Physician. This, verily, is the truth, and all else naught but error.”F364 [F364. WOB, pp. 39-40; GWB, pp. 254-55.]
This Divine Physician has assured us in His Writings that God is All-Seeing and All-Knowing and has willed to establish in this Day and among men His everlasting Kingdom. “The whole earth,” Bahá'u'lláh has stated, “is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings.”F365 In order to achieve this purpose God sent us the spirit and message of the New Day through two successive Manifestations,F366 both of Whom the generality of mankind have rejected, and have, alas, preferred to continue in their own blindness and perversity. Commenting on such a world spectacle, Bahá'u'lláh wrote: “soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” “After a time,” He further wrote, “all the governments on earth will change. Oppression will envelop the world. And following a universal convulsion, the sun of justice will rise from the horizon of the unseen realm.”F367 [F367. Quoted in PDIC p. 287.], [F366. Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb.], [F365. WOB, p. 169.]
When we turn to His other Writings to learn more of His warning that this “present-day order” is to be “rolled up,” we read statements and predictions such as these: “The time for the destruction of the world and its people hath arrived.” “The hour is approaching when the most great convulsion will have appeared.” “The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: 'Taste ye what your hands have wrought!'“ “Soon shall the blasts of His chastisement beat upon you and the dust of hell enshroud you.” “And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake.” “The day is approaching when its [civilization's] flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: 'The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!'“ “The day is approaching when the wrathful anger of the Almighty will have taken hold of them. He, verily, is the Omnipotent, the All-Subduing, the Most Powerful. He shall cleanse the earth from the defilement of their corruption, and shall give it for an heritage unto such of His servants as are nigh unto Him.”F368 [F368. Quoted in PDIC p. 3.]
The Hand of Providence at Work
From the above it becomes clear that the Hand of Providence is at work, and is engaged in fulfilling God's purpose for mankind in this Age. “God's purpose,” Shoghi Effendi assures us, “is none other than to usher in, in ways He alone can bring about, and the full significance of which He alone can fathom, the Great, the Golden Age of a long- divided, a long-afflicted humanity. Its present state, indeed even its immediate future, is dark, distressingly dark. Its distant future, however, is radiant, gloriously radiant—so radiant that no eye can visualize it.”F369 [F369. PDIC p. 286.]
Let us consider the First World War, which Shoghi Effendi has described in his writings as “the first stage in a titanic convulsion long predicted by Bahá'u'lláh.”F370 Although it ended outwardly in a Treaty of Peace, 'Abdu'l-Bahá remarked: “Peace, Peace, the lips of potentates and peoples unceasingly proclaim, whereas the fire of unquenched hatreds still smoulders in their hearts.” And then in 1920, He wrote: “The ills from which the world now suffers will multiply; the gloom which envelops it will deepen.” And again: “another war, fiercer than the last, will assuredly break out.”F371 After this Second World War broke out in 1939, Shoghi Effendi called it a “tempest, unprecedented in its violence,” and the “great and mighty wind of God invading the remotest and fairest regions of the earth.” After the termination of this War and the creation of the United Nations, the Guardian wrote in 1948, anticipating “still more violent convulsions” and referred to the “wings of yet another conflict” destined to “darken the international horizon.”F372 And finally in his last Ridván Message of April 1957, he left for posterity the following analysis of world conditions in the light of the prophecies and predictions recorded in the writings of the Faith: [F370. GPB, p. 305.], [F371. Quoted in WOB, pp. 29-30, 46.], [F372. PDIC p. 2; CF, p. 58.]
Indeed, as we gaze in retrospect beyond the immediate past, and survey, in however cursory a manner, the vicissitudes afflicting an increasingly tormented society, and recall the strains and stresses to which the fabric of a dying Order has been increasingly subjected, we cannot but marvel at the sharp contrast presented, on the one hand, by the accumulated evidences of the orderly unfoldment, and the uninterrupted multiplication of the agencies, of an Administrative Order designed to be the harbinger of a world civilization, and, on the other, by the ominous manifestations of acute political conflict, of social unrest, of racial animosity, of class antagonism, of immorality and of irreligion, proclaiming, in no uncertain terms, the corruption and obsolescence of the institutions of a bankrupt Order.
Against the background of these afflictive disturbances—the turmoil and tribulations of a travailing age—we may well ponder the portentous prophecies uttered well-nigh four score years ago, by the Author of our Faith, as well as the dire predictions made by Him Who is the unerring Interpreter of His teachings, all foreshadowing a universal commotion, of a scope and intensity unparalleled in the annals of mankind.
The violent derangement of the world's equilibrium; the trembling that will seize the limbs of mankind; the radical transformation of human society; the rolling up of the present-day Order; the fundamental changes affecting the structure of government; the weakening of the pillars of religion; the rise of dictatorships; the spread of tyranny; the fall of monarchies; the decline of ecclesiastical institutions; the increase of anarchy and chaos; the extension and consolidation of the Movement of the Left; the fanning into flame of the smouldering fire of racial strife; the development of infernal engines of war; the burning of cities; the contamination of the atmosphere of the earth—these stand out as the signs and portents that must either herald or accompany the retributive calamity which, as decreed by Him Who is the judge and Redeemer of mankind, must, sooner or later, afflict a society which, for the most part, and for over a century, has turned a deaf ear to the Voice of God's Messenger in this day—a calamity which must purge the human race of the dross of its age-long corruptions, and weld its component parts into a firmly knit world-embracing Fellowship ...F373 [F373. MBW, pp. 102-03.]
Thus we see how the Divine Physician is both the “Judge” of mankind and its “Redeemer.” F374 [F374. PDIC p. 6.]
Non-Interference in Political Affairs
This same Physician, addressing His followers, “the beloved of the one true God,” wrote: “Forbear ye from concerning yourselves with the affairs of this world and all that pertaineth unto it, or from meddling with the activities of those who are its outward leaders. The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings. To none is given the right to act in any manner that would run counter to the considered views of them who are in authority.”F375 [F375. GWB, p. 241.]
In another Tablet He laid on His followers the obligation to “behave towards the government of the country in which they reside with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.”F376 'Abdu'l-Bahá reaffirmed the same principles. When in America He explained: “The essence of the Bahá'í spirit is that, in order to establish a better social order and economic condition, there must be allegiance to the laws and principles of government.” And in a Tablet He referred to the “irrefutable command that the Blessed Perfection hath given” in His Tablets, namely, “that the believers must obey the kings with the utmost sincerity and fidelity, and He hath forbidden them [the believers] to interfere at all with political problems. He hath even prohibited the believers from discussing political affairs.”F377 [F377. PUP, p. 238; TABA 3:498.], [F376. GPB, p. 219.]
And finally in His last Will and Testament He wrote: “We must obey and be the well-wishers of the government of the land ...”F378 [F378. WT, p. 8.]
The Role of Bahá'ís in Today's World
We have also been asked to share with you at this juncture the following two extracts from letters written by the Universal House of Justice, and it is hoped these will help you in appreciating the significant and vital role Bahá'ís can and must play in the world today:
We are told by Shoghi Effendi that two great processes are at work in the world: the great Plan of God, tumultuous in its progress, working through mankind as a whole, tearing down barriers to world unity and forging humankind into a unified body in the fires of suffering and experience. This process will produce in God's due time, the Lesser Peace, the political unification of the world. Mankind at that time can be likened to a body that is unified but without life. The second process, the task of breathing life into this unified body—of creating true unity and spirituality culminating in the Most Great Peace—is that of the Bahá'ís, who are labouring consciously, with detailed instructions and continuing divine guidance, to erect the fabric of the Kingdom of God on earth, into which they call their fellowmen, thus conferring upon them eternal life.
The working out of God's Major Plan proceeds mysteriously in ways directed by Him alone, but the Minor Plan that He has given us to execute, as our part in His grand design for the redemption of mankind, is clearly delineated. It is to this work that we must devote all our energies, for there is no one else to do it....F379 [F379. Universal House of Justice, Letter dated 8 December 1967 to an individual, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, message no. 55, “Relationship of Bahá’ís to Politics”, p. 127, § 55.6]
... Bahá'ís are often accused of holding aloof from the “real problems” of their fellowmen. But when we hear this accusation let us not forget that those who make it are usually idealistic materialists to whom material good is the only “real” good, whereas we know that the working of the material world is merely a reflection of spiritual conditions and until the spiritual conditions can be changed there can be no lasting change for the better in material affairs.
We should also remember that most people have no clear concept of the sort of world they wish to build, nor how to go about building it. Even those who are concerned to improve conditions are therefore reduced to combating every apparent evil that takes their attention. Willingness to fight against evils, whether in the form of conditions or embodied in evil men, has thus become for most people the touchstone by which they judge a person's moral worth. Bahá'ís, on the other hand, know the goal they are working towards and know what they must do, step by step, to attain it. Their whole energy is directed towards the building of the good, a good which has such a positive strength that in the face of it the multitude of evils—which are in essence negative—will fade away and be no more. To enter into the quixotic tournament of demolishing one by one the evils in the world is, to a Bahá'í, a vain waste of time and effort. His whole life is directed towards proclaiming the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, reviving the spiritual life of his fellowmen, uniting them in a divinely-created World Order, and then, as the Order grows in strength and influence, he will see the power of that Message transforming the whole human society and progressively solving the problems and removing the injustices which have so long bedevilled the world.F380 [F380. Universal House of Justice, Letter dated 19 November 1974 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Italy. Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, message no. 151, p. 284, § 151.7]
You have asked whether it is possible to have a World Federation when not all countries have attained their independence. The answer is in the negative. Both `Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi likened the emergence of the American Republic and the unification of the “diversified and loosely related elements” of its “divided” community into one national entity, to the unity of the world and the incorporation of its federated units into “one coherent system.”F381 Just as the American Constitution does not allow one state to be more autonomous than another, so must the nations of the world enjoy equal status in any form of World Federation. Indeed one of the “candles” of unity anticipated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá is “unity in freedom.”F382 [F382. WOB, p. 165.], [F381. WOB, p. 165.]
Yet another question is whether it is morally right to remain silent when equality is being abused. The beloved Guardian has given us the following guidelines in letters written on his behalf. “Much as the friends must guard against in any way ever seeming to identify themselves or the Cause with any political party, they must also guard against the other extreme of never taking part with other progressive groups, in conferences or committees designed to promote some activity in entire accord with our teachings—such as, for instance, better race relations.”F383 [F383. Shoghi Effendi, letter dated 21 November 1948 to an individual.]
The Universal House of Justice hopes that you and your Bahá'í co-workers in that land will steep yourselves in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, endeavour to follow in your personal lives the noble standards set by Him, attract the multitudes to the radiance of His glorious Faith, and enable them to warm their hearts and ignite their souls with the flames of that undying Fire which “blazeth and rageth in the world of creation.”F384 [F384. Bahá'u'lláh, in BP, p. 53, or PM, p. 76.]
We have been asked by the Universal House of Justice to assure you of its prayers on your behalf in the Holy Shrines. (Department of the Secretariat, 7 July 1976, in Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, pp. 330-335)
Over the next few years, Bahá’ís around the world will joyously call to mind the many episodes associated with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s historic journey. But this anniversary is more than a time for commemoration. The words uttered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His travels, and the deeds He undertook with such consummate wisdom and love, offer an abundance of inspiration and manifold insights from which the body of the believers can today draw, whether in their efforts to embrace receptive souls, to raise capacity for service, to build local communities, to strengthen institutions, or to exploit opportunities emerging to engage in social action and contribute to public discourse. We should, therefore, reflect not only upon what the Master achieved and set in motion but also on the work that remains undone to which He has summoned us. (Universal House of Justice, Letter, “20 August 2010, To the Peoples of the World”, in Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 26, ¶2.3)
Referring to the development of the global Bahá’í community, how often did the beloved Guardian encourage the friends to remain resolute in their purpose and persevere in their endeavors. “Conscious of their high calling, confident in the society-building power which their Faith possesses,” he noted with satisfaction, “they press forward, undeterred and undismayed, in their efforts to fashion and perfect the necessary instruments wherein the embryonic World Order of Bahá’u’lláh can mature and develop.” “It is this building process, slow and unobtrusive,” he reminded them, that “constitutes the one hope” of a disillusioned humanity. That this process will continue to gain in scope and influence and the Administrative Order demonstrate in time “its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order” is clear from his writings. “In a world the structure of whose political and social institutions is impaired, whose vision is befogged, whose conscience is bewildered, whose religious systems have become anemic and lost their virtue,” he asserted so emphatically, “this healing Agency, this leavening Power, this cementing Force, intensely alive and all-pervasive,” is “taking shape,” is “crystallizing into institutions,” and is “mobilizing its forces”. (Universal House of Justice, “28 December 2010, To the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors”, in Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, pp. 38-39, ¶3.13)
World-wide Reconciliation and Unification: A Time for Rejoicing – Lift up Your Hearts
The ages of its infancy and childhood are past, never again to return, while the Great Age, the consummation of all ages, which must signalize the coming of age of the entire human race, is yet to come. The convulsions of this transitional and most turbulent period in the annals of humanity are the essential prerequisites, and herald the inevitable approach, of that Age of Ages, “the time of the end,” in which the folly and tumult of strife that has, since the dawn of history, blackened the annals of mankind, will have been finally transmuted into the wisdom and the tranquility of an undisturbed, a universal, and lasting peace, in which the discord and separation of the children of men will have given way to the worldwide reconciliation, and the complete unification of the divers elements that constitute human society. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 117)
At the inception of the Bahá’í community’s first global Plan, Shoghi Effendi described in compelling language the successive stages by which the divine light had been kindled in the Síyáh-Chál, clothed in the lamp of revelation in Baghdád, spread to countries in Asia and Africa even as it shone with added brilliancy in Adrianople and later in ‘Akká, projected across the seas to the remaining continents, and by which it would be progressively diffused over the states and dependencies of the world. The final part of this process he characterized as the “penetration of that light ... into all the remaining territories of the globe”, referring to it as “the stage at which the light of God’s triumphant Faith shining in all its power and glory will have suffused and enveloped the entire planet.” Though that goal is far from being fulfilled, the light already blazes intensely in many a region. In some countries it shines in every cluster. In the land where that inextinguishable light was first ignited, it burns bright despite those who would snuff it out. In diverse nations it achieves a steady glow across whole neighborhoods and villages, as candle after candle in heart after heart is lighted by the Hand of Providence; it illuminates thoughtful conversation at every level of human interaction; it casts its beams upon a myriad initiatives taken to promote the well-being of a people. And in every instance it radiates from a faithful believer, a vibrant community, a loving Spiritual Assembly—each a beacon of light against the gloom. (Universal House of Justice, “Ridván 2011, To the Peoples of the World”, in The Universal House of Justice, The Five Year Plan 2011-2016, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, pp. 67-68, ¶5.6)
It is a time for rejoicing. The Sun of Bahá'u'lláh is mounting the heavens, bringing into ever clearer light the contrast between the gloom, the despair, the frustrations and bewilderment of the world, and the radiance, confidence, joy and certitude of His lovers. Lift up your hearts. The Day of God is here. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 1983, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 576, § 358.9)
1. For publication details, see the “References” at the end of the compilation. Note that references that are found within a selection are not included in the “References”.
2. This is the footnote format used by “Ocean” in the compilation Messages for footnotes in the messages by the Universal House of Justice. This same notation will be encountered throughout the present compilation in selections from Messages.
3. Headings in this style come from the original text of the reference cited.
Hornby, Helen Bassett (compiler). – Lights of Guidance - A Bahá’í Reference File. Sixth ed. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Ecuador. New Delhi, India: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1999.
McLean, J.A. A Celestial Burning – A selective study of the writings of Shoghi Effendi. First Indian Edition. New Delhi, India: Bahá’í Publishing Trust of India, Rakmo Press Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi. 2012.
Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. “Promoting Entry by Troops: A Compilation of Extracts from Letters Written by or on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice”, in Promoting Entry by Troops. Riviera Beach, FL: Palabra Publications, 1996, 21-50.
Shoghi Effendi. This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932-1946. Wilmette, IL: National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, 1947, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002.
———. Citadel of Faith. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1965.
———. Dawn of a New Day. India: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1970. http://www.bahai-library.com/shoghieffendi_dawn_new_day . Accessed 10/30/2015
———. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Second revised edition. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1974
———. The Promised Day is Come. Rev. ed. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980.
Universal House of Justice. Quickeners of Mankind: Pioneering in a World Community. National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, 1980.
———.The Compilation of Compilations, Volume II. Victoria, Australia: Bahá’í Publications Australia, 1991.
———. Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996.
———. “Ridván 153, To the Bahá’ís of the World”. Haifa, Israel: Bahá’í World Center, 1996.
———. The Five Year Plan 2011-2016: Messages of the Universal House of Justice. First edition. West Palm Beach, FL: Palabra Publications, 2011, 1-23.
———. “Ridván 2012, To the People of the World”. Haifa, Israel: Bahá’í World Center, 2012.
———. “Ridván 2013, To the People of the World”. Haifa, Israel: Bahá’í World Center, 2013.
———. “Ridván 2015, To the Peoples of the World”. Haifa, Israel: Bahá’í World Center, 2015.
———. A Wider Horizon-Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1983-1992. West Palm Beach, FL: Palabra Publications, 1992.
Abbreviations Used in Footnotes, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986
BP Bahá’í Prayers, 1991 U.S. ed.
GPB God Passes By
GWB Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh
MBW Messages to the Bahá’í World
PDIC The Promised Day is Come, 1996 ed.
PUP The Promulgation of Universal Peace, 1982 ed.
WOB The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh
WT Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá
Last updated 3 February 2016