Bahá’í-inspired perspective on global justice

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 20. February 2022 - 12:59


Bahá’í-inspired perspective on global justice

Jubilee for Climate UK – Faith Leaders Roundtable
15 February 2022
presentation by Arthur Lyon Dahl
Roundtable video available at


On 15 February I was invited by Jubilee for Climate UK and other partners to present a Bahá'í perspective on issues of global justice, on a roundtable along with a number of other people of faith. The following is the essence of my presentation. Following the roundtable, they decided to draw attention to persistent poverty by organising a public distribution of food for the poor at the end of each month, and at the end of the year, in the faith tradition of jubilee, to call for the abolition of all debt.


For those deeply concerned about issues of social justice and the weight of the debt burden on the poor and developing countries, now being aggravated by the climate crisis, while extreme wealth concentrates at the top, it is useful to ask what role religion might play today. The role of faith has always been to warn us about giving free reign to our animal nature when we really have a spiritual purpose and potential that can make us truly human. All the divine educators have brought this truth, while adapting their message to the needs of their time in a progressive series of revelations. In this sense we can understand the unity of all religions, including the beliefs and world-views of indigenous peoples. The divine educators taught both by their example and by their teachings which have become the sacred scriptures. Since faith has both rational and emotional components, it is able to motivate both individual and social transformation.

Presentation of the Bahá’í Faith

For those who may not know it, the central figure or divine educator of the Bahá’í Faith is Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), originally from Persia, who after many years of exile was imprisoned in the Holy Land from 1868 until his passing in 1892, which is why the Bahá’í World Centre is in Haifa, Israel. He renewed God’s message of unity and justice with principles and institutions for a united world. He explained how all religions are part of one progressive process of revelation, and the fundamental harmony of science and religion. His son Abdu’l-Bahá was only released from prison in 1908. He then traveled to Europe and America in 1911-1913, where He often addressed issues of justice and the economy. Today the Bahá’í Faith has an international elected governing body, the Universal House of Justice. The quotes below come from these three sources of guidance.


The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice.... By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.
(Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words (Arabic))

And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh are justice and right. Until these are realized on the plane of existence, all things shall be in disorder and remain imperfect. The world of mankind is a world of oppression and cruelty, and a realm of aggression and error.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 227, p. 304)

Critique of the economic system

The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.... The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities...
(Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CLXIV, p. 342-343)

Having penetrated and captured all significant centres of power and information at the global level, dogmatic materialism ensured that no competing voices would retain the ability to challenge projects of world wide economic exploitation.
(Universal House of Justice, One Common Faith, 2005, p. 5)

All too many of these [man-made] ideologies...callously abandon starving millions to the operations of a market system that all too clearly is aggravating the plight of the majority of mankind, while enabling small sections to live in a condition of affluence scarcely dreamed of by our forebears.
(Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, 1985, I, p. 6-7)

The time has come when those who preach the dogmas of materialism, whether of the east or of the west, whether of capitalism or socialism, must give account of the moral stewardship they have presumed to exercise…. Why is the vast majority of the world's peoples sinking ever deeper into hunger and wretchedness... ?
(Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, 1985, I, p. 7)

...certain approaches to obtaining wealth--so many of which involve the exploitation of others, the monopolization and manipulation of markets, and the production of goods that promote violence and immorality--are unworthy and unacceptable.
(Universal House of Justice, To Baha'is in the Cradle of the Faith, 2 April 2010)

The need for a spiritual approach founded in ethics and values

To alleviate a variety of problems born of the economic inequalities so prevalent in the world today, social and economic development will require, especially among the younger generations, a fundamental shift in perspective, one that changes the way in which certain essential concepts are viewed--the true purpose of life, the nature of progress, the meaning of true happiness and well-being, and the place that material pursuits should assume in one's individual and family life.
(Universal House of Justice, To Baha'is in the Cradle of the Faith, 2 April 2010)

Social justice will be attained only when every member of society enjoys a relative degree of material prosperity and gives due regard to the acquisition of spiritual qualities. The solution, then, to prevailing economic difficulties is to be sought as much in the application of spiritual principles as in the implementation of scientific methods and approaches.
(Universal House of Justice, To Baha'is in the Cradle of the Faith, 2 April 2010)

The failure to place economics into the broader context of humanity's social and spiritual existence has led to a corrosive materialism in the world's more economically advantaged regions, and persistent conditions of deprivation among the masses of the world's peoples. Society must develop new economic models…. Resources must be directed... to furthering a dynamic, just and thriving social order. Such economic systems will be strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature; they will provide meaningful employment and will help to eradicate poverty in the world.
(Bahá'í International Community, Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998)

Summary of some Baha’i principles relevant to the economy

• Be content with little, altruism, voluntary sharing
• Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
• Graduated income tax (up to 50%) and tax on accumulated wealth
• Guaranteed minimum income, eliminating poverty
• Work is worship, obligation to work, to be of benefit to society, service
• Profit sharing in corporations (20% of shares to employees)
• No more trusts (corporations in a monopoly position)
• Sustainability, respect for nature and biodiversity, not destroying the natural order
• Peace, abolition of war through collective security
• New approach to governance, elected consultative bodies
• Avoidance of partisan politics, work for unity
• World federation to manage global resources and distribute them equitably

Serving as an example, individual and community

The economic life of humanity has recently embroiled so many people. Injustice is tolerated with indifference and disproportionate gain is regarded as the emblem of success. So deeply entrenched are such pernicious attitudes that it is hard to imagine how any one individual can alone alter the prevailing standards by which the relationships in this domain are governed. Nevertheless, there are certainly practices anyone could eschew, such as dishonesty in one's transactions or the economic exploitation of others. There should be no contradiction between one's economic conduct and one's beliefs. By applying in one's life principles of fairness and equity, each person can uphold a standard far above the low threshold by which the world measures itself. Humanity is weary for want of a pattern of life to which to aspire; we should aim for actions in our communities which will give hope to the world.
(Universal House of Justice, Message to the Baha'i World, Ridvan 2012)

A host of negative forces, generated by the materialism and corruption so widespread in the world, present a challenge in upholding standards of conduct with respect to financial affairs. The members of the younger generation would do well to ponder the difference between gaining wealth through earnest effort in fields such as agriculture, commerce, the arts, and industry, on the one hand, and, on the other, obtaining it without exertion or through dishonourable means. Let them consider the consequences of each for the spiritual development of the individual, as well as the progress of society, and ask themselves what possibilities exist for generating income and acquiring wealth that will ensure true happiness through the development of spiritual qualities, such as honesty, trustworthiness, generosity, justice, and consideration for others, and the recognition that material means are to be expended for the betterment of the world.
(Universal House of Justice, To Baha'is in the Cradle of the Faith, 2 April 2010)

Need for a vision and shared ethic

There is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources. The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds.
(Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of the World, 1 March 2017)

The vision of Baha'u'llah challenges many of the assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse—for instance, that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Baha'i thought…. Wealth must serve humanity. Its use must accord with spiritual principles; systems must be created in their light. And, in Baha'u'llah's memorable words, "No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it."
(Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of the World, 1 March 2017)

Last updated 20 February 2022