It is sometimes considered by modern commentators that simply getting up and speaking out would change the whole religious and political scenario, and the world would be a better place.It is often further suggested or implied that the failure to better the world has been a failure of any religious figure to do such speaking out. This is utter nonsense, uttered by the inexperienced and the sloth. A serious investigator simply has to note how long the Baha’i Faith has been speaking out throughout Persia, the Middle East and the whole world, to realise how resistant the population is to the change of mind set and behaviour that is required to abolish conflict from the planet. One story, seemingly straightforward in its telling but extraordinary in it’s brief history and its implications, highlights the difficult path from vision to change.
In the 1880’s in a far corner of the world, the ancient city of Akka was home to the exiled nobleman and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah. English Orientalist, Edward Granville Browne, spent a year in Persia studying the origins and development of the Baha’i Faith. Browne’s visit with Baha’u’llah in Akka in 1890, just one year before Baha’u’llah’s passing, left this account: “During the morning of the day after my installation at Bahji [the house of Baha’u’llah) one of Beha’s[Baha’u’llah’s] younger sons entered the room where I was sitting and beckoned to me to follow him. I did so, and was conducted through passages and rooms at which I scarcely had time to glance to a spacious hall, paved, so far as I remember (for my mind was occupied with other thoughts) with a mosaic of marble. Before a curtain suspended from the wall of this great ante-chamber my conductor paused for a moment while I removed my shoes. Then, with a quick movement of the hand, he withdrew, and, as I passed, replaced the curtain; and I found myself in a large apartment, along the upper end of which ran a low divan, while on the side opposite to the door were placed two or three chairs. Though I dimly suspected whither I was going and whom I was to behold (for no distinct intimation had been given to me), a second or two elapsed ere, with a throb of wonder and awe, I became definitely conscious that the room was not untenanted. In the corner where the divan met the wall sat a wondrous and venerable figure,…. The face of him on whom I gazed I can never
forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one’s very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!
A mild dignified voice bade me be seated, and then continued: — ‘Praise be to God that thou hast attained I . . . Thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile. . . We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment. . . That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religion should cease, and differences of race be annulled — what harm is there in this? . . . Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the “Most Great Peace” shall come. . . Do not you in Europe need this also? Is not this that which Christ foretold? . . . Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind. . . These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family. . . Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind. . .’
Such, so far as I can recall them, were the words which, besides many others, I heard from Beha. Let those who read them consider well with themselves whether such doctrines merit death and bonds, and whether the world is more likely to gain or lose by their diffusion.”
Baha’u’llah has turned the social, religious and political mindset on its head. Although His work has been collected in 100 volumes, even a couple of paragraphs denote the revolution He proposed. Here He is on the resistance of the population and leaders to His vision; the necessity for their own sake, to take Him seriously; and the actual changes they need to make, ” O people of God! Countless are the realms which Our Pen of Glory hath revealed and manifold the eyes to which it hath imparted true enlightenment. Yet most of the people in Persia continue to be deprived of the benefits of profitable counsels and remain sorely lacking in useful sciences and arts. Formerly these sublime words were especially revealed by the Pen of Glory in honour of one of the faithful, that perchance those that have gone astray may embrace the Truth and become acquainted with the subtleties of the Law of God.
The unbelievers and the faithless have set their minds on four things: first, the shedding of blood; second, the burning of books; third, the shunning of the followers of other religions; fourth, the extermination of other communities and groups. Now however, through the strengthening grace and potency of the Word of God these four barriers have been demolished, these clear injunctions have been obliterated from the Tablet and brutal dispositions have been transmuted into spiritual attributes. Exalted is His purpose; glorified is His power; magnified is His dominion!” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 91,92)
In another letter He not only banned the burning but the destruction of books presumably by any means. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 25)
We might not think this a very important issue today, but to understand the implications of this we must go to another warning from Baha’u’llah, “Warn the beloved of the one true God, not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men. Let them rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 329) In doing so, Baha’u’llah forbids conflict even against those who are inflammatory towards His own teachings, encourage an assertive argument to promote His vision. “Those men, however, who, in this Day, have been led to assail, in their inflammatory writings, the tenets of the Cause of God, are to be treated differently. It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the All-Powerful, the Almighty. He that wisheth to promote the Cause of the one true God, let him promote it through his pen and tongue.”(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 329)
Baha’u’llah’s courage was to assert, from a most vulnerable position, from a miserable corner of the Middle East, that a global society was the only worthwhile goal for any national government, and that the ethics of such a society required freedom for people to write and say what they thought. He did not protect people from criticism. He did not protect Himself from criticism. His only demand was that any criticism itself does not necessarily go unchecked. From that remote exile, Baha’u’llah contrived a vision of the most free society conceivable. Yet, some 166 years after the Baha’i Faith began to wrestle the mindset of the Persian people away from miserable superstitions, there are still ignorant people in all continents who resist opening their eyes and minds to look at the truth. There are people who want to burn books. Some of them are religious. Some of them declare aetheism. So do not cry out for others to stand up and speak. Others have. It is now for the critic to stand up and support Baha’u’llah’s vision.