II. RELIGION AND CULTURAL CHANGE
Religion"the very basis and root-principle of culture and civilization"III. APPRECIATION OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY
A "new way of life for humanity"
Inevitability of Change
Nature and Processes of Cultural Evolution
"Consider the flowers of a garden"The Principle of Unity in DiversityV. CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN THE BAHÁ'Í COMMUNITY
An "equal standard of human rights"
Enrichment of Community Life
Associating with People of Divers Beliefs and Customs
Responsibilities of Bahá'í Administrative Institutions
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(Gleanings from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983), section CIX, p. 215)143 The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. Religion bestoweth upon man the most precious of all gifts, offereth the cup of prosperity, imparteth eternal life, and showereth imperishable benefits upon mankind.
(Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1995), pp. 129-30)144 ... the religions of God are the true source of the spiritual and material perfections of man, and the fountainhead for all mankind of enlightenment and beneficial knowledge.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1994), p. 94)
(Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1997), section 71, p. 115)146 In this day ... means of communication have multiplied, and the five continents of the earth have virtually merged into one. And for everyone it is now easy to travel to any land, to associate and exchange views with its peoples, and to become familiar, through publications, with the conditions, the religious beliefs and the thoughts of all men. In like manner all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day. Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century. Of this past ages have been deprived, for this centurythe century of lighthath been endowed with unique and unprecedented glory, power and illumination. Hence the miraculous unfolding of a fresh marvel every day. Eventually it will be seen how bright its candles will burn in the assemblage of man.
(28 November 1931, Shoghi Effendi, in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991), pp. 41-43)148 The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the COMING OF AGE OF THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man's collective life on this planet. The emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and cultureall of which must synchronize with the initial stages in the unfoldment of the Golden Age of the Bahá'í Erashould, by their very nature, be regarded, as far as this planetary life is concerned, as the furthermost limits in the organization of human society, though man, as an individual, will, nay must indeed as a result of such a consummation, continue indefinitely to progress and develop.
(23 April 1954, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi ta an individual believer)
(23 December 1942, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)153 When the masses of mankind are awakened and enter the Faith of God, a new process is set in motion and the growth of a new civilization begins. Witness the emergence of Christianity and of Islam. These masses are the rank and file, steeped in traditions of their own, but receptive to the new Word of God, by which, when they truly respond to it, they become so influenced as to transform those who come in contact with them.
(13 July 1964, the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, published in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986 (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1996), p. 38)154 The House of Justice is deeply concerned at the plight of so many of the indigenous and aboriginal peoples in various parts of the world who have been denied their rights as a consequence of actions by oppressive majorities. Such inequities and injustices are to be found in many countries. The purpose of the coming of Bahá'u'lláh is to lift the yoke of oppression from His loved ones, to liberate all the people of the world, and to provide the means for their abiding happiness.
(15 June 1987, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a Bahá'í couple)155 It is, of course, true that new movements of thought, especially in the field of religion, tend to obliterate old ones, or to transform their nature in the eyes of the people. One has only to consider how the religions of Greece and Rome, and those of the Keltic and Germanic peoples, although still remembered by the European peoples in the form of legend and literary tradition, have been replaced by Christianity.
(22 March 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)
(21 December 1947, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a Native American Local Spiritual Assembly)158 ...when a person becomes a Bahá'í, he gives up the past only in the sense that he is a part of this new and living Faith of God, and must seek to pattern himself, in act and thought, along the lines laid down by Bahá'u'lláh. The fact that he is by origin a Jew or a Christian, a black man or a white man, is not important any more, but, as you say, lends colour and charm to the Bahá'í Community in that it demonstrates unity in diversity.
(12 March 1949, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)159 The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh will establish a new way of life for humanity. Those who are Bahá'ís must endeavour to establish this way of life just as rapidly as possible. Now that the hour has arrived when the Bahá'í Faith is gaining prominence, and is being reviewed by so many peoples, it is necessary that the adherents of the Faith should live up to the high ideals of the Faith in every way. In this way they can demonstrate that the Bahá'í Faith does create a new way of life, which brings to the individual a complete association with the Will of God, and thus the establishment of a peaceful and universal society. Divisional attachments are of men, while universal service is of God.
(20 November 1955, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)160 It is not enough to proclaim the Bahá'í message, essential as that is. It is not enough to expand the rolls of Bahá'í membership, vital as that is. Souls must be transformed, communities thereby consolidated, new models of life thus attained. Transformation is the essential purpose of the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh, but it lies in the will and effort of the individual to achieve it in obedience to the Covenant. Necessary to the progress of this life-fulfilling transformation is knowledge of the will and purpose of God through regular reading and study of the Holy Word.
(Ridván 1989, the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá'ís of the World)
('Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, p. 85)162 Know that nothing which exists remains in a state of repose that is to say, all things are in motion. Everything is either growing or declining; all things are either coming from nonexistence into being, or going from existence into nonexistence.
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984), p. 233)163 God has given us eyes, that we may look about us at the world, and lay hold of whatsoever will further civilization and the arts of living. He has given us ears, that we may hear and profit by the wisdom of scholars and philosophers and arise to promote and practice it. Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end ...
(5 May 1946, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
(8 August 1957, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)169 Bahá'ís should obviously be encouraged to preserve their inherited cultural identities, as long as the activities involved do not contravene the principles of the Faith. The perpetuation of such cultural characteristics is an expression of unity in diversity. Although most of these festive celebrations have no doubt stemmed from religious rituals in bygone ages, the believers should not be deterred from participating in those in which, over the course of time, the religious meaning has given way to purely culturally oriented practices. For example, Naw-Rúz itself was originally a Zoroastrian religious festival, but gradually its Zoroastrian connotation has almost been forgotten. Iranians, even after their conversion to Islam, have been observing it as a national festival. Now Naw-Rúz has become a Bahá'í Holy Day and is being observed throughout the world, but, in addition to the Bahá'í observance, many Iranian Bahá'ís continue to carry out their past cultural traditions in connection with this Feast. Similarly, there are a number of national customs in every part of the world which have cultural rather than religious connotations.
As regards the celebration of the Christian Holidays by the believers: it is surely preferable and even highly advisable that the friends should in their relation to each other discontinue observing such holidays as Christmas and New Year, and to have their festal gatherings of this nature instead during the intercalary days and Naw-Ruz.Further, there is no objection for Bahá'ís to attend religious marriage ceremonies of their friends and relatives or take part in festivities usually connected with these events, provided that in doing so they do not contravene Bahá'í Law. For example, if consuming alcoholic beverages is a part of such activities, the Bahá'ís, of course, would be obliged to refrain from partaking of such drinks.
(26 May 1982, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)170 The House of Justice supports the view that in every country the cultural traditions of the people should be observed within the Bahá'í community as long as they are not contrary to the Teachings...
(25 July 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)171 ...what Bahá'u'lláh has done for us all is to provide a standard by which to determine what is pleasing in God's sight, thereby freeing us to maintain those elements of diversity which are unique to our different cultures. The adoption of this divine standard enables each people to be confident in the permissibility of what it can retain from its past.
(23 June 1995, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)172 Since change is inevitable if progress is to be made by any African society, a primary challenge to Bahá'ís is to preserve and improve those wholesome aspects of tribal and family custom that are in accord with the Bahá'í Teachings and to dispense with those that are not. Such a challenge must be embraced with the understanding that the Book of God is the standard by which to weigh all forms of behaviour. While unwavering action is necessary, wisdom and tact and patience must, of course, be exercised. Let it be understood, too, that Africans are not alone in the struggle to change certain age-old practices. People everywhere have customs which must be abandoned so as to clear the path along which their societies must evolve towards that glorious, new civilization which is to be the fruit of Bahá'u'lláh's stupendous Revelation. Indeed, in no society on earth can there be found practices which adequately mirror the standards of His Cause. His own truth-bearing Words clarify the matter: "The summons and the message which We gave were never intended to reach or to benefit one land or one people only. Mankind in its entirety must firmly adhere to whatsoever hath been revealed and vouchsafed unto it. Then and only then will it attain unto true liberty. The whole earth is illuminated with the resplendent glory of God's Revelation."
(Ridván 1996, the Universal House of Justice to the Followers of Bahá'u'lláh in Africa)
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1993), p. 61)174 A critic may object, saying that peoples, races, tribes and communities of the world are of different and varied customs, habits, tastes, character, inclinations and ideas, that opinions and thoughts are contrary to one another, and how, therefore, is it possible for real unity to be revealed and perfect accord among human souls to exist?
(25 June 1935, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)176 Such a Faith knows no division of class or of party. It subordinates, without hesitation or equivocation, every particularistic interest, be it personal, regional, or national, to the paramount interests of humanity, firmly convinced that in a world of interdependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected...
(11 March 1936, Shoghi Effendl, in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters, p. 198; and pp. 203-4.177 With the coming of Bahá'u'lláh and the emphasis that His Revelation gives to the oneness of mankind, it is inevitable that peoples in all parts of the world who once seemed dormant or who have suffered discrimination would rise to assert their place in society. As with so many fundamental social issues, those concerning "indigenous rights" and "self-determination" find, for Bahá'ís, their proper expression and resolution within the context of the principle of the oneness of mankind. However, as is often the case, such issues are expressed in political forms which are unacceptable to Bahá'ís, who conscientiously avoid partisanship, subversion, and the corrupt attitudes and involvements associated with politics. At the present time, it is recognized that important issues of society fall within the province of government and perforce engage political processes currently in practice. Increasingly, as the Faith emerges from obscurity the Bahá'í community will find itself compelled to assist in finding solutions to the social problems afflicting humanity; it will have to be wise in its actions to avoid the pitfalls of politics.
(27 June 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)178 The fundamental principle of the oneness of mankind, and the aim of the Faith to promote unity in diversity, underlie the Bahá'í approach to indigenous peoples. Their rights are inseparable from human rights for all, and the Bahá'í Faith upholds the right of indigenous peoples to develop and take pride in their own identity, culture and language. Great importance is attached to teaching the Faith to the indigenous populations in a country, more especially since they have so often been neglected or downtrodden by other segments of society; in many instances their suffering has made them particularly receptive to the Message of Bahá'u'lláh ...
(25 July 1995, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)179 ... the oneness of mankind will not be based on forced assimilation, but upon protection of cultural diversity. At the same time, however, we should beware of inadvertently settling upon a limited model, such as the one sometimes associated in contemporary discourse on multiculturalism. A distinctively Bahá'í culture will welcome an infinite diversity in regard to secondary characteristics, but also firmly uphold unity in regard to fundamental principles; thereby achieving a vigorous complementarily. For example, in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1982), page 260-1, we find the following intriguing statement:
What a blessing that will bewhen all shall come together, even as once separate torrents, rivers and streams, running brooks and single drops, when collected together in one place will form a mighty sea. And to such a degree will the inherent unity of all prevail, that the traditions, rules, customs and distinctions in the fanciful life of these populations will be effaced and vanish away like isolated drops, once the great sea of oneness doth leap and surge and roll,The point is not to minimize differences, nor to make of unity and diversity a false dichotomy, but ever to keep in mind that the Bahá'í standard is very high and grounded in divine love.
(13 February 1996, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 182)181 As to your question concerning the rights of the minority of non-Bahá'í citizens in a Bahá'í state, it is clear from the writings of our Faith that under a Bahá'í system the rights of minorities of any type must always be respected and upheld. Just as Bahá'ís today show obedience and loyalty to the government but refuse to bow to the majority if they are asked to deny their faith, so in the future, when the majority is represented by the Faith the Bahá'ís will not force the minority to become followers of Bahá'u'lláh but they will expect the minority to be similarly obedient and loyal. As you indicate the ways of the world are basically and usually at variance with this standard ...
(9 March 1977, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)182 We appreciate the careful thought you have given to the subject of indigenous populations. The Bahá'í International Community should maintain its involvement with this issue, continuing the emphasis on the need for unity in diversitya unity which implies mutual tolerance among the various populations, a recognition by dominant populations of the freedom of indigenous peoples to exercise their rights in all legitimate varieties of ways, and the corollary recognition of indigenous peoples themselves that such freedom carries with it the responsibility of recognizing the rights of all others to the same expressions. The implications for indigenous peoples also include: realization of the virtues of cross-cultural influences; appreciation of the values of other cultures as accruing to the wealth of human experience and the freedom of all to share in such values without necessarily giving up their respective identities; avoidance of parochial attitudes which degenerate into ethnic and cultural prejudices; and, above all, appreciation of the necessity to maintain a global perspective within which the particulars of indigenous expression can find an enduring context.
(19 July 1985, the Universal House of Justice to a Bahá'í International Community UN Office)183 Concerning indigenous rights, it stands to reason that indigenous people are entitled to all the human rights accorded other peoples. For example, they should be guaranteed the full rights of citizenship, and all acts of discrimination against them, which may have developed over the years, should be eliminated. At the same time, it would be unseemly for the demands for their rights to make, on the basis of their indigenousness, a special claim to exclusive rights and privileges which exceed the necessity to redress injustices. The Bahá'í attitude on such questions should be guided by Bahá'u'lláh's teaching that "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." Thus it should be borne in mind that while upholding indigenous rights may well deserve the support of the Bahá'ís, often the viewpoints of those claiming such rights are so circumscribed and narrow that Bahá'ís find it difficult to wholeheartedly subscribe to them.
(14 January 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly).184 Indigenous people have a highly significant role to play in the development of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, as is indicated in the oft-quoted words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá concerning the American continent to the effect that "should these Indians be educated and properly guided, there can be no doubt that through the Divine teachings they will become so enlightened that the whole earth will be illumined". In this period of social evolution, however, minorities, including indigenous peoples, continue to suffer from oppressive and disheartening treatment in many parts of the world. On the subject of amelioration of the condition of oppressed and unjustly treated minorities, in a letter written on its behalf, the House of Justice has stated the following.
The Universal House of Justice is deeply concerned at the plight of so many of the aboriginal peoples in various parts of the world who have been denied fundamental human rights by uninterested and selfish majorities. Humanity is plagued with many inequities and injustices in every part of the world. Bahá'u'lláh speaks of these and points out time and again that the solution to these problems lies in the recognition of God and His Manifestation for this Day. While there is no objection to any member of a minority group asserting his legal claim to property or rights through the courts or administrative agencies which may be open to him, it is contrary to Bahá'í principles to take political action in asserting those rights.The principles stated in the Writings are clear, but usually it is when these principles are applied that questions arise, and in cases in which there is any doubt about the correct course of action, the believers should consult their National Assembly.
(27 June 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
(2 January 1934, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)186 Now that more of the Latin believers are active and beginning to assume responsibilities, the work will go forward on a more permanent foundation, as pioneers from a foreign land can never take the place of native believers who must always constitute the bedrock of any future development of the Faith in their country.
(30 January ]948, written on behalf of Shoghi Ejfendi to an individual believer)187 Every effort should be made to teach the native Swedish people, so they may ultimately take their part in the community of races and people, who make the world order of Bahá'u'lláh.
(4 January 1954, written on behalf of Shoghi Ejfendi to two Local Spiritual Assemblies)188 He was likewise very happy to know that there are now new Assemblies formed in the Malayan Federation, and he hopes that the Cause will make rapid progress in that part of the world. There are so many races and so many nationalities, and the future is infinitely bright when we think of what these souls are going to contribute to the international Bahá'í life as they become strong supporters of our glorious Faith.
(7 May 1954, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)189 In connection with the teaching work throughout the Pacific area,... [the] Bahá'ís... must bear in mind that the primary object of their living there is to teach the native population the Faith...
(16 June 1954, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)190 At the same time there is a challenge of great urgency facing the world-wide Bahá'í community. When launching the Ten Year Crusade, Shoghi Effendi urged the believers to "carry the torch of the Faith to regions so remote, so backward, so inhospitable that neither the light of Christianity or Islam has, after the revolution of centuries, as yet penetrated." A number of such regions still exist in places like New Guinea, the heart of Africa and the Amazon Basin in South America. As the influence of civilization spreads, the age-old ways of life of the inhabitants of these regions will inevitably perish, and they will rapidly be infected with the materialistic ideas of a decadent civilization. It is our pressing duty to carry the Message of Bahá'u'lláh to such people while they are still pure-hearted and receptive, and through it to prepare them for the changed world which will come upon them ...
(25 May 1975, from the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies)V. CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN THE BAHÁ'Í COMMUNITY
('Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablet translated from the Persian)192 To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh. The consciousness of any division or cleavage in its ranks is alien to its very purpose, principles, and ideals. Once its members have fully recognized the claim of its Author, and, by identifying themselves with its Administrative Order, accepted unreservedly the principles and laws embodied in its teachings, every differentiation of class, creed, or color must automatically be obliterated, and never be allowed, under any pretext, and however great the pressure of events or of public opinion, to reassert itself. If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it. So great and vital is this principle that in such circumstances, as when an equal number of ballots have been cast in an election, or where the qualifications for any office are balanced as between the various races, faiths or nationalities within the community, priority should unhesitatingly be accorded the party representing the minority, and this for no other reason except to stimulate and encourage it, and afford it an opportunity to further the interests of the community. In the light of this principle, and bearing in mind the extreme desirability of having the minority elements participate and share responsibility in the conduct of Bahá'í activity, it should be the duty of every Bahá'í community so to arrange its affairs that in cases where individuals belonging to the divers minority elements within it are already qualified and fulfil the necessary requirements, Bahá'í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible. The adoption of such a course, and faithful adherence to it, would not only be a source of inspiration and encouragement to those elements that are numerically small and inadequately represented, but would demonstrate to the world at large the universality, and representative character of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and the freedom of His followers from the taint of those prejudices which have already wrought such havoc in the domestic affairs, as well as the foreign relationships, of the nations.193 Association with all people of divers beliefs, customs, and outlook is enjoined by Bahá'u'lláh, but we must guard against interference in political affairs, nor must we give the impression that we are a sect of any existing religion. We must be tolerant, kind, broad-minded, and unprejudiced in our dealings with all sorts and conditions of men, but it is our duty also to assert and prove the independence of our precious and sacred Faith, and to explain its liberal, universal principles.
(12 December 1932, Shoghi Effendi, in a footnote appended to a letter written on his behalf to an individual believer)194 The friends should first start by applying the principle of the oneness of races within their own community, and thus set before the world outside a noble and inspiring example. Every trace of racial prejudice should be banished by the friends in their community life, and also in their private life, so much so that they should come to gradually forget the very existence of the racial problem as such. Such an attitude is bound to strongly impress every outsider and draw his attention to the Cause, and convince him of the sublimity and practicability of its Teachings.
(11 November 1936, written on behalf of Shdfihi Effendi to an individual believer)195 It is a great mistake to believe that because people are illiterate or live primitive lives, they are lacking in either intelligence or sensibility. On the contrary, they may well look on us, with the evils of our civilization, with its moral corruption, its ruinous wars, its hypocrisy and conceit, as people who merit watching with both suspicion and contempt. We should meet them as equals, well-wishers, people who admire and respect their ancient descent, and who feel that they will be interested, as we are, in a living religion and not in the dead forms of present-day churches.
(21 September 1951, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Teaching Committee)196 If the Japanese friends will realize that the American believers have failures and weaknesses which often reflect those of their nation, they will feel encouraged to not only be patient and understanding in regard to them, but also to contribute more of the fine points of their own national characteristics to the community work as a whole. If they think that, because the Cause is perfect the American Bahá'ís are perfect, they are bound to be disappointed. In our great Bahá'í family we see both the strong points and the weak points in national character come out in the believers of different countries. The strong points of the American friends are their devotion and their initiative, their courage and determination and zeal, but there are many characteristics they need, just like every people!
(19 August 1952, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)197 I need not tell you that the work in Africa, and more particularly in Uganda, is very dear to his heart ... He feels that this country and its peoples, in the very heart of Africa, are a most precious trust. Their receptivity to the Teachings, their great desire to serve their new Faith, the number of them who have arisen to go out as pioneers, mark them as a people apart in the Bahá'í world, at least for the time being. May many others in neighbouring countries prove as worthy, and follow their example.
(17 June 1954, written cm behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)198 In spite of the fact that Mr.... has been expelled from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the remarkable progress of the Faith there has been a source of great satisfaction. It shows that a spiritual receptivity, a purity of heart and uprightness of character exist potentially amongst many of the peoples of the Pacific Isles to an extent equal to that of the tribesmen of Africa. It is indeed an encouraging and awe-inspiring sight to witness the spread of our beloved Faith amongst those whom civilized nations misguidedly term "savages", "primitive peoples" and "uncivilized nations".
(11 July 1956, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)199 The second issue which causes difficulties for the African friends in these days is the matter of tribalism ...
(8 February 1970, from the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assemblies in Africa, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986, pp. 165-166)200 The entry into the Spanish Bahá'í community of Gypsies, with their distinctive traditions and attitudes, is a welcome evidence of the power of the Faith to unite human beings of diverse backgrounds and cultures. It also provides the Spanish Bahá'í community with the challenge of working out ways of gradually and patiently deepening the new believers' understanding of and obedience to the teachings and laws of the Faith.
(1 November 1979, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)201 We should have no class prejudice in the Faith, but we should not be blind to the differences and sensitivities of people who come from different classes of society. There are social differences in Europe, and the Bahá'ís should be aware of them and make every effort to bridge them. The Bahá'í community should aim at becoming a cross-section of the national community.
(12 October 1983, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)202 ... many Bahá'í communities around the world today function in the context of societies which are struggling with problems arising from ethnic differences. Conflicts often involve cultural and linguistic issues and may be further complicated by the presence of religious differences, and by opportunistic political movements which use them for their own benefit. It is not uncommon for the relevant issues to find expression through violence. The essential challenge facing Bahá'ís in such situations is to avoid becoming embroiled in pointless debates. Inspired by the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings, we are called on to make the Bahá'í community a haven of harmony and love, in contrast to the distress, contention and strife of the surrounding society.
(13 April 1994, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to. a Local Spiritual Assembly)203 The difficulties which you describe are undoubtedly among those facing many members of inter-racial families ... The House of Justice feels that these are matters which need to be worked out through the study and implementation of Bahá'í principles, through personal wisdom and initiative, and by taking advantage of the benefits of consultation among those concerned. Of very great importance is development of the consciousness that one is, above all, a human being and a Bahá'í, and that differences of race are of far less significance. It is hoped that the efforts of the believers, in conjunction with those of the Bahá'í institutions, to resolve such difficulties will attract divine confirmations and yield lasting results.
(13 October 1996, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
(3 June 1933, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)205 The Guardian's emphasis on the question of uniformity between national constitutions is prompted by his desire to maintain in all national Bahá'í affairs a degree of uniformity which he feels is essential to the effective functioning of national administrative bodies throughout the Bahá'í world. In matters which are not specified in the text of national constitutions, and as such are secondary in character, every National Spiritual Assembly is free to act according to its wish and with due consideration to local exigencies and demands. In this way, the principle of unity in diversity will be strictly preserved and effectively applied.
(5 January 1935, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)206 The believers are free to paint, write and compose as their talents guide them. If music is written, incorporating the sacred writings, the friends are free to make use of it, but it should never be considered a requirement at Bahá'í meetings to have such music. The further away the friends keep from any set forms, the better, for they must realize that the Cause is absolutely universal, and what might seem a beautiful addition to their mode of celebrating a Feast, etc., would perhaps fall on the ears of people of another country as unpleasant sounds and vice versa.
(20 July 1946, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)207 He does not feel, however, that the regular meetings should all open and close with songs. You see our Faith is for the whole world, for all people, not just for Christians, and this is a Christian custom to sing religious songs at a spiritual gathering. The friends should, however, do all they can to make the meetings interesting and hold the attention of people.
(31 May 1949, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)208 ... he feels that the friends should be very careful not to place hindrances in the way of those who wish to accept the Faith. If we make the requirements too rigorous, we will cool off the initial enthusiasm, rebuff the hearts and cease to expand rapidly. The essential thing is that the candidate for enrolment should believe in his heart in the truth of Bahá'u'lláh. Whether he is literate or illiterate, informed of all the Teachings or not, is beside the point entirely. When the spark of faith exists the essential Message is there, and gradually everything else can be added unto it. The process of educating people of different customs and backgrounds must be done with the greatest patience and understanding, and rules and regulations not imposed upon them, except where a rock-bottom essential is in question. He feels sure that your Assembly is capable of carrying on its work in this spirit, and of fanning the hearts to flame through the fire of the love of God, rather than putting out the first sparks with bucketsful of administrative information and regulations.
(9 July 1957, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)209 We have reviewed your letter ... about the application of Bahá'í marriage laws to persons who had married according to the native custom, which we assume was prior to their enrollment in the Faith.
(6 April 1971, the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)210 You have asked for suggestions regarding the preparation of the handbook on Bahá'í Holy Days which you are planning to publish. It is important that notwithstanding whatever details you set forth therein, it be made clear that the contents do not constitute procedures that must be rigidly adhered to,
(1 August 1983, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)211 With reference to the question concerning the clapping of hands in songs where the Greatest Name is used, the House of Justice does not want to draw hard and fast rules. Clearly such matters are secondary and subject to cultural considerations, customs, and the social conventions prevailing in a given society. In some cultures, for example, clapping, as part of religious expression, is considered offensive; in other cultures, clapping is a means of keeping the rhythm of a hymn, especially in the absence of a musical instrument and is integral to religious experience; among other peoples, clapping may constitute a demonstration of religious fervour. Further, within any given country there may well be regional cultural differences.
(1 October 1986, the Universal House of Justice to the International Teaching Centre)
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 54)213 It has been a great source of joy to the Guardian to see the marked increase of native Bahá'ís throughout that area ... However devoted the pioneers may be to these distant countries of their adoption, their relation to them cannot but be a transient one, especially in view of the disturbed state of the world and gloomy clouds that hang over its political horizons. They may suddenly be forced to go home; therefore, the native Bahá'ís, in particular, must seize this opportunity and arise to, themselves, in their own countries, pioneer to new cities and towns, new islands and as yet unopened territories, so that they may, with the help of their Bahá'í brethren from overseas, lay a firm and enduring foundation, and commence the great task of building up the Administrative Order, which is itself the foundation of the future World Order.
(15 July 1957, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)214 In response to your letter ... requesting guidance about the propriety of burning incense at Bahá'í Feasts and meetings, the Universal House of Justice has asked us to convey the following.
(28 June 1983, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)215 At the present time, the challenge to every Bahá'í community is to avoid suppression of those culturally-diverse elements which are not contrary to the teachings, while establishing and maintaining such a high degree of unity that others are attracted to the Cause of God.
(25 July 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a Bahá'í couple)216 The Bahá'í Faith subscribes to the principle of unity in diversity; the Bahá'í administrative structure provides a model of people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds who unite together under a National Spiritual Assembly to form a dynamic social unit in which there is provision for the expression of cultural diversity.
(27 June 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House a/Justice to an individual believer)217 You have asked about the appropriateness of ceremonies from other cultures being presented at Bahá'í national events and local gatherings ...
(16 November 1994, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)218 The House of Justice sympathizes with your great desire to find ways of making the Bahá'í Teachings attractive to the Chinese people. Concerning the need, as you say, to reformulate the Teachings in order to make them more readily comprehensible to peoples of different cultural backgrounds, Shoghi Effendi himself wrote:
Nor should any of the pioneers, at this early stage in the upbuilding of Bahá'í national communities, overlook the fundamental prerequisite for any successful teaching enterprise, which is to adapt the presentation of the fundamental principles of their Faith to the cultural and religious backgrounds, the ideologies, and the temperament of the divers races and nations whom they are called upon to enlighten and attract. The susceptibilities of these races and nations,... differing widely in their customs and standards of living, should at all times be carefully considered, and under no circumstances neglected.However, this desire must be balanced against the requirements of the Covenant which it is our sacred duty as Bahá'ís to uphold...(From a letter written by the Guardian to the American believers, dated June 5, 1947)
(4 June 1995, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)219 As you may know, in many parts of the world there are certain tribal and traditional dances which are performed in glorification of God, and it is perfectly acceptable for a prayer to be interpreted in the form of movement or dance. However, to avoid that such expressions of prayer become gradually ritualized, or that certain gestures and movement become habitual accompaniments to prayers, it is preferable that they not accompany the reciting of words of the prayers. Through the revealed prayers, we seek communion with God, hence they must be offered with the utmost reverence and dignity. Each individual Bahá'í should be free to pray as he wishes, for there is no set form for prayer except for those few which have special instructions for observance upon their recitation.
(24 March 1997, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)220 He fully appreciates the fact that the believers are still somewhat attached to the different cults from which they have come; this is a problem which always faces the Faith in a new region; it existed a long time in America, and seems part of the growth of the Cause. He feels your Assembly can afford to be patient with the friends, while at the same time educating them into a deeper understanding of the Cause. As their awareness of the true significance of Bahá'u'lláh grows, they will become weaned from the old ideas and give full allegiance to His teachings.
(30 June 1952, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)221 When enrolling new believers, we must be wise and gentle, and not place so many obstacles in their way that they feel it impossible to accept the Faith. On the other hand, once accorded membership in the Community of the followers of Bahá'u'lláh, it must be brought home to them that they are expected to live up to His Teachings, and to show forth the signs of a noble character in conformity with His Laws. This can often, be done gradually, after the new believer is enrolled.
(25 June 1953, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly)222 ... we noted your decision to place a notice in your Bahá'í newsletter requesting clothing for the new believers, who are described as "primitive".
(8 February 1972, the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)223 Concerning your question whether Bahá'ís can participate in the rites of other religions, it is clear from letters written on behalf of the Guardian that while Bahá'ís are encouraged to associate with the followers of other religions, they should not in any way identify themselves with the doctrines and usages of other religions. There may be a few cases, however, when withdrawal of the new believer from membership in a religious organization and his non-observance of its ceremonies and customs may take place gradually, with the permission or upon the advice of your National Assembly, which must consider such situations carefully and render its decision in each case separately.
(10 July 1978, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)224 The cardinal purpose of the Bahá'í Faith is to establish the oneness of the human race. As we do this, we bring into the Bahá'í community people of many varied backgrounds and temperaments, and only gradually can true unity be forged out of such divergent elements while preserving the desirable diversities which are not inconsistent with the divine Teachings. This is most apparent in tribal societies, which have very strong traditions. The Spiritual Assemblies in such countries have the task, while teaching the Faith, of giving the people pride and self-confidence in their native traditions, of preserving those which are colourful enrichments of social and personal life, while weaning the new believers gradually away from those traditions which are harmful and in conflict with the teachings and spirit of the Cause of God. A similar process is necessary in Europe.
Thou hast written concerning organization. The divine teachings and the admonitions and exhortations of Bahá'u'lláh are manifestly evident. These constitute the organization of the Kingdom and their enforcement is obligatory. The least deviation from them is absolute error.There are also all the statements made by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament, with which you must be familiar. By obeying the Spiritual Assemblies and adhering to their guidance, the Bahá'ís maintain the unity of the Faith, promote God's Covenant, and ensure that the Cause does not fly into a myriad conflicting sects and schools as has happened with the earlier religions, no matter how spiritual they have been.
(12 October 1983, written an behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)225 With regard to the questions you submitted as a result of your contacts with the village women, the House of Justice has directed us to convey its advice.
(12 January 1986, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)226 When a Spiritual Assembly is faced with questions of possible conflict between tribal practices and Bahá'í law, it should distinguish between aspects of tribal community life which are related to fundamental laws (such as monogamy) and matters of lesser importance, from which the friends can and should extricate themselves gradually. Furthermore, the House of Justice has offered the advice that the institutions of the Faith should be careful not to press the friends to arbitrarily discard those local traditions which are harmless and often colourful characteristics of particular peoples and tribes. Were a new Bahá'í suddenly to cease following the customs of his people, it is possible that they might misunderstand the true nature of the Bahá'í Faith, and the Bahá'ís could be regarded as having turned against the traditions of the land. However, Bahá'ís should exercise vigilance, with the aid of the institutions of the Faith, to avoid inadvertent involvement in events which appear at first sight to be purely cultural and traditional in nature, but which are, in fact, held as a cover for politically oriented gatherings. The weaning away of the Bahá'ís from customs and traditions which have been established among communities for centuries takes time and is a gradual process. While an Assembly should avoid rigidity in these matters, it should also not compromise when the interests of the Faith and its integrity and independence are at stake ...
(25 July 1988, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)227 The matters raised in your letter are concerned with the differing cultures in ..., and their expression in the Bahá'í community. The aim of the Bahá'í Faith is to maintain cultural diversity while promoting the unity of all peoples. This diversity will enrich human life in a peaceful world society. Within the Bahá'í community the cultural traditions of the people who comprise it should be observed, as long as those traditions are not contrary to the Bahá'í teachings. It should also be recognized that many cultural practices will eventually disappear or be merged with related ones from other societies as the social evolution of mankind continues.
(7 May 1989, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)228 With regard to the ritual use of peyote witliin the Native American Church, it is understood that this practice is countenanced by civil law. However, this should not alter the clear understanding that, according to Bahá'í law, the use of peyote and similar hallucinogenic agents is prohibited to Bahá'ís except when prescribed for medical treatment by competent physicians. Notwithstanding the prohibition observed by Bahá'ís in this respect, the friends are advised to adopt attitudes of tolerance and forbearance with regard to the beliefs and practices of others and to exercise patience with new believers in the Cause. Any Bahá'í who is found to be involved in the use of peyote should be told by his Assembly that in the Faith spiritual stimulation comes from turning one's heart to Bahá'u'lláh and not through any physical means. The Assembly should therefore encourage him, patiently but persistently, to give up the use of peyote; otherwise it is not possible for him to maintain membership in the Bahá'í community.
(7 August 1989, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)229 Regarding the use of traditional curative herbs, any herb known to have medicinal effects can surely be used by the friends, and those administering such medicaments should be left entirely free to carry out their profession. However, it must be borne in mind that this is different from traditional fetishist practices which involve communication with departed spirits.
(23 December 1991, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)230 ... the House of Justice does not wish to go beyond its statement in 1985 that, "While we feel that under present circumstances the drinking of kava should not be summarily banned, the believers should be gradually weaned away from its use." Any action to be taken on the use of kava is left to the decision of National Spiritual Assemblies.
(20 April 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)231 The House of Justice has given careful consideration to the question of the genital mutilation of girls, otherwise known as "female circumcision". No reference in the Bahá'í Writings to this subject has come to light; however, the House of Justice regards the practice of female circumcision as contrary to the spirit of the Bahá'í Teachings.
(29 March 1995, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)232 In many of the nations of your area, women have traditionally been restricted to a secondary role in the life of society. We call upon the Bahá'í women of these countries, assured of the support and encouragement of all elements of the Bahá'í community, to demonstrate the transforming power of this Revelation by their courage and initiative in the teaching work and their full participation in the administrative activities of the Faith.
(Ridván 1996, the Universal House of Justice to the Followers of Bahá'u'lláh in Australasia)