by Office of Public Information of the Bahá'í International Community
Bahá'í Publishing Trust of the UK, 1992
Review by Seena Fazel
review published in The Associate: Newsletter of the Association for Bahá'í Studies English-Speaking Europe Issue 11 (1993)
"The Bahá'ís" is a beautifully produced magazine that introduces the Bahá'í Faith to a general audience. Its advantages are obvious - its imaginative and attractive use of photos and graphics, its crisp and clear prose, its comprehensive guide to all aspects of the Faith. Particularly impressive is how it demonstrates the way Bahá'ís manifest their faith in socio-economic development initiatives.
Its section headings draw on familiar themes in Bahá'í introductory literature such as Bahá'í history, Bahá'í social principles and Bahá'í teachings on world order. An area of possible improvement is to address some of the highly relevant and contentious issues that prevent many people today from taking religion seriously. For instance, there is little discussion of the crucial question of why religion has any role at all to play in the development of individuals and society. The loss of a personal religious faith in many parts of the world has been partly a consequence of religion suppressing individual freedom, stifling the independent use of reason, and the lack of a reasonable explanation for all the suffering in the world in the face of an All-Powerful and Benevolent Creator. Sections on the importance of reason, freedom within the Bahá'í administrative order, the principle of work as worship, the issue of minority rights would have added to the usefulness of this magazine. The section headings, "Unity in Diversity" and "Toward the New World Order", are phrases that have been so overused recently that their meaning has been rendered virtually meaningless.
The section on "How Bahá'ís view other religions" (p. 37) only deals with part of the relationship between the world religions and the Bahá'í Faith. It consists mainly of an account of how Bahá'u'lláh fulfils the prophecies of other religions. So a Christian, for instance, might get the impression that the Bahá'í approach to Christianity is that Bahá'u'lláh fulfils the promises of the Christ's return. The problem with this is that it may have the effect of alienating many Christians by confronting them with the stark realisation that the most important event in history has passed them by. It would seem that a more balanced and constructive approach is Shoghi Effendi's in "The Promised Day is Come" (pp. 109-110), where he states that central to the relationship between these two religions is the Bahá'í belief in the divine origin of Christianity, the Sonship and Divinity of Christ, the divine inspiration of the Gospels, the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary, etc. Complementary to this is the explanation given in "The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh" of the aim of the Faith, which is to widen the basis, restate the fundamentals, reconcile the aims of the revealed religions, etc. (see pp. 58, 114). Combining these two approaches can be used for all the world religions and would more likely lead to common ground, a start to the process of building bridges between Bahá'ís and the communities of the other world religions.
In an otherwise well written section devoted to some of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings on individual morality, the section heading states that the moral standards of the Faith "are uncompromising" (p. 31). The word "uncompromising" conjures up notions of Victorian standards of morality or the harsh punishments of the state religions in the past. However it could be argued that Bahá'í morality is more normative than "uncompromising" - that is, Bahá'ís aim to acquire spiritual qualities and our lives are a process of working toward attaining perfect standards of moral rectitude. Shoghi Effendi¬s emphasis in "The Advent of Divine Justice" on the significance of a rectitude of conduct and freedom from racial prejudice would add to this section.
Throughout "The Bahá'ís" graphs and pictures intelligently complement the text, but there are two instances where they do not. They both concern the status of women in Bahá'í community. The section on "Women: unambiguous equality" (p. 27) has a graph below the text illustrating the percentage of women on the National Spiritual Assemblies continent by continent, which ranges between 20-37%. However commendable this graph is for its honesty, some explanation is needed for the discrepancy between theory and practice. The section entitled "A matter of faith" (p. 44) on the ineligibility of women to serve on the Universal House of Justice explains that women serve on all other administrative institutions of Faith. Next to this text is a photo of the N.S.A. of Zaire - 8 men and 1 women. Maybe a photo of an N.S.A. with more women members would make the point more obviously that the Bahá'í administrative system aims to reflect the make-up of the community.
The bibliography on the last page is a useful addition. However, it is slightly surprising that it fails to mention Balyuzi's outstanding Bahá'u'lláh, Smith's The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions - the best academic introduction to the Faith (or the excellent shorter version, The Bahá'í Religion), and The Violence-Free Society by Danesh.