June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
For many people, the heading of this article will seem absurd. “Religion: A cause of prejudice?” well of course it’s a cause of prejudice, they will state, why bother with a question mark. You only have to pick up the paper, or read any history book to see the horrific injustices caused in the name of religion.
But does any label, including “Baha’i”, foster religious prejudice?
This question came to mind as I was having a friendly chat with a workman fixing my house. Whilst we were talking I happened to mention I was a Baha’i, and his demeanor towards me immediately changed. He made a point of mentioning he was from a different religion and promptly ended the conversation.
I realized that he’d ceased to see me as an individual, but had rather boxed me in and concluded that I was ‘other.’ The feeling didn’t sit well, and I admittedly questioned if mentioning the Baha’i Faith had been wrong.
This caused me to investigate religious prejudice, and whether by accepting any religious label you were automatically inheriting a prejudice?
The root cause of prejudice, according to Abdu’l-Baha, lies in the “blind imitation of the past.” 1 Many people see their religion as exclusive. Where those outside their Faith are deemed either inferior or damned. The Universal House of Justice notes that:
Yet, the greater part of organized religion stands paralyzed at the threshold of the future, gripped in those very dogmas and claims of privileged access to truth that have been responsible for creating some of the most bitter conflicts dividing the earth’s inhabitants.
Universal House of Justice, “To the Worlds Religious Leaders”, paragraph 10, April 2002-04, Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, Israel
The Baha’i Faith does not support the view that one particular tradition alone teaches the truth and constitutes the way to salvation for an indefinite period of time. A fundamental tenet of the Baha’i Faith is the common foundation of all the world’s religions. Shoghi Effendi has emphatically stated, regarding the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, that:
Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind. “All the Prophets of God,” asserts Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan, “abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith.”
Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, U.S Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1991, p.58
The Baha’i belief in the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humankind, will safeguard the Faith against religious prejudice. Abdu’l-Baha calls for Baha’is to renounce all forms of prejudice, and with regards to religious prejudice, He counsels:
Consider the nations of so-called religious people; if they were truly worshippers of God they would obey His law which forbids them to kill one another. If priests of religion really adored the God of love and served the Divine Light, they would teach their people to keep the chief Commandment, ‘To be in love and charity with all men’. But we find the contrary, for it is often the priests who encourage nations to fight. Religious hatred is ever the most cruel!
…Let us therefore be humble, without prejudices, preferring others’ good to our own! Let us never say, ‘I am a believer but he is an infidel’, ‘I am near to God, whilst he is an outcast’. We can never know what will be the final judgment! Therefore let us help all who are in need of any kind of assistance.
Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, UK Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1972, p. 147-148
I came to the realization that when I told the workman, “I’m a Baha’i”, I was making a statement that I’m against religious prejudice. A label in and of it self is not bad. People will undoubtedly have preconceived ideas about what it means to be a Baha’i. They will unknowingly want to group us in with other religions that preach exclusivism. It is our job to educate them.
When asked on one occasion: “What is a Baha’i?” Abdu’l-Baha replied:
To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.
J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, U.S Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1980, p. 71
Religion has caused prejudice. This is a fact. But from a Baha’i perspective, it is True religion that will ultimately eliminate prejudice. Without religion, according to Abdu’l-Baha, we…
…may be able to realize some degrees of fraternity…but these are limited associations and subject to change. When human brotherhood is founded upon the Holy Spirit, it is eternal, changeless, unlimited.
Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, U.S Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1982, p. 392
Given the prevailing religious prejudices that we encounter in our day-to-day lives, the closing paragraph from the Universal House of Justice’s letter “To the World’s Religious Leaders” seems timely:
With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction. The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. Whatever justification exists for exercising influence in matters of conscience lies in serving the well-being of humankind. At this greatest turning point in the history of civilization, the demands of such service could not be more clear. “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable”, Baha’u’llah urges, “unless and until its unity is firmly established.
Universal House of Justice, “To the Worlds Religious Leaders”, paragraph 25, April 2002-04, Baha’i World Centre, Haifa, Israel
Footnotes & Citations
Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Centre, 1982, p.247[↩]
Kamelia is a Baha'i and a mother of three (plus an angel). She studied Law, Accounting and Children's Services, but spends most of her days now trying to navigate her way through motherhood. She is particularly interested in early childhood education and Baha'i scholarship.
Spot on, Kamelia! What a relevant and lucid post and what apt and poignant citations. Thank you!
Sam (January 1, 2016 at 11:44 PM)
Thank-you, Sam. I appreciate your kind words.
Kamelia (January 1, 2016 at 2:14 AM)
Thanks God there is some institution that has realized the urgency & importance of the universal peace. Howsoever weak it’s voice may be but surely it has given me hope that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Thanks for sharing .
mazhar (January 1, 2016 at 9:20 PM)
So we see from ‘Abdu’l-baha’s teachings that there is a difference between the reality of a religion and the practices that arise through human interpretations. It is the latter that causes the prejudices because the reality of the original teachings agrees is one. A friend tells me that he does not introduce himself as beinga Baha’i, but rather that he is studying the writings of Bah’au’llah. He feels that Baha’i, Christian, etc. is tribal language and when heard invokes a closed door response, because we each have our definition of what that tribe is like.
Loree Gross (January 1, 2016 at 2:56 AM)
Beautiful. Let’s pray and work hard that this prejudices will soon be over and give way to mutual understanding and love.
SENAY (January 1, 2016 at 8:40 AM)
Very good and timely article, as many people are even drawing a distinction between religiousness and spiritualism, meaning that one can be a spiritualistic person without having to follow any (organized) religion.
cori[email protected] (January 1, 2016 at 12:47 PM)
Yes Cori, it is true that we van be spiritual beings without following any organised religion. However, humankind needs guidance from a higher spiritual source to focus its progress. Man’s mind is limited and can make mistakes and sometimes unable to distinguish right from wrong. Believe it or not, I have a friend that truly believes that witches exsist and they have all sorts of powers. He also believes in the physical exsistance of a creature called Devil that can enter people and by beating these people we can take the devil out of them!! He happens to be a very spiritual person but is he thinking correctly??
My point is that without spiritual guidance, mankind could have gone completely astray, all in different directions. Isn’t it natural to think man is also an animal? If an animal kills another animal to get its food, why can’t we kill another human and get his possessions? Religion, throughout the history has guided mankind to the right path. The 10 Commandments for example are the basis in which our current civil laws are based on. Think of it this way that there is only one religion in the world (with different names). That is the religion of God spread to humanity every few hndred years or so to guide humanity to the right path. We will achieve lot more collectively within an organised religion than on our own as indviduals outside it.
Ramin (January 1, 2016 at 2:13 PM)
Ramin,when you say “Think of it this way that there is only one religion in the world (with different names).” I must point out that I am also a baha’i, so I fully understand the concept. However, nowadays more and more people are naturally becoming disapointed with organized religion for obvious reasons. And this is not helping we baha’is to talk about the subject, due to all the harm done by immoral catholic priests, muslim fundamentalists and fanatical evangelical new-born Christians. Cori
Cori Correa (January 1, 2016 at 7:44 PM)
This is a poem titled “Spiritual But Not Religious” inspired by some of the issues the author raises. It is published in a very small collection called “Heavenly Mist, Earthly Dew”:
“SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS
I saw the title of the blog and took the time to read it,
but how it saddened me to see it full of harsh unkindness.
One told another he would go to hell for not believing;
“That’s why I left and won’t go back,” said one with deepest feeling.
Are we not told, time after time, that Love is religion’s message?
If we don’t love our neighbor better, we’re better off without it.
If we each plow our own path straight, not watching others’ furrows,
do we not show a better faith than one which inflicts sorrows?
The world is full of greed and hate; one hurts another daily:
a child’s hunger, a woman’s cries, whole ethnic groups demise.
Can we not tackle these instead and heal what wounds we can?
Let actions speak our heartfelt care: our care for fellow man.
Let Heaven say what judgment is; just love and understand.
Why spend time in argument when souls need helping hands?
If our religions can convert us to kindness, peace, and justice
might there be fewer compelled to say they are spiritual but not religious?”
Kimberlee J Benart (January 1, 2016 at 12:57 PM)