How does the Baha’i Faith spread?

Baha’u’llah abolishes the clergy and prohibits proselytizing. Therefore the rapid spread of the Baha’i Faith to its present status of being the second most diffused religion in the world (second only to Christianity) results from individual Baha’is acceding to Baha’u’llah’s exhortation that all Baha’is teach the Cause to whoever expresses interest.

At the same time, this effort has specific constraints imposed by Baha’u’llah. First of all, Baha’is try to express their Faith primarily through deeds, not words:

The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and wisdom. His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 298.

The Baha’i teachings ask every Baha’i to characterize themselves chiefly through their actions:

O Son of My Handmaid! Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds. In this wise We counsel you in this holy and resplendent tablet. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 48-49.

Secondly, Baha’is should offer the Baha’i teachings only when they encounter a listening ear, someone who sincerely wants this information so that if “your hearer respond, he will have responded to his own behoof” – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 279. and not through coercion or enticements. Therefore, the Baha’i teacher should be careful not to “contend with any one, nay strive to make him aware of the truth, with kindly manner and most convincing exhortation.”Ibid., p. 279.

Of course, this means that it is entirely appropriate to ask someone if they would like to know about the Baha’i Faith—they can hardly ask about something if they don’t know it exists. Nevertheless, as Baha’is teach others about what we believe to be important news, we must ever be aware, and impress upon the listener—whether they be seekers or simply curious—that Baha’is do not consider themselves better or more virtuous than people in other faiths, simply because we have taken on a new name or have chosen to follow the Baha’i path. Other people in many other faith traditions are also striving to be spiritual, to be “good” people. Baha’is simply feel they have been privileged to be made aware of information devised to guide people in the new environment that is the modern age.

In short, I early on became aware that taking on a new name would not make me a new person. Becoming a Baha’i is a path and a process, the designation of the intention to pursue a life-long goal, a Do or Dao as we call it in the Taoist tradition of the martial arts.

For me, becoming a Baha’i meant that I had attained a new perspective, a new mizán, a new knowledge. Putting that knowledge into action, that second inextricably related part of the two-part response to the teachings of Baha’u’llah so critical to personal spiritual ascent, that was another matter altogether.

I would discover that truth in my journey over the next five decades, and as I still discover it on a daily basis.

Next: Committing to the Baha’i Life

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

1 Comment

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  • Paul Desailly
    Oct 05, 2016
    These personal anecdotes from the life of John from a couple of generations ago are quite interesting and helpful but his work needs updating and also emending. As far as the third millennium is concerned this particular article today that references diffusion of the Baha'i Faith as second only to Christianity misleads.
    The excerpts offered are of course A1 vis-a-vis the purpose of God and in regard to the modus operandi of showing forth guidance with a kindly tongue. BUT, the matchless pen of the Guardian is more specific as to what will bring about the triumph of the ...Cause, i.e. propagation, that is to say the unequivocal answer re Doctor Hatcher's title which in itself is the raison d'etre of true followers of Baha'u'llah: "How Does the Baha’i Faith Spread?"
    Before you read on let me ask you crucially, what you consider as the most effective means of securing the triumph of the Cause? Is it prayer, guidance from our blessed institutions, huge congresses and youth conferences in imposing edifices, our sublime Houses of Worship, our Spiritual Assemblies, money - the oft misquoted ‘lifeblood of the Cause’ - or the holy Writings, firesides, youth to change the world, deepenings, the arts, pioneering at home or abroad, Bahá’í Education in State Schools (BESS) as practised in the only country in the world to adopt it as yet, the four core activities, Ruhi or – ALL OF THE ABOVE IN PROPORTION?
    As important as all these things are the Guardian's response (24-1X-1924) is of course the only correct answer in regard to what's most important which is why he utilizes here,repetition, imperatives and superlatives::
    "Our Inner Life
    Humanity, through suffering and turmoil, is swiftly moving on towards its destiny; if we be loiterers, if we fail to play our part surely others will be called upon to take up our task as ministers to the crying needs of this afflicted world. [THE STAKES ARE HIGH DAVID]
    Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching – no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character – not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and skeptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh."
    You'll notice deaar John, in reference to your next article before it appears on our screens, a distinction between living the Baha'i life insofar as personal salvation is concerned and living the fundamental Baha'i principles insofar as propagation, diffusion, dissemination and teaching the Faith are concerned
    Baha'i love