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The United Nations celebrates the International Day of Democracy every year on September 15th, to invigorate democracy and seek answers to the systemic challenges it faces.

Those goals, the United Nations has explained, include tackling economic and political inequalities, making democracies more inclusive by bringing the young and marginalized into political systems, and making democracies more innovative and responsive to emerging challenges such as migration and climate change. The United Nations recently issued a statement on democracy that says, in part:

With this year’s 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Day of Democracy is also an opportunity to highlight the values of freedom and respect for human rights as essential elements of democracy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (article 21.3), has inspired constitution-making around the world and contributed to global acceptance of democratic values and principles. Democracy, in turn, provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights.Democracy Day

But with many existing democracies under strain around the world, where can we find solutions? How can we further the cause of freedom and representative democracy around the world?

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, asked this important question in his 2018 International Day of Democracy statement: “How do we build better governance so that democracy delivers better lives and fully meets the public’s aspirations?”

The Baha’i teachings have clear answers to that crucial question, and principles that recommend ways to build better governance.

First, Baha’is believe in democracy; and support democratic governments. Baha’u’llah, whose Faith aims to reform the world and abolish tyranny, advocated a universal, democratic, parliamentary government based on the oneness of humanity. Writing to Britain’s Queen Victoria in 1868, Baha’u’llah praised the British constitutional form of parliamentary governance. Abdu’l-Baha, in his treatise on governance called The Secret of Divine Civilization, advocated for:

… constitutional and democratic government, the rule of law, universal education, the protection of human rights, economic development, religious tolerance, the promotion of useful sciences and technologies and programmes of public welfare. … Government would endeavour conscientiously to combine spiritual values with the principles of democratic choice. – The Universal House of Justice, November 2003, p. 1.

When Abdu’l-Baha traveled to the West in the early part of the 20th Century, he commended the democratic governments he encountered there:

American people have great capabilities. In England also one witnesses the signs of awakening. In reality American and the English people are one. The governments and the nations of both countries are noble and democratic. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 7.

The greatest thing I have seen in America is its freedom. In reality this is a free nation and a democratic government. – Ibid., p. 207.

Second, the worldwide Baha’i community has no clergy and no autocratic leaders—instead, Baha’i leadership is democratically elected, from the local to the global level:

The abolition of professional priesthood with its accompanying sacraments of baptism, of communion and of confession of sins, the laws requiring the election by universal suffrage of all local, national, and international Houses of Justice, the total absence of episcopal authority with its attendant privileges, corruptions and bureaucratic tendencies, are further evidences of the non-autocratic character of the Baha’i Administrative Order and of its inclination to democratic methods in the administration of its affairs. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 153-154.

Third, the Baha’i teachings advocate applying the principle of federalism, so effective in the governance of the United States, to the entire planet:

The world is contracting into a neighborhood. America, willingly or unwillingly, must face and grapple with this new situation. For purposes of national security, let alone any humanitarian motive, she must assume the obligations imposed by this newly created neighborhood. Paradoxical as it may seem, her only hope of extricating herself from the perils gathering around her is to become entangled in that very web of international association which the Hand of an inscrutable Providence is weaving. Abdu’l-Baha’s counsel to a highly placed official in its government comes to mind, with peculiar appropriateness and force: You can best serve your country if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principle of federalism, underlying the government of your own country, to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 87-88.

This emphasis in the Baha’i teachings on a new system of democratic global federalism means establishing a spiritual democracy—one that focuses on and unleashes “social, moral, intellectual service” to humanity:

The religions of the past have fallen into decay on account of self-seeking leaders who in the course of time appropriated all the rights and powers unto themselves and looked down contemptuously upon the rest of their co-religionists as ignorant and deprived of the knowledge of God.

The Baha’is must be always on the alert, so that they may not fall into this pit. They must keep the religion of God pure and uncontaminated, a haven of rest for the despondent souls, a safe harbour for the shipwrecked, a divine antidote for the ailing ones, a torch of light for those who are groping in the darkness, and a spiritual democracy for the down-trodden and the outcast.

Service, social, moral, intellectual service must be the sole aim of a soul. He must be sincere and heartfelt in his profession, otherwise he will not succeed and his simulation will soon be found out by his co-religionists. Every Baha’i must be a loyal servant of the world of humanity. Baha’is must clothe themselves with the robe of service, sit around the table of service, eat the food of service, drink the elixir of service, talk the problems of service, hold communication with the King of service, walk in the path of service, crown their heads with the diadem of service, be intoxicated with the wine of service, and quaff the salubrious water from the fountain of service. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 180.

So today, on the International Day of Democracy, the Baha’is around the world all work toward the time when humanity will peacefully and unitedly govern itself with a global parliament, “a spiritual democracy for the down-trodden and the outcast.”

4 Comments

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  • 5 days ago
    Your last quote is not authentic Bahai scripture. It is attributed to Abdu’l-Baha by Ahmad Sohrab in a diary entry for 23 May 1914, published in Star of the West, Vol. 7 nr. 18, February 7, 1917 as part of a compilation on "The divine art of living" by Mary Rabb. In the same diary report he says Abdu'l-Baha said " The religion of God is the leveller of all social inequalities and the destroyer of sacerdotal distinctions. In the court of the Almighty there are no offices or positions." This is the germ of Sohrab's later rejection ...of the Guardianship, and refusal to obey the Spiritual Assembly of New York. In the Bahai community there are indeed offices and positions.
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  • 5 days ago
    The quote " American and the English people are one. The governments and the nations of both countries are noble and democratic" is not authenticated Bahai scripture, it comes from the diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab. Abdu'l-Baha's interpreters and editors had a strong tendency to Americanise Abdu'l-Baha, adapting his message to what they thought would be most understandable for the audience. Fortunately we have good translations of his authentic words in "Selections from the Wiritings of Abdu'l-Baha." The 2014 translation of Some Answered Questions is also reliable. There are other reliable translations from written texts ("tablets"). Oral ...reports are not necessary.
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  • 5 days ago
    "The greatest thing I have seen in America is its freedom. In reality this is a free nation and a democratic government" is not an authentic quote from Abdu'l-Baha. It comes from the diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, who is not a reliable source. At the head of his account, he says that "the interview was published next day in a form almost unrecognizable." There is no good reason for thinking that Sohrab's account is correct, all we know is that there are two different accounts, neither of them authentic Bahai scripture.
  • Judith Nyamoga
    5 days ago
    👍🏾👍🏾