The Baha’i writings speak of the twofold moral purpose that every person has in their life: to better themselves, and to better the society around them. Because of this, the Baha’i approach to social transformation differs from most contemporary approaches, focusing less on material resources and more on the core of social change—the people.
In a time when the political, social and economic structures of society are disintegrating, leaving hatred and despair in their wake, the careful construction of a global foundation of spiritual values that can penetrate every aspect of society ensures a hopeful future for communities around the world.
This foundation, rooted in the Baha’i teachings, is built through the grassroots efforts of Baha’is around the world, along with their friends of many different religions, races and backgrounds. Through activities that respond to the reality of every region, and uphold the principle of the unity of mankind, they are discovering what it takes to make a society fruitful, both materially and spiritually.
These are some of the activities—sometimes called “core activities”—that Baha’i communities carry out across the globe to further unity and social transformation. They are free and open to all, in almost every location in the world:
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.
As children are the future of any community, their spiritual education is viewed by Baha’is as the most important and meritorious of services. In light of this, the Baha’i community offers children’s classes at Baha’i centres and other venues, so that the classes may be available to as many children as possible.
The writings of the Baha’i Faith affirm that spiritual education is at the heart of an educational process that leads to the elevation and transformation of the human spirit. Each child is unique, endowed by God with specific talents and faculties, and the Children’s Class Program is specially designed to assist children to acquire spiritual qualities and an upright character, revealing those gems latent within them.
Lessons include various modes of learning according to the children’s age, such as the memorization of quotations, storytelling, games, songs and art—all to explore spiritual qualities such as generosity, justice, kindness, courage, truthfulness and service to humanity.
These virtues, common to every religious and moral teaching, help children navigate through different challenges as they grow. The profound effect these concepts have on children is evident: their capacity to communicate their feelings is improved, their belief in their own capacity is heightened, and their ability to distinguish good and bad is strengthened.
Teachers establish a close connection with the children’s families, to ensure that the program responds to the particular needs of every child, and contributes to strengthening bonds of friendship in the community.
Crucial to the destiny of any community is its youth, especially those between the ages of 11 and 14—the ages Baha’is call “junior youth.” Those developing adolescents are at an important point of transition from childhood to adulthood, which both bursts with potential and makes them particularly vulnerable to the negative influences of materialism, fear and prejudice.
In response to this, the Baha’i community has developed the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, which aims to help junior youth harness their potential and use their energies for the benefit of the world around them.
An “animator”—often a youth some years older than the group of junior youth—guides the group through a program that encourages them to think critically and to see themselves as agents of change in their communities. Through study, they learn to identify the influences that surround them while developing their spiritual strengths. Through acts of service—which can be anything from cleaning litter on a nearby street to systematically organizing classes for younger children—junior youth become empowered to make decisions that benefit them and the community around them, not only materially, but also spiritually.
Currently, over 150,000 junior youth are engaged in 17,000 groups throughout the world, with numbers steadily rising as more people witness the transformative power of the program and how it can benefit their communities.
While individual prayer connects every person with the Creator, sharing prayers in a group setting strengthens unity, encourages more profound conversation, and establishes a space for everyone—adults, youth, and even children—where spirituality becomes the main priority, where the soul is prioritized.
These informal devotionals can take different shapes. In some rural towns, neighbors will gather at the break of dawn to pray together before taking to the fields. In large cities, families living in the same building will meet in the evenings after work to pray. Sometimes stories are shared, and sometimes music plays a large role in enhancing the spiritual nature of the gathering. Depending on the customs and interests of each community, the devotional can change, but its purpose remains the same: to unite the souls of all those present through the power of prayer.
Every person, no matter their social class, level of education, family background or race, has the ability to contribute to society. But sadly, the world has few spaces where people from all walks of life can come together to talk about spiritual topics, educate themselves on community-building strategies, and become friends with a shared purpose. The Baha’i community developed a series of courses to respond to this pressing need.
Through these courses, friends anywhere can gather in “study circles”—a name that reflects the egalitarian nature of the group, as opposed to a classroom dynamic—led by a friend with previous training in the book being studied, referred to as a “tutor”. There are currently ten books in the sequence, and each prompts participants to discover how the Baha’i teachings can be applied to different aspects of their lives and the life of their community. Some of the books also serve as training to open a devotional, become a children’s class teacher, or become a junior youth animator.
The first of these books is called Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, and it consists of three units: Understanding the Baha’i Writings, Prayer, and Life and Death. It explores questions such as: Why should we read and reflect upon the Sacred Writings? How do the sacred Writings affect our soul and mind? What is prayer? Why should we pray? What is the purpose of life? What is the condition of the soul after death?
These study circles have no pre-requisite, and they also take place anywhere; from college campuses to family homes, from neighborhoods to corporate settings. Through theoretical and practical components, members of a study circle develop a shared vision and learn strategies designed to improve the spiritual and material conditions around them.