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The Baha’i teachings encourage each human being to associate, befriend and consort with others — and not just some others, but all others. Baha’u’llah wrote:
“They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations.”
One of the most central Persian words frequently emphasized in the writings of Baha’u’llah is mu’ashirat. This word, as translated by Shoghi Effendi, means “associating, consorting and mingling with others.” Linguistically, the term implies frequent and intimate interaction, friendship, companionship and relation with others — all others.
In fact, the distinguishing feature of Baha’i communities worldwide is this culture of friendly interaction and communication with all humanity. In his writings, Baha’u’llah defines this in conjunction with a series of his other teachings that he deemed necessary to lead to the unity of humankind – including the prohibition of holy war; rejecting the idea of the impurity of other people, religions or social groups; permission to read the writings of other religions; and abrogation of the idea of avoiding members of other religions or groups or treating them as “unclean” or “apostates.”
So the centrality of this maxim of Baha’u’llah’s, “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship,” can be noted from these words of Baha’u’llah where he defines this primary Baha’i principle as the solution to all kinds of dissensions and divisions:
“We have erewhile declared — and Our Word is the truth — : “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.”
Preventing Otherization and Social Murder
In one of Baha’u’llah’s writings, after discussing the past traditions of “the burning of books and the killing of people, and the prohibition of unity and fellowship between certain races and classes” he said:
Unity and fellowship, however, are the greatest means for the advancement of mankind and the development of nations. — Baha’u’llah, quoted by the author in Logos and Civilization, p. 304.
These words of Baha’u’llah have an immediate implication – that the imperative of universal fellowship and interaction is directly related to the Baha’i prohibition of the murder of others. Modern sociology and psychology have demonstrated that social murder is a precondition to the physical murder and genocide of other groups. Social murder means that we avoid interaction, communication, friendship and association with a certain group of people. Once humans cut off communication with a group, they can easily construct a monstrous image of the other, and that demonizing and dehumanization makes it easier to actually kill the others. It is difficult to kill a person, but it is easy or virtuous to kill a disease, a monster, a thing. Baha’u’llah’s imperative prevents otherization of various groups, which in turn leads to mass discrimination and genocide.
From Baha’u’llah to Durkheim
For Baha’u’llah, however, the imperative of universal social interaction goes far beyond simply preventing otherization. When Baha’u’llah defines consorting with all people as “the greatest means for the advancement of mankind and the development of nations,” he encourages frequent and friendly interaction as the main cause of social dynamics and social progress. Likewise, Baha’u’llah defined association with others as the cause of social unity which, in turn, causes social order. Decades after Baha’u’llah’s pronouncements, the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim noted the significance of frequent social interaction between divergent groups, and made it the heart of his entire sociological theory.
We can better appreciate the wisdom of Baha’u’llah through reading the writings of Durkheim, one of the three greatest social theorists of all time. However, the attractive complexity of his theories is yet to be appreciated. His works present the most important sociological idea as one of sociation or intense interaction with others. Durkheim believes that social order is based upon the emergence of social solidarity among the members of the society. This collective consciousness/conscience of society is the main foundation of social order. Order is product of unity in norms and values among the members of society, namely social solidarity. But what creates solidarity, morality and unity is intense, frequent interactions among the members of society.
According to Durkheim, morality is not a product of the intellectual preaching of morals. Instead, morality is produced through intimate and frequent close interaction and fellowship with others. This frequent interaction binds individuals to each other and unites them to a larger society. Through these interactions individuals can transcend the boundaries of their individual self and develop a sense of empathy, sympathy, unity, and solidarity with others. The creative insight of Durkheim is already present in the words of Baha’u’llah:
“… consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world.”
Baha’u’llah presented this imperative of intimate and frequent interaction with all others as the ultimate solution to social conflict and enmity in the world.
Universal Consorting as the Essence of the Baha’i Worldview
The question of friendly and loving interaction with all others is a product of the Baha’i metaphysics of unity. In a typical statement, Baha’u’llah relates this imperative of mingling with others to his mystical notion of the purification of heart, the consciousness that all dwell in one world and the fact that all are created by the same divine word:
“Illumine and hallow your hearts; let them not be profaned by the thorns of hate or the thistles of malice. Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will. Blessed is he who mingleth with all men in a spirit of utmost kindliness and love.”
Baha’u’llah’s abrogation of avoiding, hating, discriminating, and killing of other groups is conceptually based upon his pronouncement on the first day of Ridvan – April 21, 1863 – the day he unveiled his inner secret and announced his revelation to the wider world. Among the three statements announced by Baha’u’llah on that day was this mighty word: “… the one true God, exalted be His Glory, at that very moment shed the splendours of all His Names upon the whole creation.”
Baha’u’llah affirmed from that day on that all beings are direct reflections of divine names and attributes. All reality, he said, must be reconstructed so that the inner beauty and glory of all beings will be manifested. The regulating principle of this new world is the beauty and sanctity of all people and all beings. In his Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah referred to this statement, and wrote that through his new revelation, all being and all people have been immersed in the sea of purity. Therefore, no category of people can be perceived as impure, polluting or polluted. Immediately after that Baha’u’llah derived the necessity of consorting with all people of the earth from the idea of purity and sanctity of all beings.
This principle of friendly interaction lies at the heart of almost all of the Baha’i teachings. For Baha’u’llah, this intense interaction should constitute the basis of the sanctity of the institution of the family as the building block of morality and social solidarity. Strong, loving, interacting families provide the occasion for learning solidarity with the entire human race. Baha’u’llah extends that solidarity to more than one’s own society. For Baha’is, the entire world has to become one family. That is why, in Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book, he calls for the realization of a universal auxiliary language in the world, which makes communication and interaction among all people possible, as the sign of the maturation of humanity. The imperative of consultation and democracy are also inseparable from his idea of consorting, associating, and mingling with others in a spirit of love, harmony, and friendliness.
The Baha’i Imperative of the Oneness of Humanity
The Baha’i teachings point out that we need to interact in friendship with all groups of the people because we are all created by the same God, and all are beautiful reflections of divine attributes. In addition, the world has arrived at a new stage of its development when the entirety of humanity has become one. In the middle of the 19th century, Baha’u’llah announced that the greatest cause of unity, morality, solidarity, order, and development of the world is intimate and frequent interaction, association, consorting and communicating with others. This spiritual, moral, and legal principle rejects both the impurity and avoidance of others, and any encouragement to stay within one’s own group. Instead of the postmodern idea that reduces identity to issues like race, nationality, gender and language, advocating the impossibility of communication with other groups, the entire Baha’i Faith affirms the primordial unity of all human beings. Diversity is beautiful when it becomes an occasion for interaction and communication. A diversity of mutual alienation, avoidance and hatred must be replaced with Baha’u’llah’s new sacred concept: unity in diversity.