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Ask a Baha’i how they first heard of the Baha’i Faith and became a Baha’i, and you’re guaranteed an interesting story.
Beginning from its roots in Persia in the middle of the 19th century until now, most people who have heard about the Baha’i Faith have heard it from other Baha’is. Baha’is don’t proselytize, but we do proudly proclaim our faith at fairs and festivals, on billboards and in ads, on Facebook and Instagram and here at BahaiTeachings.org, too.
Some statistics indicate that the Baha’i Faith is the world’s fastest-growing religion. With more than 5 million Baha’is around the world in over 100,000 localities, the remarkable news that a new messenger of God has brought relevant teachings for all of humankind has spread rapidly.
Yes, Baha’is do love spreading that good news. But the purpose of proclamation and teaching for Baha’is is not to convert someone to this new Faith, regardless of how perfect we think it may be for solving present ills. No, the purpose of proclamation in all its forms is to simply engender a feeling of curiosity and response to the word of God in the seeker’s heart. After initially hearing about the Baha’i Faith, it is in the seeker’s own’s hands to investigate further, and in fact, the independent investigation of truth is one of Baha’u’llah’s primary tenets. Baha’u’llah alluded to the fact that the wise never speak until they find a true listener:
The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved. Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 34-35.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and the exemplar of his teachings, said:
It has now by the above irrefutable proofs been fully established that the Faith of God must be propagated through human perfections, through qualities that are excellent and pleasing, and spiritual behavior. If a soul of his own accord advances toward God he will be accepted at the Threshold of Oneness, for such a one is free of personal considerations, of greed and selfish interests, and he has taken refuge within the sheltering protection of his Lord. He will become known among men as trustworthy and truthful, temperate and scrupulous, high-minded and loyal, incorruptible and God-fearing. In this way the primary purpose in revealing the divine law—which is to bring about happiness in the after life and civilization and the refinement of character in this—will be realized. As for the sword, it will only produce a man who is outwardly a believer, and inwardly a traitor and apostate. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 46.
Sometimes however, seekers and those who know about the principles of the Baha’i Faith on personal conduct become disillusioned or frightened about trying to be a Baha’i. They may think, incorrectly, “I’ll never live up to the Baha’i standard, it’s too high for me right now. Besides, I just don’t know if I can change my life that much. It’s better that I appreciate it from where I am at this moment.”
Remember at the beginning I said that if you asked a Baha’i their story it would be interesting? Well, consider for a moment that they may have thought exactly as you, feeling unqualified and a poor example of what a Baha’i should be. It’s a normal reaction, yet meeting and exceeding standards covers just about every facet of our lives. From grade school through college we meet standards and expectations. In our jobs and in our families, raising children and functioning in concert with society’s mores, we try to do our best. At every turn we are encouraged to try and meet a goal, or perform some task to the best of our ability.
In my local Baha’i community, I once knew a couple named Larry and Susan. He was a longtime Baha’i, and she was not, yet she attended meetings and they often hosted Baha’i meetings in their home together. They were active in community events and plans. This went on for a few years. Finally someone asked, “Susan, it’s obvious you like the Faith and what we do, how is it that you have not joined yet?”
She said “Oh, I don’t feel that I could live up to being a Baha’i—I feel inadequate.” Once we realized her insecurity, we told her about our own similar feelings, and how becoming a Baha’i was a process of learning and growing—and that no Baha’is were anywhere near perfect. All Baha’is, we explained, were only trying to follow Baha’u’llah’s teachings as best they could. We all had failures from time to time, and that was alright. Susan became a declared Baha’i a short time later.