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Are women potentially superior to men, according to the Baha’i teachings?
As I write this, I hear voices ring out loudly in virtual surprise and indignation, exclaiming: “How can you dare ask that? The Baha’i teachings proclaim the equality of women and men – as one of the primary principles of the Faith! So how can you possibly say that they assert the superiority of women?”
That’s a fair objection, so let’s recap this key Baha’i principle — that women and men are equal — for a moment.
An earlier installment in this series quoted Abdu’l-Baha’s talk on the evening of June 19, 1913, where he addressed an enthusiastic crowd under a tent pitched on the roof of the Hotel Sultani in Port Sa‘id, Egypt, proclaiming, in part: “And equality between men and women — in which Book does one find this?”
On that occasion, Abdu’l-Baha was apparently referring back to his previous talks on November 15, 1912, at the New York home of Baha’i artist Juliet Thompson, and to the talk he later gave at the Kinney residence on December 2, 1912, in which he characterized the principle that women and men are equal as a relatively new teaching in the history of religions:
… Baha’u’llah declares that — There shall be perfect equality between men and women.
For God, he says, has created all and has not permitted any distinction between the two. Why should man create a distinction which God does not recognize? In the kingdoms beneath man, while, indeed, there is distinction of gender, yet the differences between male and female are not found to be at all vital. The mare, for instance, is as strong and even more speedy than the [male] horse. In the animal and vegetable kingdoms there is perfect equality between the male and female. That person the mirror of whose heart is the purest and cleanest, whose character is the highest is the nearest and dearest to God be that person male or female.
From the beginning of existence until the Promised Day men retained superiority over women in every respect. It is revealed in the Qur’án: “Men have superiority over women.” But in this wondrous Dispensation, the supreme outpouring of the Glorious Lord became the cause of manifest achievements by women. Some handmaidens arose who excelled men in the arena of knowledge. They arose with such love and spirituality that they became the cause of the outpouring of the bounty of the Sovereign Lord upon mankind, and with their sanctity, purity and attributes of the spirit led a great many to the shore of unity. They became a guiding torch to the wanderers in the wastes of bewilderment, and enkindled the despondent in the nether world with the flame of the love of the Lord. This is a bounteous characteristic of this wondrous Age which hath granted strength to the weaker sex and hath bestowed masculine might upon womanhood ….
The verse that Abdu’l-Baha refers to — “Men have superiority over women” — is the last part of Qur’an 2:228 which, in A. J. Arberry’s respected translation, states: “Women have such honourable rights as obligations, but their men have a degree above them; God is All-mighty, All-wise.”
So in this new Baha’i revelation, what are the ways that women may be potentially superior to men, according to Abdu’l-Baha?
The Tenth Principle of the teaching of Baha’u’llah is the equality of the sexes. … In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tenderhearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense. … In the necessity of life, woman is more instinct with power than man, for to her he owes his very existence. … When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights! One of the principles then of Baha’u’llah is the equality of sex.
On August 28, 1913, while in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
… the right which belongs to women, so far as their voting and their voice is concerned, is indisputable. When the women attain to the ultimate degree of progress, then, according to the exigency of the time and place and their great capacity, they shall obtain extraordinary privileges. Be ye confident on these accounts. His Holiness Baha’u’llah has greatly strengthened the cause of women, and the rights and privileges of women is one of the greatest principles of Abdu’l‑Baha. Rest ye assured! Erelong the days shall come when the men addressing the women, shall say: “Blessed are ye! Blessed are ye! Verily ye are worthy of every gift. Verily ye deserve to adorn your heads with the crown of everlasting glory, because in sciences and arts, in virtues and perfections ye shall become equal to man, and as regards tenderness of heart and the abundance of mercy and sympathy ye are superior.”
Sometime in September of 1911 in London, Abdu’l-Baha was reported as stating the following to an “ardent suffragist,” said to be Emmeline Pankhurst:
A spirited conversation due to the visit of an ardent suffragist will be long remembered by those who had the privilege of being present. The room was full of men and women, many Persians being seated in their familiar respectful attitude on the floor.
After contrasting the general position of the Eastern and the Western women, and then describing how in many respects the Eastern woman has the advantage of her Western sister, Abdu’l-Baha turned and said to the visitor: “Give me your reasons for believing that woman today should have the vote?”
Answer: “I believe that humanity is a divine humanity and that it must rise higher and higher; but it cannot soar with only one wing.” Abdu’l-Baha expressed his pleasure at this answer, and smiling, replied: “But what will you do if one wing is stronger than the other?” Answer: “Then we must strengthen the weaker wing, otherwise the flight will always be hampered.”
Abdu’l-Baha smiled and asked: “What will you say if I prove to you that the woman is the stronger wing?”
The answer came in the same bright vein: “You will earn my eternal gratitude!” at which all the company made merry.
Abdu’l-Baha then continued more seriously:
“The woman is indeed of the greater importance to the race. She has the greater burden and the greater work. … For her greater strength and fierceness, the lioness is more feared by the hunter than the lion.
“The mere size of the brain has been proved to be no measure of superiority. The woman has greater moral courage than the man; she has also special gifts which enable her to govern in moments of danger and crisis. If necessary she can become a warrior.”
Again, in September 1911 in London, Abdu’l-Baha was reported as making this statement:
Taken in general, women today have a stronger sense of religion than men. The woman’s intuition is more correct; she is more receptive and her intelligence is quicker. The day is coming when woman will claim her superiority to man.
On August 26, 1912, in a talk he gave in Boston, Abdu’l-Baha presented further observations on the qualified superiority of women:
Therefore, strive to show in the human world that women are most capable and efficient, that their hearts are more tender and susceptible than the hearts of men, that they are more philanthropic and responsive toward the needy and suffering, that they are inflexibly opposed to war and are lovers of peace. Strive that the ideal of international peace may become realized through the efforts of womankind, for man is more inclined to war than woman, and a real evidence of woman’s superiority will be her service and efficiency in the establishment of universal peace.
All else being equal, Abdu’l-Baha said, in just these few places, that women are potentially superior to men in these 20 ways:
 “more tenderhearted” / “superior” “tenderness of heart”
 “more receptive”
 “her intuition is more intense” / “woman’s intuition is more correct”
 “more instinct with power”
 “superior” “abundance of mercy”
 “superior” “sympathy”
 “the stronger wing”
 “greater importance to the race”
 “greater burden”
 “greater work”
 “greater strength”
 “greater” “fierceness”
 “greater moral courage”
 “special gifts which enable her to govern in moments of danger and crisis”
 “a stronger sense of religion”
 “her intelligence is quicker.”
 “their hearts are more … susceptible”
 “more philanthropic”
 “more … responsive toward the needy and suffering”
 “a real evidence of woman’s superiority will be her service and efficiency in the establishment of universal peace”
These Baha’i principles and prophecies give assurance and further inspiration that now, and into the future, women will progressively advance to a superlative and unprecedented degree, as a consequence of the power and influence of Baha’u’llah’s gender equality and equity principle, which is of paramount importance to the world’s peace, prosperity, and progress:
In the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah, women are advancing side by side with men. There is no area or instance where they will lag behind: they have equal rights with men, and will enter, in the future, into all branches of the administration of society. Such will be their elevation that, in every area of endeavour, they will occupy the highest levels in the human world.
So there you have it: The Baha’i teachings advance yet another comparatively new spiritual and religious principle in the history of religions, for the spiritual and social evolution of our planet.