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Baha’is have undertaken a worldwide enterprise to study and engage in the relationship between social discourse and social action, to relate the Baha’i teachings to the issues and challenges of our time.
In the Baha’i Faith, the spiritual truth finds a social dimension intended to transform human conditions and achieve world unity and peace. The Baha’i teachings assert that world unity and peace are not a utopian vision, but rather an inevitable reality aligned with patterns of change and transformation toward a global civilization.
This excerpt from a 2009 Universal House of Justice letter explains:
What is important is for Baha’is to be present in the many social spaces in which thinking and policies evolve on any one of a number of issues—on governance, the environment, climate change, the equality of men and women, human rights, to mention a few—so that they can, as occasions permit, offer generously, unconditionally and with utmost humility the teachings of the Faith and their experience in applying them as a contribution to the betterment of society. – Letter from the Universal House of Justice to the NSA of Australia on the role of the Yerrinbool Centre of Learning, January 4, 2009.
Baha’is take part in social discourse, not only to give others a coherent view of the systematic relationship between the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and social issues of our time, but to help foster the current knowledge and practices used to address those issues. For example, the Baha’i teachings offer a coherent view of how to relate equality of the sexes to economic justice, economic justice to education, and education to spiritual transformation. That spiritual transformation leads to the raison d’être of global peace, humanity’s noblest goal and the primary purpose of Baha’u’llah’s teachings.
How Baha’is Spread their Faith
Baha’is are encouraged to teach the Baha’i Faith, not to proselytize but rather contributing to constructive social change. The act of teaching integrates the two inseparable faculties of knowledge and action. Knowledge of the messenger of God is the primary source of one’s own internal transformation—but that knowledge cannot remain a hidden treasure. It must manifest itself in individual action and in society, creating a constant flow of social transformation in order to become tangible and meaningful. It must have some impact on the lives of other human beings. However, Baha’is who teach their Faith to others strive to be detached from self-aggrandizement, a sense of superiority, hypocrisy, or manipulation. Teaching the Baha’i Faith, then, involves rectitude of conduct and genuine service to the world of humanity. In his Will and Testament, Abdu’l-Baha summarized the attitude of a sincere teacher of the Baha’i Faith:
O my loving friends! Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will, and friendliness, that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Baha, that ignorance, enmity, hate, and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. Should other peoples and nations be unfaithful to you, show your fidelity unto them, should they keep aloof from you attract them to yourself, should they show their enmity be friendly towards them, should they poison your lives, sweeten their souls, should they inflict a wound upon you, be a salve to their sores. Such are the attributes of the sincere! Such are the attributes of the truthful.
In this context, teaching becomes an external reflection of the totality of internal changes within the soul of the individual.
The social goal of the Baha’i Faith relates Baha’i learning and education to the act of teaching as a means to change the world. Therefore, in its broadest sense, the act of teaching naturally aligns with a process that begins with knowledge but ends in action; and the action, in the process, becomes one with the knowledge. Action is considered to be an inherent property of knowledge.
For Baha’is, teaching involves constant learning, alterations, and modifications of one’s thought and behavior. The act of teaching, in its broadest sense, brings the worlds of knowledge and experience together. Teaching challenges thought patterns of society and, in turn, induces a reaction from the social environment. The way that a Baha’i teacher is educated to respond to this reaction has profound learning value. Learning bent on teaching changes passive contemplation into revolutionary action.
In short, teaching the Baha’i Faith must be oriented, not toward proselytizing or converting others, but toward changing the human condition.