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Throughout his entire ministry, Baha’u’llah urged his followers to share the Baha’i teachings with others.
He often elucidated how the Baha’i Faith would spread across the globe. He abolished the concept of holy war and prohibited his followers from engaging in any contentious or violent behavior. In particular he forbade sedition and involvement of any kind in partisan political activity. The Faith, Baha’u’llah emphasized to his followers, is not to be spread by force or argument of any kind, but through the power of example and utterance:
O peoples of the earth! Haste ye to do the pleasure of God, and war ye valiantly, as it behooveth you to war, for the sake of proclaiming His resistless and immovable Cause. We have decreed that war shall be waged in the path of God with the armies of wisdom and utterance, and of a goodly character and praiseworthy deeds. Thus hath it been decided by Him Who is the All-Powerful, the Almighty. There is no glory for him that committeth disorder on the earth after it hath been made so good. Fear God, O people, and be not of them that act unjustly. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 24.
Baha’is are warned not to assume an attitude of superiority toward others; rather, to consider themselves as humble servants of humanity. At the heart of such exhortations is an abiding reverence for the right of each individual to investigate and determine the truth for himself or herself:
Consort with all men, O people of Baha, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill. If it be accepted, if it fulfill its purpose, your object is attained. If anyone should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding. – Ibid., p. 15.
Baha’u’llah also advised the Baha’is to use wisdom and moderation at all times and never to say more than people are ready or willing to hear. “The wise,” he wrote, “are they who speak not unless they obtain a hearing.” – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 34-35.
During Baha’u’llah’s lifetime many Baha’is arose to teach their Faith, often under extremely dangerous circumstances. On the whole they were careful to follow Baha’u’llah’s counsel to share the Faith with caution. Nevertheless, they frequently provoked the wrath of the clergy and of the ignorant, and many met with suffering and even death. Notwithstanding such opposition, the Baha’i Faith steadily gained in numbers and strength.
Ever since its inception the Baha’i Faith has met with hostility and persecution from various quarters. This is still true today, especially in Iran. Baha’u’llah taught that such persecutions will not prevent the ultimate triumph of his Cause; indeed, there were many instances in his own life whereby such tribulations were transformed into astounding victories.
In the Most Holy Book Baha’u’llah anticipated the day when he would no longer be present to guide the affairs of the Baha’i community. In that book and in other writings he made provisions to ensure the unity and integrity of the Baha’i Faith for all time. He also called upon his followers to continue the work of spreading his teachings.
It has now been more than a century since Baha’u’llah passed away in 1892. In that time the Baha’i Faith has spread to more than 190 countries and 46 territories of the globe. Its membership now numbers more than 5 million people of some 2,112 tribes, nationalities, and races. The worldwide Baha’i community, with members in more than 116,000 localities, is engaged in a variety of local efforts, inspired by the words of Baha’u’llah, to achieve unity, peace, and social justice. Such efforts are undertaken not only for the benefit of the Baha’is, but also for all humanity. As the Baha’i Faith gains in numbers and resources, it will exercise an increasingly visible and vital role in the process of world transformation now underway as the result of the spiritual energies unleashed by the revelation of Baha’u’llah.
It should also be noted that the Baha’i Faith accepts monetary contributions only from members of the religion. This guideline is not meant to discriminate against non-members, but rather to reflect the belief of the Baha’is that the institutions they are building are gifts from Baha’u’llah to the world, and can function best if they are built and supported only by those who are fully conscious of the claims inherent in the revelation of Baha’u’llah.
The Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Baha’i Faith, wrote a public statement that addressed the essential prerequisites for peace as taught by Baha’u’llah. In this document, entitled The Promise of World Peace, the Universal House of Justice points out that the hope of world unity is already substantiated in the progress that the Baha’i Faith has made:
The experience of the Baha’i community may be seen as an example of this enlarging unity. It is a community of some three to four million people drawn from many nations, cultures, classes and creeds, engaged in a wide range of activities serving the spiritual, social and economic needs of the peoples of many lands. [When the statement was written in 1986, the worldwide Baha’i population was estimated to be 3 to 4 million. Today, estimates place it at over 5 million.] It is a single social organism, representative of the diversity of the human family, conducting its affairs through a system of commonly accepted consultative principles, and cherishing equally all the great outpourings of divine guidance in human history. Its existence is yet another convincing proof of the practicality of its Founder’s vision of a united world, another evidence that humanity can live as one global society, equal to whatever challenges its coming of age may entail. If the Baha’i experience can contribute in whatever measure to reinforcing hope in the unity of the human race, we are happy to offer it as a model for study. – The Promise of World Peace, pp. 36-37.
Today, after a century of rapid growth, the Baha’i community makes up only a small percentage of the human race. Yet Abdu’l-Baha exhorted the Baha’is to take the long view, assuring them of the ultimate achievement of God’s purpose:
Look ye not upon the present, fix your gaze upon the times to come. In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree. Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms, and its leaves and its fruits. Consider the days of Christ, when none but a small band followed Him; then observe what a mighty tree that seed became, behold ye its fruitage. And now shall come to pass even greater things than these, for this is the summons of the Lord of Hosts, this is the trumpet-call of the living Lord, this is the anthem of world peace, this is the standard of righteousness and trust and understanding raised up among all the variegated peoples of the globe; this is the splendor of the Sun of Truth, this is the holiness of the spirit of God Himself. This most powerful of dispensations will encompass all the earth, and beneath its banner will all peoples gather and be sheltered together. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 82.
In this passage, Abdu’l-Baha drew a parallel between the spread of the Baha’i Faith and that of Christianity. The biggest difference, which can already be seen, is that of scale; for whereas Christianity had only penetrated the Mediterranean world and parts of Asia Minor in its first hundred years, the Faith of Baha’u’llah permeated nearly the entire globe in roughly the same time. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, it is now second only to Christianity itself in the number of countries and territories where its followers can be found. – Worldwide Adherents of All Religions by Six Continental Areas, Mid-2002, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2003.
Such an unprecedented record of achievement is very much in keeping with the worldwide mission of the Baha’i Faith and with Baha’u’llah’s station as the Promised One of All Ages.
The Covenant Baha’u’llah established to ensure that his Faith remains one and indivisible has succeeded. From time to time there have been attempts to cause a breach from within the ranks of the Baha’is, yet all have failed to achieve their end. After more than a century, the Baha’i Faith remains united. This feat, unparalleled in religious history, constitutes yet another testimony to the divine power of its author Baha’u’llah.