Inspired
by the
Baha’i Faith
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith. The official website of the Baha'i Faith is: Bahai.org. The official website of the Baha'is of the United States can be found here: Bahai.us.
GOT IT
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?
Spirituality

Is God a Woman?

Nasim Mansuri | Mar 16, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Interested in Other Topics?

We’ve got something for everyone.
Nasim Mansuri | Mar 16, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Most religions refer to God with male pronouns. But in 2020, could we address God as female?

Growing up, I simply accepted that we refer to God as He, with all the fatherly mental imagery this entails. But as I explored the Baha’i concept of the equality of men and women, and participate in conversations about gendered language, I began to question the reasoning behind a “male” God.

The Baha’i Writings have many quotes that explicitly address gender equality, such as this one: “Until the reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace). But the writings do often refer to God with male pronouns — while also stating how beyond human imagination God is: 

That which we imagine, is not the Reality of God; He, the Unknowable, the Unthinkable, is far beyond the highest conception of man. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks

If God is unknowable, why have we assigned to Him (Her? Them?) something as worldly as gender? (And yes, the quote above uses “man” to refer to all humanity. More on that later.) 

The Baha’i teachings do not describe God as He is often represented — as an old man in the sky. He may be better described by other popular terms, such as “The Universe” or “The Truth” or “A Higher Power” Although they aren’t fully accurate, these terms bring to mind something much more intangible — much more all-encompassing. 

The Baha’i teachings clearly state that God does not have a physical form:

To say that God is a personal Reality does not mean that He has a physical form, or does in any way resemble a human being. To entertain such belief would be sheer blasphemy. – written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, in a letter to an individual Baha’i

Still, humanity has a long history of referring to God using gendered pronouns. After all, it’s easier. And while God isn’t a person, He is a personal Reality. When we talk about God’s influence on our lives, our sense of loyalty and love towards God, and God’s teachings, it’s much easier to address this Supreme Being as a we would a person.

In the history of most cultures, the concept of an all-powerful being probably only seemed possible to ascribe to a male figure. And Over the centuries, as the Manifestations of God imparted God’s teachings to humanity, they had to do so in language that people would understand. The concept of a “female” God may have been too much at a time when people still struggled to understand the basic spiritual concept of the equality of women and men. It also may have led to even more misconceptions about God, leading people to believe that there was more than one.

The Baha’i writings clarify that God’s true reality transcends material aspects such as gender. They explain that the use of gendered language, particularly in cases where all humanity is addressed as “man” isn’t just an issue of conventions. It’s also one of language and translations, but that does not imply that women are less than men:

Man is a generic term applying to all humanity. The biblical statement “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” does not mean that woman was not created. The image and likeness of God apply to her as well. In Persian and Arabic there are two distinct words translated into English as man: one meaning man and woman collectively, the other distinguishing man as male from woman the female. The first word and its pronoun are generic, collective; the other is restricted to the male. This is the same in Hebrew. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

I love that the Baha’i teachings are so clear about the equality of men and women, even on the topic of language. Women and men can both manifest God’s attributes, and neither is above the other. In the eyes of God, human gender holds no spiritual meaning:

In reality, God has created all mankind, and in the estimation of God there is no distinction as to male and female. The one whose heart is pure is acceptable in His sight, be that one man or woman. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Gendered language when referring to God, the Baha’i Faith’s international administrative body tells us, doesn’t really mean anything. Our perception of it is greatly influenced by the patriarchal standard prevalent in our society:

In the case of the generic terms in the English translations of the Baha’i Writings, the tendency to take such terms as being applicable only to males is a reflection of the male-dominated society which has prevailed for so long, and to which there is a reaction from women who are seeking legitimate recognition and equality… language is a living thing and that the intended meaning of the generic terms will doubtless become more readily apparent as the influence of the Baha’i commitment to equality of the sexes permeates human society more fully. – On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 26 September 1993

The Baha’i Faith acknowledges that language is a “living thing” — constantly subject to changes in our culture and understanding of reality. As our words change, so does our understanding of already-existing words. Therefore, as we change society, our understanding of who God is will deepen as well. 

With this transformation, society may start to realize that the “male” qualities commonly associated with God — strength, power, knowledge — are equally displayed by women. And it may start to view “female” qualities — such as love, nurturing and compassion — as inherently godly and therefore just as worthy of praise as the more forceful qualities we tend to consider male.

Does this mean we could call God by female pronouns? I think we could. But defining God as a specific gender for the sake of conversation should never cloud the truth: that God is beyond human comprehension, beyond gender, beyond a physical form or any concept of personhood that we have. 

By working to establish the equality of men and women in all aspects of our lives, we draw closer to understanding God.

You May Also Like

Spirituality

The Soul is a Sign of God

Spirituality

How to Live into Your Ideals

Spirituality

How to Build a Habit of Prayer


Comments

characters remaining
  • Mar 16, 2020
    -
    I was lucky, my mom was a Christian Scientist, which was started in 1844 by a woman. We had a child's prayer that started, "Father/Mother God..." I had no doubt that there was only one God, and that "He" was neither male nor female. The limitation is on our language, not on God! Maybe we should start using "The Force", or "The Great Being" or some of the suggestions from Terry Tibando below!
  • Paul Mantle
    Mar 16, 2020
    -
    Some aspects of the issue of language assigning gender to the Creator in our thought may be resolved in the future by the worldwide adoption of a universal auxiliary language. I've been told that Armenian, for example, a well developed language that was recommended to the United Nations for global use in the 1960's by anthropologist Margaret Mead, has no gender pronouns.
    • Mar 16, 2020
      -
      I've always been partial to Esperanto, because it is so easy to learn! I've taken up the course on Duolingo, online for free. Man=viro, woman=virino, human=homo, humanity=homoj. So easy!
  • Terry Tibando
    Mar 16, 2020
    -
    How about referring to God as God or as the Supreme Being or the Supreme Universal Intelligence or the Supreme Intelligence or the Supreme Spiritual Being, all of which are non gender descriptions of God, especially when describing the Divine Creator of the universe, who is beyond all human language and comprehension!?
    • Mark David Vinzens
      Mar 17, 2020
      -
      When all is said and done, the Father / Mother idea is still the highest human concept of God. It conveys a feeling of intimacy in our relationship with the supreme being.
  • Ronald White
    Mar 16, 2020
    -
    What about the God became flesh in the body relation of Jesus John 1:1, in the gospel?
    • Stephanie Ruhiyyih
      Mar 17, 2020
      -
      I think since the Divine become flesh in the gospel is a much earlier part of our tradition towards approaching (which includes describing to ourselves) the Divine it is an idea we can begin to let go of in light of the idea now of the impossibility of incarnation (which is also more verifiable since it is from primary sources). In investigation perhaps I could also ask: what sort of limits are there to understanding the Divine through incarnation, and what sort of limits are there to understanding the Divine as "incapable" of material quality, being totally independent of materiality. ...In SAQ Abdu'l-baha describes the relationship between material existences, existences endowed with divine qualities, and the Divine itself ?
      Read more...
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Mar 16, 2020
    -
    God is both the Father and the Mother Principle. In Hebrew and Aramaic Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) is a feminine term. The Holy Spirit, the Great Mother Spirit, gives birth to the creation. Let us pray like that: „Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Friend, Great Beloved….“
  • dariush khaleghi
    Mar 16, 2020
    -
    Thank you for the great article. A question that I haven't been able to answer is why women can't become members of the UHJ if they are truly equal to men? Deep inside, I'm always concerned when having discussions about the equality of men and women with non-Bahai's.
    • Vladimir Chupin
      Mar 17, 2020
      -
      Well, there is an explanation for it. Because women are better :-) Look in bahai-library dot com/chupin_women_in_uhj
    • Vladimir Chupin
      Mar 17, 2020
      -
      Well, there is an explanation for it. Because women are better :-) http://bahai-library.com/chupin_women_in_uhj
    • Terry Tibando
      Mar 16, 2020
      -
      Your question is always on the minds of all Baha'is, especially female Baha'is. I think that the answer is the same of why men can't give birth the children or why women have more developed spiritual nurturing virtues than men or why men are more physically overall stronger than women? The answer may be due to the distinction of emotional state of being, however, I am guessing and not absolutely certain. I am sure the answer will become apparent in the near future!
x
x
How Do I Become A Baha’i?
Welcome!
What's your name?
Thanks my friend ! We want to connect you with a Baha’i in your area, where would that be?
Thank you so much! How can they best reach you?
To put you in touch with a Baha’i in your area who can answer your questions, we would like to kindly ask for a few details about yourself.
How do I become a Baha'i?
How Do I Become A Baha’i?
Tell us a bit about yourself so we can get you connected to the Bahá’ís in your area.