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Culture

Open a School Door, Close a Prison

David Langness | Sep 4, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Crime Criminals and Prison

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

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David Langness | Sep 4, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Crime Criminals and Prison

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

He who opens a school door, closes a prison. – Victor Hugo

We will turn this prison from a scrap heap into a repair shop. – Thomas Mott Osborne, the early 20th Century warden of New York’s Sing Sing Prison

For it is possible so to train the individual that, although crime may not be completely done away with, still it will become very rare. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet to a Persian Baha’i

Criminal justice reformers and experts have long noted that an increasing level of civilization decreases violent crime. The rule of law, peer pressure and the general moderating effects of education combine in most advanced civilizations to result in lower violent crime rates over time. Compared to early civilizations without the rule of law, the benefits of civil society or mandatory childhood education, violent deaths have declined precipitously in the post-modern age.

From a Baha’i perspective, that kind of civilizing influence has an enormously positive effect on lowering crime and violence:

Experience has shown that crime is less prevalent among civilized peoples — that is, among those who have acquired true civilization. And true civilization is divine civilization, the civilization of those who combine material and spiritual perfections. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 313.

How can we increase civilization in the world? We can increasingly civilize ourselves and begin to prevent crimes from being committed in the first place, the Baha’i principles say, by morally training our children; teaching all children to read and write: and ensuring that our children acquire at least one specific art or skill:

Among the safeguards of the Holy Faith is the training of children, and this is among the weightiest of principles in all the Divine Teachings. Thus from the very beginning mothers must rear their infants in the cradle of good morals — for it is the mothers who are the first educators – -so that, when the child cometh to maturity, he will prove to be endowed with all the virtues and qualities that are worthy of praise.

And further, according to the Divine commandments, every child must learn reading and writing, and acquire such branches of knowledge as are useful and necessary, as well as learning an art or skill. The utmost care must be devoted to these matters; any neglect of them, any failure to act on them, is not permissible.

Observe how many penal institutions, houses of detention and places of torture are made ready to receive the sons of men, the purpose being to prevent them, by punitive measures, from committing terrible crimes — whereas this very torment and punishment only increaseth depravity, and by such means the desired aim cannot be properly achieved.

Therefore must the individual be trained from his infancy in such a way that he will never undertake to commit a crime, will, rather, direct all his energies to the acquisition of excellence, and will look upon the very commission of an evil deed as in itself the harshest of all punishments, considering the sinful act itself to be far more grievous than any prison sentence. For it is possible so to train the individual that, although crime may not be completely done away with, still it will become very rare.

The purport is this, that to train the character of humankind is one of the weightiest commandments of God, and the influence of such training is the same as that which the sun exerteth over tree and fruit. Children must be most carefully watched over, protected and trained; in such consisteth true parenthood and parental mercy.

Otherwise, the children will turn into weeds growing wild, and become the cursed, Infernal Tree, knowing not right from wrong, distinguishing not the highest of human qualities from all that is mean and vile; they will be brought up in vainglory, and will be hated of the Forgiving Lord.

Wherefore doth every child, new-risen in the garden of Heavenly love, require the utmost training and care. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet to a Persian Baha’i.

These powerful instructions highlight one of the most important Baha’i teachings—the law of universal mandatory education for all children:

Baha’u’llah has announced that inasmuch as ignorance and lack of education are barriers of separation among mankind, all must receive training and instruction. Through this provision the lack of mutual understanding will be remedied and the unity of mankind furthered and advanced. Universal education is a universal law. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 300.

The Baha’i teachings say that this universal education must extend to every child, regardless of gender. Many societies fail to educate girls, believing that their role as future mothers means they have no need of an education. The Baha’i principles take the exact opposite view:

…strive by all possible means to educate both sexes, male and female; girls like boys; there is no difference whatsoever between them. The ignorance of both is blameworthy, and negligence in both cases is reprovable…

The command is decisive concerning both. If it be considered through the eye of reality, the training and culture of daughters is more necessary than that of sons, for these girls will come to the station of motherhood and will mould the lives of the children. The first trainer of the child is the mother. The babe, like unto a green and tender branch, will grow according to the way it is trained. If the training be right, it will grow right, and if crooked, the growth likewise, and unto the end of life it will conduct itself accordingly.

Hence, it is firmly established that an untrained and uneducated daughter, on becoming a mother, will be the prime factor in the deprivation, ignorance, negligence and the lack of training of many children. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 84.

Next: The Luminous Sun of Truth and Reconciliation

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