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Most of us know the names of many masters of war: Patton, Sherman, MacArthur, Marshall, Grant. But here’s a pop quiz: can you come up with an equal number of the proponents and advocates of peace?
Well-known heroes of peace like Emma Goldman, Albert Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, Leo Tolstoy or the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might immediately come to mind. If you’d like to expand on that small, relatively well-known group, Wikipedia offers a fairly comprehensive – and very inspiring – compendium of many, many other peace activists and advocates here.
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The selfless people on that extensive list, and many, many more who are not named, have dedicated their entire lives to building a peaceful world and ridding humanity of the terrible scourge of war. They have attempted to confer life on humanity, not take it.
But beyond the wonderful heartfelt work these named or unnamed peace activists have attempted to accomplish, perhaps we ought to lift our vision to another group of heroic peacemakers who have done more to promote love and unity between human beings than any other: the divine prophets and messengers, the founders of the world’s great Faiths.
Gautama Buddha began teaching peace in India in 500 BC or thereabouts, and even today the large majority of his millions of followers still try to adhere to those peaceful principles.
Abraham and Moses, the major founders of Judaism, taught the Jews to practice peace.
Jesus Christ instructed his followers in compassion and peacefulness, and in the Sermon on the Mount, said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
In the Qur’an, verse 2:190, Muhammad outlawed aggressive and offensive warfare: “And fight in the way of God with those who fight with you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.”
In the Baha’i revelation, Baha’u’llah outlawed holy war completely and prohibited Baha’is from killing: “Know ye that to be killed in the path of [God’s] good pleasure is better for you than to kill.”
This long progression of peaceful spiritual teachings, which extends like a vein of pure gold through most of the world’s major religions, has prompted billions of human beings to work to resolve individual, tribal, regional, and national conflicts peaceably. It has inspired the advocates of peace throughout history. It has released an infusion of moral energy into humanity destined to ultimately make peace a lasting reality.
Heroes of Resignation and Detachment
In his Book of Certitude, Baha’u’llah calls the prophets and messengers who founded the world’s great Faiths “these heroes of the field of resignation and detachment.”
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Why were they resigned and detached? Well, as history clearly shows us, during their lifetimes every one of those founders of Faith faced enormous opposition. Imprisoned, tortured, exiled, and even put to death, they endured scorn, harsh treatment, and persecution – but instead of reacting reciprocally they manifested love and responded heroically. In a 1913 address he gave in Stuttgart, Germany, Abdu’l-Baha said:
All the prophets appeared that oneness of men might be taught. How much suffering these prophets had to endure to unfold this illumination among men. His Holiness Jesus Christ offered His life. He endured the greatest humiliation; His head was crowned with a crown of thorns. He endured all things so that the world might again unite and that He might cement the hearts of men through His love.
These great messengers – Krishna, Moses, Abraham, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and most recently the Bab and Baha’u’llah – underwent trials and travail for promulgating their messages of love, compassion, and kindness. For some strange and historically consistent reason, humanity pillories and persecutes those who come to bring us peace. Abdu’l-Baha, in a talk gave at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City on July 14, 1912, said:
Consider how all the Prophets of God were persecuted and what hardships They experienced. Jesus Christ endured affliction and accepted martyrdom upon the cross in order to summon mankind to unity and love. What sacrifice could be greater? He brought the religion of love and fellowship into the world. Shall we make use of it to create discord, violence and hatred among mankind?
Moses was persecuted and driven out into the desert, Abraham was banished, Muhammad took refuge in caves, the Bab was killed and Baha’u’llah was exiled and imprisoned forty years. Yet all of Them desired fellowship and love among men. They endured hardships, suffered persecution and death for our sakes that we might be taught to love one another and be united and affiliated instead of discordant and at variance.
These messengers, humanity’s true heroes, all ask us to follow their lead in working toward a peaceful world.