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The Baha’i Faith has one ultimate goal, that of unity, and thus its inevitable result: peace.
The spiritual and social principles of the Baha’i Faith, of its prophet and founder Baha’u’llah, renew again the lessons of love taught by Christ, but also give us a set of world-embracing, world-unifying teachings as solutions to the problems of the age.
Baha’u’llah charges us, in the evolving plan of God for humanity, to be world citizens, not to love only ourselves or our own countries, but to be lovers of all the world’s peoples.
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The Baha’i teachings say that one of the factors which will bring about universal peace is “the linking together of the Orient and the Occident.” Baha’u’llah urges us “to let your vision be world-embracing rather than confined to your own selves,” and that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”
These beautiful teachings of peace and unity seemed to come naturally to me when I first encountered them. As a third generation Canadian, my Doukhobor grandfathers came from Russia, where their families faced persecution and exile for their refusal to bear arms or be part of the Czar’s army. This stance led my ancestors to Canada. Among their various other beliefs, the Doukhobor community still strongly adheres to pacifism.
Growing up at a time when most friends and neighbors played “cops and robbers” and “cowboys and Indians” (yes, I’m that old!) how well I remember my father refusing his children the freedom to play these games. No toy guns, no sticks, not even fingers to be held as weapons. He was not a staunch or active Doukhobor as his parents had been, but he put paramount importance on peace and peaceful attitudes and activities. He loved sports and games, but never war games. We didn’t appreciate this as children when we wanted to play as others played, but my father’s immovable conviction impressed itself forever in my mind and translated itself into the attitudes I give my own children.
My father stood like an immovable force and standard in my life, in dedicating oneself to peace, hard work in the company of others, and to education.
My father had to quit school after the 6th grade to go to work and help support his family. For him, the education of his sisters, and then his own daughters and son, was of great importance. He wanted each of us to get the education he was denied. It was my father who inspired and encouraged my commitment to my own education and that of my children.
But it was my mother who taught me the reasons for this behavior – and it was my mother who taught me the love behind the lessons. She was the standard bearer of kindness, generosity, and hospitality in our family. Whoever crossed the threshold of her home or in her last years, of her room, be they known or strangers, heard her say, “What can I give you?” No one left her company empty-handed or aggrieved.
The Baha’i teachings, in their emphasis on the equality of the sexes, maintain that women, as mothers and teachers, must become vital participants and an increasingly active force in bringing peace to our troubled planet. The role of men is undeniable. The leaders of the world’s governments are predominantly men, albeit with women now, too, standing out to lead in necessarily increasing numbers. But instead of leading the way to war and conflict, those leaders must seize this opportune moment and take the steps necessary to hold a global gathering that will establish, once and for all, the conditions for international peace. Men, as fathers, have a vital role to play in this process by educating their children and teaching peace by their firm and unshakable example. Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, said “The lovers of mankind, these are the superior men, of whatever nation, creed or colour they may be.”
Just as the role of women must expand, so too, must men change, for, as Abdu’l-Baha put it, “the world of humanity has two wings — one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly.”
As women take their place more and more in the world at large, so too are men taking a more active role in the upbringing of their children from an earlier age. This revolutionary change, Abdu’l-Baha promised, will alter the course of human history:
The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting — force is losing its weight, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age, will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals — or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”
But it is the woman, as mother, whose biological imperative it is to be the first educator of humankind. It is the mother who lets “the love of God pervade their inmost being, commingled with their mother’s milk.” It was my mother who taught me my first prayers in Russian. For the woman to be this first educator, she must herself be educated. In a speech he gave in Pittsburgh in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha said:
… there must be no difference in the education of male and female in order that womankind may develop equal capacity and equal importance with man in the social and economic equation. Then the world will attain unity and harmony. In past ages humanity has been incomplete. War and its ravages have blighted the world; the education of woman will be a mighty step toward its abolition and ending. For she will use her whole influence against war. Woman rears the child and educates youth to maturity. She will refuse to give her sons for sacrifice upon the field of battle. In truth, she will be the greatest factor in establishing universal peace and international arbitration. Assuredly, woman will abolish warfare among mankind.
The Baha’i writings repeatedly call for the equality of women and men, and point out that this equality can be realized primarily through equal education, for only “when all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed.”
This, then, is our challenge, for women and for men, to establish peace in this war-weary world, and to allow our children and their children to live in peace – to work and strive for the advancement of all humanity. We must lead the way and open the door. For, as the Baha’i teachings say, “every child is potentially the light of the world — and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted of primary importance.” This education is of two kinds — equal education for all on this earthly plane, as well as divine education. The teachings of the Baha’i Faith give us both.
When asked “What is a Baha’i?” Abdu’l-Baha replied: “To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.”