02 July 2009

Meditation on the History of Non-Involvement in Politics

Every generation or so Iran tends to blow up, i.e. this month's demonstrations, the Islamic Revolution, the Tobacco revolt. Whenever these happen Baha'is try to weather the storm and avoid being accused of being on one side or the other. But there was one of these mass uprisings that was different than all the others. It was specifically led by the faith. In 1848-9 the Babi movement reached its climax with the Bab's trial, the conference of Badasht, mass sympathy with the Bab and his followers, and of course the various uprisings led by Babi clergy in Mazindaran, Nayriz, and Zanjan. Whenever the Iranian people arise to display their discontent, it always evokes memories of those heady days of the Bab's movement. For this reason, the tradition of Baha'i non-involvement in politics must be placed in the context of its application to the Iranian situation.

During Baha'u'llah's Baghdad ministry, many, if not most Babis assumed he was revitalizing the community so as to return to the anti-state warfare of Mulla Husayn, Quddus, Vahid, Hujjat, etc. Baha'u'llah consistently counselled Babis to pursue teaching instead. This goes back even before his imprisonment and exile. God only knows what would have happened if he had pursued holy war. Most likely, now there would be no such thing as the Baha'i Faith, or Babi Faith for that matter.

Secondly, take the Constitutional Revolution in Iran from 1906-11. Calls for modernization and democratization appeared to be the fulfillment of long-held Baha'i dreams. Opposition forces wondered where the Baha'is were in all that. Instead, Abdu'l Baha was dedicating the greater share of attention to the teaching work, especially in the United States. The rapid development of that community during that period is in large part attributable to the fact that the faiths' best and brightest had been sent to consolidate that fledgling community, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, Mirza Haydar Ali, etc. If 'Abdu'l-Baha had been turning his attention to Iranian politics what would that have gained anyone? I suppose we could have been a tiny minority party in a parliamentary regime that collapsed two generations later. By focusing on the Western Baha's 'Abdu'l-Baha could hasten the day when they would send pioneers to every corner of the globe.

The wisdom of non-involvement in politics is always clearer, even obvious, in retrospect. With that said, junior youth groups will alone accomplish in the next decade the sorts of social transformation token involvement in statist politics could only dream of. And this is only at a very early stage in the development of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Divine Plan. But this is only possible if Baha'is don't let themselves get distracted by the lure of advancing a statist arrangement.


  1. This is usefull knowledge, many times when we Baha'is say we don't get involved with political parties, we don't really understand why. Little do we know that the Faith itself depends on this neutrality

  2. Bahai's are a-political and rightly so because that is in obedience to the instruction found in the Teachings .But the New World Order and its extablishment is, a political process, among other things, and the Baha'i Movement has profound political consequences.
    Correct me if I am wrong.

  3. I think the key is that Baha'is don't be involved in a partisan political process. Its involvement would destroy the Faith. On the other hand, if the general administration of a country followed Baha'i principles of government, it wouldn't be partisan, by design. So you're right, the Baha'i Faith is building up an entire apparatus that will revolutionize the world of political affairs, but it's not "political" in the sense the common understanding of the word.

  4. Bryan thanks for that rejoinder.Agreed.
    Here is a question on an ongoing issue in the US.

    The House of Representative has passed a resolution (HR 171)and the Senate is following up with their own )condeming the persecution of Iran's Baha'is.

    We have been asked to contact them in our own State to seek their support and commend them for that.That is perfectly right gesture.

    But I am wondering if that position could be bettered if we as Baha'is could ask the House and Senate to also condemn the persecution of all Iranian citizens by the Iranian Regime.
    Will that not be right on our part and fair to the people of Iran,? Do we not deem all people as our own and all persecution reprehensible ?

  5. `Abdu'l-Baha clearly said that in the US we have a republican government, and we should vote and participate in that system. Shoghi Effendi clarified that our involvement should never become partisan or joined to any particular philosophy, party, or leader.

    So with that in mind it is completely within our right as Baha'is to vote, write to our representatives, and so forth. You may write to your congressman and ask for a bill condemning all human rights abuses in Iran. On the other hand, the Universal House of Justice has asked Baha'is around the world to specifically bring attention to the plight of Iranian Baha'is. Our National Assembly has specifically asked Baha'is in the US to write congressmen to support a particular bill that is going through the Senate. It is within the right of those institutions to make those kinds of suggestions, but as an individual you can write to them about whatever you want. In essence, you disagree with the recommendation of the NSA, which is fine, but that recommendation does not involve the Baha'i Faith in any kind of partisan position.

  6. Hello Brian,

    When you are persecuted you protest against that unfair treatment.Baha'i protest is directed to the perpetrator directly and also indirectly,through the European Union, United Nations, US Congress etc.(Political Entities) Baha'i Institutions also commend support when individuals and groups extend that to us,like the support we are receiving from Iranian Human Rights Groups.There is no conflict of principle in accepting such outside help for our cause.In fact the groundswell of support of non-Bahai's for Baha'is in Iran is,I believe,a sign of public solidarity and welcome by you and me.I also belive we look forward to that.Do we not Bryan ?
    If we are open and willing, as individuals and institutions, to receive outside support,from non-Baha'i entities,for furtherance of our cause,
    then it also, morally, binds us to extend our support ,as individuals and Instituions to all people is similar situations.That is my point ?

  7. If Baha'i institutions were in a position of power, then yes; but they are not.

  8. I am eager to know more .Please elaborate .Thanks

  9. You said, "If we are open and willing, as individuals and institutions, to receive outside support, from non-Baha'i entities, for furtherance of our cause, then it also, morally, binds us to extend our support... to all people in similar situations."

    I think it's false to say that the support being sought is for furtherance of our cause. Baha'u'llah said not to resort to violence, but that doesn't mean we are pacifists, or that we will quietly be exterminated by crazy people. The world has a weak framework for international peace and within that framework the Baha'is are asked to encourage Iran to uphold basic human rights. This is not a favor being asked. It does not further our cause. It is a legitimate non-violent response to severe oppression.

    To say that we are morally bound to use the same legal process to resolve every other example of oppression is also false. The role of the Baha'i Faith is to revolutionize the character of mankind. It resolves oppression at its root and core, which is to say that it creates values and institutions that will permeate society, and not allow the injustice that you're suggesting we resolve. This is a slow process. The problems we see in the world are symptoms, and if we get caught up in fixing the symptoms, the real malady will never be healed.

    Back to the point. Those in power are charged with ruling. Congresses and Parliaments of the world are where these types of requests for justice go. To say that someone making a plea has committed a discretion by not asking for universal justice, is silly. However, if those Baha'i institutions were the ones in power, they are the ones who would be charged with safeguarding the principles of justice in their jurisdiction, and the dispensing of that justice would not be limited to Baha'is.

  10. Your answer to people seeking relief from peril :
    "fend for yourself brother ,till the New World Order is established" meanwhile and untill then we are all in the same boat.But you can still try .Meantime we accept help from you(old world way), in the short run with no strings attached, but sorry don't ask help from us in the short run cause we are helping you in the long run.We cannot afford any distraction.But we are one people.Magnanimous Brian.Good wishes.

  11. Again, Baha'is have no power or authority, and should not be sought after to resolve government oppression. There are countless charities in the world with budgets many times larger than that of the worldwide Baha'i community, and there are institutions with real authority whose charters involve raising the standard of human rights in the world. Why would you suggest that Baha'is attempt to resolve every example of injustice? When asked what Baha'is can do to resolve racism in the US, Shoghi Effendi responded, "nothing", because there weren't enough Baha'is. There is a dream that Ruhiyyih Khanum had, where people were drowning in a flood while Abdu'l-Baha continued to walk by without helping. She asked him to help her save the people, and he responded, "I'm going to stop the flood."

    Here are two excerpts from the House of Justice on the subject,

    "When Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed His Message to the world in the nineteenth century He made it abundantly clear that the first step essential for the peace and progress of mankind was its unification. As He says, “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” (“The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh”, p. 203) To this day, however, you will find most people take the opposite point of view: they look upon unity as an ultimate, almost unattainable goal and concentrate first on remedying all the other ills of mankind. If they did but know it, these other ills are but various symptoms and side effects of the basic disease—disunity. Bahá’u’lláh has, furthermore, stated that the revivification of mankind and the curing of all its ills can be achieved only through the instrumentality of His Faith….

    "We are told by Shoghi Effendi that two great processes are at work in the world: the great Plan of God, tumultuous in its progress, working through mankind as a whole, tearing down barriers to world unity and forging humankind into a unified body in the fires of suffering and experience. This process will produce, in God’s due time, the Lesser Peace, the political unification of the world. Mankind at that time can be likened to a body that is unified but without life. The second process, the task of breathing life into this unified body—of creating true unity and spirituality culminating in the Most Great Peace—is that of the Bahá’ís, who are labouring consciously, with detailed instructions and continuing Divine guidance, to erect the fabric of the Kingdom of God on earth, into which they call their fellow men, thus conferring upon them eternal life.
    (Extracts from letters of the Universal House of Justice)

  12. Dear Bryan,

    Forgive me for being impatient.
    You are right.
    I may have found a friend I was looking for.

    PS.Would you write an article on our beloved Shoghi Effendi;he passsed away Nov.4