Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Knowledge into Action: The Bahá'í Imperative to Serve Humanity

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

Knowledge into Action: The Bahá'í Imperative to Serve Humanity

Article excerpt

Although the Bahá'í community is at the beginning of its understanding of how to apply Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to heal the ills of the world, exciting learning has taken place regarding the development of patterns of community life and the application of Bahai principles to provide relief to the suffering of humanity. Still in a stage of infancy, experiments in Bahá'í-inspired social and economic development, or "social action," have been reinforced by recent encouragement from the Universal House of Justice to engage in social action as a natural outgrowth of the maturation of community life and grassroots expressions of need. It is an exciting time to be a part of the Bahai community, as we are at the beginning of our learning regarding the implementation of social action as a tool for the well-being of society. This article examines the history of experience and evolution in thinking regarding social action in the Bahá'í community, focuses on the Tahirih Justice Center's experience as one example of such learning, and critically examines the culture of service we must embody as a Bahá'í community.

A Distinguished History of Social Action in the Bahá'í Community

Without action nothing in the material world can be accomplished, neither can words unaided advance a man in the spiritual Kingdom. It is not through lip-service only that the elect of God have attained to holiness, but by patient lives of active service they have brought light into the world. Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! This is the work of a true Bahá'í, and this is what is expected of him. If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahais, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name. (Abdu'l-Bahá, Pans Talks 80)

'Abdu'l-Bahá

Led by 'Abdu'l-Bahas example, the Bahá'í Community has a long history of engagement in social action and, from the earliest days of the Faith, was distinguished by it. Abdu'l-Bahá, the Perfect Exemplar for Bahá'ís, ministered to the poor on a daily basis and was known throughout the world for his many acts of service and extreme generosity. Abdu'l-Bahá would give away the clothes He was wearing to a homeless person He passed by, would give money to those who sought His help, would bathe and feed those who were too weak to do so for themselves, and treated all-from various classes, races, and levels of education-with the same degree of love and respect. His name, which means the "Servant of God," reflects His actions.

So extreme was His commitment to charity that He prioritized the company of the poor over that of the rich. In one example, during 'Abdu'l-Bahá's trip to New York in 1912, He was invited to the homes of many socially prominent New Yorkers but refused their offers, saying, "I have work with the poor and not with the rich. I love all with heart and soul yet I am not here to visit the homes of the rich." When Andrew Carnegie pressed him to come, He relented, but only with much cajoling (Ward 186).

Abdu'l-Bahá was also strategic in His acts of charity. In one example, in the early 1900s, Abdu'l-Bahá bought some land in a community in Jordan known as Adasiyyih. It was fertile farming land. He asked Bahá'ís from Yazd, who knew about farming, to settle on this property in Adasiyyih and develop it. Abdu'l-Bahá taught the friends to grow nourishing vegetables and asked them to focus, in particular, on corn. They produced high quantities of food, which they stored in pits built by the Romans many years earlier on the same land.

World War I broke out and began to engulf the world. The Ottoman Empire was embattled, and the war came to Palestine where Abdu'l-Bahá lived. …

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