Dressing up – and decoration of various kinds – is a universal human practice. Clothing isn’t just functional — it serves complex social functions – used to communicate mood, occasion, status, function and gender. It is sometimes religiously mandated – marking the boundaries of “appropriate” or “modest” clothing. Sometimes such constraints have been the vehicle of oppression – particularly when imposed on women.
Bahá’u’lláh abolishes religious constraints on clothing.
The choice of clothing and the cut of the beard and its dressing are left to the discretion of men. But beware, O people, lest ye make yourselves the playthings of the ignorant.
Instead Bahá’u’lláh has in mind an different kind of human decoration.
Adorn your heads with the garlands of trustworthiness and fidelity, your hearts with the attire of the fear of God, your tongues with absolute truthfulness, your bodies with the vesture of courtesy. These are in truth seemly adornings unto the temple of man, if ye be of them that reflect.
Bahá’u’lláh’s work known as the “ornaments” expands on this concept – identifying six “ornaments”. Below is a summary of them.
The first ornament Bahá’u’lláh counsels is to “know thyself” and “recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.” It is accompanied by counsel to be of benefit to yourself and others through earning a livelihood.
The second ornament is to “associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord”
The third is the “light of a good character” and practising justice and fairness towards our fellow human beings.
The fourth ornament is concerned with being trustworthy: “the door of security for all that dwell on earth”.
The fifth ornament requires that one “not ignore the truth of any matter” and to speak the truth. Further, that one “should not deny any soul the reward” to which they are entitled. Bahá’u’lláh draws particular attention to the respect to be accorded to those who create: noting the appreciation that is fairly due for the “river of arts” that is flowing from the West.
The sixth and final ornament is knowledge. “It is incumbent upon everyone to acquire it.”
(This article is the 29th in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)