There is no single model of course – every Baha’i has their own story – which implies a multiplicity of ways of responding to Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. The vision of what it means to be a Baha’i comes from Bahá’u’lláh’s writings. It is nothing like the stereotypes that might jump to mind.
In one sense, Baha’is are people who are striving to translate Bahá’u’lláh’s writings into reality and action. This idea, ultimately comes from Bahá’u’lláh’s writings themselves where he says just that. At a personal level being a Baha’i implies both a belief in Bahá’u’lláh and a sincere desire to live in accordance with Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. It is a falling in love with beautiful ideals and a desire to make them a reality. It doesn’t imply perfection – it implies a journey. It is a journey to which everyone is invited.
Abdu’l Baha offered a number of observations on what it means to be a Baha’i. It is more than a label.
A man may be a Bahá’í in name only. If he is a Bahá’í in reality, his deeds and actions will be decisive proofs of it.
Deeds such as:
Love for mankind, sincerity toward all, reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity, philanthropy, becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God, attainment to the knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare.
At another time Abdu’l Baha defined it as follows:
To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.
In one of his final addresses before leaving America, Abdu’l Baha further elaborated what it means to be a Baha’i. Only a small portion is quoted here:
You must manifest complete love and affection toward all mankind. Do not exalt yourselves above others, but consider all as your equals, recognizing them as the servants of one God. Know that God is compassionate toward all; therefore, love all from the depths of your hearts, prefer all religionists before yourselves, be filled with love for every race, and be kind toward the people of all nationalities. Never speak disparagingly of others, but praise without distinction. Pollute not your tongues by speaking evil of another. … Act in such a way that your heart may be free from hatred. Let not your heart be offended with anyone. … Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. …
In brief, let each one of you be as a lamp shining forth with the light of the virtues of the world of humanity. Be trustworthy, sincere, affectionate and replete with chastity. Be illumined, be spiritual, be divine, be glorious, be quickened of God, be a Bahá’í.
We can draw further insights from Bahá’u’lláh’s words.
O friends! Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny. … Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll. With the utmost unity, and in a spirit of perfect fellowship, exert yourselves, that ye may be enabled to achieve that which beseemeth this Day of God. Verily I say, strife and dissension, and whatsoever the mind of man abhorreth are entirely unworthy of his station.
The brightness of the fire of your love will no doubt fuse and unify the contending peoples and kindreds of the earth …
When Bahá’u’lláh lay, chained in a dungeon in Tehran with death close at hand, he foresaw the Baha’is that were to come – and the thought was a comfort to him.
One night, in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side: “Verily, We shall render Thee victorious by Thyself and by Thy Pen. Grieve Thou not for that which hath befallen Thee, neither be Thou afraid, for Thou art in safety. Erelong will God raise up the treasures of the earth—men who will aid Thee through Thyself and through Thy Name, wherewith God hath revived the hearts of such as have recognized Him.
Having walked so many years of my life among the angels that Bahá’u’lláh’s words have summoned to this Earth, I can say no more.
(This article is the 74th 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.)
Image Credits: Friends reunited at the Botswana Bahá’í jubilee celebration… Nina Robarts (left) and Lally Warren. 2005
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