Against Religious Fanaticism and Hatred

View of informal terrace in the gardens of the Shrine of the BabBahá’u’lláh condemned religious fanaticism and hatred, perhaps most strikingly in the following passage:

Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction.[1]

I admit that when I first read this passage sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I found it difficult to visualise how religious fanaticism could be a “world-devouring fire”.  At the time, religious fanaticism did not seem likely to threaten the world; surely (I thought) it was largely a thing of the past.

Tragically the truth of Bahá’u’lláh’s words are all too evident in the 21st century. It is not the only occasion that during my life I have seen observations in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings confirmed by the course of events.

Bahá’u’lláh’s concluding words in this passage are also striking. They suggest that this religious problem requires a religious solution – indeed, that it cannot be solved without religion. Elsewhere Bahá’u’lláh comments on the need for religion as a stabilising force in society.

In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine.[2]

We may note that religion could be “obscured” in more than one way – through its outward decline or through the corruption of religion into an instrument of hate (a result incoherent with its very purpose). Both phenomena are manifestations of religious decline.

Further on fanaticism, Bahá’u’lláh writes in respect of religious education that such education should not be such as to

injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.[4]

Closely related to the phenomenon of religious fanaticism is religious hatred, again condemned by Bahá’u’lláh.

In matters of religion every form of fanaticism, hatred, dissension and strife is strictly forbidden.[5]

In the following, Bahá’u’lláh condemns forms of hatred all too common in both our recent and historical times:

The unbelievers and the faithless have set their minds on four things: first, the shedding of blood; second, the burning of books; third, the shunning of the followers of other religions; fourth, the extermination of other communities and groups.[6]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son, explained well to us the task of overcoming these ancient hatreds and human ills.

If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men.

Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate. How many seemingly impossible events are coming to pass in these days! Set your faces steadily towards the Light of the World. Show love to all; “Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Man.” Take courage! God never forsakes His children who strive and work and pray! Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquillity and harmony may encircle all this warring world. So will success crown your efforts, and with the universal brotherhood will come the Kingdom of God in peace and goodwill.[7]

On this Easter Friday, it is sad to recall that so recently innocent lives of Christians were taken in acts of religious hatred in Egypt.

May all such shameful acts of religious hatred be no more.

Image Credits: View of an informal terrace in the gardens of the Shrine of the Bab (2000s. Copyright © Bahá’í International Community

This article is the 8th in a series of what I hope will become 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 inadequacies or inaccuracies in these articles are solely my responsibility.


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