By Neda Sedghi
What is a true friend? What qualities do they possess? What do they offer us?
Are there not different kinds of friends? There are those who are our friends because it is in their best interest. There are those who are “fair-weather friends,” there in good times, but gone when we are in need. But then we have friends who are always there for us and who will even gladly sacrifice for us — such true friends are rare treasures.
When we study the lives of the divine prophets, we find that each one has been a true friend to humanity — each in his own time sacrificed his life to convey a divine prescription for living.
The most recent of these true friends is BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h, the prophet-founder of the BahÃ¡’^on faith, who described the station of the true friend as follows: “Worldly friends, seeking their own good, appear to love one (another), whereas the true friend hath loved and doth love you for your own sakes; indeed he hath suffered for your guidance countless afflictions. Be not disloyal to such a friend, nay rather hasten unto him.”
In these verses, BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h mentions the “countless afflictions” that God’s prophets have undergone to guide us. For example, Moses had to wander in the desert for 40 years, Jesus was crucified, and Muhammad was attacked by the hostile enemies of Mecca.
BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h, born into a Persian noble family in the mid-19th century, gave up his material comforts and suffered 40 years of exile and imprisonment to share his divine prescriptions. He authored thousands of volumes that form the core of BahÃ¡’^on scripture.
BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h outlined a framework for the reconstruction of human society at all levels: spiritual, moral, economic, political and philosophical. Please reflect on BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h divine prescriptions for modern living:
BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h’s writings emphasize the importance — and the reality — of unity and oneness. First, God is one. All the world’s great religions are also one, each an expression of a single unfolding divine plan for educating humanity and cultivating the spiritual, intellectual and moral capacities of the human race. Each prophet has been the mouthpiece of God for a certain age. Each imparted spiritual truths and addressed the social needs of the time. They were much like the teachers of a school. Although their instructions varied according to the capacity of their students, they were all equal in knowledge and rank.
From this fundamental concept of unity, other principles emerge. BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h teaches that all humans, as creations of one God, are one people, and the day has come for their unification into one global society. Distinction of race, nation, class, and ethnicity are ephemeral when understood in this context. BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h urges, “Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul?”
At a time when the women’s suffrage movement was only beginning in the West and unheard of in the Middle East, BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h unequivocally proclaimed the equality of the sexes — thus becoming the first prophet able to explicitly uphold complete equality. “Until the reality of equality between men and women is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible,” BahÃ¡’^on scripture states.
BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h’s theme of oneness also summons economic justice. He writes, “The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.” BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h has called for both voluntary giving and government measures so that the great disparities between the rich and the poor are eliminated.
Education is given a special emphasis as the key to unlocking humanity’s tremendous capacity for progress, advancement and prosperity. “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value? Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” Education, according to BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h, should be universal and should incorporate spiritual values and moral attitudes.
The theme of oneness also emerges in BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h teachings on science. His writings present science and religion as the two powerful channels for the advancement of civilization, with different yet harmonious approaches to the comprehension of reality. These two paths are essentially compatible and mutually reinforcing.
Nearly 150 years ago, in Persia’s most notorious dungeon called the “Black Pit,” a prisoner sat with his feet in stocks and a 100-pound iron chain around his neck. In this grim setting, a rare and cherished event took place: God summoned a true friend to bring to humanity a new religious revelation for the well-being of the entire human race.
Although merely glimpses into BahÃ¡’u’llÃ¡h divine prescriptions, when we consider how closely these principles match the social concerns of our time, it is clear that there is no better true friend for us now. Let us not neglect him, but rather hold fast unto him.
Neda Sedghi is a member of the Baha’i faith community on Mercer Island. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.