The Human Rights Discourse: A Bahá'í Perspective

In this essay, Matthew Weinberg looks at contemporary discourse on the subject of human rights through the eyes of the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith. This article appeared in the 1996-97 edition of The Bahá'í World, pp. 247-273.

In 1912, in anticipation of an awakening aspiration of the world's peoples, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the head of the Bahá'í Faith from 1892 to 1921, envisioned the approach of the day when "there shall be an equality of rights and prerogatives for all mankind."1 Tragically, the first substantive steps toward the realization of this vision occurred only after two global conflagrations had produced levels of death and suffering never before experienced in human history. Moral and practical impetus was given to the creation of a universal code of human rights by the appalling extermination of entire groups and populations. The emergence of a comprehensive system of international human rights law has profoundly altered international relations and the manner in which nations treat their own citizens. Indeed, the evolution of the international human rights regime, particularly the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and of subsequent Covenants and Conventions elucidating and extending the provisions of that Declaration, has been the chief determinant in shaping a normative international moral order. In the process of setting human rights standards, a moral ethos with global ramifications has been progressively articulated. This remarkable development, clearly foreseen in the Bahá'í writings, attests to the period of collective maturity which humanity is now entering. Human beings, `Abdu'l-Bahá states, "must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities."2

As humanity comes to terms with the reality of an interdependent world and new avenues of rational inquiry and perception, many of the entrenched social inequities of the past are, for the first time, being systematically and directly confronted. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the creation of an international community bound by legal and moral norms can no longer be regarded as a passing idealistic exercise. The Declaration's promulgation of basic civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights for "all members of the human family" has firmly established "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations."3 The efflorescence of the human rights movement portends a fundamental reshaping of human relations and suggests that "human beings have a substantial capacity for moral understanding and progress."4

The unfolding human rights discourse is a vast subject with many different dimensions: legal, political, philosophical, and moral. What follows here is a modest sketch of the salient features of this discourse and an exploration of the unique perspectives that the Bahá'í teachings offer concerning the foundations of human rights and their future evolution. It is surely significant that, concurrent with the development of a universal human rights regime, a religious community animated by a commitment to justice in all aspects of life has spread throughout the globe. Observers will be struck by a strong congruence between the contemporary conception of human rights and the view of human nature advanced in the Bahá'í writings.

The seeds of present human rights thinking can be traced back to the egalitarian philosophies of antiquity, but it is only in the past few centuries that a clear formulation of human rights has emerged.5 In recent decades this formulation has been further refined and delineated. The central tenets of modern human rights law can be summarized as follows:

Although the idea of universal human rights is being increasingly accepted on practical grounds, from a theoretical point of view there is not a universally shared justification for such rights. The ratification of international instruments, while significant, does not establish that there is a universal concept of human rights. A review of the literature quickly reveals that the philosophical foundations of human rights remain highly contested. The major international human rights documents ratified by the nations of the world during the past fifty years do not address underlying philosophical issues. These documents have in some sense bypassed the philosophical debate by simply establishing a set of positive legal norms.7

Because human rights proponents are confronted with a variety of obstacles in their efforts to preserve individual freedoms, including claims of state sovereignty, cultural autonomy, and collective rights, to have a clear theoretical foundation for human rights would be extremely helpful in overcoming such obstacles and implementing concrete legal instruments. Moreover, as the theorist Michael Freeman observes, "rights without reasons are vulnerable to denial and abuse. The human rights struggle is certainly motivated by passion, but it is also influenced by argument."8 For the moment anyway, regardless of the diverse and sometimes inconsistent reasons put forward for upholding certain human rights, the international community has been able to sustain a consensus on some basic rights and the commitment to safeguard them.

In general, philosophers tend to identify the following sources for human rights: divine authority, natural law, or considerations concerning human nature. As can well be imagined, the possibility of an objective, transcendent Source for human rights is readily dismissed by secular theorists. None of the major international human rights documents refers to God, presumably because the existence of a supernatural authority is not subject to objective proof.9 But interestingly, natural law--the system of moral imperatives allegedly accessible by human reason alone and championed by Enlightenment thinkers--is also dismissed by many human rights theorists. The use of reason, and particularly the methods of deduction and induction, it is argued, cannot escape the influence of particular cultural codes. Thus, natural law is generally regarded as a "nebulous" source that cannot ground any particular set of human rights, let alone a universal ensemble of rights.10

The last major justification for human rights essentially relies on intuition--that is, it is demonstrably apparent that certain actions are wrong because of widespread anthropological evidence that human beings have an aversion to violations of well-being.11 Considerations of prudence lead rational individuals to embrace standards and social arrangements that promote their autonomy, security, and dignity. As purposive or volitional agents, human beings are entitled to certain minimum levels of physical and psychological well-being as well as freedom of action. Hence, Ronald Dworkin sets forth the principle that each person has the right to "equal concern and respect."12 This, however, is simply an axiom--albeit a compelling moral axiom--that cannot be logically derived, and therefore, critics contend, it is subject to change depending on social, historical, and cultural context. Equality and dignity, for example, are highly elastic concepts. It becomes clear, then, that moral and cultural relativism have decisively affected the human rights discourse on the philosophical level.

The challenge that relativism presents to the human rights movement is not only theoretical, but political and practical. It has been nearly fifty years since the American Anthropological Association issued its now famous and emphatic rejection of "the applicability of any Declaration of Human Rights to mankind as a whole."13 However, the contention "that other people's truths are contained in their own classifications and understanding," and that no one culture offers a "self-evidently privileged standard of verity" is now undergoing serious revision.14 The anthropologist Alison Dundes Renteln, for example, asserts that "relativism in no way precludes the possibility of cross-cultural universals discovered through empirical research," and that the "requirement of relativism that diversity be recognized in no way destroys the possibility of an international moral community."15

Contemporary anthropological research is revisiting the evidence supporting moral universalism. Richard Beis has identified some twenty moral precepts that appear to be transcultural. These include "the prohibition of murder or maiming without justification; economic justice; reciprocity and restitution; provision for the poor; the right to own property; and priority for immaterial goods [such as freedom]."16 The essence of the story here is that when researchers want to look for differences they will find differences, and if they search for cross-cultural similarities these can also be readily discovered.

Robert Edgerton in his work Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony has offered compelling evidence refuting the anthropological dogma that distinct cultural practices and beliefs represent an inviolable set of diverse truths and consequently are immune to outside criticism. His research demonstrates that entire societies can be sick--a reference to the systematic and unjust treatment of certain of its members such as women--and that such dysfunctional societies inevitably perish. More often than not, their social and decision-making structures serve no other purpose than to institutionalize inequality and injustice. Thus, the mere fact that differences across cultures exist does not mean that all variations in social and cultural practices are right or acceptable.17 On these grounds, relativism itself has been critiqued as immoral.18

The relativist position is now being subjected to a number of other criticisms. Perhaps most importantly, relativism itself has to look beyond itself for its philosophical justification. In particular, the very claim of a right to difference, whether cultural or moral, implicitly appeals to the idea of universal principle. Moral relativism can be an accurate description of social reality only if notions such as mutual tolerance and noninterference are universally accepted.19 On a more practical level, even proponents of relativism condemn the morally egregious--slavery, genocide, torture, human sacrifice, ritualistic mutilation, and various forms of collective discrimination. That the relativist challenge to human rights is ultimately not plausible is affirmed by the 1993 Vienna Declaration--a consensus statement adopted by 171 nations: "Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments...regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems." "The universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question..."20

Despite this recognition, relativism is still employed as a political device. For example, in the Bangkok Declaration of 1993, a coalition of Asian governments declared that human rights instruments must take account of "the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds."21 On the surface, this is a reasonable appeal in favor of pluralism--that there cannot be a single understanding of human well-being or only one code of moral truth in a diverse world. In reality, such statements are often intended to insulate governments from international criticism regarding the treatment of their citizens. There is no real justification to the contention that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is in conflict with Asian value systems. As the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has noted, the Buddhist concept of authority entails very specific obligations: "The Ten Duties of Kings are liberality, morality, self-sacrifice, integrity, kindness, austerity, non-anger, nonviolence, forbearance and non-opposition to the will of the people."22

Although existing international human rights instruments have an unmistakable Western imprint--both in terms of origin and methodology of implementation--this does not in any way invalidate the moral content that they embody. Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate, has rejected the assertion that Western human rights standards are inapplicable to other parts of the world: "Any suggestion that freedom of expression is a luxury of the West insults the historic struggles of individuals and communities...We are all agreed what torture is. What rape means. What child prostitution is. What genocide entails. Then let us not pretend not to know what human rights truly represent."23

Yet it is important to acknowledge, as the German scholar Heiner Bielefeldt has emphasized, that human rights cannot be considered "a self-evident expression of Occidental culture" or modernity alone.24 Comparable concepts of human respect, dignity, and duty can be found in all parts of the world. The right to resist oppression can be found in the traditions of many cultures in Africa and Asia.25 The widespread cultural pattern of offering hospitality to strangers is perhaps evidence of a broad moral imperative in which outsiders are viewed as being equally human. Some societies may in fact possess the concept of rights without having an explicit vocabulary that expresses or codifies it.26 In addition, the principle of the golden rule is common to the scriptures of all the major world religions and hence is given expression in many cultures. The injunction of Buddha to "act in a such a way, as if it were happening to yourself"27 and the oral statement of Muhammad that "kindness is a mark of faith, whoever hath not kindness hath not faith" are clear ethical precursors of modern human rights thinking.28

In short, human rights are not arbitrary in nature because they are grounded in the universal realities of human experience and embody values presupposed by a wide range of cultures.29 As the philosopher Martha Nussbaum observes, there are "features of humanness that lie beneath all local traditions and are there to be seen whether or not they are in fact recognized in local traditions."30 Such "humanness" includes a set of potentialities, not wholly determinable, that are actualized differently by every human being. The logical extension of this point is that all human beings are entitled to flourish, if not as a claim on God or nature, then as a claim on each other. This implies a universal obligation to promote collective well-being and suggests that human morality itself must be universal.31 Human rights can then be regarded as a vehicle for shaping social conditions "so as to realize the possibilities of human nature."32

The human rights discourse over the past five decades has produced a gradual elaboration and expansion of the initial list of rights enumerated in the 1948 Universal Declaration. The European jurist Karel Vasak has provided one framework for describing this process with his notion of "three generations of human rights."33

The first generation pertains to civil and political rights--those rights as found in Articles 2-21 of the Universal Declaration that address questions of liberty: the right to life, freedom of thought, expression, conscience, religion, and movement; the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; the security of person; freedom from slavery, torture, and cruel or degrading punishment; the right to own property; the right to full equality and fair treatment before the law. These rights generally reflect the philosophical doctrines of liberal political theory which place primacy on the individual and seek to limit the powers of a minimalist state.

The second generation pertains to economic, social, and cultural rights--those rights concerned with issues of equality that are promulgated in Articles 22-27 of the Universal Declaration and more specifically in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of 1966: the right to social security; the right to work and to protection against unemployment; the right to rest and leisure; the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of self and family; the right to education; the right to protection of one's scientific, literary, and artistic production. While some theorists consider such rights as inseparable from rights relating to basic freedoms, others do not regard economic, social, and cultural rights as fundamental because they demand positive duties on the part of governments rather than straightforward duties of restraint.

The third generation pertains to the area of collective or solidarity rights. This category of rights was adumbrated in general terms in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration which declared: "Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights set forth in the Declaration can be fully realized." At present, third generation rights include the following: the right to political, economic, social, and cultural self-determination; the right to economic and social development; the right to participate in and benefit from the "common heritage of mankind"--for example, the resources of earth and space; and scientific, technical, and other products of human progress; the right to peace; the right to a vital and healthy environment; the right to humanitarian assistance in times of emergency. Such collective rights reflect the idea that political, economic, and social rights are indivisible and are each integral aspects of development. They also imply a need for new forms of international collaboration.

These "three generations" of rights represent the varying perspectives of Western and non-Western countries, of developed and developing societies, and of democratic and non-democratic regimes. They reflect underlying tensions between those who place primacy on the rights of the individual versus those of the community. In many respects, the task of understanding the foundations of human rights and of developing and applying human rights standards is just beginning.

In a very real sense the international human rights regime is the fruit of an ongoing process of moral dialogue among diverse nations and peoples. More than establishing normative standards, the human rights discourse provides a mechanism for people of divergent convictions to learn about each other, resolve particular disagreements, and arrive at new understandings of what is possible for human beings. This cross-cultural enterprise, as evidenced by the increasing interaction among governments and organizations of civil society, has gradually given rise to a new ethos of human solidarity and collective responsibility. It has led to the adoption of new legal instruments that explicitly address the rights of women, children, and racial and religious minorities. Yet, if this global dialogue is to produce a "compelling core of shared values" and a further refined set of universally accepted moral norms, the "cooperative search for truth," as the philosopher Jurgen Habermas calls it, must be intensified.34 The establishment of peaceful and progressive patterns of living throughout the world will inevitably depend upon an open and sincere consultative process among all peoples. In the words of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, "No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation."35

However important the human rights discourse has been to securing basic human freedoms, if that discourse is to remain relevant to a world experiencing unprecedented political, social, and economic turmoil, it must respond to the deep-seated spiritual inclinations that guide and inspire its inhabitants. The basic processes of civilization can be reordered to embrace justice only if the spiritual dimension of human existence is fully recognized. For the vast majority of humankind, the perception that human reality is fundamentally spiritual in nature is a self-evident truth that finds expression in all spheres of life. To the extent that this understanding of human identity becomes a central feature of the discourse concerning human rights and social development, the upheavals now deranging human affairs will give way to new vistas of freedom and opportunity.

More than a century ago, Bahá'u'lláh not only anticipated the rise of the human rights movement, but provided an underlying moral and spiritual framework upon which to view human rights in the modern age--a period He described as the "stage of human maturity."36 His vision of a unified global community gives central consideration to the safeguarding and enhancement of the rights of all human beings.

In addressing the world's rulers Bahá'u'lláh warns: "If ye stay not the hand of the oppressor, if ye fail to safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, what right have ye then to vaunt yourselves among men?"37 And: "They that perpetrate tyranny in the world have usurped the rights of the peoples and kindreds of the earth and are sedulously pursuing their selfish inclinations."38

He further elucidates the essential requirements of just governance:

It behoveth every ruler to weigh his own being every day in the balance of equity and justice and then to judge between men and counsel them to do that which would direct their steps unto the path of wisdom and understanding. This is the cornerstone of statesmanship and the essence thereof. From these words every enlightened man of wisdom will readily perceive that which will foster such aims as the welfare, security and protection of mankind and the safety of human lives.39

In exhorting His followers to the path of justice, Bahá'u'lláh declares:

Thou must show forth that which will ensure the peace and the well-being of the miserable and the down-trodden. Gird up the loins of thine endeavor, that perchance thou mayest release the captive from his chains, and enable him to attain unto true liberty.

Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples.40

Bahá'u'lláh not only addresses human rights issues in general terms, but condemns and prohibits specific practices such as slavery. His strong censure of two great European powers for the persecution of their Jewish populations, represented, in a sense, an early example of the principle of external intervention into the affairs of a sovereign state, a concept that has received considerable currency only recently.41 Indeed, all of His epistles and pronouncements to the governors of human society could be regarded as such.

In the writings of Bahá'u'lláh the voice of the Creator speaks to the fundamental equality of all: "Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other."42 And: "Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world has been laid waste. It hath become desolate... Indeed, man is noble, inasmuch as each one is a repository of the sign of God. Nevertheless, to regard oneself as superior in knowledge, in learning or virtue, or to exalt oneself or seek preference, is a grievous transgression."43

So in `Abdu'l-Bahá's words: "Bahá'u'lláh taught that an equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted. In the estimation of God all men are equal; there is no distinction or preferment for any soul in the dominion of His justice and equity."44

That the standard of justice established by Bahá'u'lláh is applicable to all members of the human race is made abundantly clear by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, in a letter to members of the Bahá'í community in 1925:

[Bahá'ís] should have the most scrupulous regard to safeguarding the legitimate personal and civil rights of all individuals, whatever may be their chosen career or station in life, and irrespective of their racial, religious or ideological backgrounds. It is not permissible in matters related to such rights to make distinctions and discriminations or show preferences. In all transactions and dealings that affect basic human rights, the standard required of the chosen supporters of Bahá'u'lláh--a standard that must claim their unhesitating and unreserved acceptance, and which they must meticulously and assiduously uphold--is that they should not make the slightest distinction between friend and stranger, believer and unbeliever, supporter and antagonist.45

The Bahá'í commitment to justice is an essential and tangible expression of faith. In contrast to the secular liberal theory that gave rise to the present human rights regime, the Bahá'í teachings ground human rights in what is regarded as the objective spiritual nature of the human person. "I knew My love for thee," is the Divine assurance, "therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty."46 A loving Creator exists Who is the Source of all that is.47 It is not simply because human beings have the capacity for rational choice that they deserve moral protection, as modern philosophic liberalism would claim, but that they are spiritual beings who have the capacity to reflect Divine attributes such as love, creativity, and charity. As the 1947 statement of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada eloquently affirmed: "The source of human rights is the endowment of qualities, virtues and powers which God has bestowed upon mankind without discrimination of sex, race, creed or nation. To fulfill the possibilities of this divine endowment is the purpose of existence."48 In short, human beings must be free in order to discover and know God: " ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves."49 This process of spiritual discovery and development is the essence of life itself. The innate and fundamental aspiration to investigate reality is thus not only the right but the obligation of every human being. And it is for this very reason that `Abdu'l-Bahá states that the "conscience of man is sacred and to be respected..."50

That human rights are ultimately grounded in the successive Revelations of God's will to humanity is explicitly affirmed by `Abdu'l-Bahá:

Universal benefits derive from the grace of the Divine religions, for they lead their true followers to sincerity of intent, to high purpose, to purity and spotless honor, to surpassing kindness and compassion, to the keeping of their covenants when they have covenanted, to concern for the rights of others, to liberality, to justice in every aspect of life, to humanity and philanthropy, to valor and to unflagging efforts in the service of mankind. It is religion, to sum up, which produces all human virtues, and it is these virtues which are the bright candles of civilization.51

As repeatedly emphasized throughout Bahá'u'lláh's writings, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will through His Messengers is to effect a transformation in the spiritual and material life of society. The transformation called for by Bahá'u'lláh is directed to the inner life and character of every human being and to the organization of human affairs itself--a transformation that engenders cooperation, compassion, rectitude of conduct, and justice. The establishment of justice is contingent upon a fundamental reformulation of all human relationships--among individuals themselves, between human society and the natural world, between the individual and the community, and between individual citizens and their governing institutions.52 It implies a basic reconceptualization of social reality; a reality that in spirit and practice reflects the principle of the oneness of humankind. To accept that "the body of humankind is one and indivisible" is to recognize that every human being is "born into the world as a trust of the whole."53

From this basic principle of the unity of the human family is derived virtually all other concepts concerning human rights and freedoms. If the human race is one, any notion that a particular racial or ethnic group is in some way superior to the rest of humanity must be dismissed; society must reorganize its life to give practical expression to the principle of equality between women and men;54 each and every person must be enabled to "look into all things with a searching eye" so that truth can be independently ascertained;55 and all individuals must be given the opportunity to realize their inherent potential and thereby contribute to "an ever-advancing civilization."56

Even some of the more challenging rights claims such as the right to development, shelter, food, employment, and basic health services are subsumed by the principle of the oneness of humanity. As `Abdu'l-Bahá states, "Every human being has the right to live; they have a right to rest, and to a certain amount of well-being... Nobody should die of hunger; everybody should have sufficient clothing; one man should not live in excess while another has no possible means of existence."57 If liberty truly involves a genuine opportunity to determine a way of life, then the set of rights necessary to achieve that way of life cannot be restricted to civil or political rights alone. Social and economic imperatives cannot be segregated from basic civil and political protections. "Justice is not limited," `Abdu'l-Bahá emphasizes, "it is a universal quality."58 Under conditions of true justice, "all mankind will find comfort and enjoyment in life...In the future there will be no very rich nor extremely poor. There will be an equilibrium of interests, and a condition will be established which will make both rich and poor comfortable and content."59 While affirming private property rights and the value of individual economic initiative, the Bahá'í teachings "advocate voluntary sharing, and this is a greater thing than the equalization of wealth. For equalization must be imposed from without, while sharing is a matter of free choice."60 Reciprocity and altruism are then integral features of the Bahá'í vision of a just social polity. As Bahá'u'lláh counsels, "if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself."61

The imperative of preserving cultural diversity is also implied by the Bahá'í principle of "the oneness and wholeness of human relationships."62 If a peaceful international order is to emerge, then the complex and infinitely varied cultural expressions of humankind must be allowed to develop and flourish, as well to "interact with one another in ever-changing patterns of civilization."63 That there must be a cross-cultural basis for human rights is fully recognized by the Bahá'í teachings. The very diversity of the human race is, in fact, a means for creating a world based on unity rather than uniformity. "The diversity in the human family," `Abdu'l-Bahá states, "should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord."64 Ultimately, the recognition of the unity of the human race suggests that the principle of unrestricted state sovereignty must give way to a true global system of law and order.65 The Bahá'í concept of the oneness of humanity therefore goes beyond basic communitarian notions of mutual obligation for it not only embraces human diversity but anticipates a definite framework of rights and duties in the context of a global society.

Although, as we have seen, there is considerable convergence between Bahá'í belief and the principal objectives of the unfolding international human rights discourse, there do exist some rather substantive differences with the liberal philosophic thought that underpins that discourse. At the heart of contemporary liberal philosophy is the notion that personal prerogative defines the structure of society, and that "as free and independent selves" individuals are entitled to remain "unencumbered by moral or civic ties they have not chosen."66 Consequently, the institutions of civil society are viewed as necessary only because the separate interests of individuals inevitably interfere with each other. Government and community are thus regarded as "procedural" imperatives that must be lived with.67 There is no moral bond with others unless individuals choose to concern themselves with the interests of the community. Furthermore, current conceptions of liberal thought essentially view rights as being prior to and often unconnected to duties. The rights of individuals are often seen as rights that provide immunity from communal interests. Even though Article 29.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that "everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible," the brevity and less than prominent location of this statement hardly does justice to the notion that rights must correlate with obligations.

In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Most Holy Book of Bahá'u'lláh, His Book of Laws, opens by specifying the duties of all human beings rather than their rights. "The first duty" is "recognition" of the Divine Authority that is the foundation of all law; the second is observance of that law.68 To exercise these twin duties "may be regarded as the highest expression of free will with which every human being is endowed by an all-loving Creator."69 From this perspective, the right to exercise freedom of conscience in the matter of religious belief comes into being so that one can fulfill the spiritual duty of observing the commandments of God. In short, it is the requirement of individuals' being able to meet fundamental spiritual and moral obligations that gives rise to human rights.

The Bahá'í Faith teaches that a balance must be struck between the latitudes of individual freedom and the promotion of the collective good. "True liberty," Bahá'u'lláh says, can only be achieved by following the path of moderation.70 It is by relinquishing a degree of personal liberty to a commonly accepted set of laws and collective interests that the individual helps shape a social milieu that returns far greater benefits in terms of personal freedom than any sacrifice required. Individual well-being is intimately tied to the flourishing of the whole. It is thus a reciprocated benevolence and selflessness, rather than utilitarian self-interest, that underlies the Bahá'í idea of social life. As `Abdu'l-Bahá states, "the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world's multitudes should become a source of social good."71 While preservation of "personal freedom and initiative" is considered essential, so too must the relational aspect of human existence be recognized.72 The "maintenance of civilized life," the Universal House of Justice--the international governing body of the Bahá'í Faith--explains, "calls for the utmost degree of understanding and cooperation between society and the individual; and because of the need to foster a climate in which the untold potentialities of the individual members of society can develop, this relationship must allow `free scope' for `individuality to assert itself' through modes of spontaneity, initiative and diversity that ensure the viability of society."73

The Bahá'í community therefore has much in common with peoples whose traditional values are more communally oriented and less individualistic than with those who adhere to the secular liberal conception of social life. Interestingly, this understanding of the place of the individual in society strongly resonates with the original strand of liberal philosophy enunciated by John Locke. In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke asserts that "The first and fundamental natural Law, which is to govern even the Legislative itself, is the preservation of the Society, and (as far as will consist with the publick good) of every person in it."74 The individual human being, he further argues, "and all the rest of Mankind are one Community."75 Consequently, "the end of Government (is) the preservation of all," and "the end of Law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge Freedom."76 The modern secular turn away from Locke's conception of human nature is made apparent by his statement that "God having made Man such a Creature, that, in his own Judgement, it was not good for him to be alone, put him under strong obligations of Necessity, Convenience and Inclination to drive him into Society, as well as fitted him with Understanding and Language to continue and enjoy it."77 Locke then not only set forth a communitarian conception of justice but also found the ultimate ground for justice in a transcendent Supreme Being.78

The creation of an "equilibrium of responsibilities" among all members of society has been a long sought after and elusive goal.79 `Abdu'l-Bahá states that the "moderate freedom which guarantees the welfare of the world of mankind and maintains and preserves the universal relationships, is found in its fullest power and extension in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh."80 The establishment of laws and institutions has one primary purpose, the promotion of "human happiness"--happiness that, in the words of `Abdu'l-Bahá, achieves it fullest expression by drawing "closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual member, high and low alike, of the human race."81 In consequence, justice, `Abdu'l-Bahá explains, "means to have no regard for one's own personal benefits and selfish advantages," and to "consider the welfare of the community as one's own."82

In the Bahá'í teachings a construction of justice is presented which views justice not as a static legalistic end or an unapproachable ideal, but as an evolving capacity that individuals, communities, and institutions must continually seek to develop. The realization of justice is dependent upon universal participation and action among all members and agencies of society. In essence, creating a "universal culture of human rights" is bound up with a process of moral and spiritual development.83 As a moral capacity, justice is a vehicle that bonds the individual to the common weal. "The purpose of justice," Bahá'u'lláh explains, "is the appearance of unity among men." "No radiance," He continues, "can compare with that of justice. The organization of the world and the tranquility of mankind depend upon it."84 Individual rights must then be interpreted in light of the law of universal fellowship. "The supreme need of humanity," `Abdu'l-Bahá underscores, "is cooperation and reciprocity. The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all planes of human activity."85 Only in unity can human rights be secured and the release of the human spirit achieved. Unity must be the guiding concept of humanity's attempts to construct an international community that truly embraces the justice of which Bahá'u'lláh speaks and for which the peoples of the earth desperately seek.

Bahá'u'lláh established specific institutional mechanisms to ensure the realization of justice in human affairs. The unique and unprecedented covenantal arrangements of Bahá'u'lláh's Administrative Order offer a definitive moral and spiritual basis for a universal system of human rights.86 The evolution of a social milieu that promotes the development of individual and collective capacities, and an understanding of our rights and obligations as spiritual beings, is explicitly provided in the Bahá'í dispensation by these arrangements.87 This divinely conceived System depends, as the Universal House of Justice states, "not so much on the force of law, which admittedly must be respected, as on the recognition of a mutuality of benefits, and on the spirit of cooperation maintained by the willingness, the courage, the sense of responsibility, and the initiative of individuals--these being expressions of their devotion and submission to the will of God."88 In the Order of Bahá'u'lláh, the House of Justice continues, "the individual is not lost in the mass but becomes the focus of primary development, so that he may find his own place in the flow of progress, and society as a whole may benefit from the accumulated talents and abilities of the individuals composing it. Such an individual finds fulfillment of his potential not merely in satisfying his own wants but in realizing his completeness in being at one with humanity and with the divinely ordained purpose of creation."89 Hence, the Bahá'í Faith does not simply outline a set of minimal conditions necessary for the protection of human dignity, as various national and international charters do, but rather offers a comprehensive vision of the purpose of human life and society.

Embedded in this covenantal or spiritually centered understanding of life is a social ethic of deep commitment that goes far beyond the idea of a social contract that simply establishes legal bonds among individuals with disparate interests. Bahá'u'lláh's vision of the oneness of humankind involves not just the safeguarding of human rights, the deepening of human solidarity, or the establishment of an enduring international peace, but rather "an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced."90 It calls for a pattern of social interaction that cultivates the moral and creative capacities latent in human nature; it embraces a concept of prosperity in which material advancement makes possible new avenues of intellectual endeavor and spiritual expression rather than being an end in itself; it anticipates the "emergence of a world community, the consciousness of world citizenship, the founding of a world civilization and culture..."91

In some respects, the covenantal grounding of rights and obligations is not new. As the sociologist Robert Bellah has suggested, the processes of social breakdown now taking place in America can be attributed, in great measure, to the displacement of an early American social order based on religious and moral duty by one based on individualism and self-interest.92 At the heart of that covenantal order was a set of concepts that explicitly acknowledged the spiritual foundations of human life: "the free and willing recognition of a binding duty, originating in or guaranteed by a transcendent source"; the need to act collectively in a purposive manner according to a commonly accepted set of moral norms; and measures to ensure individual accountability in fulfilling obligations to the community.93

The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh reaffirm the vision of a deep and inseparable connection between the spiritual and practical dimensions of human existence. Inherent to such a perspective is the idea that human rights and freedoms are not only necessary but sacred. The assurance that every human being is indelibly imprinted with the image of God affords the ultimate respect that all persons seek. That each individual has been bestowed with a unique destiny by God--a destiny which unfolds in accordance with the free exercise of the choices and opportunities presented in life--lies at the center of Bahá'í belief. For the Bahá'í community, the protection of human freedoms is part of a larger spiritual enterprise of fostering a set of attitudes and practices that truly release human potential. Genuine social progress, it believes, can only flow from spiritual awareness and the inculcation of virtue.

Universal recognition of the dignity of every person, without reference to the spiritual provenance of that dignity, will not guarantee the protection of basic human freedoms. Without a transcendent basis for rights--a power that reaches to the heart of human consciousness and motivation--humanity will not be able to develop an integrating moral framework that will secure the advancement of all peoples. Human rights founded on materialistic criteria alone, no matter how logically compelling, are ultimately limited in their power to transform--to fuse diverse and contending peoples into a universal community. Without such a universal identity there can be no basis for universal moral action. In this regard, the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh could be said to embody a new generation of human rights that are based on the belief that humanity is now entering its long-awaited stage of maturity and collective awakening. More than urging humankind to free itself from destructive patterns of behavior and static cultural imperatives, Bahá'u'lláh has laid the foundations for a global civilization wherein the rights and innate capacity of every human being can be realized. "A new life," Bahá'u'lláh avers, "is, in this age, stirring within all the peoples of the earth."94

A tangential point should be made here. Bahá'ís certainly recognize that secularism played a pivotal role in freeing humanity from the shackles of religious fanaticism. The Enlightenment, and the period of modernity to which it gave birth, can be understood as part of a larger spiritual and historical process--a process guided by God Himself. But unfortunately secularism has assumed a dogmatic character just as pernicious as the religious orthodoxies that preceded it. Much of the confusion of contemporary life can be traced to the failure to tap in a balanced way the powers of both reason and faith. In His exhortation to the peoples of the world "to observe tolerance and righteousness," Bahá'u'lláh is affirming that it is possible to believe in God and to be tolerant.95 In this respect, it is important to note that the "very purpose" of the Bahá'í community "is regulated by the twin directing principles of the worship of God and of service to one's fellow-men."96

Although the Bahá'í understanding of human rights is not well known, the affirmative response to the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh from within virtually every national, racial, and ethnic group on the planet cannot be casually dismissed. In its models of unity and justice now being put into practice throughout the world, the Bahá'í community is demonstrating the universal applicability of the concepts it propounds. The Bahá'í perspective on human rights draws its legitimacy not only from its belief in a benevolent and omnipotent Source--from the recognition of the spiritual reality that transcends and pervades all life--but also from the content of that belief. Whether the precepts, laws, institutions, and provisions for international order found in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh offer a distinct and comprehensive approach to the establishment of justice in world affairs is for humanity itself to decide. From the Bahá'í view, however, it is no coincidence that the principles of human rights and human well-being enunciated in the Bahá'í teachings have been, and continue to be, at the center of the ongoing human rights discourse.

It is clear that the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is intimately concerned with the process of liberating the human race from its baneful heritage of oppression and suffering and guiding it to the path of "true liberty"--the path of "freedom, well-being, tranquillity, exaltation, and advancement..."97 In the words of the Universal House of Justice:

Consider what Bahá'u'lláh has done: He revealed laws and principles to guide the free; He established an Order to channel the actions of the free; He proclaimed a Covenant to guarantee the unity of the free.

Thus, we hold to this ultimate perspective: Bahá'u'lláh came to set humanity free. His Revelation is, indeed, an invitation to freedom--freedom from want, freedom from war, freedom to unite, freedom to progress, freedom in peace and joy.98

  1. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by `Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912 rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982), p. 318.
  2. Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh: Selected Letters (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1991), p. 165.
  3. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948.
  4. James W. Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights: Philosophical Reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. 41.
  5. For example, citizens of certain ancient Greek city-states enjoyed rights of equal freedom of speech and equality before the law. Subsequently, the Stoic philosophers developed the concept of "natural rights" which belonged to all human beings at all times. Such rights, the Stoics argued, could be derived from reason alone. In medieval Christendom, such natural rights were viewed as an expression of the law of God. Thus the idea of natural law as a universal moral law has pervaded Western thought for more than 2,000 years. See Maurice Cranston, What Are Human Rights? (London: William Clowes and Sons, Ltd., 1973), pp. 10-11.
  6. P. Sieghart, The International Law of Human Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 8.
  7. Nickel, p. 38.
  8. Michael Freeman, "The Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights," Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 16, 1994, pp. 491-514.
  9. A traditional "foundationalist" argument for human rights attributes their existence to a supernatural authority. John Locke, for instance, locates the source of rights with God and not with nature as is sometimes supposed. However, since the existence of God is apparently not universally verifiable, secular theorists have attempted to develop non-theistic foundationalist arguments for human rights.
  10. Alison Dundes Renteln, "The Unanswered Challenge of Relativism and the Consequences for Human Rights," Human Rights Quarterly, 7.4, pp. 514-40.
  11. That concepts of rights and justice generally must at some point appeal to intuition is accepted by many philosophers. John Rawls, for example, refers to justice as a "mental capacity" whose import and application is dependent on a process of rigorous examination or "reflective equilibrium." Rawls asserts that "any conception of justice will have to rely on intuition to some degree." John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 41-51.
  12. Freeman, p. 513.
  13. Ann-Belinda S. Preis, "Human Rights as Cultural Practice: An Anthropological Critique," Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 18, pp. 286-315.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Renteln, p. 540.
  16. Donald J. Puchala, "The Ethics of Globalism," The 1995 John W. Holmes Memorial Lecture: Reports and Papers, No. 3 (Academic Council on the United Nations System, 1995).
  17. Robert B. Edgerton, Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony (New York: The Free Press, 1992).
  18. Puchala.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Vienna Declaration, World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 14-25 June 1993, U.N. Document A/Conf. 157/24 Part I.
  21. Cited in Adamantia Pollis, "Cultural Relativism: Through a State Prism," Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 18, 1996, pp. 316-44. This language was also incorporated into the Vienna Declaration, indicating that although a consensus statement was agreed to by the world's nations, differences of understanding concerning human rights persist.
  22. New York Times, December 10, 1995. A recognition of the dignity of human life, as expressed by an emphasis on the cultivation and development of the human person, is also central to Confucian thought. In the Confucian view, human beings are independent moral actors who have basic rights as well as responsibilities. See Anwar Ibrahim, "The Asian Renaissance," New Perspectives Quarterly (Summer 1997), pp. 31-43.
  23. Obinna Anyadika, "Soyinka: Power-Freedom Gulf," Terra Viva, June 18, 1993.
  24. Heiner Bielefeldt, "Human Rights in a Multicultural World," paper delivered to the Law Faculty of the University of Toronto, Spring 1994.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Damien Keown, "Are There Human Rights in Buddhism?" Journal of Buddhist Ethics 2, 1995.
  27. Cited in Udo Schaefer, The Light Shineth in Darkness (Oxford: George Ronald, 1979), p. 149.
  28. Cited in Marzieh Gail, Six Lessons on Islm (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 21.
  29. Although it is logically possible to reject the idea that human rights have philosophical foundations, in light of widespread anthropological realities and a deepening global political consensus it cannot be plausibly argued that the concept of universal human rights is an arbitrary construct. Freeman, p. 514.
  30. Cited in Michael J. Perry, "Are Human Rights Universal?" Human Rights Quarterly 19, 1997, pp. 461-509.
  31. Puchala.
  32. Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights: In Theory and Practice (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989, fourth printing 1996).
  33. Ibid., pp. 143-44.
  34. Amitai Etzioni, "The End of Cross-Cultural Relativism," Alternatives, 22. 2 (April-June 1997); Jurgen Habermas cited in George Ritzer, Sociological Theory, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1996), p. 295. Some concrete examples of how transcultural discourse can lead to new understandings concerning long-held beliefs and practices are highlighted in Perry, "Are Human Rights Universal?"
  35. Bahá'u'lláh, in Consultation: A Compilation (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 3.
  36. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1983), p.77. Humanity has moved through stages in its collective development which are analogous to the periods of infancy, childhood, and adolescence in the lives of its individual members. It is now entering the period of its collective maturity. The principal challenge of maturity is for the peoples of the world to recognize their interdependence as a single human family whose homeland is the earth itself. "O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth," Bahá'u'lláh urges, "Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you." Ibid., p. 217.
  37. Bahá'u'lláh, The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1967), p. 10.
  38. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitb-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1978), p. 85.
  39. Ibid., pp. 166-67.
  40. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 92.
  41. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'íu'llah, p. 170.
  42. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1985), Arabic #68, p. 20.
  43. Bahá'u'lláh, cited in a letter of the Universal House of Justice dated 27 March 1978.
  44. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 182.
  45. Translation of a letter from Shoghi Effendi to the Baha's of Iran, July 1925: courtesy of Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.
  46. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic #3, p. 4.
  47. For Baha's, Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be the Messenger of God for this age reaffirms traditional foundationalist arguments that human rights ultimately derive from an objective and transcendent Supreme Being. In referring to His own Revelation and to the standard of justice it creates, Bahá'u'lláh declares: "Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men." Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1993), p. 56, para. 99.
  48. Submitted to the first session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, February 1947.
  49. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 5.
  50. `Abdu'l-Bahá, A Traveller's Narrative (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1980), p. 91.
  51. Abdu'l-Bah, The Secret of Divine Civilization (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1970), p. 98.
  52. For a detailed discussion of this point see the Baha' International Community statement, The Prosperity of Humankind, reprinted in The Baha' World 1994-95, pp. 273-96.
  53. Ibid., p. 281.
  54. Bahá'u'lláh emphatically states that "Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God." He insists upon the emancipation of women from long-entrenched patterns of subordination and calls for the full participation of women in the social, economic, and political realms of civilized life. Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice (Thornhill, Ontario: Baha' Canada Publications, 1986), No. 54.
  55. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 157.
  56. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 215.
  57. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks: Addresses given by `Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris in 1911-1912 (London: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1972), pp. 131-32.
  58. Ibid., p. 159.
  59. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 132.
  60. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1982), sec. 79, p. 115.
  61. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 64.
  62. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 202.
  63. The Prosperity of Humankind, p. 282.
  64. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 53.
  65. Bahá'u'lláh outlined a number of steps that would lead to permanent stability in international relations. At the heart of His vision was a set of new institutional mechanisms based on participation and consultation among the world's peoples. The main institutions envisaged include a freely elected world legislature with genuine representation and authority, an international court having final jurisdiction in all disputes between nations, and an international executive empowered to carry out the decisions of these legislative and judicial bodies. These institutions would have the means to ensure and maintain a general disarmament by applying principles of collective security. They would neither usurp nor suppress the basic autonomy of nations, and would safeguard the personal freedom and initiative of individuals. The system of governance propounded by Bahá'u'lláh emphasizes the importance of grassroots decision-making, but also provides mechanisms of coordination and authority that make cooperation possible on a global scale.
  66. Michael J. Sandel, Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 6.
  67. A society that "asserts the priority of fair procedures over particular ends"--ends such as concerning oneself with the welfare of the community--has been described as "procedural" in nature. Ibid., p. 4.
  68. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 21, para. 1.
  69. Universal House of Justice, Message to the Baha's of the World, November 26, 1992.
  70. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, pp. 63, para. 122-25.
  71. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 2.
  72. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203.
  73. Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1989), p. 20.
  74. John Locke, cited in Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights: In Theory and Practice, p. 92.
  75. Ibid.
  76. Ibid., pp. 100-01.
  77. Ibid., p. 92.
  78. For a detailed discussion of Locke's belief that morality is ultimately derived from God see Wendy M. Heller, "Covenant and the Foundations of Civil Society," in The Baha' World 1995-96, pp. 185-222.
  79. Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 20.
  80. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, sec. 227, p. 305.
  81. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 60.
  82. Ibid., p. 39.
  83. Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Plan of Action for the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004, para. 2 (1995).
  84. Bahá'u'lláh, cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1984), p. 28.
  85. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 338.
  86. Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant with His followers ensures both unity of understanding of His Faith's fundamental doctrines and actualization of that unity in the Baha' community's spiritual and social development. In particular, this Covenant explicitly specifies the structures and principles of the Baha' Administrative system. To ensure that power is used as an instrument of justice, and that governance serves humanity's true needs, decision-making authority, Bahá'u'lláh insists, must rest with corporate bodies and not be left in the hands of individuals. Founded on a unique set of electoral and consultative principles that are democratic in spirit and method, the Baha' Administrative Order is organized around freely elected governing councils which operate at the local, national, and international levels. Bahá'u'lláh called these governing councils "Houses of Justice." Baha's believe that this administrative system offers a model of the institutional structures necessary for global community life. For more on the underlying principles of the Baha' Administrative Order see Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 143-57. For more on the covenantal basis of social order see Wendy M. Heller, "Covenant and the Foundations of Civil Society."
  87. The institutions of the Baha' Administrative Order are charged with protecting the rights of all persons--Baha's and non-Baha's alike. The ultimate guarantor of these rights is the Universal House of Justice, whose constitution explicitly sets out as its responsibilities: "to safeguard the personal rights, freedom and initiative of individuals; and to give attention to the preservation of human honor..." The Universal House of Justice, The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice (Haifa: Baha' World Centre, 1972), p. 5.
  88. Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 9.
  89. Ibid., p. 21.
  90. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 43.
  91. Ibid., p. 163.
  92. Robert N. Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (New York: Seabury, 1979).
  93. Heller, "Covenant and the Foundations of Civil Society," pp. 205-06.
  94. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 196.
  95. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 36.
  96. Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America: Selected Letters and Cablegrams Addressed to the Baha's of North America, 1932-1946 (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Committee, 1947), p. 24.
  97. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 92.
  98. Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 22.

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