What is a Bahá’í? How does the Bahá’í life differ from any other?
To be a Bahá’í means to recognize Bahá’u’lláh as God’s latest Messenger sent with a new Mission and a new Message to be accepted and honored. Being a Bahá’í means not only loving God and living a noble life, but also working for Bahá’u’lláh’s universal ideals—oneness of humanity, oneness of religion, equality of men and women, the rights of the poor and disadvantaged, universal peace, and the elimination of ignorance, prejudice, and fanaticism. In sum, to be a Bahá’í means to be in harmony with God’s will for our age.
To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it…160 _ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Many of those who declare their faith in Bahá’u’lláh seem to have already been in tune with His universal ideals even before knowing His name. It is not uncommon to hear such seekers or believers remark: “As soon as I started studying the Bahá’í Faith, I recognized the truth of its Mission, and its relevance to our time. It seems as though I have always believed in Bahá’u’lláh’s universal ideals. The doctrine of ‘exclusive salvation’ never appealed to me. I considered it simply a misinterpretation or misjudgment, for it seemed unreasonable to believe that God, the Loving Creator, loved some of His children more than the others, that He sought to save only one people, that He sent only one Savior, and that all the other religions were either false, or at best not good enough. Strange as it may seem, I was already a Bahá’í in heart without knowing it, a silent believer long before declaring my belief in Bahá’u’lláh, long before giving voice to my faith.”
And in a way these seekers are right in their thinking. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us, a person may be a Bahá’í “even if he has never heard the name of Bahá’u’lláh.” Once he hears the name, the story takes a new turn, because being a Bahá’í requires more than pursuing one’s own noble wishes, more than being in sympathy with the Bahá’í ideals, even more than living a virtuous life. Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings reach far beyond the concerns of the individual. Being a Bahá’í means not only trusting one’s own pure vision but enriching and enhancing that vision by the divine Wisdom, not only following one’s own spiritual instincts but guiding those instincts by the divine injunctions. Being a Bahá’í means not only edifying and uplifting one’s own self but society as well; not only being on fire but “setting the world on fire,” not only believing in the social and spiritual ideals proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh but also transforming the ideal into the actual: building the heavenly Kingdom.
Such a glorious achievement requires cooperation and active involvement. Consequently, participation in the Bahá’í social life is complementary to the pursuit of virtues, which simply guide the life of the individual. Without intimate cooperation, without sharing and exchanging ideas, seldom can any social change of great consequence come about.
Every Bahá’í accepts the responsibility and the privilege of sharing his faith, knowledge, and beliefs with others: those unaware of the advent of the new Revelation. For if an idea is good, if it is conducive to the enrichment of the human spirit, to the advancement of society, to peace and prosperity, then it must be shared with all seekers of truth, it must be planted in every pure heart:
No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the Light. _Christ (Luke 8:16)
Proclaim with both thy pen and tongue My Cause. Cry out and summon the people to Him Who is the Sovereign Lord of all worlds… 161 _Bahá’u’lláh
One of the loftiest and deepest joys of recognizing Bahá’u’lláh is realized when one becomes a beacon of heavenly light to the seekers of truth, a pioneer in the building of the new world order, in spreading the new knowledge to the multitudes of seekers as yet unaware of Bahá’u’lláh’s advent.
In summary: to be a Bahá’í begins with the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh’s station. This is then followed by a willingness to live by His Words and a desire to honor His Wisdom. It is as simple—and as challenging—as this.
Since this chapter intends to emphasize the noble life of a Bahá’í, let us now turn to the study of the attributes or virtues that direct and inspire the life of a believer in Bahá’u’lláh, both in his relation to himself and others.