The Family - A Baha'i Perspective
Though most societies and cultures recognize the family as a necessary and fundamental unit, many changes are occurring to threaten its well-being and the happiness of its members. The family is a microcosm of the world, and its unity must be preserved if the unity and peace of our planet is to be realized.
The Baha'i Writings place great emphasis on the nobility of human beings and the importance of each person acquiring the highest qualities in order to serve his or her best interest, as well as those of humanity. Therefore in Baha'i communities worldwide, new teachings and principles bearing on the equality of men and women, the true and ultimate purpose of marriage and of family life, the relationship of members of the family to each other and to society at large, and the education of children have been accepted and are being implemented.
The following excerpts from the Baha'i Writings illustrate the goals towards which Baha'is are striving.
The Unity and Well-Being of the Family
If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual; but if enmity and hatred exist within it, destruction and dispersion are inevitable.
How easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquillity, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honor, as day succeedeth day.
It is one of the essential teachings of the [Baha'i] Faith that unity should be maintained in the home.
The relationship between husband and wife must be viewed in the context of the Baha'i ideal of family life. Bahá'u'lláh [Founder of the Baha'i Faith] came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, one must believe that the [Baha'i] Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it, and one of the keys to the strengthening of unity is loving consultation. The atmosphere within a Baha'i family as within the community as a whole should express ... 'not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation.'
In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached....There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife. There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other.
These are all relationships within the family, but there is a much wider sphere of relationship between men and women than in the home ... For example, although the mother is the first educator of the child, and the most formative influence in his development, the father also has the responsibility of educating his children ... Similarly, although the primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband, this does not by any means imply that the place of women is confined to the home.
A family ... is a very special kind of 'community'....The members of a family all have duties and responsibilities towards one another and to the family as a whole, and these duties and responsibilities vary from member to member because of their natural relationships. The parents have the inescapable duty to educate their children - but not vice versa; the children have the duty to obey their parents - the parents do not obey the children; the mother - not the father - bears the children, nurses them in babyhood, and is thus their first educator, hence daughters have a prior right to education over sons ... The training which the child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development. A corollary of this responsibility of the mother is her right to be supported by her husband - a husband has no explicit right to be supported by his wife.
According to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, the family being a human unit must be educated according to the rules of sanctity. All the virtues must be taught the family. The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother, none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father likewise has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family must be sustained. The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each the comfort of all; the honor of one the honor of all.
Marriage and the Family: The Couple - Basic Unit of Society
Marriage is a very sacred institution. Bahá'u'lláh said its purpose is to promote unity.<
Regarding the question of matrimony: Know thou that the command of marriage is eternal. It will never be changed nor altered. This is divine creation and there is not the slightest possibility that change or alteration affect this divine creation.
Baha'i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity ... Husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other...
...the life of a married couple should resemble ... a life of unity and concord, a friendship both mental and physical. The home should be orderly and well-organized....They should always be elated with joy and gladness and be a source of happiness to the hearts of others. They should set an example to their fellow-men, manifest true and sincere love towards each other and educate their children in such a manner as to blazon the fame and glory of their family.
Equality of the Sexes
Humanity is like a bird with its two wings - the one is male, the other female. Unless both wings are strong and impelled by some common force, the bird cannot fly heavenwards. According to the spirit of this age, women must advance and fulfill their mission in all departments of life, becoming equal to men. They must be on the same level as men and enjoy equal rights.
Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element. As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.
Woman's lack of progress and proficiency has been due to her need of equal education and opportunity. Had she been allowed this equality there is no doubt she would be the counterpart of man in ability and capacity. The happiness of mankind will be realized when women and men coordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmeet of the other.
The Education of Children
Ye should consider the question of goodly character as of the first importance. It is incumbent upon every father and mother to counsel their children over a long period, and guide them unto those things which lead to everlasting honor.
The mother is the first teacher of the child. For children, at the beginning of life, are fresh and tender as a young twig, and can be trained in any fashion you desire. If you rear the child to be straight, he will grow straight, in perfect symmetry. It is clear that the mother is the first teacher and that it is she who establisheth the character and conduct of the child.
Let the mothers consider that whatever concerneth the education of children is of the first importance. Let them put forth every effort in this regard, for when the bough is green and tender it will grow in whatever way ye train it. Therefore is it incumbent upon the mothers to rear their little ones even as a gardener tendeth his young plants.
That the first teacher of the child is the mother should not be startling, for the primary orientation of the infant is to its mother. This provision of nature in no way minimizes the role of the father in the Baha'i family. Again, equality of status does not mean identity of function.
Train these children with divine exhortations....Teach them to free themselves from human imperfections and to acquire the divine perfections latent in the heart of man. The life of man is useful if he attains the perfections of man....Therefore make ye an effort in order that these children may be rightly trained and educated and that each one of them may attain perfection in the world of humanity.
The child must not be oppressed or censured because it is undeveloped; it must be patiently trained.
The Family as a Microcosm
...human evolution ... had its earliest beginnings in the birth of family life, its subsequent development in the achievement of tribal solidarity, leading in turn to the constitution of the city-state, and expanding later into the institution of independent and sovereign nations.
Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation. Would it add to the progress and advancement of a family if dissensions should arise among its members, fighting, pillaging each other, jealous and revengeful of injury, seeking selfish advantage? Nay, this would be the cause of the effacement of progress and advancement. So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families.
Consider the harmful effect of discord and dissension in a family; then reflect upon the favors and blessings which descend upon that family when unity exists among its various members. What incalculable benefits and blessings would descend upon the great human family if unity and brotherhood were established!