Thornton Chase, the First Western Baha'i, in his Study
Copyright © 2010 Baha'i National Archives, Wilmete, Used With Permission

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The "Other Purposes" of the Laws of God

"The Laws of God are not imposition of will, or of power, or pleasure, but the resolutions of truth, reason and justice."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 154)

In the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad enjoins the law of Pilgrimage. And unlike the Baha'i Pilgrimage which occurs throughout the course of the year, in the Muslim Pilgrimage, all the pilgrims go at one time. Social scientists more than a thousand years later have observed the effects of the hajj on the Muslim world, and they have discovered that the Pilgrimage served a unique and remarkable purpose.  It was a unique gathering-- there was nothing else like it on the face of the earth.  Pilgrims came from China in the East, and from Spain in the West, and everywhere in between.  And as a result of their being together for the period of Pilgrimage, it took a maximum of one year for news and inventions and social advancements of all kinds, to spread from one end of the Islamic Empire to the other.  And in those days, this was absolutely unique, and it set Muslim society above and apart from the rest of the world.  The annual hajj served as a kind of nervous system for the Islamic Empire, long before newspapers and telegraphs were invented.

Muhammad did not say in the Qur'an, "Go on Pilgrimage in order to establish a means of communication, which is necessary for the
advancement of society and the establishment of the nation-state."  No, He only presented this as having spiritual benefits to the pilgrims. But the Manifestation of God in each Age is the Physician for that age, and He brings what is needed for not only the spiritual, but also for the social and intellectual advancement of humanity. The revelation of Moses was to a tribal society.  The revelation of Christ, though primarily addressed to the individual, indirectly resulted in the establishment of the city-state. The Prophet Muhammad is the nation-builder, and He brought the essentials of what is needed for the nation. Baha'u'llah brought the essentials for the establishment of a world civilization - the promised Kingdom of God on earth.

In the late 1840's there was a Hungarian physician, named Ignaz Semmelweis, who was greatly concerned about the number of women and babies who died from complications of childbirth in his hospital in Vienna.  The number of women delivering babies who died in the hospitals was much higher than for those who gave birth at home.  Semmelweis observed that physicians often went from performing autopsies on dead bodies, directly to the maternity ward to deliver babies, without washing their hands.  Up to that time, germs had not yet been discovered by science.  Semmelweis instructed the medical students at his hospital to wash their hands in a weak bleach solution after performing
autopsies.  He then went to the Vienna Medical Society and presented his findings.  He produced scientific proof that the death rate among mothers and newborns plummeted from 30% to 3%, when the physicians simply washed their hands upon entering the maternity ward.  Semmelweis was laughed to scorn, and was later sent to an insane asylum.  Now, his contribution is recognized as one of the greatest advances in medicine, something we take for granted today.  And science "discovered" just 160 years ago that washing one's hands is beneficial to society.

Again, the Manifestation of God is the divine Physician for His day, and His laws advance the society, not only the individual.  The laws in the Bible have had a profound beneficial impact; there are many, many books and articles on this subject; here and here are two examples.

Likewise, one of Muhammad's laws revealed almost 1400 years ago, was the law of ablutions. And among the requirements of this law is that, five times per day, the believers would wash their hands and their forearms, all the way up to the elbow.  Five times per day the entire Muslim world washed its hands, and just across the Mediterranean, Western society didn't catch up for more than a thousand years.  And again, the Prophet Muhammad did not say, "Wash your hands for reasons of public health."  He simply made it a law, and couched it in spiritual terms, as a preparation for prayer.  

 ~ ~ ~

"...the primary purpose in revealing the Divine Law ... is to bring about happiness in the after life, and civilization and the refinement of character in this... "
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 46)

And now we come to the laws of Baha'u'llah, the Divine Physician for this Day, and one of His laws is the law requiring that a couple obtain the consent of their parents before they are allowed to marry. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, or "Most Holy Book," His book of laws, Baha'u'llah says something very interesting about His law:

"... marriage is dependent upon the consent of both parties. Desiring to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants, We have conditioned it, once the couple's wish is known, upon the permission of their parents, lest enmity and rancour should arise amongst them. And in this We have yet other purposes." (The Most Holy Book, paragraph 65)

Humanity will discover, over the centuries, as this law is eventually universally practiced by the human race, what these "other purposes" are.  Maybe it will take a thousand years for humanity to realize these other effects.  And just as the social benefits of the laws of the pilgrimage and of ablutions in Muhammad's time were great, likewise the laws of God for today-- Baha'u'llah's laws-- will also have profound beneficial effects on areas of society where today, we cannot see the connection.  Just as the Universal House of Justice pointed out in The Promise of World Peace that the establishment of peace requires a whole range of apparently unrelated principles to be carried out, such as the establishment of equality between men and women; perhaps economic matters, or health matters, or human mental health, will be found to be improved by adherence to the parental consent law.  And I do not feel that it is only this law of Baha'u'llah that has "other purposes."  His laws that are apparently "physical" in nature, will be found to have spiritual effects.  And who knows, but that the spiritual laws of prayer or fasting or ablutions in this day, will eventually be found to have economic and social effects.  All we know is that these laws -- commanding prayer and fasting, and burial of the dead in a stone or crystal coffin, and prohibiting adultery and homosexual acts and polygamy and the use of intoxicants, all of His major and minor laws, and all of the laws enacted by the Universal House of Justice under His inspiration, will be found to have effects beyond what we can presently conceive.  They are the product of Universal Mind. So it behooves us to practice them consciously, and wholeheartedly, because they are His remedy today; they are an important part of our work for the establishment of peace and justice in the world.  And as we practice them, then the Universal House of Justice will be able to tell the world, "Observe the effects of Baha'u'llah's laws on the Baha'is, and their families."

As Baha'u'llah revealed in His Work, "Gems of Divine Mysteries,"

O thou who art standing before My Throne and yet remain unaware thereof! Know thou that whoso seeketh to scale the summits of the divine mysteries must needs strive to the utmost of his power and capacity for his Faith, that the pathway of guidance may be made clear unto him. And should he encounter One Who layeth claim to a Cause from God, and Who holdeth from His Lord a testimony beyond the power of men to produce, he must needs follow Him in all that He pleaseth to proclaim, command and ordain, even were He to decree the sea to be land, or to pronounce earth to be heaven, or that the former lieth above the latter or below it, or to ordain any change or transformation, for He, verily, is aware of the celestial mysteries, the unseen subtleties, and the ordinances of God.(Baha'u'llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, paragraph 30, p. 24)

For they have all arisen to proclaim His Cause and have established the laws of divine wisdom.
(Baha'u'llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, paragraph 44, p. 33)

The Seat of the Universal House of Justice on Mount Carmel in Haifa Israel
Copyright © 1998, 2010 Vickie Hu Poirier

As Abdu'l-Baha told a gathering in New York City:

"The world of humanity may be likened to the individual man himself; it has its illness and ailments. A patient must be diagnosed by a skillful physician. The Prophets of God are the real Physicians. In whatever age or time They appear They prescribe for human conditions. They know the sicknesses; They discover the hidden sources of disease and indicate the necessary remedy. Whosoever is healed by that remedy finds eternal
health. For instance, in the day of Jesus Christ the world of humanity was afflicted with various ailments. Jesus Christ was the real Physician. He appeared, recognized the symptoms and prescribed the real remedy. What was that remedy? It was His revealed teaching especially applicable to that age. Later on many new ailments and disorders appeared in the body politic. The world became sick; other severe maladies appeared, especially in the peninsula of Arabia. God manifested Muhammad there. He came and prescribed for the conditions so that the Arabs became healthy, strong and virile in that time.      "In this present age the world of humanity is afflicted with severe sicknesses and grave disorders which threaten death. Therefore, Bahá'u'lláh has appeared. He is the real Physician, bringing divine remedy and healing to the world of man. He has brought teachings for all ailments -- the Hidden Words, Ishraqat, Tarazat, Tajalliyat, Words of Paradise, Glad Tidings, etc. These Holy Words and teachings are the remedy for the body politic, the divine prescription and real cure for the disorders which afflict the world. Therefore, we must accept and partake of this healing remedy in order that complete recovery may be assured. Every soul who lives according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is free from the ailments and indispositions which prevail throughout the world of humanity; otherwise, selfish disorders, intellectual maladies, spiritual sicknesses, imperfections and vices will surround him, and he will not receive the life-giving bounties of God.      "Bahá'u'lláh is the real Physician. He has diagnosed human conditions and indicated the necessary treatment. The essential principles of His healing remedies are the knowledge and love of God, severance from all else save God, turning our faces in sincerity toward the Kingdom of God, implicit faith, firmness and fidelity, loving-kindness toward all creatures and the acquisition of the divine virtues indicated for the human world. These are the fundamental principles of progress, civilization, international peace and the unity of mankind. These are the essentials of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, the secret of everlasting
health, the remedy and healing for man.      "It is my hope that you may assist in healing the sick body of the world through these teachings so that eternal radiance may illumine all the nations of mankind."(The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 204)


  1. A real joy to read my old friend. Thank you. Lots to meditate on.

  2. Thank you, Brent. Insightful commentary. From personal experience, I agree wholeheartedly with the wisdom expressed in this article.

  3. It is so true that we must wholeheartedly put our faith in Baha'u'llah and His laws. How arrogant of us to claim that these laws are irrational.

  4. Washing in water, especially the way Muslim ablutions are performed, does not remove all the bacteria. No doubt the Doctors in the 1840s washed their hands in water, it wasn't until they started using bleach that the bacteria were killed.