13

The Meaning of Unity

Bahá'u'lláh has deposited the priceless treasure of His love within the heart of every believer, and therefore the distinguishing feature by which a true Bahá'í may be identified is his love for Bahá'u'lláh. He has also decreed the chief characteristic of the Bahá'í community to be unity.

Love of Bahá'u'lláh in the heart of the individual, and the spiritual unity of the community, which is born of His love, are very closely linked together. Unity among the believers is not merely an acknowledgement of their common beliefs and practices. It transcends human limitations and finds its highest form when the believers appear as one soul in many bodies. It is then that the individual will reach such heights of spiritual unity that he exalts other believers above himself.

In one of his letters to the Persian Bahá'ís,1 Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, has said that love and compassion were the counsels of older dispensations. In this day the people of Bahá are exhorted to sacrifice their all for each other. These words of Shoghi Effendi are not to be taken as mere utopian visions of an unattainable goal. On the contrary, the history of the Cause amply demonstrates that some of its followers have attained to this exalted station. The unity of the Bahá'í community is the glory and the promise of the future. It guarantees the unity of the human race on a spiritual as well as a social level. It is a model which, as it grows in strength and develops further towards maturity, can and will inspire generations yet unborn to come under its world-embracing tabernacle of unity which the hand of God has raised in this day.

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1. Quoted in a letter from the Universal House of Justice to the Persian Bahá'ís, 10 February 1980.
Lawh-i-Ittihád

There is a Tablet known as the Lawh-i-Ittihád (Tablet of Unity) revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in 'Akká. In it He describes different features of unity. This Tablet was addressed to Siyyid Asadu'lláh, a believer from the city of Rasht, in answer to his question about the meaning of unity. He was one of the five brothers entitled by Bahá'u'lláh as Sádát-i-Khamsih (The Five Siyyids*). All five were believers. At one time Siyyid Asadu'lláh lived in Qazvín, a city where Mírzá Yahyá's followers were actively engaged in misrepresenting the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh. These people succeeded in poisoning the mind of Siyyid Asadu'lláh to a point where he became confused in his faith. However, this situation did not last very long. The purity of his heart coupled with the devoted efforts of the renowned Shaykh Kázim-i-Samandar who clarified all the misrepresentations of the Azalís, enabled Siyyid Asadu'lláh to regain his faith and become a steadfast believer. He then went on pilgrimage to 'Akká and attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh. He saw with his own eyes the Glory of God and was made the recipient of His grace and bounties. His youngest brother, Siyyid Nasru'lláh, also had the great privilege of attaining the presence of Bahá'u'lláh in 'Akká. Both brothers, survivors of the five, were great servants of the Cause till the end of their lives.

In the Tablet of Ittihád, Bahá'u'lláh describes in some detail several features of unity. He states that unity in the first place is the unity of religion, meaning that people must follow the same religion which is His Faith in this day. He declares that when the majority of the people in a country embrace His Cause, then the government will be able to put into practice His teachings and commandments. He asserts that in past dispensations such a unity has always brought victory to the Cause of God.

Bahá'u'lláh explains that unity on another level is in the realm of speech. He gives the example of two believers who might contradict each other on a subject. In such a case they would become the cause of depriving themselves, and others who hear

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* Siyyid is a title for one who is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

them, of the bounty of unity. He also reveals that a speech about the Cause, if given in moderation, will attract divine bounty, but if carried to excess may become the cause of the perishing of the souls. In this Tablet He further counsels the believers to teach the people with tenderness and moderation, so that their words may have the same effect as milk has for the infant. In several of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh has given the same advice for teaching His Cause. An example is this quotation from the Lawh-i-Hikmat:

Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets. Meditate upon that which hath streamed forth from the heaven of the Will of thy Lord, He Who is the Source of all grace, that thou mayest grasp the intended meaning which is enshrined in the sacred depths of the Holy Writings.2
He has warned His followers not to overwhelm the listener with too much information in the early stages, and has likened such an act to giving a big meal to an infant which, instead of giving life, could kill it.

Bahá'u'lláh further reveals that unity of deeds follows that of words. When the believers carry out His teachings and adorn themselves with divine virtues they will become united in their deeds. He deplores the divisions which have occurred in past religions, attributes this to disunity among the followers and states that the foundation of the Cause of God in past Dispensations was shattered as a result of such differences.

Another aspect of unity described by Bahá'u'lláh concerns the station of the believers. The unity of their station will exalt the Cause of God amidst the people. The world is in a grievous state because some have considered themselves superior to others. He states that the believers, who have quaffed from the ocean of His Revelation and have truly turned their faces towards His most exalted Horizon, should regard themselves as being on one plane,

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2. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 143.
occupying the same position and having equal rank. He prophesies that if this happens, the world of humanity will become a paradise. Throwing further light on this subject, Bahá'u'lláh declares that although man is a glorious being endowed with divine attributes, it is a grave transgression to consider oneself superior to others.

This teaching of Bahá'u'lláh, if implemented, will create in the heart the feeling of humility and self-effacement. If not, pride and vainglory will tend to dominate and man will become a prisoner of his own self and passion. His Saviour in this case is none other than the Manifestation of God.

By recognizing Bahá'u'lláh as the Revealer of the Word of God for today and wholeheartedly following His exhortations and counsels, the soul becomes freed from the fetters of self and material attachments. It is then that the individual can understand the purpose of life. And it is then that he can become truly united with his fellow believers.

One of the great bounties of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh is that He has abolished the institution of priesthood. Although greatly abused, and now almost ineffective, this institution was perhaps necessary and useful in past ages when the great majority of people were illiterate and had to be shepherded by leaders. But today it is totally unnecessary. In the Tablet of Ittihád Bahá'u'lláh states that if the religious leaders and divines of Persia had not regarded themselves as superior beings, their followers would not have engaged in bitter opposition to His Cause. He describes their pride and vainglory as a fire which has engulfed and consumed the whole nation.

Not only has the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh rid itself of the institution of priesthood, which breeds disunity and corruption, but intrinsically it does not harbour egotistical personalities within its divinely ordained institutions. Its hallmark is servitude to God which, in practice, is servitude to man. Those who serve on Bahá'í institutions can experience unity in action because there is no scope for anyone to promote personal ambitions or demonstrate superior talents within these institu-

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tions. Indeed, should one member try to exalt himself above others his effectiveness is greatly impaired. Great tests and trials ensue once the framework of unity within a Bahá'í institution is upset through the egotistical attitude of one of its members. Should this happen, the members will go through great pressures and sufferings and that Assembly, in the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, will be brought to naught.

In the Tablet of Ittihád Bahá'u'lláh states that if He were to expound fully upon the various levels of unity in all things, His Pen would have to move upon the Tablets for several years, and since this is not feasible He concludes His explanations by describing one more aspect of unity, namely, the unity of peoples. He states that the unity of peoples can be realized through the love of God and the influence of the Word of God. When human beings turn to the Word and adhere to it, they will become united.

The followers of Bahá'u'lláh have already brought about a real unity of hearts in their communities. Although coming from so many diverse backgrounds and speaking different languages, they are motivated by a strong bond of love which binds them together spiritually. This love is not produced artificially, nor is it due to any special talents which the believers may possess. Without any effort on the part of the individual other than turning to Bahá'u'lláh, it descends from on high into the hearts of the believers. This love is generated through the influence of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. It is like the flow of electric current in a vast network, energizing every circuit which is connected to it. The mere belief in Bahá'u'lláh as the Bearer of the Message of God for this age opens up the channels of grace, and the believer finds himself able to empty his heart of inborn prejudices and become the bearer of the love of God. This love, in turn, manifests itself among the body of the believers as the most potent force within the Bahá'í community. It unites the hearts together in such wise that a true believer will see a trace of the love of Bahá'u'lláh in the face of another believer, and thus never dwell on the shortcomings of his friend. There are innumerable

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passages in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh concerning the power of unity and the destructive effects of disunity. In one of His Tablets3 Bahá'u'lláh states that if the loved ones of God were able to achieve unity in every region, the whole world would be illumined with its light. He grieves over the existence of disunity among the believers in some areas, and declares that this has brought abasement and disgrace upon the Faith. In this Tablet He further explains that if all the peoples of the world were to rise up against the Cause no harm would come to it, rather their opposition would become the cause of its exaltation, but disunity among His loved ones will damage the good name of the Cause, hinder its progress, and inflict untold sufferings and pain upon its Author.

In another Tablet4 Bahá'u'lláh exhorts His followers to shun any word which might become the cause of disunity, even if such a word is uttered by those who are closest to Him and continually circle the throne of His sovereignty. He describes disunity, in yet another Tablet,5 as a burning fire which ought to be quenched with the waters of wisdom and utterance. In one of His Tablets6 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that anyone who becomes the cause of disunity in the Cause will not see happiness in his life.

Concerning the unity of earthly possessions, Bahá'u'lláh in the Lawh-i-Ittihád states that there are two stages of unity. One is that of generosity, when the individual does not deprive his fellow human beings of the things God has given him, and bestows some of his earthly riches upon them. This praiseworthy deed Bahá'u'lláh describes as the state of musávát (equality). It is a state in which a person generously gives to others as to himself. The other stage is that of muvását, which means that the individual sacrifices his own needs for the sake of others and gives preference to them. Bahá'u'lláh regards this attitude as the highest and noblest quality in man. But he emphasizes that this preference is meant to be exercised only in the realm of earthly possessions and does not apply to anything else.

In the Tablet known as Kalimát-i-Firdawsíyyih,* Bahá'u'lláh

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* see below, ch. 15.


3. Áthár-i-Qalam-i-A'lá, vol. 8, p. 57.

4. Ishráqát, p. 230.

5. Unpublished compilation, National Archives Committee, no. 18, p. 382.

6. Má'idiy-i-Ásamání, vol. 9, p. 129.

declares what amounts to the highest statement of the Golden Rule:

O son of man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.7
Unity in Society

The main purpose of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh is to establish unity among the peoples of the world. 'So powerful is the light of unity', Bahá'u'lláh states, 'that it can illuminate the whole earth.' 8 So destructive today is the influence of disunity in society that Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá have made it clear in their Writings that if religion becomes the cause of disunity it is better to be without it. The call to unity has been raised by Bahá'u'lláh in this day, and the creative power of the Word of God leaves mankind with no alternative but to establish a sound and impregnable foundation for the unity of all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. These exalted words of Bahá'u'lláh have revolutionized the equilibrium of human society on a world scale:

O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.9
Today a great many among the peoples of the world are clamouring for peace. The fear of large-scale destruction and annihilation has driven people towards the idea of peace and the abolition of war. There is great activity in many quarters with the aim of bringing this dream to reality, ranging from lecturing to societies, debating on the issues, arranging peaceful demonstrations, propaganda campaigns, protest marches and even large-scale violence. But peace cannot be established by these activities. It is not an isolated goal; it is closely related to human behaviour and depends on the attitude of one man towards another. Not until there is unity among people can there be
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7. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 64.

8. Gleanings, CXXXII.

9. Lawh-i-Maqsúd, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 164.


["O well-beloved ones!..."] Gleanings From The Writings Of Bahá'u'lláh CXII
peace. And unity cannot be produced artificially by superficial measures. So long as mankind tries to settle its affairs through compromise on principles, instead of seeking out and then following the truth, there can be no way of bringing about goodwill among all the nations of the world. Today wherever there is disunity, the people involved will be encompassed by sufferings and tribulations. Bahá'u'lláh has clearly stated in his Writings that mankind will not experience peace and tranquillity unless it creates unity among the peoples and nations of the world:

The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded.10
In a Tablet Bahá'u'lláh reveals these exalted words concerning unity:

O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world's great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. This wronged One hath, ever since the early days of His life, cherished none other desire but this, and will continue to entertain no wish except this wish. There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension
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10. Gleanings, CXXXI.
amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you. This, verily, is the most exalted Word which the Mother Book hath sent down and revealed unto you. To this beareth witness the Tongue of Grandeur from His habitation of glory.11
Recognition of the oneness of mankind is the most essential prerequisite for world peace. However, the establishment of unity on any level will in its turn create a form of peace on that same level. For example, the establishment of political unity among all the nations of the world will bring about a political peace on a world scale, which is referred to in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh as the 'Lesser Peace'.* In the distant future, when the generality of mankind will have recognized the station of Bahá'u'lláh as the Mouthpiece of God on this earth and the redeemer of all humanity, when the outpouring of His Revelation will have penetrated into the hearts of men, creating thereby a bond of spiritual unity among the peoples and kindreds of the earth, then the human race will witness the establishment of the 'Most Great Peace' promised by Bahá'u'lláh as one of the noblest fruits of His Revelation.

Unity of the human race should not be confused with uniformity, which is against the fundamental laws of creation. The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh emphasize the principle of unity in diversity. In God's creation there is only one of everything. No two things are the same. The best way to appreciate the reason for this uniqueness is to study the Bahá'í Writings and also observe nature. We understand from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá that every created thing, be it from the mineral, vegetable or animal kingdom, manifests some of the attributes of God. The differences between these kingdoms are due to the varying degrees of the manifestation of these attributes. For instance, there are fewer attributes of God manifested in the mineral kingdom than there are in the vegetable. The same is true of the vegetable in relation to the animal. Many attributes

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* For further study of the Lesser Peace see vol. 3, pp. 314-15.


11. Gleanings, CXI.
possessed by the latter are not to be found in the former. And within man are deposited all the attributes of God.

However, there are some attributes which are commonly manifested in all created things, but in each kingdom appear with different intensity. Among these is the attribute of love, which is the prime cause of creation. It manifests itself in the mineral as cohesion. Within the vegetable there is also cohesion but the attribute of love attains a further dimension when the tree stretches its boughs and branches towards the sun to receive its rays as a lover reaches for its beloved. In the animal the attribute of love appears with greater intensity. The love of a mother for her young is an example. And in the world of man, the attributes of love manifest themselves in their highest intensity.

Another attribute of God which manifests itself within the whole of creation is the attribute of God the Incomparable. This attribute appears in every created thing and therefore everything is unique. These are the words of Bahá'u'lláh in one of His Tablets:

Consider, in like manner, the revelation of the light of the Name of God, the Incomparable. Behold, how this light hath enveloped the entire creation, how each and every thing manifesteth the sign of His Unity, testifieth to the reality of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, proclaimeth His sovereignty, His oneness, and His power. This revelation is a token of His mercy that hath encompassed all created things.12
Just as no two things are the same, so in the world of humanity there is no absolute equality between people. Each person is a unique creation of God. The equality which is often referred to in the Writings is that of rights and privileges. Otherwise, every person is distinct from every other human being in his talents, capacities, character and all other virtues.

Equality between Men and Women

One of the basic teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is the equality of men

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12. Gleanings, XCIII.
and women. From the beginning of recorded history up until recently, men have dominated in almost every activity. During this period mankind has been going through the stages of infancy and childhood, and the social circumstances have been such that the principle of the equality of men and women has not been taught in the Holy Books of past religions. On the contrary, men have been considered to be endowed with superior powers and women have had to remain under their domination. In the Qur'án it is unequivocally stated: 'Men have superiority over women.' 13

Bahá'u'lláh, for the first time in the history of religion, has firmly proclaimed the equality of men and women. Like every other teaching revealed from the Pen of the Most High, this particular teaching has released enormous spiritual forces, which are irresistible and have revolutionized human society in this respect. Consequently, there is a movement for bringing about this equality nowadays everywhere in the world. In many of His Tablets Bahá'u'lláh refers to this subject and unequivocally emphasizes the equality of the sexes.

Exalted, immensely exalted is He Who hath removed differences and established harmony. Glorified, infinitely glorified is He Who hath caused discord to cease, and decreed solidarity and unity. Praised be God, the Pen of the Most High hath lifted distinctions from between His servants and handmaidens and, through His consummate favours and all-encompassing mercy, hath conferred upon all a station and rank on the same plane. He hath broken the back of vain imaginings with the sword of utterance and hath obliterated the perils of idle fancies through the pervasive power of His might.14
The words 'servants' and 'handmaidens' signify 'men' and 'women' respectively. In another Tablet He states:

In this Day the Hand of divine grace hath removed all distinction. The servants of God and His handmaidens are regarded on the same plane. Blessed is the servant who hath attained unto that which God hath decreed, and likewise the
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13. Qur'án 4:33.

14. Women (comp.), p. 1.

leaf moving in accordance with the breezes of His will. This favour is great and this station lofty. His bounties and bestowals are ever present and manifest. Who is able to offer befitting gratitude for His successive bestowals and continuous favours?15
The word 'leaf' is a designation used by Bahá'u'lláh to refer to a female believer.

Bahá'u'lláh revealed these words at a time when the Islámic world in which He appeared took it for granted that women were inferior beings. There were some schools of thought among the Muslim clergy which used to conduct debates as to whether a woman had a soul or not! The laws within the Islámic society were based on polygamy. Legally men could have as many as four wives and countless concubines. A woman had no say in the choice of her husband, was commonly illiterate, and generally would not be allowed to take part in public affairs. She would be mostly confined to the house of her father before marriage and to the house of her husband afterwards. It was like being a piece of furniture.

The custom of the time was that when a young man was about to marry, his female relatives, such as his mother or sister, would choose his future wife for him. He would not even be allowed to gaze upon the face of his bride, who would be heavily veiled, until after the marriage ceremony was concluded. Within such a system it was not possible for women to know what was happening in the world around them. Very few parents provided education for their daughters. Even then, they had no opportunity to utilize their talents in public.

One of the few public activities that women were allowed to undertake in the community of Shí'ah Islám was to attend special meetings known as rawdih-khání (a form of lamentation meeting) held in commemoration of the martyrdom of Imám Husayn. They would be seated in a separate corner and when the speaker, who was usually a priest, recounted the episode of the martyrdom with great passion and fervour, thus exciting the people into a frantic display of emotion, the women would be allowed to wail

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15. Women (comp.), p. 2.
and shriek so loudly as to drown the voice of the speaker completely and arouse the whole neighbourhood with their hysterical screams!

Within such a society, over a hundred years ago, Bahá'u'lláh granted equal rights to men and women. He revealed Tablets to many of the female members of the community, showered His favours and bounties upon them, praised their actions, assured them of God's purpose in this day to bring about their equality with men, encouraged them to teach the Cause with wisdom among women, and exhorted them to live their lives in accordance with His teachings. The following words of Bahá'u'lláh are gleaned from a Tablet addressed to a Bahá'í woman:

By My Life, the names of handmaidens who are devoted to God are written and set down by the Pen of the Most High in the Crimson Book. They excel over men in the sight of God. How numerous are the heroes and knights in the field who are bereft of the True One and have no share in His recognition, but thou hast attained and received thy fill.16
There are innumerable Tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in honour of Bahá'í women. The following is cited as another example:

He is the All-Seeing from the Horizon of the Heaven of Knowledge! O My handmaiden, O My leaf! Verily the Pen of the Most High hath borne witness unto thy recognition of Him, thy love for Him and thy turning towards the Ancient Countenance at a time when the world hath rejected Him, save those whom God, the Most High, hath willed...

Well is it with thee for having adorned thyself with the ornament of the love of God and for having been enabled to make mention of Him and utter His praise. Divine grace, in its entirety, is in the mighty grasp of God, exalted be He. He conferreth it upon whomsoever He willeth. How many a man considered himself a celebrated divine and a repository of heavenly mysteries, and yet when the slightest test visited him, he arose with such opposition and denial as to cause the Concourse on high to moan and lament. Through the

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16. Women (comp.), p. 2.
bestowals of the Lord, however, and His infinite favour, thou hast attained unto the hidden secret and the well-guarded treasure. Preserve then, in the name of God, this lofty station and conceal it from the eyes of betrayers. The glory shining from the horizon of My Kingdom be upon thee and upon every handmaiden who hath attained the splendours of My sublime Throne.17
'Abdu'l-Bahá too, both in His numerous Tablets and in His talks, has elaborated on the theme of the equality of men and women. He regarded it as one of the fundamental prerequisites for the establishment of a well-balanced and healthy society. There are innumerable references in His Writings to this subject. To cite an example, the following is part of one of His Tablets:

And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings--one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.18
One aspect of the equality of the sexes is that of rights and privileges. But identical functions--as sought by so many people today--are not always possible. While in certain functions men and women can perform equally well, there are some areas of work in which women excel men and others for which men are better suited than women, and there are some areas in which it is impossible for one sex to carry out the functions of the other.

The most important aspect of equality, and one which has completely escaped the attention of many present-day sociologists promoting the principle of the equality of men and women, is equality in the realm of the spirit. The equality of the sexes, so emphatically proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh, has its origin in the act of creation itself. Although God has created men and women to be physically different in some respects, spiritually they are one.

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17. Women (comp.), pp. 2-3.

18. Selections, p. 302.

There is no difference between the soul of a man and the soul of a woman. Both possess the same attributes of God, the same powers and the same qualities. In one of His Tablets 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Bahá, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Bahá, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.19
As the soul is the supreme reality in a human being, far greater than the mortal frame, and is the most sacred trust of God within an individual, therefore the fundamental and the most valid reason for the equality of men and women lies in the equal status of their souls. This most important aspect of equality is often overlooked, in the same way and for the same reason that the soul itself is a subject commonly neglected by humanity in general.
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19. Selections, pp. 79-80.