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One Common Faith

  • Author:
  • Bahá’í World Centre

  • Source:
  • Bahá’í World Centre, 2005 edition
  • Pages:
  • 56
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Pages 30-34

“Freed from the thickets with which theology has hedged religious…”

Freed from the thickets with which theology has hedged religious understanding about, the mind is able to explore familiar scriptural passages through the eyes of Bahá’u’lláh. “Peerless is this Day,” He asserts, “for it is as the eye to past ages and centuries, and as a light unto the darkness of the times.” 1 The most striking observation that results from taking advantage of this perspective is the unity of purpose and principle running throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospel and the Qur’án, particularly, although echoes can readily be discerned in the scriptures of others among the world’s religions. Repeatedly, the same organizing themes emerge from the matrix of precept, exhortation, narrative, symbolism and interpretation in which they are set. Of these foundational truths, by far the most distinctive is the progressive articulation and emphatic assertion of the oneness of God, Creator of all existence whether of the phenomenal world or of those realms that transcend it. “I am the Lord,” the Bible declares, “and there is none else, there is no God beside me”, 2 and the same conception underpins the later teachings of Christ and Muḥammad.
Humanity—focal point, inheritor and trustee of the world—exists to know its Creator and to serve His purpose. In its highest expression, the innate human impulse to respond takes the form of worship, a condition entailing wholehearted submission to a power that is recognized as deserving of such homage. “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.” 3 Inseparable from the spirit of reverence itself is its expression in service to the Divine 31 purpose for humankind. “Say: All bounties are in the hand of God: He granteth them to whom He pleaseth: and God careth for all, and He knoweth all things.” 4 Illumined by this understanding, the responsibilities of humanity are clear: “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West”, the Qur’án states, “but it is righteousness—to believe in God … to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask….” 5 “Ye are the salt of the earth”, 6 Christ impresses on those who respond to His call. “Ye are the light of the world.” 7 Summarizing a theme that recurs time and again throughout the Hebrew scriptures and will subsequently reappear in the Gospel and the Qur’án, the prophet Micah asks, “…what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” 8
There is equal agreement in these texts that the soul’s ability to attain to an understanding of its Creator’s purpose is the product not merely of its own effort, but of interventions of the Divine that open the way. The point was made with memorable clarity by Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” 9 If one is not to see in this assertion merely a dogmatic challenge to other stages of the one ongoing process of Divine guidance, it is obviously the expression of the central truth of revealed religion: that access to the unknowable Reality that creates and sustains existence is possible only through awakening to the illumination shed from that Realm. One of the most cherished of the Qur’án’s surihs takes up the metaphor: “God is the Light 32 of the heavens and the earth…. Light upon Light! God doth guide whom He will to His Light.” 10 In the case of the Hebrew prophets, the Divine intermediary that was later to appear in Christianity in the person of the Son of Man and in Islám as the Book of God assumed the form of a binding Covenant established by the Creator with Abraham, Patriarch and Prophet: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” 11
The succession of revelations of the Divine also appears as an implicit—and usually explicit—feature of all the major faiths. One of its earliest and clearest expressions occurs in the Bhagavad-Gita: “I come, and go, and come. When Righteousness declines, O Bharata! When Wickedness is strong, I rise, from age to age, and take visible shape, and move a man with men, succouring the good, thrusting the evil back, and setting Virtue on her seat again.” 12 This ongoing drama constitutes the basic structure of the Bible, whose sequence of books recounts the missions not only of Abraham and of Moses—“whom the Lord knew face to face” 13 —but of the line of lesser prophets who developed and consolidated the work that these primary Authors of the process had set in motion. Similarly, no amount of contentious and fantastical speculation about the precise nature of Jesus could succeed in separating His mission from the transformative influence exerted on the course of civilization by the work of Abraham and Moses. He Himself warns that it is not He Who will condemn those who reject the message He 33 bears, but Moses “in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” 14 With the revelation of the Qur’án, the theme of the succession of the Messengers of God becomes central: “We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob … and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord….” 15
For a sympathetic and objective reader of such passages what emerges is a recognition of the essential oneness of religion. So it is that the term “Islám” (literally “submission” to God) designates not merely the particular dispensation of Providence inaugurated by Muḥammad but, as the words of the Qur’án make unmistakably clear, religion itself. While it is true to speak of the unity of all religions, understanding of the context is vital. At the deepest level, as Bahá’u’lláh emphasizes, there is but one religion. Religion is religion, as science is science. The one discerns and articulates the values unfolding progressively through Divine revelation; the other is the instrumentality through which the human mind explores and is able to exert its influence ever more precisely over the phenomenal world. The one defines goals that serve the evolutionary process; the other assists in their attainment. Together, they constitute the dual knowledge system impelling the advance of civilization. Each is hailed by the Master as an “effulgence of the Sun of Truth”. 16
It is, therefore, an inadequate recognition of the unique station of Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muḥammad—or of the 34 succession of Avatars who inspired the Hindu scriptures—to depict their work as the founding of distinct religions. Rather are they appreciated when acknowledged as the spiritual Educators of history, as the animating forces in the rise of the civilizations through which consciousness has flowered: “He was in the world,” the Gospel declares, “and the world was made by him….” 17 That their persons have been held in a reverence infinitely above those of any other historical figures reflects the attempt to articulate otherwise inexpressible feelings aroused in the hearts of unnumbered millions of people by the blessings their work has conferred. In loving them humanity has progressively learned what it means to love God. There is, realistically, no other way to do so. They are not honoured by fumbling efforts to capture the essential mystery of their nature in dogmas invented by human imagination; what honours them is the soul’s unconditioned surrender of its will to the transformative influence they mediate.
1. Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990), page 79.   [ Back To Reference]
2. Isaiah 45.5.   [ Back To Reference]
3. Timothy 1.17.   [ Back To Reference]
4. Qur’án, surih 3, verse 73.   [ Back To Reference]
5. ibid., surih 2, verse 177.   [ Back To Reference]
6. St. Matthew 5.13.   [ Back To Reference]
7. ibid., 5.14.   [ Back To Reference]
8. Micah 6.8.   [ Back To Reference]
9. St. John 14.6.   [ Back To Reference]
10. Qur’án, surih 24, verse 35.   [ Back To Reference]
11. Genesis 17.7.   [ Back To Reference]
12. Bhagavad-Gita, chapter IV, Sir Edwin Arnold translation.   [ Back To Reference]
13. Deuteronomy 34.10.   [ Back To Reference]
14. St. John 5.45–47.   [ Back To Reference]
15. Qur’án, surih 2, verse 136.   [ Back To Reference]
16. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, revised edition (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1995), page 326.   [ Back To Reference]
17. St. John 1.10.   [ Back To Reference]