The Bahá’í Response to Racial Injustice and Pursuit of Racial Unity: Part 1 (1912-1996)

The following excerpted article is from Content ©2021 Bahá’í International Community.
Photo: The second Bahá’í race amity convention in America, held in the auditorium of Central High School, Springfield, Massachusetts, 5-6 December 1921


This is the first of two articles focusing on the American Bahá’í community’s efforts to bring about racial unity. This first article is a historical survey of nine decades of earnest striving and struggle in the cause of justice. A second article, to be published in the future, will focus on the profound developments in the Bahá’í world over the past twenty-five years, beginning with 1996, and explore their implications for addressing racial injustice today and in the years to come.

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Once again, as the United States finds itself embroiled in racial conflicts and decades-old struggles for racial justice and racial unity, the Bahá’í community of the United States stands ready to contribute its share to the healing of the nation’s racial wounds. Neither the current racial crisis nor the current awakening is unique. Sadly, the United States has been here before.1 The American people have learned many lessons but have also forgotten other lessons about how best to solve the underlying problems facing their racially polarized society. For decades the country has seen countless efforts by brave and courageous individuals and dedicated organizations and institutions to hold back the relentless tide of racism. Many of these efforts have achieved great outcomes, but the tide has repeatedly rushed back in to test the resolve of every generation after the fall of Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and the historic election of the first African American president.2

During some of America’s worst racial crises, the Bahá’í community has joined the gallant struggle not only to hold back the tide of racism but also to build a multiracial community based on the recognition of the organic unity of the human race. Inspired by this spiritual and moral principle, the Bahá’í community, though relatively small in number and resources, has, for well over a century, sought ways to contribute to the nation’s efforts to achieve racial justice and racial unity. This has been a work in progress, humbly shared with others. It is an ongoing endeavor, one the Bahá’í community recognizes as “a long and thorny path beset with pitfalls.”3

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For the Betterment of the World: A publication that highlights fundamental concepts that guide Bahá’í efforts in social action

All images on this page ©2021 Bahá’í International Community.

About the publication

The following description is from

For the Betterment of the World, prepared by the Office of Social and Economic Development* at the Bahá’í World Centre, highlights fundamental concepts that guide Bahá’í efforts in social action.

Much of the publication is dedicated to providing practical examples of projects undertaken in diverse parts of the world. It describes a sampling of Bahá’í development endeavors across a broad spectrum, ranging from grassroots efforts of limited duration undertaken by individuals or small groups, to sophisticated programs of social and economic development implemented by Bahá’í-inspired nongovernmental organizations. The publication also explains how, most often, development endeavors emerge and advance within localities that have a pronounced sense of community and a growing collective consciousness.

Bahá’í social and economic development initiatives address various aspects of community life, and the publication explores some of these, such as education, health, agriculture, the economic life of communities, arts and media, and the advancement of women. Regardless of the specific nature or scale of an initiative, Bahá’í endeavors for social and economic development operate on the principle that populations should be the protagonists of their own material, spiritual, and intellectual advancement, not just recipients of aid or mere participants. All Bahá’í-inspired initiatives are motivated by a desire to serve humanity and seek to promote the social and material well-being of all people.

Visit to download a free PDF, or purchase a printed copy of the publication.

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“Recreating Ourselves in the Image of the Master”: A series of talks by Tom Price on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Perfect Exemplar

Photo: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Dublin, New Hampshire, 26 July 1912 © 2020 Bahá’í International Community

NEXT YEAR, IN 2021, Bahá’ís around the world will be commemorating the centenary of the Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Shoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s eldest grandson and appointed Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, said that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá should be regarded “first and foremost, as the Center and Pivot of Bahá’u’lláh’s peerless and all-enfolding Covenant, His most exalted handiwork, the stainless Mirror of His light, the perfect Exemplar of His teachings, the unerring Interpreter of His Word…”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá accomplished many achievements during His life, but “the most outstanding achievement that will forever be associated with ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá’s ministry,” according to Shoghi Effendi, is “the establishment of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in the Western Hemisphere.”

In 2012, Tom Price, a Bahá’í songwriter, conductor, musical director and public speaker, gave a series of talks at the Tennessee Bahá’í School as part of a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s travels to the West. He opens the first discussion by recalling an August 2010 message from the Universal House of Justice which articulates that this is a time for more than just commemoration. The message states: “The words uttered by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá during His travels, and the deeds He undertook with such consummate wisdom and love, offer an abundance of inspiration and manifold insights from which the body of the believers can today draw, whether in their efforts to embrace receptive souls, to raise capacity for service, to build local communities, to strengthen institutions, or to exploit opportunities emerging to engage in social action and contribute to public discourse.”

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Spatial Strategies for Racial Unity

The following is from Content ©2020 Bahá’í International Community. Photo by Ivan Bandura


A few portions of this paper were previously published by the author in “Race, Place, and Clusters: Current Visions and Possible Strategies,” The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 27, no. 3 (2017): 85-124.

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Lack of unity among people of various races, ethnicities, and classes is a major problem for human society. Many nations face such disunity, which can cause social conflict, lack of empathy for “others,” discrimination, and exploitation. Bahá’ís think of such problems as symptoms; the illness is absence of the unity of the human race. One subset of the unity that is necessary is racial unity. As the term is used here, racial unity focuses on unity among various racial and ethnic groups.

Eliminating individual prejudice is a necessary, but insufficient, part of promoting racial unity. Human beings have embedded racial disunity within geographic space, where it is hard to change and is reinforced by political, economic, and social boundaries. Thus, individual people may believe themselves free of racial prejudice, but they may face no or weak testing of this belief if they are isolated in geographic circumstances that solidify racial disunity. Spatial geography can reinforce systemic racial discrimination.

This is a difficult problem, but throughout its history the Bahá’í Faith has always championed racial unity, even in difficult circumstances. Direct guidance from the Head of the Faith, in each period of Bahá’í history, has consistently counseled the Bahá’ís to abandon prejudice against different races, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities. In addition, the Bahá’í community has purposefully aimed to increase diversity within its own religious community by inviting people of diverse races, ethnicities, and nationalities into its ranks. The approach that the worldwide Bahá’í community now uses builds on these historic principles and strategies, while extending beyond them to offer lasting social transformation for all people in a community. It offers the world a process that can help promote racial unity, even in situations of geographic disunity. Considering how to accomplish this requires strategic thinking.

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Community and Collective Action

The following is from Content and photo © 2020 Bahá’í International Community


Adapted from a talk given at the Bahá’í World Centre in 2015

In neighborhoods and villages around the world, tens, hundreds, and in some places, thousands of people, inspired by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, are engaged in activities that aim to “build community.” In their efforts, we can already see signs of the emergence of new patterns of collective life: a village coming together regularly at the hour of dawn to summon divine assistance before the day’s work; a group of people combining skills and knowledge to carry out a reforestation project; neighbors consulting on ways to establish classes for the spiritual education of their children; a population beginning to shed age-old prejudices and build new patterns of interaction based on justice and unity; young adults, in rural and urban settings, initiating small-scale agricultural projects to support their communities—examples like these and many more are springing up from every continent and multiplying.

The current global crisis has raised awareness about the importance of human solidarity and collective action. Within this context, it seems timely to ask ourselves: What is the place of community in our modern world and what is the kind of community towards which we aspire?

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Contributing to social progress: The U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs

The following content is from the website of The U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs. © 2020 National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States

FORMED IN 1985 and operating under the auspices of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States to represent the American Baha’i community on the national stage, the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs hopes to help evolve America further in the direction of unity and justice by contributing to some of the most urgent and timely discourses of society.

The vision of this institution is articulated on its website:

Society is built on ideas.

Sets of ideas, or discourses, help shape our institutions and communities, and even our individual minds. Although intangible, the discourses of society wield a powerful influence on how society conceives of itself: its strengths, its challenges, and the range and scope of its potential progress.

Our Office contributes to these discourses based on the principles of the Baha’i Faith, drawing from the collective experience of the American Baha’i community to apply these principles in action. These principles include the oneness of humanity, the essential harmony of scientific and religious truth, the need to eliminate the extremes of wealth and poverty, and the need to abolish all forms of prejudice.

Our work leads us into close collaboration with like-minded individuals and groups. With them, we hope to recast the national conversation around urgent social issues, discovering new ways of engaging with them that propel America to greater heights of unity and justice.

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The Mission of the Báb: Retrospective 1844-1994

The following is a portion of an article from
Content and photo © 2020 Bahá’í International Community

In this article, first published in the 1994–5 edition of The Bahá’í World, Douglas Martin considers the Revelation of the Báb in the context of its impact on the Western writers of the period and its subsequent influence.

The year 1994 marked the 150th anniversary of the declaration of His mission by the Báb (Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, 1819–1850), one of the two Founders of the Bahá’í Faith. The moment invites an attempt to gain an overview of the extraordinary historical consequences that have flowed from an event little noticed at the time outside the confines of the remote and decadent society within which it occurred.

The first half of the 19th century was a period of messianic expectation in the Islamic world, as was the case in many parts of Christendom. In Persia a wave of millenialist enthusiasm had swept many in the religiously educated class of Shí‘ih Muslim society, focused on belief that the fulfillment of prophecies in the Qur’án and the Islamic traditions was at hand. It was to one such ardent seeker that, on the night of 22–23 May 1844, the Báb (a title meaning Gate) announced that He was the Bearer of a Divine Revelation destined not only to transform Islam but to set a new direction for the spiritual life of humankind.

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The Life and Mission of the Báb: Talks by Hooper Dunbar in Sweden 2019

Painter and former member of the International Teaching Center at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, and then elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1988, Hooper Dunbar continues to teach the Baha’i Faith around the world since his retirement from the UHJ in 2010.

Below is a 3 part series on the Life and Mission of the Báb presented by Mr. Dunbar at the Baha’i Summer School in Eskilstuna, Sweden in July of 2019.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Knowledge and Civilization: Implications for the Community and the Individual

The following is a portion of an article from © 2020 Bahá’í International Community
Photo by Nabil Sami

Originally published in The Bahá’í World 1997–98, this article, the revised text of a presentation given by Farzam Arbab, explores the relationship between science and religion as two great systems of knowledge that have a vital social role to play in the building of a world civilization.

Throughout history, humanity has depended upon science and religion as the two principal knowledge systems that have propelled the advancement of civilization, guided its development, and channeled its intellectual and moral powers. The methods of science have allowed humanity to construct a coherent understanding of the laws and processes governing physical reality, and, to a certain degree, the workings of society itself, while the insights of religion have provided understanding relating to the deepest questions of human purpose and action.

The social role of knowledge as it relates to the building of a world civilization is of immense importance. In this context, the relation between science and religion, the two great systems of knowledge, assumes vital significance, as do issues surrounding the acquisition of knowledge by the individual, since according to the Bahá’í viewpoint, the highest goal of the individual is to be a source of social good.

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The Pupil of the Eye: Discussions and Resources

In The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, recounts:

“Bahá’u’lláh hath said,” writes ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “that the various races of humankind lend a composite harmony and beauty of color to the whole. Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side without discord or disagreement between them.” “Bahá’u’lláh,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá moreover has said, “once compared the colored1 people to the black pupil of the eye surrounded by the white. In this black pupil is seen the reflection of that which is before it, and through it the light of the spirit shineth forth.”

Below is a collection of links to resources that dive deeply into the meaning of “the pupil of the eye” — a metaphor that Derik Smith says “adamantly centers black life in the figurative body of humanity”.2

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