Sacred Narratives

Being a religion of the modern age, the Baha'i Faith has no creation stories or other myths. Such areas are left for science to describe. The story of Adam and Eve, for example, is seen as being symbolic, one meaning of which is that the tree in this story signifies this physical world in which there is both good and evil. The serpent signifies attachment to this world. Adam and Eve signify the spirit and soul in humanity. If they attach themselves to this physical world, they become separated from the paradise of the spiritual world.

This does not mean however that the Baha'i Faith does not have sacred narratives. The grand overarching sacred narrative in the Baha'i Faith is that of the religious history of humanity. Baha'is see world history as punctuated by the appearances of sacred figures. These are the founders of the world's religions as well as other figures who have come to different parts of the world in the past and whose names may now be forgotten. Each provides humanity with the guidance needed to take humanity in that part of the world onto the next stage of its spiritual and social development.

Words of Baha'u'llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan regarding Abraham
Later, the beauty of the countenance of the Friend of God (Abraham) appeared from behind the veil, and another standard of divine guidance was hoisted. He invited the people of the earth to the light of righteousness. The more passionately He exhorted them, the fiercer waxed the envy and waywardness of the people, except those who wholly detached themselves from all save God, and ascended on the wings of certainty to the station which God hath exalted beyond the comprehension of men. It is well known what a host of enemies besieged Him, until at last the fires of envy and rebellion were kindled against Him. And after the episode of the fire came to pass, He, the lamp of God amongst men, was, as recorded in all books and chronicles, expelled from His city.

The writings of Baha'u'llah  are full of stories of the prophets of the past, told to illustrate or to convey particular spiritual messages. The Kitab-i-Iqan (The Book of Certitude), for example, recounts stories of many of the biblical and Quranic prophets in order to establish the point that the prophets of God have always been persecuted and denied, especially by the religious leaders of the previous religion; that human beings need to detach themselves from the outward trappings of religion and find the true core of spirituality if they are to be attuned to God's message in every age (in other words, they need to investigate spiritual reality for themselves); and that if they follow the customs of their ancestors or the directions of their religious leaders, they are in danger of being led astray.

But for most Baha'is, it is the history of the Baha'i Faith itself that is the main source of stories that are frequently told and retold among Baha'is to provide inspiration and example. The most important of these are the stories of the central figures of the religion. There are also a number of early disciples and members of the families of the founders, including some women, whose stories are also frequently told. In light of Baha'i beliefs, there is nothing to stop Baha'is drawing inspiration from the lives of the founders and saints of any of the world's religions.

One of the most commonly read books among Baha'is that has come to have something of the status of a sacred history is a book call The Dawn-Breakers, which is a narrative of the Babi period. Shoghi Effendi  edited and translated this work from a manuscript left by Nabil, an early Baha'i. Shoghi Effendi completed this translation in 1932 at a time when he was about to try to inspire the American Baha'is to launch the first of the plans that would spread the Faith. These plans required the American Baha'is to sacrifice the comfort of their middle-class homes and move to difficult and sometimes dangerous places in the developing countries of the world. By translating this book that told stories of the heroic self-sacrifice of the early Babis who often gave up their wealth and even their lives for their faith, and by linking the American Baha'is closely to this narrative (by calling them the "spiritual descendants of the Dawn-breakers"), Shoghi Effendi inspired American Baha'is to move first to South and Central America and later to post-war Europe. Similarly, other Baha'is were inspired by this book to move to other parts of the world and to make other sacrifices for the advancement of the Baha'i Faith.

'Abdu'l-Baha  is viewed as the perfect exemplar of the Baha'i teachings, and so stories about him and about how he dealt with particular situations abound within the Baha'i community and in Baha'i books. Since he also visited North America and Europe, many of these stories are much more closely linked to the lives of Baha'is in that cultural world than stories from the Middle East. They are seen as examples of the divine virtues and qualities that all Baha'is are trying to acquire. If in a dilemma, Baha'is will often say, "What would 'Abdu'l-Baha do in this situation?"

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