How Economics and Business is Addressed in the Bahá'í Faith

By Lagha Momtazian

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #118
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 30 – July 4, 2013
(see list of papers from #118)

    Bahá'í principles are multi-dimensional in their concepts application. The Bahá'í principle of "solution of the economic problems" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1979, p. 32) does not refer to a Bahá'í economic system but can refer to reforms and development in the economic and business structures and goals and performance to be more ethical and responsible towards the society. Shoghi effendi describes this matter as:
    "Cause is not an economic system, nor can its Founders be considered as having been technical economists. The contribution of the Faith to this subject is essentially indirect, as it consists of the application of spiritual principles to our present day economic system. Bahá'u'lláh has given us a few basic principles which should guide future Bahá'í economists in establishing such institutions as will adjust the economic relations of the world." (Shoghi Effendi, 1974, pp. 27-28)
    There are specific values discussed in Bahá'í writings which are discussed differently in other religions or not mentioned before. This paper tries to investigate the principles in common with regards to economics and business in the Bahá'í Faith, Islam, Christianity and Judaism; and to discuss in more details how Bahá'í principles can have a distinctive impact on betterment of the business decisions and practices through establishing a value based system with specific characteristics.

    Among the principles distinctively discussed in the Bahá'í Faith is the spirit of service! Work has been regarded as "calling" (Miller and Timothy, 2010) in different religions and as a way of worship. It is similar in Bahá'í principles but under a significant condition. `Abdu'l-Bahá says work is the highest form of service if "done in the spirit of service" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1918). This seems a simple distinction but might make huge differences in application of this principle and its results! (It becomes more clear when compared to Weber's ideology of protestant ethics and capitalism.) The question for discussion is how the spirit of service can be applied in business? Another principle is the noble human being with spiritual qualities which need to "reveal its treasures" through education! [GWB 259] The economic world has known human as a rational being driven by self-interest (Smith, 2005). This is the foundation on which the economic system has been built over the years. If man is regarded with the dual nature and the spiritual nature attended and educated at the first place, his/her decisions and actions might be different which can result in different economic structures than currently exist. The implications of viewing man with spiritual qualities will be discussed shortly.

    Yet another principle is consultation. The shining spark of truth `Abdu'l-Bahá says "comes forth after the clash of differing opinions" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1982, p.87). The members of a village, profession and industry are advised to refer to consultation to find the right solution but with its essential characteristics. Consultation is widely advised with different disciplines and contemporary schools of thought advocate the significance of consultation. The effective consultation in Bahá'í writings necessitates attainment of some pre-requisites. `Abdu'l-Bahá says : "The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1982, p.87)

    Unlike the general trend to consultation in business matters, this principle can suggest a distinctive structure to consultation. Based on the above mentioned prime requisites, the members to consultation need to free themselves from self-interest and enter the conversation with the motive to find the truth and the best solution to the matter under consultation rather than trying to gain their benefit or follow their cause. This is hard to practice knowing that business has operated in a different manner for a long time and has expanded its roots deep in monetary and immediate gain! This is an application to recognition of the spiritual qualities of human being at the same time with his/her material qualities.

    Another application of this approach is the introduction of the concept of sacrifice to the business terminology! `Abdu'l-Bahá says:

    "And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is voluntary sharing of one's property with others among mankind. This voluntary sharing is greater than equality, and consists in this, that man should not prefer himself to others, but rather should sacrifice his life and property for others. But this should not be introduced by coercion so that it becomes a law and man is compelled to follow it. Nay, rather, man should voluntarily and of his own choice sacrifice his property and life for others, and spend willingly for the poor, just as is done in Iran among the Bahá'ís. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, 1976, p. 288)
    In the above mentioned passage, the ready willingness to share is discussed which is different from the 'sharing' in its common practice. The 'sharing' currently practiced in business is generally with the purpose to increase the employee productivity and sense of belonging, or towards an improved image of the company! In a rather deeper level, it is spoken about sacrifice in the above mentioned paragraph! It implies that man would willingly and voluntarily sacrifice his wealth for the poor! Neither of the above mentioned qualities can be perceived nor practiced without appreciation and education of the spiritual nature and qualities of human soul!

    Another yet essential principle is love of God! Ives (Ives quotes from `Abdu'l-Bahá, 1983, p. 156) as "All economic problems may be solved by the application of the science of the Love of God." How application of the science of love of God can solve economic problems is a serious question, for both the believers in God and non-believers! In business it can be described with some measurable terms such as responsibility and accountability and consciousness (Robinson, 2007).

    How these principles might be applied in business will be discussed in more details in order to be a cause of an inspiration to the participants to connect the Bahá'í values to their businesses and to raise the question of how to apply them in their own ways and to their own decisions and financial performances.

    The session can incorporate periods of short consultation by participants in order to best achieve its objectives and provide an environment for clash of differing opinions in finding the unique methods each participant might prefer to employ!


      `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1982). Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í World Centre
      `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1979). Foundations of World Unity. US Bahá'í Publishing Trust, sixth printing. p. 32
      `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1976). Bahá'í World Faith —`Abdu'l-Bahá Section, US Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 288
      `Abdu'l-Bahá. (1918). Divine Philosophy. The Tudor Press. Boston, MASS
      Ives, H. C. (1983). Portals to Freedom. George Ronald. Oxford. P. 156
      Miller, W. D. and Timothy, E. (2010). Rethinking The Impact of Religion on Business Values: Understanding its Re-emergence And Measuring its Manifestations. Journal of International Business Ethics. 3(2)
      Robinson, S. (2007). Spirituality and responsibility: Consciousness and care. Oxford University Press
      Shoghi Effendi. (1974). Principles of Bahá'í Administration. US Bahá'í Publishing Trust. Pp. 27-8
      Smith, A. (2005) Wealth of nations, Penn State Electronic Classics, the Pennsylvania State University

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