On Being In Love with the Poor

On Being In Love with the Poor

Bahram Nadimi

For Baha’is, the period between March 2nd and March 20th  is a time of restraint and fasting. The preceding period between February 26th and March 1st is called Ayyam-i-ha or the Days Between. Literally, the days that fall between the last two months of the Bahá’í calendar. They are a time for hospitality, charity, gift giving and celebration prior to the Fast.

Regarding fasting Bahá’u’lláh (the Prophet Founder of the Baha’i Faith) stated:

“All praise be unto God, Who hath revealed the law of obligatory prayer as a reminder to His servants, and enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute.[4]”

Given this, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the plight of the poor. Here are some statistics [3]:

  • Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 day.
  • The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 heavily indebted poor countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest individuals combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than 1% of what the world spends every year on weapons was all that was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
  • 1 billion children live in poverty (that’s half the children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).

Abdu’l-Bahá and the poor

About 100 years ago, April 19th 1912, Abdu’l-Bahá (son of Bahá’u’lláh) visited the Bowery Mission for the poor in New York. In a talk the previous day Abdu’l-Bahá said:  “I am in love with the poor”.  He was looking forward to this visit. Some four hundred Americans, all poor and destitute, were present in the Bowery when he arrived.

He addressed them, with praise and gave them the glad-tidings of the message of Bahá’u’lláh:

“Tonight I am very happy, for I have come here to meet my friends. I consider you my relatives, my companions; and I am your comrade… You must be thankful to God that you are poor, for Jesus Christ has said, ‘Blessed are the poor.” He never said, “Blessed are the rich.’… therefore, you must be thankful to God that although in this world you are indigent, yet the treasures of God are within your reach; and although in the material realm you are poor, yet in the Kingdom of God you are precious…
    “He (Jesus) passed His time in the desert, traveling among the poor, and lived upon the herbs of the field. He had no place to lay His head, no home… yet He chose this rather than riches. …. Therefore, you are the disciples of Jesus Christ; you are His comrades, for He outwardly was poor, not rich… You will find many of the wealthy exposed to dangers and troubled by difficulties, and in their last moments upon the bed of death there remains the regret that they must be separated from that to which their hearts are so attached. .. All they possess they must leave behind and pass away solitary, alone…
    “Praise be to God! Our hope is in the mercy of God, and there is no doubt that the divine compassion is bestowed upon the poor. Jesus Christ said so; Bahá’u’lláh said so. While Bahá’u’lláh was in Baghdad, still in possession of great wealth, He left all He had and went alone from the city, living two years among the poor. They were His comrades. He ate with them, slept with them and gloried in being one of them. He chose for one of His names the title of The Poor One … He admonished all that we must be the servants of the poor, helpers of the poor, remember the sorrows of the poor, associate with them; for thereby we may inherit the Kingdom of heaven… Therefore, the poor are nearer the threshold of God and His throne. . .
    “So, my comrades, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Your lives are similar to His life; your attitude is like unto His; you resemble Him more than the rich do. Therefore, we will thank God that we have been so blessed with real riches. And in conclusion, I ask you to accept ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as your servant” [1].

At the end of this meeting, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood at the Bowery entrance to the Mission hall, shaking hands with four or five hundred men and placing within each palm a piece of silver.

Ayyam-i-Ha: Time for charity

Nine years ago, during this wonderful festival before the Bahá’í fast, my friend Ian and I were visiting Baltimore. We got to talk to a homeless person who was in the streets next to the aquarium asking for money, not a hand-out but money so that he could shower and get clean. He said that he had an interview at the aquarium the next day for a job. He said he did not drink or take drugs and wanted to get a job and be a productive member of society; while this attitude may be rare, we believed his story. We gave him the money that he needed and wished him well. I wish I could travel back in time to see if he got that job. Here is a picture the two of us.

The Baha’i World Congress in New York

In 1992, the Bahá’ís of the world observed the hundredth anniversary of the passing of Baha’u’llah by holding a World Congress in New York city that drew Bahá’ís from countries around the globe.

During one night of the Congress, my cousin and I were walking in the streets of New York City when we were abruptly stopped by a homeless gentleman who startled us by grabbing my hand. He had seen our registration badges for the congress and recognized us as being from the Bahá’í gathering. He told us that he had passed by the Javits Center (where the congress was held) a few days earlier, and felt a spirit of love that moved him. He had asked for a pamphlet from a bystander, liked what he had read, and wanted to become a Bahá’í.

He could hardly wait to become Bahá’í, he said, and added that he had never before felt such an overwhelming spirit of fellowship. He was beaming with joy and was very excited about the Bahá’í Faith. My cousin and I took him to a restaurant where the man told us the story of how he had become homeless.

His house burned down, he said, and told us that a dog would be treated better than the way he was treated when going to the homeless shelters. We gave him the address of the Bahá’í Center in New York City and some money so he could contact the Bahá’ís there. During the whole evening, I could not help but be reminded of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk at the Bowery in lower Manhattan. My wish since then has been to meet this man again one day and let him know that the energy released from his embrace of the Bahá’í teachings on the oneness of humanity—especially during the World Congress—will no doubt have positive ripple effects for the blessed city of New York and beyond.

He is, as Abdu’l-Bahá said roughly one-hundred years ago, precious.

I’d like to close with a passage from Baha’u’llah:

“Be not troubled in poverty nor confident in riches, for poverty is followed by riches, and riches are followed by poverty. Yet to be poor in all save God is a wondrous gift, belittle not the value thereof, for in the end it will make thee rich in God, and thus thou shalt know the meaning of the utterance, “In truth ye are the poor,” and the holy words, “God is the all-possessing,” shall even as the true morn break forth gloriously resplendent upon the horizon of the lover’s heart, and abide secure on the throne of wealth.[2]”

============== References==================

Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 32)
Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words
http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats
Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting

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9 thoughts on “On Being In Love with the Poor

  1. If we consider the redistribution of wealth my dear Bahram, as decision makers, leaders, nations and countries, there will be no more poor people with the figures you highlighter, there will be no injustice…..
    God created natural resources not to be for a country among others as some may think since it is geographically there, baring in mind that people put those borders of geography not God!!
    Human beings are the most nobles among God’s creature and has many of his qualifications, therefore it is impossible that that the justice God excluded some human beings to get part of his wealth! so we must understand that its US as people who did so to each others or to part of us living on this earth…
    Considering the fulfilling the basic needs of food, cloth and shelter at least will keep the dignity of human beings and noble creatures as God created them in the first place, not the clear picture of the gap between wealth and poverty that we see nowadays…
    Again thank you for highlighting such a vital phenomena as your article’s topic, that made us think of how to be more justice and fair and equal among each others in God’s wealth NOT ours?
    Best of luck
    Randa

  2. Bahram,

    We all agree that the world is materially imbalanced. I don’t think there remains any doubt in any mind that the northern hemisphere has had the lion’s share of the Earth’s riches, while the developing countries have to suffer from the riches’ greed.

    Now that we have clearly addressed the issue, we must now discuss a realistic solution. I don’t think that if the whole world spends only 4 days a year (during Ayyam-i-Ha’) showing love to the poor as you have done. Shouldn’t we try to perform such acts of kindness every day?

    How can the general population and the governments of the world lend a helping hand to the poor? We all know that there are charities and NGOs that specialize in such matters, but is that adequate? Do you suggest levying a tax proportional to a man’s wealth to be distributed to the poor? What do you think about other forms of religious redistribution of wealth? (like Islamic Zakat (زكاة), Sadaqah (صدقة), or Baha’i Huqquq’ullah (حقوق الله))

    You conclude your article by mentioning that being poor is not a “bad thing”. While we both agree to place a greater importance and value on one’s virtues and actions rather than one’s material wealth, I don’t think it’s fair to completely ignore the necessity of (a small amount of) money. Personally, I couldn’t serve the community if I’m dying of hunger, nor could I unleash any potentials I may harbour if obstacles are set (for example, I couldn’t start a business if I don’t have any money to start with). Could you please shed some light on this subject? Thank you for your time and patience with my (relatively long) reply.

    Regards,
    Irfan

    1. Hi Irfan

      Thanks for your comments. In the Baha’i Faith, it is the large disparity between the rich and poor is the problem, and in a just society we will have both rich and poor but all will live in dignity where there is no extreme poverty or riches. Here is a quote by Abdul-Baha:

      “All the peoples of the world will enjoy like interests, and the poor shall possess a portion of the comforts of life. Just as the rich are surrounded by their luxuries in palaces, the poor will have at least their comfortable and pleasant places of abode; and just as the wealthy enjoy a variety of food, the needy shall have their necessities and no longer live in poverty. In short, a readjustment of the economic order will come about, the divine Sonship will attract, the Sun of Reality will shine forth, and all phenomenal being will attain a portion.”

      (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 102)

    2. Hi Irfan

      you said:

      “How can the general population and the governments of the world lend a helping hand to the poor? We all know that there are charities and NGOs that specialize in such matters, but is that adequate? Do you suggest levying a tax proportional to a man’s wealth to be distributed to the poor? What do you think about other forms of religious redistribution of wealth? (like Islamic Zakat (زكاة), Sadaqah (صدقة), or Baha’i Huqquq’ullah (حقوق الله)) ”

      With regards to your question of the means by which equity is achieved. I think the answer may be all of the above. My personal opinion is that unleashing of market forces (without any control)is efficient in creation of wealth but does not do a good job in distribution of wealth. The poor are the ones who get the raw deal where as the rich get more wealth than they deserve.

  3. There are various indexes that rather various countries by how good people are in them.

    Democracy Index
    Privacy Index
    International Property Rights Index
    Ease of Doing Business Index
    Failed States Index
    Globalization Index
    Global Peace Index
    Freedom in the World Index
    Freedom of the Press Index
    Press Freedom Index
    Economic Freedom of the World Index
    Index of Economic Freedom
    Bribe Payers Index
    corruption Perceptions Index
    Human Development Index
    Great Gatsby Curve

    Does the Gini coefficient really tell you anything about any given country or the world independent of the other above indices? Poverty isn’t the result of income inequality in those countries but rather other factors, of which income inequality is one symptom but is not the cause. Any two countries can have the same Gini coefficient, but be as different from night and day as each other because of different rankings in the other above indices.

    Foreign aid doesn’t help either. Look at the Corruption Perceptions Index. The countries who receive foreign aid are corrupt, hence the money only goes to governement officials not the poor.

    Bantam gives info on world poverty, but public policy can only solve poverty within ones own country. Generally how poor people are has more to do with lack of property rights, no ease in doing business, lack of economic oppurtunities than income inequality. It depends on whether you live in Denmark or Namibia as well.

  4. What a humble reminder for me to fall in love with the poor again, since we all know how uncomfortable and inconvenient to be poor:). With the economy as it is, a large portion of middle class will fall into poverty or low income class in this country, or other countries. There are so many reasons to separate wealth in the world: mental and physical conditions, education opportunities, employment and business opportunities. It depends on the society, and also depends on the individuals.

    When the society had a good system to provide the equal opportunities, there are also so many other factors to separate people and families into different levels of wealth. In general:

    1. To teach people how to fish, is better to give them fishes.
    2. We need to take care of the weak, sick, children and elderly since they lack the ability to fight for wealth.
    3. Everybody should take responsibility to take care of themselves and their families, so their families will not be poor.
    4. Even the rich should enjoy the palace, the poor should enjoy the park too. Matter of fact, some time poor people can lead happier lives if they had great attitude.

    I agree with Bahai’s attitude towards poor. Interestingly, he carried a lot of wealth himself, so he has the freedom to give the materials away when he decided to go to live with the poor. In short, rich people have options, and poor people don’t.

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