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Ask a Bahai: How can Hinduism and Islam be the word of God?

Ask a Bahai: How can Hinduism and Islam be the word of God?

By Daniel Pschaida

You believe that the Quran is ‘entirely authentic’ (as is stated in an answer), and you also follow a lot of the same principles, e.g., monotheism, but you recognize divine teachings from other religions as well, e.g., Hinduism. How can both Islam and Hinduism be word of God when one says that God is One and Only and the other believes in lots of gods and goddesses? This means that both come from different sources OR god himself does not know and is confused (which is impossible).

Thank you for your questions!

Here is the short answer to your question, summarizing a longer one further below:

  1. God is indeed one and has created all human beings at all times past and present.
  2. God created us all to be invited to the greatest gift and significance of our existence — the gift of a loving relationship with Him.
  3. To invite us to this relationship with Him, God has raised up messengers from among all peoples around the globe throughout history who have called us to worship our one Creator with sincerity and love and cultivate relationships with others characterized by kindness, compassion and honesty.
    • To do otherwise would be as parents who only cared for and educated a few of their seven children, forgetting about the others.
  4. The subcontinent of India has of course been included in these universal manifestations of loving-kindness: messengers who have taught to adore one God and to treat each other with kindness, amity and honesty. We find such monotheistic and ethical teachings as a prominent tradition among the many religious traditions labeled under the wide umbrella of Hinduism.
  5. There are indeed also non-monotheistic teachings in Hinduism of various sorts, e.g., that there are many individual and distinct gods to worship (“hard” polytheism), that there are many valid gods but a person should just worship one at a time (henotheism or kathenotheism), or that each god is really just a different name and form/personality of the one Supreme Being, and, so, it is fine to worship any of one of them a person chooses (“soft” polytheism).
  6. Hinduism isn’t alone among world religions in having some teachings and practices in harmony with Bahá’í teachings and others not in harmony. The Bahá’í Faith accepts and celebrates those religious teachings and scriptures of each religion in the same spirit and truths of the Bahá’í Revelation. While, in its spirit and goal of the unification of the entire human race, the Bahá’í Faith focuses on the good instead of spending a lot of time and energy criticizing or censuring that which is in conflict with Bahá’í teachings.
  7. Likewise, the Bahá’í Faith teaches to focus on and celebrate the good in fellow human beings as acts of loving friendship, rather than creating unhelpful conflict and contention by hyper-focusing on the negative, and to find points of unity and shared values.
  8. Individual Bahá’ís come from every religious and cultural background — each of which have some elements in harmony with Bahá’í teachings and others which are in conflict. Bahá’u’lláh calls upon His followers to grow with those positive elements and also replace in ourselves those elements contrary to His teachings with those patterns of thought, attitude, laws and ethics that He has decreed that are conducive to the transformative, loving relationship with God and with each other. 

The Longer Answer:

The Bahá’í Faith does indeed proclaim that there is indeed one and only one God (monotheism), rather than there being any kind of multiplicity of the Supreme, Absolute Being — Creator of all existence.

This one Being created all of existence to unfold and disclose the divine names or attributes, as signs (ayāt in the Qur’an and Bahá’í Writings) of the Fashioner of the universe. 

Of all beings, God — out of infinite love and tender care for us — created human beings with a unique capacity to develop a relationship with our Fashioner by our own choice and commitment, assisted by Divine mercy and grace, coming to know and love God, and become aware of God’s constant Presence within our own hearts.

This is the basis of Bahá’í teachings of the unity of religions that “The underlying foundation of the religions is one; there is no intrinsic difference between them.” (‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 99)

In other words, since the very purpose of our lives is to respond to God’s invitation to recognize “Am I not your Lord?” (Qur’an 7:172), in the various regions of the world throughout different time periods, God would not allow humans of any society at any time to be deprived of such a relationship with our Creator. To do otherwise would be as if wealthy parents who — despite their abundant resources and all their children having wonderful potentials — choose to formally educate only two of their seven children, which would be most unjust.

This teaching is repeated often in the Bahá’í writings and guidance. Here are two selections:

“The manifold bounties of the Lord of all beings have, at all times, through the Manifestations of His divine Essence, encompassed the earth and all that dwell therein. Not for a moment hath His grace been withheld, nor have the showers of His loving-kindness ceased to rain upon mankind.”Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 14

“The mercy of God encircles all mankind, that not a single individual is deprived of the mercy of God, and no soul is denied the resplendent bestowals of God. The whole human race is submerged in the sea of the mercy of the Lord, and we are all the sheep of the one divine Shepherd.”‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 444

In this context, we can understand why and how the Bahá’í Faith teaches that religious traditions of such diverse cultures as those of India, China, the African continent or the Americas contain elements of the one God’s inspiration. In fact, these cultures are not just different from one another but quite diverse within their areas of the globe, with thousands of cultures and indigenous religious traditions within Africa itself.

Within India, the diverse religious traditions of what’s under the umbrella term ‘Hinduism’ not only are often divergent from each other, but fierce debates have proceeded throughout history of various religious teachers and gurus of the sanatana dharma (eternal religion) of India, sometimes as fierce as competing teachers of different denominations within Christianity who have debated over  the nature of Jesus (Is he God, a prophet, or something in between?) or salvation (e.g., Must we act in God’s way or is faith in Jesus enough?).

Yet, despite divergent and contradictory elements, knowing and loving the one God and learning to live by His spiritual characteristics — such as kindness, justice, honesty and beauty — have been taught at times in each region of every continent, so that all people have the potential to fulfill the very meaning and purpose of our lives:

“There is none other God but Him. He hath called into being His creatures, that they may know Him, Who is the Compassionate, the All-Merciful. Unto the cities of all (kulli medīnah) nations He hath sent His Messengers (rasūlan), Whom He hath commissioned to announce unto men tidings of the Paradise of His good pleasure (bi-Riḍwān), and to draw them nigh unto the Haven of abiding security, the Seat of eternal holiness and transcendent glory.”Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 144-5

Likewise, the Qur’an 16:36 says, “And verily We have raised in every (kulli) ummatin (nation/community/people) a messenger (rasūlan) (who proclaim), ‘Worship God and shun ṭāghūt (idolatry/evil).”

Just because God established the right way among every people and culture, does not mean that elements contradictory to God’s pure way were not also mixed in around it. The Biblical history of the Jewish people, and the religious history in the Qur’an, are full of stories about people who either outright denied God’s human messengers or in which people added elements of idolatry and evil, either immediately or over multiple generations.

Within Hinduism itself, we find teachings of one personal God or one Absolute Being beyond physical representation and to live purely with justice, kindness, reverence for all people and animals and integrity. Yet, we also find teachings of there being many gods, that God can be known and worshipped by their murti (paintings and sculptures) — or even that in a murti is literally the presence of the divine being.

Cultural and religious diversity is celebrated within the Bahá’í Faith, as enriching and adorning our world. Bahá’ís come from every religious and cultural background, and we are encouraged to perpetuate those elements of our background not contrary to the Bahá’í teachings. 

What if a practice is contrary to the Bahá’í teachings? Some (those certainly not all or most) Hindus have practiced elements that I believe to be immoral, e.g., human sacrifice (i.e., killing a human life as a religious offering) and/or ritual self-immolation of widows (a.k.a. sati).  Meanwhile, Christians have killed Christians, and Muslims have killed Muslims, over differences in religious belief/practice or national identity, yet each of these religions teach the sanctity and infinite value of each human life.

Marital rape is an acceptable practice among various cultures. Consuming alcohol is a prominent practice among people of many cultures and religions. Each of these practices are contrary to Bahá’í teachings, and in these cases — for Bahá’ís that may be from cultures or religions in which this was acceptable or encouraged — the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh become his or her new standard:

“Verily this is that Most Great Beauty, foretold in the Books of the Messengers, through Whom truth shall be distinguished from error and the wisdom of every command shall be tested.”Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Aḥmád

“Say: O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established amongst men. In this most perfect balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed…”Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas

“By Him Who is the Great Announcement! The All-Merciful is come invested with undoubted sovereignty. The Balance hath been appointed, and all them that dwell on earth have been gathered together.”Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 40

This is also the reference and standard for traditional practices of worshipping various images and statues considered god:

“O people of the world! Build ye houses of worship throughout the lands in the name of Him Who is the Lord of all religions. Make them as perfect as is possible in the world of being, and adorn them with that which befitteth them, not with images and effigies. Then, with radiance and joy, celebrate therein the praise of your Lord, the Most Compassionate. Verily, by His remembrance the eye is cheered and the heart is filled with light.”Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas

One of the most famous Bahá’í houses of worship in the world, the Lotus Temple in India, honors this traditional symbol of spirituality of India — the lotus which may arise from the mud to sit pure and beautiful upon the water — and built by the Indian people themselves. Yet you do not find statues and images inside it, as this article discusses and these pictures show.

As to the part of your question regarding the Word of God and the holy Qur’an being the only other scripture, besides the Bahá’í Writings, which the Bahá’í Faith affirms to be entirely authentic, i.e., the word-for-word Word of God:

Yes, while scriptures of other religions — such as Hinduism — likely have some inspired scripture (those teachings in Hindu scripture entirely in harmony with Bahá’í teachings can of-course be listened to with a reverent heart), and to this extent can be considered ‘word of God,’ such scriptures as a whole are not regarded by the Bahá’í Faith as necessarily word-for-word Word of God and must be approached with some caution and care.

Here are two scripture quotes from Hinduism that I personally appreciate, whatever their status in God’s own eyes as being His own inspired word or not (and verily God knows best!):

“I am the universal Father, Mother, Granter of All, Grandfather, Object of Knowledge, Purifier, holy syllable OM … I am the Way, Sustainer, Lord, Witness, Shelter, Refuge, Friend, Source…Treasure …” Bhagavad Gita, ninth teaching

“One who bears hate for no creature is friendly, compassionate, unselfish, free of individuality, patient, the same in suffering and joy.  Content always, disciplined, self-controlled, firm in his resolve, his mind and understanding dedicated to me, devoted to me, he is dear to me.” Bhagavad Gita, twelfth teaching

Indeed, one finds in the Bahá’í houses of worship in the world, such as the Lotus Temple in India pictured above, programs that include readings — that are in harmony with the Bahá’í teachings — from scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and other indigenous traditions as well as the Qur’an and Bahá’í Revelation. These houses of worship each have nine-sides — a number that as the largest single-digit number (containing 1-8) — symbolizes harmony, completeness and unity. The Bahá’í houses of worship are dedicated to the unity of humanity and unity of religion, and one way they do this is to celebrate that which is good and beautiful in the religious traditions of the myriad cultures around the world.  

Queen Marie of Romania was the first royalty to become a Bahá’í, 99 years ago in 1923. I believe she articulated beautifully this spirit of inclusion in one of her tributes to the Bahá’í teachings:

“The Baha’i teaching brings peace and understanding. It is like a wide embrace gathering together all those who have long searched for words of hope. It accepts all great Prophets gone before, it destroys no other creeds and leaves all doors open. Saddened by the continual strife amongst believers of many confessions and wearied of their intolerance towards each other, I discovered in the Baha’i teaching the real spirit of Christ so often denied and misunderstood: Unity instead of strife, Hope instead of condemnation, Love instead of hate, and a great reassurance for all men.”

Further reading:

For one of the first detailed studies of a Bahá’í analyzing the relationship between Hinduism and the Bahá’í Faith, see Moojan Momen’s book on the topic, an electronic presentation of which can be found here. Chapter 1: Darshana, particularly the “Brahman” and “The Question of Idolatry” may be particular useful to your questions.

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