Scholars have determined that no language on earth even contained a word or phrase for the concept of human rights before the year 1400. In 1789, the first nations to adopt formal definitions of human rights — the United States with its Bill of Rights and France with its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – limited those rights to white, property-owning males. The first truly egalitarian, global human rights document emerged from the United Nations in 1948 – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now the basis for international law, the UDHR has become, in the 65 years of its existence, the most-translated document in the history of the world.
But almost a century before the UN developed and promulgated the UDHR, the Baha’i Faith became the first religion to call for universal human rights. Baha’u’llah taught that every country must recognize the common global citizenship rights of all its peoples: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” Abdu’l-Baha, speaking in Europe and North America in 1911 and 1912, reinforced the Baha’i concept of universal human rights:
Baha’u'llah taught that an equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted. In the estimation of God all men are equal; there is no distinction or preferment for any soul in the dominion of His justice and equity. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 181.This early, radical advocacy raised a truly global Baha’i voice for guaranteed rights for all human beings. In his speeches, addresses and writings Abdu’l-Baha repeatedly pointed out the sheer absurdity of national, racial and gender-based prejudices, which granted rights to some but denied them to others:
…the world of humanity is one race, the surface of the earth one place of residence and these imaginary racial barriers and political boundaries are without right or foundation. Man is degraded in becoming the captive of his own illusions and suppositions. The earth is one earth, and the same atmosphere surrounds it. No difference or preference has been made by God for its human inhabitants; but man has laid the foundation of prejudice, hatred and discord with his fellowman by considering nationalities separate in importance and races different in rights and privileges. - The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 231.Because of the strong Baha’i emphasis on human rights, the elected institutions of the Baha’i Faith have long made global human rights a high priority. The Baha’i International Community works closely with the United Nations to extend human rights protections to everyone, including the extremely poor, prisoners of conscience, women and children, the disabled and those who belong to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. In 2010 The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected governing body of the Baha’is of the world, issued this statement on gay rights:
With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights… Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.
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