Bahai Year of Patience

I am a Bahá’í, and I have noticed there to be a lack of good information for Bahá’ís on or contemplating a Year of Patience. So I set up this blog to help out those looking for more information and a deeper understanding of Baha’i Marriage.

This helpful information below is from the UK Bahá’í Journal

In His Name,

~Chad

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Not the end of marriage, but the beginning of reconciliation

By Nabil Mustapha

The Bahá’í marriage is based on two essential prerequisites: “agreement” between the two partners, and “consent” of all living parents of both partners. It is an expression of love and commitment, to Bahá’u’lláh and to each other. In spite of all the difficulty in achieving the ideals of Bahá’í marriage, it is nevertheless apparent in modern society, and indeed probably all Bahá’í societies, that there is a level of maturity and understanding of the value of the institution of marriage. Accordingly, marriage is entered upon with the solemnity, dignity, and respect that it commands, topped up with the joy that it engenders and the hope that it is built upon.

Alas, these hopes and aspirations do become thwarted in some cases, and difficulties do arise and the couple may reach an irreconcilable situation. It is not the purpose of this article to delve into the reasons whereby that situation could arise, or the means of avoiding them. It is important, however, to recognize that divorce is, regrettably, an outcome that no society can claim to be devoid of, Bahá’í society included. It had almost been proscribed in Christianity, made rather easier in Islam, and in the Bahá’í teachings, divorce is “discouraged, deprecated, and against the good pleasure of God.”

So, while “Divorce is strongly condemned in the Bahá’í Teachings,” “it is permissible should antipathy or resentment develop between the marriage partners” but only “after the lapse of one full year.” This year is termed the year of patience.

All this is probably common knowledge within the Bahá’í communities. The real questions arise when we delve further into the teachings to see the wisdom and the requirements during this year of patience.

  1. First and foremost, “Shoghi Effendi affirms that both the husband and wife ‘have equal rights to ask for divorce’ whenever either partner ‘feels it absolutely essential to do so.’” But by the same token, in their coming back together: “Both parties must be content; unless both are willing, reunion cannot take place.”
  2. Second, and no less important: “During this year of patience, the husband is obliged to provide for the financial support of his wife and children.”
  3. Third: even when the decision is made to proceed with the divorce, the year of patience is not automatically commenced. It is the duty of the couple to notify a Local or National Spiritual Assembly.
  4. Fourth: “When a Spiritual Assembly receives an application for Bahá’í divorce, its first duty is to try to reconcile the couple. If this is not possible, and the couple separate, further efforts of reconciliation should be made during the ensuing year.” To stress this point, the process is described further in another letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice as follows: “The procedure, briefly, is that when a Spiritual Assembly receives and application for divorce its first duty is to try to reconcile the couple. When it determines that this is not possible, it should then set the date of the beginning of the year of waiting.”

In spite of all the emphasis on the preliminary phases that need to be gone through before the start of the year of patience, the Guardian further emphasizes that this essential and critical phase is to be entered upon by both partners with the full understanding and total commitment “to reconcile their differences.”

Needless to say, the process of reconciliation is not easy. Couples can find themselves unable to reconcile, an unfortunate end result. When this happens, the divorce, sadly, will take place.

However, it is important to appreciate that the year of patience can be terminated, and “The parties may withdraw their application for Bahá’í divorce at any time during the year of waiting.” Entry into the year of patience therefore is not a one-way route to divorce. It is a period of reflection, prayers, and the continuation of the reconciliation process.

The hope is that the couple use the separation as a means to concentrate their thoughts and allow emotions to settle. They should embark on a process for the development of a sincere desire to discover new pathways which would allow them to regain the “magic” that fired up the hearts of the two concerned in those early days when passion and hope ruled supreme.

The couple may find that they are beginning to appreciate the “commonalities” between them. They would strive to find the ability to accommodate the differences between them, and may find that they had exaggerated what they had identified as “incompatibilities” that inevitably surface within any marriage. Resuming the union should assiduously be pursued. It is not a period of embarrassment or shame, and most notably, it is not a period that allows the notion within any of the partners that “going back is not an option.”

Nevertheless, going back should not be for the wrong reasons. It is safe to say that “going back” should only be for valid genuine reasons and emotions, and not for “face saving.” Going back should never be thought of as capitulation or bowing to (peer or family) pressure. The year of patience is when the best attempts should be made to reach the state of rededication to the original pledges upon which the union started in the first place.

Indeed, Bahá’u’lláh accepts that even in the year of patience the “fragrance of affection” could be “renewed.” The couple could rejoin.

If however, renewed “antipathy” sets in and they separate again, the date of commencement should be recalculated so that the year of patience extends for a clear whole year.

Are these principles applied?

Many of us are aware of cases of divorce within our communities, or even our own families. We are aware of divorces within society at large, and within our smaller Bahá’í communities. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: “Formerly in Persia divorce was very easily obtained. Among the people of the past Dispensation a trifling matter would cause divorce. However, as the light of the Kingdom shone forth, souls were quickened by the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh, then they totally eschewed divorce.

Moreover, the Guardian states: “There is no doubt about it that the believers in America, probably unconsciously influenced by the extremely lax morals prevalent and the flippant attitude towards divorce which seems to be increasingly prevailing, do not take divorce seriously enough and do not seem to grasp the fact that although Bahá’u’lláh has permitted it, He has only permitted it as a last resort and strongly condemns it.”

While these two statements reflect the situation within two distinctly different societies, they agree on one thing: that divorce, either because of tradition or laxity, can be taken lightly. In our western society, theorists (mainly so-called progressive socialists) come up with one reason after another to ease the concept of divorce on people’s minds, and to reinforce notions that make it the “preferred option.” This attitude is fast catching up throughout the world. It is an attitude that we Bahá’ís should not be drawn into.

It is significant that governments have started to see the value of a “cooling off” period for the couple to reflect, rethink, and possibly benefit from some advice or counseling. Some governments have even legislated for a period of six months to a year before the legal divorce is allowed. The UK has recently legislated for this, and even in the Islamic society of Tunisia, the government passed a similar law some years ago. Other governments are fast catching up. The value of such a period of reflection and reconsideration is thus accepted on principle.

Non-Bahá’í societies, however, may not appreciate or benefit from, the spiritual teachings surrounding the year of patience as described above, and may not have the wise and spiritually loaded scriptures that should let us value the institution of marriage as the bulwark and solid basis upon which a secure and stable society can be built, and within which children can grow in the secure surrounds of love, stability, and spirituality.

It is sad to mention that many of the cases that come to our administrative bodies do not adhere to the above principles. Indeed, many would come to the Spiritual Assemblies at the final stages of the year of patience. Not only that, but the Assemblies are often faced with a situation where even the start of the year of patience is not agreed upon or identified.

Bahá’u’lláh safeguards against this by setting out “the criterion of justness” in making it necessary for two “just” witnesses to testify to the start of the year of patience. It is not necessary for these witnesses to be Bahá’ís since “the testimony of all God’s servants, of whatever faith or creed, is acceptable before His throne.” However, “in relation to the witnesses, the Universal House of Justice has clarified that in these days the duties of the witnesses in cases of divorce are performed by the Spiritual Assemblies.”

Many friends do not appreciate that separation must indeed be separation, physically and domestically. The couple must not be under one roof. And certainly there must not be any sexual intercourse. “Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is forbidden during the year of patience, and whoso committeth this act must seek God’s forgiveness.” Bahá’u’lláh equates this to adultery, unless it is a sign of return to affection, amity, and the cancellation of the year of patience.

These are but some examples of how often the year of patience is wasted simply because the couple and all those around them look at the mechanics of the year of patience and not its wisdom. Separation of the couple may be understood.

Sadly, often it is not always considered as a reason for soul searching, praying, and asking for help. Such help is best provided by a Spiritual Assembly, either directly or through an appointed representative or group. Family, friends, and so-called do-gooders may sincerely wish to help, but the independence and unbiased input of the Spiritual Assembly as well as its prayers as a body, and its wisdom, all make that channel the preferred first “port of call.”

The difficulty, very often, is that the couple do not overcome their inhibition and may lack real appreciation of the value of our administrative bodies and their pastoral and protective role within the Bahá’í communities. That role is so valuable, and must be appreciated and tapped.

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If you enjoyed this article or have something to share about Baha’i Marriage, please leave a comment.

For more information on the Year of Patience, visit the US Bahai Site here:

Bahai Marriage and Family Life – Year of Patience

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