The first right of the people, before all their other rights on earth, is the right of access to His Word ‘unadulterated and unobscured by unwarrantable inferences or unauthorized interpretations’.
That is to say, in reality the spiritual rights exist before the earthly rights. From the beginning of civilization the spiritual rights have paved the way for the existence of the secular rights.
This reality hasn’t been perceived because the people must needs first evolve through the development of their earthly – that is, secular – rights in order to have the capacity to comprehend their spiritual rights. Other than this necessary relationship the spiritual rights are incomparable for these are the true freedoms which pertain to the world of the Kingdom.
The first freedom then is the right to access His Word free of “unwarrantable inferences or unauthorized interpretations”1.
That is to say, this access must be free of the adulterations and obscuring dust created primarily by the self-appointed leaders of religion. These are the ones who speak as if from authority but without having first been given permission to promote the “opinion” of their own inferences and interpretations.
Such as these infringe on the rights of the people. Furthermore, through infringing upon the rights of the people they infringe upon the rights of God. That is, God has a purpose in giving humanity these rights.
In order to understand this one must perceive how each right is in fact preceded by a duty which exists through the command of God, independently from whether or not the people arise to fulfill it. Thus it is actually through the implicit permission of its duty that the right attains any existence or power at all.
As each right is preceded by a duty, thus even the first right is preceded by a first duty. (Likewise the explication of the first duty2 preceded this explication of the first right.)
This first duty has already been mentioned as it was set forth in the opening declaration of Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book:
“The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Day Spring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who represents the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation.”
This duty is what establishes that right of access to His Word.
For How – if not for the Word – are the people enabled to recognize the Manifestation?
How – if not for Recognition of His Manifestation – are the people enabled to know God?
And even beyond that:
How – if not for the extent to which they have been enabled to know Him – are the people enabled to worship God?
From this we can perceive that the worldly conditions complained of with these 3 howling woes are due to the lack of fulfillment of these duties and this in turn has been caused by those who have infringed on God’s Rights, and by doing so they overturned the foundation of all human rights.
In both the disease and in its cure we can perceive the signs of God’s perfect Justice. He does not demand of us that which we are truly unable to fulfill. And also in this we witness the signs of His perfect Mercy. For if a person was truly too powerless to overcome the circumstances which prevented them from adequately fulfilling a duty then surely they could take refuge in the reality of His Forgiveness. For in the Balance of the all-Informed, Justice is accompanied by Mercy.
Nevertheless, in such circumstances we are still required to make an effort and if we are sincere in that effort we can trust with absolute certainty that we will be rewarded in like measure.
“The All-Merciful has conferred upon humanity the faculty of vision, and endowed it with the power of hearing. Some have described it as the ‘lesser world,’ when, in reality, it should be regarded as the ‘greater world.’ The potentialities inherent in the human station, the full measure of its destiny on earth, the innate excellence of its reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God. The Pen of the Most High has, at all times and under all conditions, remembered, with joy and tenderness, His loved ones, and has counseled them to follow in His way. Well is it with one whom the changes and chances of this world have failed to deter from recognizing the Day Spring of the Unity of God, who has quaffed, with unswerving resolve, and in the name of the Self-Subsisting, the sealed wine of His Revelation. Such a one shall be numbered with the inmates of Paradise, in the Book of God, the Lord of all worlds.”3
The significance of the relationship between duties and rights is one of the meanings alluded to in the Qur’anic verse:
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant Star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah guides whom He will to His Light: Allah sets forth parables for men: and Allah knows all things.”4
This means also that it is not of their own deserving that the people receive the Light but that this is by the Favor and Grace of God. It is through this Favor and Grace that the people are enabled to fulfill their duty. For without this assistance they would not be able to do so. Therefore, the actualization of this right of access to the Word is contingent upon striving to fulfill the duty which precedes it. This is the oil from which the virgins fill their lamps.
Furthermore, each right is in turn succeeded by another duty which in turn supports the previous right and also leads to yet another right. “Light upon Light.” Thus God’s cyclic scheme is witnessed to be the foundation of both Creation and Civilization.
1 Shoghi Effendi (World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 24)
2 For an explanation of the first duty see “Recognition Part 1”
3 Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, CLXII (all quotes converted to modern English)
4 Qur’an 24:35 (modernized Yusuf Ali translation)