In this scholarly work, Janet and Peter Khan present the theological grounding, social context, historical action, and modern implementation of the concept of “equality between the sexes” as found in the Bahá‘í Faith. Well researched and clearly written, the book has much to offer to those who, from any background, wish to better understand the underpinnings and the implications of this critical spiritual principle.
The authors begin with a brief introduction to the religion, followed by an attempt to define equality and an exploration of the role of family. Within these chapters, the Khans acknowledge the impact of inequality, as well as the challenges and critiques faced by those who propose to work for it. They continue by stating in clear terms the mutual and distinct expectations for women and men within Bahá‘í religious law.
Not content with mere words, the next chapters explore how the leading figures within the religion have delivered on the promise of equality. They show the deeds and exhortations of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá‘u’lláh; his son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian; and the Universal House of Justice. These chapters are illustrated by passages showing the personal touch and active engagement of each of these “heads of the Faith.” In closing, the Khans move from mere explication to active encouragement. They advocate for the tangible application of this principle in each individual’s life, in the dynamics of family, and in the community interactions of all societies.
The Khans have done well in preventing the book from being laden with religious and feminist jargon. Terms are clearly explained when introduced, and a glossary is provided to help readers overcome any unfamiliarity with key figures, institutions, and terms within the Bahá‘í Faith. All quotations are fully attributed in the end notes, thus the pages are not cluttered with footnotes. In addition, a bibliography of the Bahá‘í literature is included to give proper credit to all those works that contributed to the genesis of this one.
The topic remains a timely one. Although much progress has been made toward the goal of the practical realization of sex equality, just as with race, the results are uneven and sporadic. I recommend Advancement of Women to anyone wishing to better understand the Bahá‘í Faith, and even more so to those who seek a critical, action-oriented, and yet deeply spiritual assessment of the role of women in society.
Review of Advancement of Women: A Bahá‘í Perspective, by Janet A. Khan and Peter J. Khan. Published in 2003 by Bahá‘í Publishing, 415 Linden Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091. No goods or services were received in return for this review.