Question How can you distinguish real holy men from charlatans?
JACK MCLEAN is a Bahà’i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Bahà’i theology and poetry
The question carries a supposition and begs a question. It supposes that a faculty of discernment exists. If discernment is absent, then we can expect the charlatan — a euphemism for the hypocrite — to fool some of the people some of the time. The second point is this: what is the definition of holiness? One person’s holiness may not be another’s.
In the life of faith, everything depends upon credibility; credibility depends upon example. Professed religious persons know that they must strive sincerely to be a living example of their chosen spirituality. Faith in our day must be translated into active service to society. To be true, holiness must be tried and tested in adversity.
The simplest answer is, of course, that the charlatan does not walk the walk. He or she seriously betrays some cardinal virtue(s) befitting the religious life: a violation of chastity; greed; the love of luxury; illegal or immoral business practices; intemperance and so forth. Charlatans prey on the weak, the innocent and the naïve, using their religion for self-satisfaction.
Bahá’ís are fortunate in having ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), as the ideal model of every spiritual virtue. Let some of the 10,000 souls who attended his funeral on Nov. 28, 1921 in Haifa speak for themselves.
Nine speakers from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, all the notables of the British administration and foreign delegations, gathered on Mount Carmel to lay ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to rest.
It was an interfaith funeral, quite unlike any other ever held in the Holy Land. Salomon Bouzaglo, one of the leading figures of the Jewish community in Haifa, described ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as having been “the living example of self-sacrifice”; a Christian writer declared that he lived “the life of the Messenger and Apostles of God”; the Mufti of Haifa spoke of “the beautiful and wondrous story of his life, spent in doing that which is right and good.” Real holy men are distinguished by their deeds — whatever their religion.
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