Saturday 4 December 2010

Free Audio Version of A Traveller's Narrative by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

My recording of A Traveller's Narrative has just been catalogued and released at! A Traveller's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb is a work by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the Centre of the Covenant and appointed successor of Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. It was originally published anonymously but the Author is none other than ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself. It was written in 1886 and first published in the original Persian in Bombay in 1890. Edward G. Browne obtained a copy of the book while travelling throughout Iran and published an English translation in 1891 (Cambridge University Press). My recording is based on Browne's translation.

Edward G. Browne

“This book is the history of a proscribed and persecuted sect written by one of themselves,” writes Professor Edward Granville Browne. “After suffering in silence for nigh upon half a century, they at length find voice to tell their tale and offer their apology. Of this voice I am the interpreter.”

This work is the story of the life of the Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad-i-Shírází (1819-1850), known as the “Báb”, which is Arabic for “Gate”. He claimed to be none other than the Promised One of Islám and a new Manifestation of God. He also proclaimed that He was the Gate, Herald and Forerunner of an even greater Manifestation of God who would come soon after Him, the Promised One of all religions and Return of Christ in the Glory of the Father, Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí-yi-Núrí (1817-1892), known as Bahá’u’lláh (Arabic for “The Glory of God”). The followers of the Báb were known as Bábís. When Bahá’u’lláh declared His mission in 1863, most Bábís accepted Him as the Manifestation foretold by the Báb. Bahá’u’lláh’s followers then became known as Bahá’ís. This book also describes Bahá’u’lláh’s exile and His teachings. Edward G. Browne continued to refer to Bahá’ís as Bábís, but this isn’t quite correct, as the Bahá’í Faith represents a new religious dispensation and is now recognised as the second most widespread religion on the planet and most recent of the great world religions.

‘Abbás Effendí, also known by the title of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Arabic for “Servant of the Glory”), was the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and leader of the Bahá’í Faith after Bahá’u’lláh’s passing. Browne, who met the Author in Palestine, writes (p. xxxvi.) that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was “a tall strongly-built man holding himself straight as an arrow, with white turban and raiment, long black locks reaching almost to the shoulder, broad powerful forehead indicating a strong intellect combined with an unswerving will, eyes keen as a hawk's, and strongly-marked but pleasing features… One more eloquent of speech, more ready of argument, more apt of illustration, more intimately acquainted with the sacred books of the Jews, the Christians, and the Muhammadans, could, I should think, scarcely be found even amongst the eloquent, ready, and subtle race to which he belongs”.

I decided not to read the whole introduction by E.G. Browne. Instead, I have recorded just the first three pages thereof (pp. vii. – ix.), which give a brief explanation of the work. While the introduction is very interesting, it is also very long, constituting a narrative in itself, and may distract the reader from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s story. The remainder of the introduction contains a lot of useful information, including Browne’s account of how he became interested in the Bábí and Bahá’í Faiths (pp. ix. – xx.) and his famous verbal portrait of Bahá’u’lláh (pp. xxxix. – xl.). The entire introduction would best be read as part of a short works collection. I have also omitted E.G. Browne’s footnotes, which often contain long quotations in Arabic or Persian or otherwise distract the reader from the narrative. Likewise, the long notes at the end of the book have been omitted.

LibriVox is a tremendous way of producing public domain, freely accessible Bahá'í literature. One needs only find a public domain Bahá'í text (and there are many at Internet Archive, Google Books, H-Net, etc.), create an account at the LibriVox forum, read the Newbie Guide to Recording, submit a 1-minute test  (to check one's settings are correct) and then one can begin to bring the world of Bahá'í literature to life in an audio format, so that the waiting masses of humanity can hear and appreciate the Word of God and the Divine Teachings. This is a great service to the Faith, that any Bahá'í can do.

If you like this recording, you will also like my recordings of:

Talks by Abdul-Baha Given in Paris by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The Myserious Forces of Civilization by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The Bahai Revelation by Thornton Chase
In Galilee by Thornton Chase
The Universal Religion: Bahaism - Its Rise and Social Import by Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney
The Revelation of Baha-ullah in a Sequence of Four Lessons by Isabella D. Brittingham

For more Bahá'í recordings which I have completed, see: My Audiobooks

Friday 5 November 2010

Free Audio Version of The Universal Religion by Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney

Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney (1873-1928)

I've recently completed an audiobook recording of The Universal Religion: Bahaism - Its Rise and Social Import by Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney. This audiobook, as with all LibriVox audiobooks, is in the public domain and freely downloadable. One can find a pdf version of the text of this book here.

The book is over 100 years old but it still speaks to the modern mind. Hippolyte presents the Bahá’í Faith as he understood it, giving a brief outline of its history and explaining its import for society and the future. Although a turn-of-the-century man, Hippolyte had a vision that was futuristic, for the message he presents is not a human, transitory one, but the message of Bahá'u'lláh, the Manifestation of God for this day and age. The message of Bahá'u'lláh cannot be said to be dated. It is a message for this age and outlines the pattern of the future society. Bahá'u'lláh's teachings and writings were not wholly available in the West and had yet to be more fully explained and elaborated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. Nevertheless, the central message was understood and the principal goal of the Faith known to every believing Bahá’í—the unification of mankind in "one universal Cause, one common Faith" (Gleanings, CXX., pp. 254-255).

“Bahaism is not a new religion,” writes Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney, “It is religion renewed… it does not pretend to represent the whole Truth; on the contrary, it recognises Truth in fundamental principles which are the basis of all former dispensations, and which for that very reason form the standpoint of concord too long lost sight of. And it requires people to renounce ancient superstitions, to abandon the dead letter in order to be penetrated by the living and vivifying spirit, then by that very means it confirms the original purity of their religion, whilst helping them to know and love everything profoundly beautiful in the others… it will suffice for me to indicate that the Bahais believe that from all eternity God has raised up among human creatures higher beings who have inculcated mankind with the great moral principles on which societies are founded, and have thus been the supreme guides of its evolution.”

Hippolyte Dreyfus earned his doctorate in law in February 1898 and became the first French Bahá’í in 1901. In 1903 he gave up his legal career to devote himself to oriental studies. He enrolled at the École pratique des hautes études university in Paris, where he studied Arabic and Persian to be able to translate the Bahá’í writings into French. He was one of the only Western Bahá’ís of his generation to received such formal training. He was the author of numerous books, articles and translations of the Bahá’í faith. Dreyfus-Barney attained in September 1902 with an American Bahá’í, Lua Getsinger, an audience with Muzaffaru’d-Din Shah in Paris.

Muzaffaru'd-Dín Sháh Qájár (1853 - 1907)

During this meeting the Shah was personally handed a petition to protect their co-religionists in Iran. After his marriage (1911) with the American Bahá’í Laura Clifford Barney, he adopted the name Dreyfus-Barney. He also traveled to numerous countries and represented the Bahá’ís in legal disputes. He died on 20 December 1928 and was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. He was posthumously appointed by Shoghi Effendi as one of the 19 Disciples of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

NOTE: Please note that the term Bahaism is no longer used by Bahá’ís. The appropriate term is the Bahá’í Faith.

Monday 11 October 2010

Free Audio Version of the Mysterious Forces of Civilization

I've recently completed an audiobook recording of the Mysterious Forces of Civilization by 'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Mysterious Forces of Civilization (Persian: Risálih-i-Madaníyyih) is a work written before 1875 by ‘Abbás Effendí, known as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (the Servant of Bahá) (1844-1921). The Persian text was first lithographed in Bombay in 1882 and printed in Cairo in 1911. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the eldest son and appointed successor of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. The original text of this work was written and published anonymously, and the first English translation (by Johanna Dawud) was published in London in 1910 and Chicago in 1918, under the title ‘Mysterious Forces of Civilization’ written by "an Eminent Bahai Philosopher." This audiobook is based on the 1918 edition. Another translation was completed by Marzieh Gail and published in 1957, with an introduction by Horace Holley. The title was re-translated as “The Secret of Divine Civilization”.

The book was widely known in its time as an attempt to improve the degraded condition of Persia (Iran). The author frequently references current issues that were being debated, such as whether to modernize and accept Western technology, or to reject Western culture and rely on technology developed in Persia and the Islamic world.

There are many public domain Bahá’í texts available online (including scanned pdfs at Internet Archive). Others can be found at Bahá’í Library Online and H-Net Baha'i (both in English/French and Arabic/Persian). In general, works are in the public domain (in the US) if they were published before 1923. Only works which are public domain in the United States can be recorded for LibriVox, because files are stored in the Internet Archive, which is based in the US. More books (published after 1923) will apparently enter the public domain in the Holy Year 2019, thus increasing the number of potential Bahá’í audiobooks that could be recorded for LibriVox.

Nevertheless, many great Bahá’í books were published before 1923 and I look forward to seeing many more of them available as public domain audiobooks. It would be great to see more Bahá’ís involved in LibriVox and other projects to make free public domain Bahá’í audiobooks, so that the teachings may become more widely available in an audio format, for the benefit of all the waiting masses that shall enter into the Faith "by troops" (Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, v. 270, p. 135).

Monday 4 October 2010

Free Audio Version of Paris Talks by 'Abdu'l-Bahá

I've recently completed my recording of Paris Talks (a.k.a. Talks by Abdul Baha Given in Paris) from an old, public domain edition available on Internet Archive (see here). Before recording, I divided it into 39 short sections, worked out the word counts, etc. and set it up as a solo project on the LibriVox forums. LibriVox is a volunteer initiative to record every book available in the public domain. As one can imagine, there are millions of books in the world (I'm not sure how many in the public domain), so LibriVox has a huge goal. Nevertheless, over 3,000 audiobooks have been produced so far, and each of these is free to download and listen to legally. In fact, since they're public domain, one could even sell the recordings on ebay (which actually does happen). A few of my audiobooks, including The Bahai Revelation and In Galilee by Thornton Chase, The Revelation of Baha-ullah in a Sequence of Four Lessons by Isabella D. Brittingham, Persian Self-Taught, Esperanto Self-Taught and others are currently being sold by ebay sellers not associated with me in any way. In a sense, though, that's the beauty of the public domain. It is free and universally available to all. If one wants to make a cd of a public domain book and sell it, one is free to do so. Knowledge must be universally accessible, and LibriVox is a part of the initiative to make it so.

Shoghi Effendi envisioned the internet age in the 1930's ("A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity"The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 203) and the Universal House of Justice envisions a convergence of information technologies (telephone, computer, etc.) into one universally accessible means of communication and distribution of knowledge ("It is apparent that the decades immediately ahead will see the integration of telephone, television, and computer technologies into a single, unified system of communication and information, whose inexpensive appliances will be available on a mass scale", 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future).

Bahá'u'lláh teaches that we must seek the truth. Indeed, the greatest oppression is to seek the truth and not know where to find it (""What "oppression" is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?" The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 30). The internet is helping us to overcome this oppression. Wikipedia, Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg and LibriVox are among the many projects, movements and initiatives led by volunteers to open up the entire realm of human knowledge and make it accessible to all and downloadable by all. With such tools, if one searches the world religions and their teachings, one cannot fail to find the Bahá'í Faith. If one has an open mind, frees oneself from prejudice and past superstitions and purifies oneself (as described in The Kitab-i-Iqan Book of Certitude), one cannot fail to recognise its truth. The internet is thus one of the great means for conducting a search after truth and true salvation.

LibriVox is a tremendous way of producing public domain, freely accessible Bahá'í literature. One needs only find a public domain Bahá'í text (and there are many at Internet Archive, Google Books, H-Net, etc.), create an account at the LibriVox forum, read the Newbie Guide to Recording, submit a 1-minute test  (to check one's settings are correct) and then one can begin to bring the world of Bahá'í literature to life in an audio format, so that the waiting masses of humanity can hear and appreciate the Word of God and the Divine Teachings. This is a great service to the Faith, that any Bahá'í can do. It's easy, it's fun, it's worthwhile and everyone can do it. You don't need to have the vocal chords of Patrick Stewart. Anyone can be a great audiobook reader. And the Bahá'í presence at LibriVox needs to increase many-fold.

In addition to public domain English texts, there is a  huge possibility to record original works of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the original Persian and Arabic texts of which would now be public domain. Indeed, this is a great service which Arabic and Persian speaking Bahá'ís could do, by producing easily accessible, free versions of the Bahá'í writings in their original languages through LibriVox! :)

My recording of Talks by Abdul Baha Given in Paris is 6 hours, 26 minutes, 34 seconds in length and can be downloaded either from the LibriVox catalogue page or from the Internet Archive page. Internet Archive hosts all of LibriVox's finished recordings. It was catalogued on the 28th of September 2010 and, as of the 4th of October 2010, it has already been downloaded 120 times. I hope you enjoy it. If you like this recording, you will also like my recordings of:

The Bahai Revelation by Thornton Chase (already download 1,715 times)
In Galilee by Thornton Chase (already downloaded 395 times)
The Revelation of Baha-ullah in a Sequence of Four Lessons by Isabella D. Brittingham (already downloaded 2,311 times)

For more Bahá'í recordings which I have completed, see: My Audiobooks

Thursday 12 August 2010

The seven former Bahá'í leaders have been sentenced to 140 years imprisonment!

Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, one of the former Yárán

Reports indicate that the former Yárán (Friends, pl. of Yár), seven Bahá'ís in Írán whose purpose was to meet the minimal needs of the Bahá'í Community, have now each been given a sentence of 20 years imprisonment (a total of 140 years). According to Bahá'í World News:

The two women and five men have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since they were arrested in 2008 – six of them on 14 May and one of them two months earlier.

"If this news proves to be accurate, it represents a deeply shocking outcome to the case of these innocent and harmless people," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"We understand that they have been informed of this sentence and that their lawyers are in the process of launching an appeal," said Ms. Dugal.

 The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has made the following statement:

"I was appalled to hear of the 20 year prison sentence handed out to the seven spiritual leaders of the Bahá’í faith in Iran. This is a shocking example of the Iranian state’s continued discrimination against the Bahá’ís. It is completely unacceptable.

The Iranian judiciary has repeatedly failed to allay international and domestic concerns that these seven men and women are guilty of anything other than practising their faith. It is clear that from arrest to sentencing, the Iranian authorities did not follow even their own due process, let alone the international standards to which Iran is committed. The accused were denied proper access to lawyers, and there is evidence that the trial was neither fair nor transparent.

I call on the Iranian authorities urgently to consider any appeal against this decision, and to cease the harassment of the Bahá’í community. I further call on the Iranian Government to ensure that the rights of all individuals are fully protected, without discrimination, and that it fulfils its obligations to its own citizens as set out in the Iranian constitution."

Other nations have also commented on this latest injustice. According to Bahá'í World News:

Australia, Canada, France, Germany – and the President of the European Parliament – have all expressed strong statements of concern.

They are calling for the prisoners to be released on bail, for an annulment of the judgment, and for Iran to demonstrate that the trial was fair and in accordance with international standards.

Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, said that his country was "deeply disturbed" by the sentences that were "passed without either written judgments or due process." He urged Iran to grant bail to the prisoners.

Germany described the outcome of the trial as a "massive setback for all those who engage themselves for the promotion of human dignity and human rights in Iran."

Markus Loning, commissioner for human rights and humanitarian aid at Germany's Foreign Office, said Iran must annul the judgment and "provide a fair and transparent court procedure."

"There are major doubts as to the compliance with the basic legal rights during the judicial proceedings," he said.

France expressed its "consternation" at the 20-year jail term.

At a press briefing, Christine Fages, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, stated that Iranian authorities should stop persecuting Baha'is and other religious minorities and "respect the freedom of religion and conscience as defined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran has freely signed up."

Australia has also shared its deep concern at the sentences. "We continue to call on Iran to ensure that all trials are fair and transparent and are conducted in accordance with Iran's international obligations," said a spokesman for the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In a statement issued today, the President of the European Parliament – Jerzy Buzek – called the sentences "a shocking signal and an immense disappointment for all who have hoped for an improvement of the human rights situation in Iran."

"Iran has committed itself to international standards and I underline that this includes also the respect and protection of religious freedom," he said.

International human rights organizations have additionally joined the chorus of protest against the reported prison sentences.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said the sentencing of the Baha'i leaders was "politically motivated, discriminatory, unjust, and illegal under Iranian and international law."

"They have been sentenced for being Baha'is, nothing else, and their incarceration thus expresses a policy of oppression of the Baha'i Faith and its members," said Aaron Rhodes, spokesperson for the Campaign.

Amnesty International described the Baha'i leaders as "prisoners of conscience jailed solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Baha'i minority."

"The seven were held for months without charge before being subjected to a parody of a trial. They must be immediately released," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.

In a statement, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI) asked for the Iranian government to "act in conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as international human rights instruments ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Human Rights Watch demanded the Iranian judiciary to release the seven immediately "given that no evidence appears to have ever been presented against them, and they have not been given a fair and public trial."

"For more than two years now the Iranian authorities have utterly failed to provide the slightest shred of evidence indicating any basis for detaining these seven Baha'i leaders, let alone sentencing them to 20 years in prison," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch.

Iran should take concrete steps that show it is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of Baha'is, said Mr. Stork

"The immediate and unconditional release of the seven Baha'i leaders would be a good start," he said.

Diane Ala'i, Baha'i representative to the United Nations in Geneva, said the Baha'i International Community deeply appreciates the committed support offered so far by governments and human rights organizations.

"These statements demonstrate that increasing numbers of people of all races and religions throughout the world want to see justice done in Iran – not just for the Baha'is but all of its citizens who face gross human rights violations," said Ms. Ala'i.

"For how much longer will the Iranian authorities remain oblivious to these upraised voices?" she said.

Also, last month a number of homes in  Ivel, Mázandarán, in northern Írán, were demolished. According to Bahá'í World News:

Homes belonging to some 50 Baha'i families in a remote village in northern Iran have been demolished as part of a long-running campaign to expel them from the region.

The action occurred in Ivel, Mazandaran, when inhabitants – incited by elements inimical to the Baha'i community – blocked normal access to the village, while allowing trucks and at least four front-end loaders to begin leveling the houses.

Amateur video, shot on mobile telephones and posted by Iranian human rights activists on the Internet, showed what appeared to be several buildings reduced to rubble as well as fiercely burning fires.
The demolitions are the latest development in an ongoing, officially-sanctioned program in the area which has targeted every activity of the Baha'is.

"They're being forbidden to associate with Muslims, or even offer service to their friends and neighbours," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"Even the smallest acts of good will – such as taking flowers to someone who's sick in hospital or donating gifts to an orphanage – these are being seen as actions against the regime."

Most of the Baha'i homes in Ivel have been unoccupied since their residents fled after previous incidents of violence or as a result of official displacement. In 2007, for example, six of their houses were torched.

"Baha'is have lived in this area for more than 100 years and it once had a large community," said Ms. Ala'i. "But in 1983, a few years after the Iranian revolution, at least 30 families from this and neighboring villages were put on buses and expelled.

"Since then, they have tried to seek legal redress to no avail, while returning in the summer to harvest their crops," she said.

The day after the demolitions took place, a Baha'i man who visited the site with his family to harvest his produce was beaten and insulted by other residents. In the past, those who are trying to drive the Baha'is out have set upon them when they tried to enter the neighborhood to rebuild or renovate their properties.
Persistent government attacks on Baha'is in all the mass media – along with inaction by local officials to protect them – have continued to incite hatred against the Baha'is in the region and throughout Iran, said Ms. Alai.

"This latest action shows the degree to which the authorities have completely failed to live up to their responsibilities to protect the Baha'is and their religious freedom," she said.

Members of the Baha'i community have made repeated complaints both before and after the latest incident to local government officials, including to the provincial governor in Sari. In every case, knowledge of the demolitions or the motive behind them was denied.

While reports about the latest action began appearing on various Persian-language websites last Friday, the Baha'i International Community was only able to confirm details of the incident today. Latest reports indicate that 90 percent of the Baha'i homes have now been demolished.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Fundamentalism, Literalism and the Bahá’í Teachings

I’ve just read Chris Schwartz’s response to my blog posts on Bahá’í scholarship, “Exegesis in the fertile twilight of uncertainty”. He’s still planning to make an official response to my previous post are all adjectives simplistic and outdated, which he has submitted to his Auxiliary Board member for review. He remarks upon several different things in his latest post, including (a) fundamentalism in the Bahá’í Faith, (b) attitudinal differences between me, my opponents and he and (c) how we might evaluate the House’s advice “with less alarmism and more scientific enthusiasm”.


Fundamentalism can describe a lot of things, such as Biblical and Qur’ánic literalism (evangelical Christians and probably the majority of Muslims) or even Vedic literalism (e.g. Hare Krsna devotees). Such fundamentalist positions regard the original scriptures of their respective religions as infallible and preserved and to be taken literally. Thus many evangelical Christians regard the entire Protestant Bible as the literal Word of God. Hare Krsna devotees regard the Bhagavad-Gita as the literal word of Krsna, spoken 5,000 years ago and preserved exactly by virtue of the disciplic succession. Prophecies contained in the Bible, Qur’án or other scriptures are regarded as requiring literal fulfilment (e.g. Christ must descend from the sky or Krsna must appear in the form of Kalki on the back of a horse with a terrifying appearance). Such literalism is rejected in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. For instance, Bahá’u’lláh states: “They have even failed to realize, all this time, that, in every age, the reading of the scriptures and holy books is for no other purpose except to enable the reader to apprehend their meaning and unravel their innermost mysteries. Otherwise reading, without understanding, is of no abiding profit unto man.” (Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan Book of Certitude, p. 172) And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá likewise states: “The obstacle which prevents the so-called religious man from accepting the teachings of God is literal interpretation. Moses announced the coming of Christ. The Israelites were awaiting him with the greatest impatience and anxiety, but when he came they called him Beelzebub. "The conditions laid down in the Bible for the coming of the expected one were not fulfilled," they said. They did not understand that the conditions were symbolical.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 35)

There are other distinctions that people may refer to, such as moderate and extremist/fanatic, conservative and liberal, orthodox and unorthodox. These distinctions may be useful for defining different factions, sects and churches within previous religions, but are not useful in describing individual Bahá’ís within the community. The word fundamentalism, for instance, refers to “A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism”. See: While Bahá’ís do uphold the Faith’s fundamental principles, and adhere to them with steadfastness, Bahá’ís are not characterised by intolerance. We likewise reject literalism. I don’t believe literalism exists as a problem within the Bahá’í Community. While Bahá’ís recognise the importance of spiritual symbols, we also recognise that laws must interpreted literally. In the Lawh-i-Ta'vil, Baha'u'llah writes: "The purpose of figurative interpretation (ta'vil) is not that one be deprived of the outward sense of the verse, nor that its intent be veiled. For instance, let us say that from the heaven of the divine will the command is revealed, "Wash your faces." Do not interpret it figuratively, saying that the intent is that one should wash the countenance of one's inner self, cleansing it with the water of mystical insight, and so forth. For in this manner a person might, by reason of such a figurative interpretation, continue to have a malodorous face soiled with dirt, yet be convinced in his own mind that he had carried out the very essence of God's decree. For in this station it is clear and obvious that the intent is that the face be washed with physical water."

Aside from the issue of literalism and spiritual interpretation, the main issue over which I have faced criticism is my adherence to the Universal House of Justice’s infallibility. This is an issue which many ex-Bahá’ís have an issue with, and which I won’t go into too much here. Suffice it to say that I acknowledge the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the House’s own definitions of its infallibility, as an infallible person or individual can define its own infallibility. There are those who would argue that we don’t have to accept the position of the House, because it can change, but such arguments undermine the Will and Testament’s guarantee that every decision of the House is inspired and approved by the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. However some may wish to interpret the word “infallible”, what really matters is how the House itself interprets the word as their decisions are specifically guaranteed divine approval, whether there be a living Guardian or not.

The Myth of Fundamentalist and Liberal Bahá’ís:

I agree with Chris that the “menace” of fundamentalism “is simply overblown. We are not being overrun by a plague of crazed exegetical terrorists”. That is, in fact, correct. In many cases, it is the Universal House of Justice or members thereof who are criticised as being fundamentalist or conservative. There seems to be a belief among some individuals that, when the membership of the House “improves” in the future, there will be "improvement" in its decisions. Perhaps women will be allowed on the House or homosexual behaviour permitted This view, however, contradicts the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the House’s own position. The House of Justice does not reflect the opinions of its members. The final decision, while formed by individuals, is the decision of a divine institution that is not physical. The body of the House is the earthly appearance of an institution that exists in the spiritual world. Their decisions are influenced by spiritual forces and guaranteed divine protection. Those who uphold the House’s infallibility are not fundamentalists, fanatics, or conservatives. They are simply “normal people and quite moderate at that”. The disgruntled ex-Bahá’í scholars who have concocted this myth of fundamentalism are, in fact, reacting emotionally to attacks on their positions which question the authority of the House of Justice or other basic Bahá’í principles (such as the Most Great Infallibility of the Manifestation of God) or the House’s positions on issues such as women on the House, homosexuality, etc. They react against the House’s requirements of review for publication, as if their freedom of speech were being curtailed. In reality, the review process protects the interests of the Faith by preventing individuals from misrepresenting Bahá’í teachings, as some ex-Bahá’ís would have done and continue to do.

Chris writes: “And third, the Founders of our faith installed enough safeguards to ensure that extremists of any variety, liberal or conservative, esoteric or literalist, cannot hijack the Administrative Order”. On this point, I also agree. There is simply no way for either an extremist or liberal take-over of the Faith. Because of the Administrative Order, there is also no possibility for the development of various camps, sects or movements within the Faith. Even now, some ex-Bahá’ís choose to identify themselves as “unenrolled Bahá’ís” or “liberal Bahá’ís”. Such individuals, however, can never significantly influence the vast majority of Bahá’ís who define themselves by their adherence to the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh. While Bahá’ís in Iran, for instance, are not officially enrolled, they accept the authority of the Covenant and would be enrolled if they had the freedom to do so. “Unenrolled Bahá’ís” who have fundamental disagreements with the Administrative Order exist outside the Covenant, as they do not accept the basis of its authority—infallibility. The concept of the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice is an extension of the concept of the infallibility of the Prophet, which is the foundation of our religion, as Shoghi Effendi has written: “…the whole theory of Divine Revelation rests on the infallibility of the Prophet, be He Christ, Muhammad, Bahá'u'lláh, or one of the Others. If They are not infallible, then they are not divine, and thus lose that essential link with God which, we believe, is the bond that educates men and causes all human progress.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer January 11, 1942) (Compilations, Lights of guidance : a Bahá'í reference file, pp. 542-543)

Certainty, Certitude and Doubt:

With regards to Chris’s statement that “I wouldn’t (anymore) call Nicholas a fundamentalist, but I would say that he is not very comfortable with uncertainty”, that is true, to a certain extent. No one can have a complete knowledge of any religion. We all have our own level of understanding and capacity for comprehension. Nevertheless, I believe it is our goal as Bahá’ís to reach a level of certainty in belief. Reason confirms faith, but faith is the basis of our whole system. I believe that Bahá’í teachings can be understood and applied to life and that laws should (as mentioned in the Lawh-i-Ta’vil) be followed according to their outward meaning. Again and again, Bahá’u’lláh exhorts the true seeker to attain unto the shores of certitude. He writes: “Such are the mysteries of the Word of God, which have been unveiled and made manifest, that haply thou mayest apprehend the morning light of divine guidance, mayest quench, by the power of reliance and renunciation, the lamp of idle fancy, of vain imaginings, of hesitation, and doubt, and mayest kindle, in the inmost chamber of thine heart, the new-born light of divine knowledge and certitude.” (Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan Book of Certitude, p. 48) This certitude comes from acknowledgment of the station of Bahá'u'lláh as the Manifestation of God. Any knowledge that we may possess is but a portion given unto us by the Manifestation. This certitude does not mean that we know everything. It means that we accept the Fount of all knowledge, are confirmed in our belief and turn aside from doubts and confusion. Doubt is not, I believe, something involuntary. Our minds are naturally inquisitive but we continually exhorted to never doubt the truth of this Revelation. “Doubt” is a wilful questioning of divine principles. When we uphold the idea that the House isn’t as infallible as the Will and Testament proclaims, we are “doubting” the true teachings of our Faith. This isn’t involuntary. Rather, it is a conscious decision made by exalting certain opinions (usually one’s own) above the authority of divine revelation.

Bahá'u'lláh writes that the cure to such doubt is acknowledgment that God “shall not be asked of His doings”. If God were to decree that women could not serve on an institution, this might contradict the principles of “feminism” or some other secular ideology, but it is a divine principle, beyond question, and none should doubt the authority thereof. Bahá'u'lláh writes:

“Blessed is the man that hath acknowledged his belief in God and in His signs, and recognized that "He shall not be asked of His doings." Such a recognition hath been made by God the ornament of every belief, and its very foundation. Upon it must depend the acceptance of every goodly deed. Fasten your eyes upon it, that haply the whisperings of the rebellious may not cause you to slip. Were He to decree as lawful the thing which from time immemorial had been forbidden, and forbid that which had, at all times, been regarded as lawful, to none is given the right to question His authority. Whoso will hesitate, though it be for less than a moment, should be regarded as a transgressor. Whoso hath not recognized this sublime and fundamental verity, and hath failed to attain this most exalted station, the winds of doubt will agitate him, and the sayings of the infidels will distract his soul. He that hath acknowledged this principle will be endowed with the most perfect constancy. All honor to this all-glorious station, the remembrance of which adorneth every exalted Tablet. Such is the teaching which God bestoweth on you, a teaching that will deliver you from all manner of doubt and perplexity, and enable you to attain unto salvation in both this world and in the next. He, verily, is the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Bountiful.” (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, XXXVII., pp. 86-87).

The Day that Shall Not be Followed by Night:

Chris writes: “But we are not alone in that shadowy zone. If anything, if we think of our religion as a community of inquirers and our interpretations as a generational project of knowledge, then we are a fraternity in uncertainty that transcends space, time, and culture, even if we are informed by these elements along the way”. Certainly, humankind will never be perfect and will never possess all knowledge. We all differ in capacity, but we can rely on the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. We live in “the Day that shall not be followed by night” (Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 33), wherein we shall remain one united community and (eventually) one united humanity, that shall pursue eternal development and advancement in knowledge and spirituality. Shoghi Effendi writes:

“...There is, though, a great difference between this and previous Dispensations, for Bahá'u'lláh has written that this is "the Day which shall not be followed by night" ("God Passes By", p. 245). He has given us His Covenant which provides for a continuing centre of divine guidance in the world. The Bahá'í Faith has not lacked for ambitious men who would seize the reins of authority and distort the Faith for their own ends, but in every case they have broken themselves and dashed their hopes on the rock of the Covenant.” (14 January 1979, from a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer) (Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, pp. 119-120)

Monday 14 June 2010

Some Reactions to My Post on Bahá’í Scholarship

As my blog is dedicated to defending the Bahá’í Faith, it is interesting to see that there are already some strong reactions to things I have written. In particular, my recent post on Bahá’í Scholarship has had some potent reactions, one could say. Recently, for instance, there was a comment saying that it is "difficult to believe" that we have another attack on Bahá’í scholarship. I want to point out that I am not interested in attacking Bahá’í scholarship. On the contrary, my post reflects on the origins of Bahá’í scholarship, gives some quotes about the dangers of religious scholarship (as a priestly/scholarly class were the main opponents of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh during their ministries) and, furthermore, gives some reflections on the future direction of Bahá’í scholarship. Bahá’í scholarship should be a positive thing, and there are many Bahá’í scholars who are loyal to the Covenant and upholders of the Bahá’í teachings. The only attack that exists in my blog, is an attack on the position of those who would criticise the decisions or positions of the Universal House of Justice (a thing no real Bahá’í scholar would consider doing). Bahá’í scholarship must be based on a belief in divine revelation and the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice and cannot be separated from that. Any one who does criticise the Universal House of Justice's decisions or attacks Bahá’í principles, will find his views are not supported by Bahá’ís, now or a thousand years from now. Bahá’ís will always defend their religion. The aforementioned individual should not, therefore, be surprised by a defense of Bahá’í teachings.

It is not surprising that my blog post should receive such criticism, especially from a disgruntled minority who have, for various reasons, left the Bahá’í Faith. There are many negative blogs out there. Truth is mixed with much untruth, exaggeration and misinterpretation. That is why blogs by Bahá’ís about the Bahá’í Faith are important, to counter the negativity that comes from "ex-Bahá’ís" or so-called "liberal Bahá’ís" (there are no liberal or conservative Bahá’ís in reality) who criticise the institutions of the Faith and the authority of the Universal House of Justice. There are many blogs which do uphold the Bahá’í Teachings and this blog, Crossing the Bridge, is just one more attempt to do so. Whether they like it or not, the discontent of a disenchanted few will never prevail. Indeed, God's irresistable Faith will continue to march onwards towards inevitable success, while the opposition of the few who oppose the Light will melt away like a castle built in the sand. The Lord Jesus has said: "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:24-27, The Bible: Authorized King James Version) And as 'Abdu'l-Bahá has written: "The Covenant of God is like unto a vast and fathomless ocean. A billow shall rise and surge therefrom and shall cast ashore all accumulated foam." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 223)

I would like to make one point of correction, as the attacking blog post had, in particular, taken a sentence from my post out of context. I appeared to refer to a particular list as a forum for unrest. If one reads my blog post in context, one will find that I meant that a vocal minority within this forum does question the House's positions on women on the House, homosexuality, etc. This is not a reflection on the list as a whole. Any forum can become a place of unrest if a few vocal individuals make it such. While I hope my original comments were clear in upholding the value of Bahá’í scholarship and could not be taken as an attack on the list itself, I have removed the list's name from the blog post. Religious e-mail groups and forums can be positive places, as long as mutual respect is maintained and fundamental principles are not attacked. It is just unfortunate that a few individuals can make such groups very unpleasant places indeed. In the context of Bahá’í e-mail groups and forums, these can only be fruitful places of discussion, in my opinion, if all the participants respect Bahá’í teachings and the authority and infallibility of the Universal House of Justice. As soon as that goes out the window, negative feelings will arise. Bahá’ís must be united in their beliefs and feel a sense of solidarity. This can be achieved through defending the Faith, not through internal conflict.

'Abdu'l-Bahá has written:

"The beloved of the Lord must stand fixed as the mountains, firm as impregnable walls. Unmoved must they remain by even the direst adversities, ungrieved by the worst of disasters. Let them cling to the hem of Almighty God, and put their faith in the Beauty of the Most High; let them lean on the unfailing help that cometh from the Ancient Kingdom, and depend on the care and protection of the generous Lord. Let them at all times refresh and restore themselves with the dews of heavenly grace, and with the breaths of the Holy Spirit revive and renew themselves from moment to moment. Let them rise up to serve their Lord, and do all in their power to scatter His breathings of holiness far and wide. Let them be a mighty fortress to defend His Faith, an impregnable citadel for the hosts of the Ancient Beauty. Let them faithfully guard the edifice of the Cause of God from every side; let them become the bright stars of His luminous skies. For the hordes of darkness are assailing this Cause from every direction, and the peoples of the earth are intent on extinguishing this evident Light. And since all the kindreds of the world are mounting their attack, how can our attention be diverted, even for a moment? Assuredly be cognizant of these things, be watchful, and guard the Cause of God." ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 9-10)

Friday 11 June 2010

Trial of the Yárán (12th June 2010)

The beloved Yárán (Friends, pl. of Yár) are an informal body (well, were a body, prior to 2008) of Bahá'ís in Persia (Írán) whose purpose was the meet the minimal needs of the Bahá'í Community of that nation. According to the New Mini Companion Aryanpur Progressive Persian-English Dictionary (p. 603), yár has a number of meanings including friend, follower and teammate. Steingass's A Comprehensive Persian English Dictionary Including the Arabic Words and Phrases To Be Met Within Persian Literature (p. 1525) gives similar definitions, such as "friend, lover, companion, comrade; an assistant, defender... equal", etc. It seems to denote the concept of an intimate friend or companion, as in yár-i-ghár, "a companion in a cave, i.e. an intimate friend, confidant (in allusion to Abū Bakr, who was hidden in a cave with Muhammad before setting out on their flight to Madīnah); hence, a name of Abū Bakr".

The Yárán were not an administrative body as the Bahá'í Administrative Order was dissolved in Írán, following the Islamic revolution, when the Íránian government arrested and executed the National Spiritual Assembly (twice actually, it was re-elected after the first Assembly was executed). The Íránian government has always known about the activities of the Yárán, who were not a secret or clandestine organisation. On the contrary, the Yárán abided by the law and were respectful to the Islamic Republic. Nevertheless, they were falsely accused and arrested in 2008.

According to the Bahá'í World News Service:

"The seven Baha'i leaders imprisoned for more than two years in Iran are scheduled to make their fourth court appearance on 12 June, the Baha'i International Community has learned.

The date coincides with the first anniversary of last year's contested presidential election in Iran, as well as a global day of action aimed at calling attention to human rights abuses in that country.

The trial of the seven began on 12 January after they had been incarcerated without charge in Tehran's Evin prison for 20 months.

At the first hearing, held in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, the Baha'is categorically denied charges of espionage, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, and "corruption on earth," among other allegations.

A second appearance on 7 February was concerned mainly with procedural issues.

The third session on 12 April, which was purportedly a closed hearing, was adjourned after the seven – with the agreement of their attorneys – refused to be party to the proceedings because of the presence of nonjudicial personnel.

"To have spectators, including a film crew, in a supposedly closed hearing while denying entry to the defendants' families was unacceptable," said Diane Ala'i, Baha'i representative to the United Nations in Geneva. "There would be no objection if the trial were to be open and conducted in accordance with international standards."

"In the court sessions held so far, no evidence of wrongdoing has been presented. As their lawyers have confirmed, the defendants are completely innocent and are being persecuted solely for their religious belief," Ms. Ala'i said.

"The Iranian government should know that its actions against these innocent citizens are under scrutiny throughout the world," she said.

"Once again we call for their immediate release. Failing that, the seven should – at the very least – be released on bail pending a fair trial."

The seven defendants are Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tizfahm. Before their imprisonment, they attended to the spiritual and social needs of Iran's Baha'i community, which numbers more than 300,000. Mrs. Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 and the others on 14 May 2008.

There are currently some 38 Baha'is in detention in various cities in Iran.
 The  Bahá'í World News Service further reports that:

On the eve of the fourth court hearing for Iran's seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders, voices are being raised around the world for them to be freed.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi has addressed Iran's Supreme Leader calling for the release of the seven, "or at the very least for them to be released on bail and await a fair and open trial in accordance with the international standards of jurisprudence."

"In the court sessions held so far, no evidence of wrongdoing has been presented, as their lawyers have confirmed," Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao wrote in a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dated 5 June 2010.

Yesterday, the social activist and spiritual leader, Swami Agnivesh, led a peaceful procession through the streets of New Delhi to Hyderabad House, a government-owned venue used for major events and press conferences.

Campaigners – many of them wearing masks – carried banners and placards depicting the seven Baha'i leaders, as well as images of other prisoners currently being held.

Swami Agnivesh told the gathering that humanity demands love and respect for all and should allow people of different belief systems and ideologies to co-exist in peace and solidarity, reported The Hindu newspaper...

In the United Kingdom, a mobile billboard depicting the seven Baha'i leaders has been launched in London in order to bring attention to their plight.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Representative Frank R. Wolf, yesterday submitted a statement to the Congressional Record calling for renewed support for the seven.
"The world cannot turn a blind eye to this regime's brutal repression of its own people," said Mr Wolf.

"We must continue to advocate for due process and a fair trial for these seven Baha'i leaders and for basic rights for the community as a whole which according to the recently released report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, "has long been subject to particularly severe religious violations in Iran."" he said.
I salute these noble endeavours. I do not apologise for quoting such large chunks from the  Bahá'í World News Service website, as my purpose is to highlight this issue and raise awareness.

According to Bahá'í News UK:

The Baha’i International Community will be amongst a range of organisations cosponsoring the 12 June Global Day of Action demanding an end to human rights abuses in Iran, reports the Baha’i World News Service.

The initiative is coordinated by human rights group United4Iran. Cosponsors include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the Baha’i International Community, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, FIDH (Federation Internationale des ligues des Droits de l’Homme), and Pen International.

“In our support for this nonpartisan initiative, we are standing together with ordinary citizens throughout the world to draw attention to the continuing and widespread abuse of human rights in Iran,” said Diane Ala’i, representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

The prominent nongovernmental organizations are joining with a wide range of local, student and Internet-based groups to host simultaneous events in cities and on campuses around the globe. Online initiatives include sending messages to specific recipients in support of individual prisoners of conscience.
Bahá'u'lláh has assured us that whatever opposition may come, God's Faith and Cause will be victorious in the end. Bahá'ís have endured over a century of persecution and the Faith has grown as expanded beyond anyone's expectations. From an obscure movement in the 19th century, the Bahá'í Faith has emerged as the second most widespread religion on the planet and the newest and most modern of the great world religions. Persecution is like oil poured on the eternal flame of God's holy Faith. That flame can never be put out. Bahá'u'lláh says:

"Armed with the power of Thy name nothing can ever hurt me, and with Thy love in my heart all the world's afflictions can in no wise alarm me. Send down, therefore, O my Lord, upon me and upon my loved ones that which will protect us from the mischief of those that have repudiated Thy truth and disbelieved in Thy signs. Thou art, verily, the All-Glorious, the Most Bountiful."
(Baháí Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Baháulláh, the Báb, and Abdul-Bahá, p. 145)

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Bahá’í Scholarship

The Origins of Bahá’í Scholarship:

Bahá’í scholarship has a long history, with its roots in the early Bábí community. The Letters of the Living were Shaykhí mullás, trained by the renowned Sayyid Kázim, who was the disciple of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá’í. The Shaykhí tradition itself had its roots in the long shí‘í tradition of scholarship that claimed to derive its authority and wisdom from the holy Imáms themselves. While Shaykh Ahmad did couch his writings in the language of past traditions and philosophies, especially that of the ‘Ishráqí (illuminationist’) philosophy, his scholarship was also a renewal of scholarship itself. Although he was a recognised mujtahid, he derived his authority from a source that was invisible, unseen. He claimed to be in direct contact with the holy Imáms who appeared to him in dreams and visions. The shí‘í scholars of the day had lost touch with the spirit of Islam, that was well on its way to complete extinction. Shaykh Ahmad revealed the inner meanings of the scriptures and the prophecies concerning the resurrection and Day of Judgement.

For centuries, shí‘í Scholars existed as the custodians of Islamic knowledge. Religious scholars educated their disciples through lectures and dialogue. Devout students memorised the rules of Arabic grammar (sarf and nahw), rhetoric (balághah), logic and traditions and learned to recite the Qur’án from memory (tajwíd). While this system succeeded in its purpose of passing knowledge from one generation to the next, much of this knowledge was superficial. The Qur’án was learned as a literal text, devoid of inner spiritual meaning. The laws and traditions were endlessly debated by idle students who imposed their faulty understanding on the texts. The Shaykhís themselves, though educated by the enlightened Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kázim, were nevertheless prone to the same faults as their predecessors. Exalting their acquired knowledge above spiritual intuition, many Shaykhís failed to recognise the Báb when He declared His mission in 1844. Those that did recognise the Báb often struggled with their scholarly education, which taught them to prefer man-made interpretations to the raw spiritual power of the scriptures.

The Danger of the Scholarly Class:

The point that must be emphasised is not that reliance on the scriptures blind scholars—rather, it is  reliance upon man-made knowledge that blinds the soul. Literal interpretations of the Qur’án based on man-made misinterpretations, hair-splitting ‘logic’ and philosophy, and a high regard for miracles and literal fulfilment served as barriers between the scholar and God. Desire for power, arrogant assertion of power and jealousy always corrupt clerical systems.  Bahá’u’lláh writes:

“Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty. Thus, their eyes beheld not the light of the countenance of the Well-Beloved, nor did their ears hearken unto the sweet melodies of the Bird of Desire.”
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan Book of Certitude, pp. 15-16)

The scriptures become a veil, in the sense that they are misinterpreted and enveloped in layers of man-made dogma and theologies. The biggest danger to a religion has always been its clergy, which drain the religion’s spiritual force and mislead the masses with hatred and prejudice. Bahá’u’lláh writes:

“We, verily, see amongst you him who taketh hold of the Book of God and citeth from it proofs and arguments wherewith to repudiate his Lord, even as the followers of every other Faith sought reasons in their Holy Books for refuting Him Who is the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Say: God, the True One, is My witness that neither the Scriptures of the world, nor all the books and writings in existence, shall, in this Day, avail you aught without this, the Living Book, Who proclaimeth in the midmost heart of creation: "Verily, there is none other God but Me, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise."” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, v. 168, pp. 80-81)

When the Letters of the Living and other mullás accepted the Báb, they became illumined with the light of faith. Bahá’u’lláh  writes:

“If these divines be illumined by the light of the latter Revelation they will be acceptable unto God, and will shine with a light everlasting. Otherwise, they will be declared as darkened, even though to outward seeming they be leaders of men, inasmuch as belief and unbelief, guidance and error, felicity and misery, light and darkness, are all dependent upon the sanction of Him Who is the Day-star of Truth. Whosoever among the divines of every age receiveth, in the Day of Reckoning, the testimony of faith from the Source of true knowledge, he verily becometh the recipient of learning, of divine favour, and of the light of true understanding. Otherwise, he is branded as guilty of folly, denial, blasphemy, and oppression.” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan Book of Certitude, p. 36)

The Emergence of Modern Bahá’í Scholarship:

These early scholars used their knowledge and education to defend the Bábí Faith and uphold its principles. Later on, as the Bahá’í Faith was established, new scholars emerged. Notable among these was Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl Gulpáygání, who wrote numerous apologetic works defending the Faith from outside attacks.  It wasn’t until the mid-1970s, however, that a new Bahá’í scholarship began to emerge, in which the Faith was studied by Bahá’ís in an academic manner. Associations for Bahá’í Studies were established and the Universal House of Justice encouraged its development. In 1979, they wrote: “The Universal House of Justice regards Bahá'í scholarship as of great potential importance for the development and consolidation of the Bahá'í community as it emerges from obscurity.” (From a letter dared 3 January 1979 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

Trained in Western academia, Bahá’í scholars now began the process of viewing the Faith objectively, through the lens of the modern academic. Some scholars, prejudiced with the world-view they inherited from a defective, secular educational system, left the Faith when their conclusions disagreed with the Bahá’í teachings. Denis MacEoin and Juan Cole are notable among these individuals. Shoghi Effendi writes: “"It has often happened in the history of the Cause that those who were once among the leaders and in the forefront of Bahá'í activity grew in their old age lukewarm and inactive not to say sceptical."  (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, p. 63) Others continued to view the Faith positively and remained within the fold. Scholarship was bound to be different for Bahá’ís as we do not have a system of clergy. The role of the scholar in the Bahá’í Faith is fundamentally different from the role of Islamic scholars. Throughout their writings, the House of Justice has focused on the role of the Bahá’í scholar as the defender of the Faith and discouraged the modern secular tendency to distort religious truth “to make it conform to understandings and perceptions current in the scientific world”:

“. . . the House of Justice understands that you desire to find ways of conveying spiritual truths in logical ways and demonstrating their validity through scientific proofs. There can be no objection to such an attitude. 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself used such a method. The danger Bahá'í scholars must avoid is the distortion of religious truth, almost forcibly at times, to make it conform to understandings and perceptions current in the scientific world. True Bahá'í scholars should guard against this.”
(From a letter dated 7 June 1983 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

Many achievements have been made by Bahá’í scholars and its roots are strong, but the influence of Western academia is strong.

Why Modern Scholarship is Often Misdirected:

The problem with modern scholarship is that is holds all truth to be relative. There is no good or bad—no Absolute Truth or error. There is no authority higher than can be discerned objectively, through experiment and evidence. It is strongly influenced by the anti-religious ideas that began to emerge in the 18th and 19th centuries, fueling the development of academic materialism, especially the counterfeit ideology known as Marxism. As mankind began to shed off the husks of blind religious dogma formed from the man-made interpretations of a hierarchical religious caste, it threw out the baby with the bath-water and religion became absolutely separated from science. True science (‘ilm) is knowledge, not just natural science. It embraces all aspects of human knowledge. A fundamental principle established by Bahá’u’lláh is the harmony of science (acquired knowledge) and religion (revealed knowledge). Modern scholarship rejects this notion and holds that only acquired knowledge has value, which must be independent and separate from religion, which is valueless. In reality, science and religion must go hand in hand. Religion must inform and inspire scientific research. This has, unfortunately, been ignored by many who are indoctrinated in the world of academia. The House writes:

“The House of Justice feels that Bahá'í scholars must beware of the temptations of intellectual pride. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has warned the friends in the West that they would be subjected to intellectual tests, and the Guardian reminded them of this warning. There are many aspects of western thinking which have been exalted to a status of unassailable principle in the general mind, that time may well show to have been erroneous or, at least, only partially true. Any Bahá'í who rises to eminence in academic circles will be exposed to the powerful influence of such thinking.” (From a letter dated 27 March 1983 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

The greatest enemies of the Bahá'í Faith are not external enemies. Those members of other religions or other beliefs and philosophies who attack the Faith only serve to strengthen the Faith and increase its expansion. Government oppression leads to greater victories. The greatest enemies of the Faith are those that claim to uphold the teachings but attack the spiritual authority underlying those teachings. The Guardian writes:

"...the believers need to be deepened in their knowledge and appreciation of the Covenants of both Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá. This is the stronghold of the Faith of every Bahá'í, and that which enables him to withstand every test and the attacks of the enemies outside the Faith, and the far more dangerous, insidious, lukewarm people inside the Faith who have no real attachment to the Covenant, and consequently uphold the intellectual aspect of the teachings while at the same time undermining the spiritual foundation upon which the whole Cause of God rests."  (Shoghi Effendi - The Light of Divine Guidance (Volume 2), p. 82)

There are many sincere Bahá’í scholars who are defending the Faith and upholding its teachings. There are others also who are more interested in promoting the idea that homosexuality is somehow a legitimate tendency, that women may one day serve on the Universal House of Justice or that the House itself isn’t quite as infallible as it’s cracked up to be. Some e-mail lists and Planet Bahá’í sometimes become forums for unrest, where scholars and others debate Bahá’í teachings in a futile endeavour to force it to conform to modern ideas or ideologies. Instead of uniting to defend the Faith, some individuals (not the majority) are interested in undermining its authority. This is what the House of Justice has condemned and Shoghi Effendi warned about.

I recently wrote to the ------ list saying: “We probably all have our own feelings about this, but in this ------ list, there are too many arguments which tend to question Baha'i teachings, rather than uphold them. What we should all be agreed on is that the Universal House of Justice members must be male and we should defend that, not question it. Most of mankind is looking for certainty in belief, not doubt and confusion. Baha'is should not be arguing with each other over points of belief, we should accept the Writings and the guidance of the House, share our personal opinions (such as mine above) without arguing about them, and defend the Faith from its critics and enemies. We should be defending the Faith from outside forces, NOT questioning the idea of an all-male House of Justice or questioning the authority of the House of Justice.”

I knew it was futile but, nevertheless, it needed to be said. The response from some was negative, as my remarks were characterised as self-righteous, preachy, unacceptable and problematic. Such a response is only to be expected. I don't blame the individual in question for his response, though I do not believe I have been preachy, etc. Most Bahá’ís are defenders of truth and uphold the teachings sincerely. The Bahá’í community is united its obedience to the Universal House of Justice and the spiritual authority of the Scriptures.

Real scholarship is not the possession of the educated, the elite, the trained academic. Real Bahá’í scholarship belongs to all Bahá’ís. Any Bahá’í can become a Bahá’í scholar simply by engaging with the teachings, studying them, defending them and applying them to life. On one e-mail group years ago I was criticised for not speaking Arabic and Persian, not having a degree, etc. Now I have studied Arabic and Persian, have an undergraduate degree and am currently completing another degree. Yet I am the same, and my views on the Faith are not changed as a result. I have not adopted the faulty system of academia or its materialistic goals and ideologies. Rather, I have seen its flaws and realise its weakness.

Grassroots Scholarship:

The Universal House of Justice seeks to engage all Bahá’ís in grassroots scholarship, a new scholarship that transcends the fortress of academia. They write: “The House of Justice is fully committed to fostering the development of Bahá’í scholarly activity in all parts of the Bahá’í world. Through their scholarly endeavours believers are able to enrich the intellectual life of the Bahá’í community, to explore new insights into the Bahá’í teachings and their relevance to the needs of society, and to attract the investigation of the Faith by thoughtful people from all backgrounds. Far from being a diversion from the worldwide effort to advance the process of entry by troops, Bahá’í scholarship can be a powerful reinforcement to that endeavour and a valuable source of new enquirers.” (Department of the Secretariat, 24 April 2008)

Real knowledge should be generated by the world as a whole, not by a select few. The House writes:

“To read the writings of the Faith and to strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance of Bahá'u'lláh's stupendous Revelation are obligations laid on every one of His followers.  All are enjoined to delve into the ocean of His Revelation and to partake, in keeping with their capacities and inclinations, of the pearls of wisdom that lie therein.

“…Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great  enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization--each individual according to his or her talents and abilities.  Justice demands universal participation.” (Ridván 2010 Message)

Real understanding of the Bahá’í Faith requires only love and sincerity, not university education. Bahá'u'lláh writes:

“Heed not the idle contention of those who maintain that the Book and verses thereof can never be a testimony unto the common people, inasmuch as they neither grasp their meaning nor appreciate their value… Such contention is utterly fallacious and inadmissible. It is actuated solely by arrogance and pride. Its motive is to lead the people astray from the Ridván of divine good-pleasure and to tighten the reins of their authority over the people. And yet, in the sight of God, these common people are infinitely superior and exalted above their religious leaders who have turned away from the one true God. The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit. This is evidenced by those who, today, though without a single letter of the accepted standards of learning, are occupying the loftiest seats of knowledge; and the garden of their hearts is adorned, through the showers of divine grace, with the roses of wisdom and the tulips of understanding. Well is it with the sincere in heart for their share of the light of a mighty Day!” (Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan Book of Certitude, pp. 210-2011)

Thus scholarship ultimately depends only upon “purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit”. None of us are perfect, and we all strive to attain this exalted goal. But let us reflect on the fact that scholarship is not the domain of the few, but the many. Real Bahá’í scholarship does not accept the superiority of material knowledge. Rather, it acknowledges divine revelation and is informed by spiritual teachings. It does not question the teachings, but applies them to reality, upholds and defends them. While tolerating differences of opinion, Bahá’í scholars are quick to uphold Bahá’í teachings. I believe we must join together in unity, not endless arguments and disputes over points of belief. I will end with this quote:

“O people of God! Righteous men of learning who dedicate themselves to the guidance of others and are freed and well guarded from the promptings of a base and covetous nature are, in the sight of Him Who is the Desire of the world, stars of the heaven of true knowledge. It is essential to treat them with deference. They are indeed fountains of soft-flowing water, stars that shine resplendent, fruits of the blessed Tree, exponents of celestial power, and oceans of heavenly wisdom. Happy is he that followeth them. Verily such a soul is numbered in the Book of God, the Lord of the mighty Throne, among those with whom it shall be well. (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, pp. 96-97)


I take my blog posts very seriously. There are not enough positive blogs about the Bahá’í Faith out there, and this is one more attempt to give a positive, accurate explanation of Bahá’í principles. Comments such as those of P---s below are unwelcome on my blog. While I have defended myself from two very negative posts by P---s (not much really needs to be said about such misconceptions), I do not welcome comments from individuals who criticise me personally or attack Bahá’í principles. There are some individuals who welcome criticism of all kinds, and that is there business. I do not welcome personal criticism at all. None of us are perfect, but personal criticism is unhelpful and pointless.