oneworldhosts

Oneworldhosts (site no longer exists) is a neat little website that was started by a Baha’i from California, with the aim of helping Baha’is who are travelling around the world. I guess the youth would get the most out of it as travellers since they are ready pretty much to crash anywhere cheap and safe. And you can’t get much cheaper than free.Oneworldhosts matches together travellers who are looking for a place to stay with hosts who are willing to provide them accomodations. The great thing about this is that it brings together Baha’is from different parts of the world who may not have had the chance to meet otherwise.

I haven’t used this service myself but thought I would bring it to your attention since it is an individual initiative with the right motives and intentions. Whenever I can, I try to encourage such ventures because the Baha’i community needs more of them. Such an organization needs to garner critical mass to be able to really function at optimal. It isn’t there yet but with your help it will get there sooner rather than later.

So if you are travelling or are interested in hosting a traveller get registered with them.

Bon Voyage

LA Study Class Newsletter [#5]

My Notes:The fifth newsletter deals with a very interesting topic – one that many Baha’is emphatically insist does not even exist in the Faith: ritual.

In fact, the Baha’i Faith does have rituals (so does the Babi Faith, by the way). But we are given the guidance to not revel in them or to allow them to confine or confuse our devotion to God. I suspect this is a warning to not fall prey to the previous mistake of humanity in losing sight of God for the trappings and ceremonies around His worship. As Bruce Lee instructs his young pupil in Enter the Dragon: Do not concentrate on the finger pointing to the moon, or you will miss all that heavenly glory.

Having been inspired by the classes treatment of ritual in the Baha’i Faith, I decided to see how many I could come up with. The most obvious one is the 19 day feast which is held every, er, nineteen days and is divided into three sections (devotional, social and administrative). Another obvious one is the annual fast, and another is the ritual surrounding the daily obligatory prayer which must be recited by every Baha’i at specific times during each day. As well, depending on which of the three is recited, it may involve ablutions (the ritualistic washing of hands and face while reciting verses) and repetitive motions (standing up, bowing down, etc.). A person must be facing the Qiblih, no matter which of the three obligatory prayers is recited.

Some other rituals not so obvious are marriage related. The time limit between engagement and marriage, the verse to be recited by man and woman in front of witnesses, the permission of 6 people (the couple, and their parents) and the exchange of a dowery (with specific amounts for country and city dwellers). As well, the antithesis of marriage also has a ritual – the year of patience. I’m not sure if this can be counted as a ritual but it is a specific time where both parties, along with the community and the LSA strive to overcome the challenge and return to each other.

A bit more obscure ritual would be the instruction by Baha’u’llah in one Tablet to recite a verse 40 times with the rythmic flow of waves coming in and going out at Akka’s shore. A person who does this, He said, would be cleansed of all transgressionsand forgiven by God. I suppose it can’t hurt to try it out.

Another set of rituals has to do with death. There is a burial ring (with the inscription: “I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate”) which is to be placed on a finger (no particular one is specified) for those who were 15 years of age or older. Also, the body can not be transported more than one hour’s journey from the last location (mode of transport is not specified). The body must be buried – not cremated and it should be prepared for burial and wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton, and be buried in either a stone, hard-wood or crystal coffin. As well the obligatory prayer for the dead is to be recited in congregation (the only prayer recited in this way in the Faith) for those who were 15 years of age or older. This does not mean that everyone in attendance repeats it (a common mistake). Another common mistake is to face the Qibblih during its recitation (this is not specified). But, according to Baha’i law, the dead should be buried facing the Qiblih.

Now, are some of these simply laws or rituals? I guess that is open to debate as it could be argued that the implementation of them borders on ritual. And so I continue:

Pilgrimage – as opposed to visitation to Bahji – also has its specific rites. For example, Baha’is do not have to shave their heads (phwee!) unlike Muslims but they do have to circumambulate, among other things (if you want more specifics regarding pilgrimage, I suggest you get a copy of the Surriyih Hajj). Unfortunately, Baha’is have been unable to go to pilgrimage as the two Holy sites are in Iraq and Iran (the house of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad and the house of the Bab in Shiraz, respectively). But they have been able to do perform another ritual related to pilgrimage; donating the expenses of the trip to the Fund rather than actually going in person.

I suppose the first ritual a Baha’i will engage in is signing a declaration card. This is an administrative act which was put in place by Shoghi Effendi and is not necessary really. But still, it is the first ritual that most Baha’is will – unwittingly – practice.

Another fascinating ritual which mainly Persian Baha’is (and maybe other with an ethnic origin in the Middle Eastern) engage in, is that related to tabarok (singular) or tabarokat (pl.). With thanks to SM, it means: that which gives blessings. This is an ancient, cultural ritual where a special person will touch or handle an object or gift, thereby endowing it with a special spiritual essence. For the Baha’is the object is no longer ordinary because it has been touched, blessed, if you will, or just because it was in the presence of the Bab or Baha’u’llah. It takes on a role similar to a relic (akin to the bones of Saints in Christianity).

Both the Bab and Baha’u’llah engaged in this ritual. The Bab, for example, gave a package of sugar and tea for a messenger to take to Mulla Husayn. As well, Baha’u’llah would often receive pilgrims and distribute to them small gifts (often mundane things such as a hankerchief, rock sugar, tea, etc.) . Sometimes these were brought by the pilgrims themselves (to be taken back with them as ‘blessed’ items) and other times they were truly gifts from His hands. These items are cherished and passed down from generation to generation. And because they are believed to hold sacred and powerful energies, they were used sparingly, in case of serious illness or injury, for example. Still to this day, many Baha’i families have in their possession many such tabarok items which they consider their most valuable possessions.

Shoghi Effendi extended this practice by giving, to a very few, special Baha’is, hairs and other such personal relics of Baha’u’llah. After Shoghi Effendi, this practice was continued in a different manner. Every few days, the roses that are grown in the many gardens of the Baha’i World Center are picked and their petals are carefully placed on the sacred threshold of the Shrine of the Bab and at Bahji.

To give those who have not gone there an idea, I’m talking about a ledge close the ground where a white embroidered cloth is placed. This also marks the closest that anyone can go to the actual burial sites. Baha’is often put their hands or heads on this ledge when praying at the Shrines. The rose petals are removed from this special place and dried. And when it is time for Baha’is to depart Israel, a handful of the petals are placed in envelopes and they are distributed to each individual; one envelope for Bahji and one for the Shrine of the Bab.

As an extension, Baha’is also prize anything that comes from the vicinity of the Shrines. For example, there is a very young citrus tree in the courtyard of the Shrine of Bahji. Since it can not be allowed to grow to full maturity, it is replaced every 3-4 years when its root system gets too big. When it is removed, any fruits (usually small oranges – like fruits from a rather large bonsai) are distributed to any lucky Baha’is who are there visiting at the time. Again, these fruits are considered tabarok, because they have been so close to the Qibblih.

As well, Baha’is extended similar rituals after the passing of Baha’u’llah when they would often go to the baths that he frequented and gathering up the water or dust that had been left behind. This was not restricted to the Prophets, either but those considered saints were given this treatment as well. For example, the gravesite of Ibn-Abhar was a popular destination for those seeking a tabarok (a handful of the earth from the top of his gravesite). This was believed to contain curative powers. Interestingly, both Baha’is and Muslims used his gravesite for this purpose, lending support to the argument that it was a ritual borne out of cultural roots, as opposed to scriptural ones.

As well there are rituals that do not originate from the Writings or the actions of the Central Figures of the Faith. They are looksely self-imposed or learned repetitive behaviours. I include them tongue in cheek, so don’t take it too seriously.

The greeting, Allah’u’Abha (sometimes used as goodbye also) is like a Baha’i “secret handshake”. I’m not sure when it was started or how (whether it began with the believers emulating Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha). As well, it can be argued the painstakingly overstatment that what you are about to say regarding the Writings is but only your personal, humble, opinion (not to be construed as an attempt to imply an official and authoritative interpretation) is a Baha’i ritual. Actually, Baha’is are totally free to interpret the Writings personally as much as they wish. What they are prohibited from doing is imposing this personal interpretation or understanding on others as authoritative. And finally, there is a deeply imbedded ritual which Baha’is partake in every year (and sometimes every 5 years) which involves voting for the same people over and over and over again to fill administrative positions within the institutions.

If you are really interested in rituals, I recommend you to Dennis MacEoin’s book: Rituals in Babism and Baha’ism.

Leaving rituals behind (tongue firmly planted in cheek), I also wanted to point out that the classification of the Writings is a fascinating topic (mostly for librarians). Here is another approach from the one discussed in the newsletter which I thought you might find interesting.

Before proceeding, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On to the 70′s class (replete, I’m sure, with huge over-sized collars, bell-bottom pants, and dangerously flammable polyester prints) . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

December 21, 1976

Dear Baha’i Friends:The Study Group got together again at Mehrdad Amanat’s apartment on Sunday, December 20th, for another stimulating session. Eleven people were present. Unfortunately, Mehrdad himself had been called out of town unexpectadly and could not be there himself. However, he left us the key to his place and things went well.

[Ed. phone number corrections for Greg and Pamela Wahlstrom and Anthony Lee]

(Added to our mailing lest are:

Steven and Bonnie Barnes
[Ed. personal address] )

(By the way, there was some talk about cutting down the mailing list, so if you want to continue receiving these letters and you have never come to one of the classes, you had better let someone know.)

After the group came to order, the first matter taken up was a short presentation by Anthony Lee on “Categories of Baha’i Scripture”. It is well known that the various statements attributed to the Central Figures of the Faith and the Guardian and the House of Justice have different authenticities, ranks and different binding effect. Most people know, for instance, that Pilgrim’s Notes have not binding effect. Mr. Lee attempted a tentative classification of all Baha’i “scripture” (which it might be added, raised as many questions as it answered, maybe more).

The classification was given in outline form:

I. The Holy Text of the Manifestation of God (this is separate and distinct from all other Baha’i scripture in that it represents direct Revelation from God. It is also unique as the Creative Word, that is, the words of the Manifestation create a new reality simply by virtue of their utterance. The words of the other figures of the Faith do not have this quality.)

A. The Writings of Baha’u’llah
1. Books and Tablets of universal import (according to Baha’u’llah these can be divided into nine categories. One Baha’i scholar has proposed the following scheme (Cf. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, Vol. 1. p.43):

a. Tablets with a tone of command and authority (Revealed in the style of the Quran?)
b. Those with a tone of meekness and supplication (prayers?)
c. Interpretations of old Scriptures and beliefs and doctrines
d. Laws and ordinances
e. Mystical Writings
f. Tablets regarding matters of government and world order, including those to the kings and rulers
g. Tablets concerned with scientific and philosophical matters, eg. medicine, alchemy, etc.
h. Exhortations to education and divine virtues
i. Tablets regarding social teachings

2. Particular tablets and exhortations to individuals which have no binding effect on mankind as a while. (There was some question of the validity of such a category.)

B. The Writings of the Bab (which rank below those of “Him Whom God shall Manifest” according to the testimony of the Bab, Himself.) Apparently, the Bab ranked His Own Writings as follows (Cf. Johson, Ph.D. Dissertation, p.152; Bayan (Nicholas Transl.) III, 17; Browne, Traveller’s Narrative, p.344-5):
1. Verses (similar to 1.a. above)
2. Prayers (similar to 1.b. above)
3. Commentaries (similar to 1.c. above)
4. Scientific treatises (similar to 1.g. above)
5. Writings in Persian (as opposed to Arabic)

II. The Writings of Abdu’l-Baha (Explanations, elucidation, and interpretation of the Holy Text)

A. Tablets and books of Abdu’l-Baha which bear his seal and signature (these are binding on all believers) (No distinction was made here between Tablets written before the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, and those written after, though such a distinction may be possible.)
B. Records of public talks and other statements of Abdu’l-Baha which did not get His written approval (no binding effect)
C. Statements and Writings of Abdu’l-Baha not related to the Faith (there was some question regarding whether or not these are regarded to be infallible. The question was not settled.)

III. The works of the Guardian

A. Interpretation and application of the text (which must be accepted as infallible)
B. Statements regarding the protection of the Faith (also infallible) (Cf. UHJ letter to Richard Grieser 7/25/74)
C. Letters to individuals (which may not have general application)
D. Writings and statements on non-Baha’i topics (which are subject to error)

IV. Letters and statements of the Universal House of Justice (all of which may be infallible. Mr. Lee did not attempt any classification of this category.)

V. Pilgrim’s Notes

These are of interest, but have no binding effect. There are no grounds for suppressing them, however.

VI. Stories and sayings regarding the Central Figures of the Faith and the Guardian which can not be traced to a single source. (Again, these may be of interest and should not be suppressed, but have not binding effect.)

The above presentation sparked quite a bit of discussion on various topics. The group focused briefly on the whole question of infallibility. It was agreed that no one could provide an adequate definition of the term. Clearly, infallibility does not imply omniscience since the Manifestation of God did not know everything — and neither does the House of Justice. Someone present noted that some Baha’is have gone as far as to suggest that infallibility should be regarded as a duty which rests on the believers, rather than an intrinsic quality of the Center of the Faith. Many were uncomfortable with this idea.

This led to a brief discussion of the nature of the Manifestation of God. Some Baha’is (notably Saeid Khadivian) have maintained that the Manifestation, from the moment of His conception is fully conscious of both past and future and stands beyond human limitation of any kind. He displays apparent human emotion and feeling as a mercy to mankind, but is really beyond human feelings. Such passages which display apparent anger, sorrow, dissapointment and the like are interpreted as only written for the benefit of man, but not genuine. Especially Baha’u’llah’s experience in the Siyah-Chal is regarded as only outward display. Thought the discussion was not pursued, most members of the class agreed that such a view is unacceptable since it reduces most of Baha’u’llah’s life to a meaningless charade.

Next, the class turned to Susan Berkman who had prepared a paper on “Myth and Ritual in the Baha’i Faith”. Her reading was puncuated by several mini-discussions throughout the rest of the afternoon. Not everything can be reported here, but I hope to atleast do justice to the main points of argument.

Ms. Berkman began by pointing out that there is no agreement in the academic world on an adequate definition of the term “myth”. Some scholars have emphasized the explanatory functions of myth as a primitive science , while others have tended to see myth as a canon of cultural symbols which order social life. The whole study of mythology is intertwined with theories of lost civilization, primordial culture, Freudian interpretations and nineteenth century religious arguments. Much of it (the academic work) is just nonsense.

Ms. Berkman never settled on a full definition of myth herlsef but leaned toward the idea of myth as a symbolic statement. She was especially interested in the theories of [Ed. empty white space in text] Wallace. He maintains that myth and ritual are always closely associated and even reciprocal. These are intended to serve five different functions: 1) to control events; 2) to heal sickness or create disease; 3) to organize one’s life; 4) to remit psychopathology; 5) to revitalize society.

The Academic study of myth has been limited to ancient (and so called) primitive society. Hence, even the term myth connotes falsehood. No scholar has ever denied that myth exists in our own society, but no one has yet made a serious study of it. Therefore, it is hard to know how to apply the concept of myth to contemporary beliefs.

But, Ms. Berkman maintained, there is both myth and ritual in the Baha’i Faith. She especially pointed to the Kitab-i-Iqan, which she proposed, may be seen as Baha’ullah’s Own dissertation on myth and symbolism and its role in social and personal life. In the Iqan, Baha’u’llah indicates that the Manifestation of God deliberately speak in symbolic language, both to awaken mankind and to serve as a test of the pure in heart. Myth, therefore, has the function of providing symbols which embody deep spiritual truths and also having an outward physical meaning. The myth serves both as a key to spiritual reality (which cannot finally be expressed in words) and a test of those who are able to appreciate the myth on this spiritual level.

Ms. Berkman speculated that all mythology must find its ultimate source in the words of a Manifestation of God. The Prophets use symbolic language to explain abstract concepts and “unseen realities”. (Some Answered Questions pp.94-98) These symbols are often understood by the people in a literal sense. This literal interpretation is then elaborated, embellished and codified by clergymen and scholars. This codified, de-spiritualized symbolism becomes mythology.

Ms. Berkman pointed out that Baha’u’llah often uses highly symbolic language which has some of the characteristics of myth eg. The Seven Valleys and the Tablet of the Holy Mariner . Baha’is must resist the temptation to crystalize and codify these symbols as have been done in the past. To some extent this is already happening. For instance, the historical details of the Martyrdom of the Bab are in considerable doubt. There are atleast three different versions of the event, of which Nabil’s account is only one. None of these versions is given by an eyewitness to the Martyrdom itself. Therefore, historically, the details of the execution are open to question. All sources agree that the first volley missed the Bab, but what happened next, (and just before) is an historical question which has not yet been fully resolved. Nonetheless, a clear Baha’i mythology has grown up to fill in the gaps.

Ms. Berkman briefly touched on the question of ritual in the Baha’i Faith. There are undeniable rituals in the Baha’i Faith, the most important one being prayer. But there is also fasting, feast, etc. These rituals, especially prayer, fulfill all of Wallace’s five categories. (see above) Ms. Berkman preferred a broad definition of ritual as any repeated behaviour with sacred significance. But, even in the narrow sense of a ceremony which must be performed in a prescribed way, the Baha’i Faith has rituals in it. (Anyone who has doubts about this is invited to look over the section of the Synopsis and Codification of the Aqdas on prayer.) Ms. Berkman also quoted from a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Columbia in which the House corrects the notion that there is no ritual in the Faith. They explain that the Faith has no elaborate, man-made ceremonies which must be attended by a clergyman as does other religions, but there are Baha’i rituals.

At this point, our time ran out.

The next meeting of the class will be held on Sunday, January 2nd at 3 pm at the home of Anthony Lee [Ed. home address, directions and phone number follows]

Robert Ballenger kindly volunteered to give a report on an article which appeared in the Folklore Research Center Studies (Journal) in 1973 entitled “The Baha’is of Acre”. It is a sociological study of the remnant of covenant-breakers left in the Holy Land. Quite interesting. And Greg Wahlstrom agreed to make a presentation next time on “The Calamity” in Baha’i Scriptures (hotsy, totsy!). So everyone, please come and be prepared to stay as late as possible.

With apologies for bad typing . . . . .

Anthony A. Lee

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:
The original scanned documents can be found here.

WAR! – what is it good for?

In the past few years, the Baha’is and the Baha’i administration has done a delicate ballet around the major current events in the world – namely the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time as trying to protect the Faith and its adherents, the administration has attempted to not appear that it is siding with any political party or agenda. This has been difficult because the Baha’i principle of non-involvement in politics is usually misunderstood. But also, it has been difficult because these current events evoke such visceral emotions in people – Baha’i or otherwise.Recently, I read this in the Gleanings:

The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings. To none is given the right to act in any manner that would run counter to the considered views of them who are in authority. That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts; and of these the loved ones of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth are, in this Day, as the keys. Please God they may, one and all, be enabled to unlock, through the power of the Most GreatName, the gates of these cities. This is what is meant by aiding theone true God—a theme to which the Pen of Him Who causeth the dawn to break hath referred in all His Books and Tablets.

From this I get the clear message of separation of church and state – which is another whole different issue (also misunderstood). But I have difficulty in understanding what exactly Baha’u’llah means when He says ‘don’t speak up or do anything which is counter to the government or those in authority’. I wonder if He is speaking in the context of His time or whether it is something that transcends that.

As you probably know, both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha had to fight their whole lives with the charge of being “subversive”. Baha’u’llah, repeatedly admonishes those who spread false rumours about Him and says again and again that His only wish is to bring a new message from God to the people of the world. To Prof. Edward G. Browne, He says:

We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; yet they deem us a stirrer up of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment.

Abdu’l-Baha was also similarly labelled by the Covenant-Breakers when they spread rumours that the construction of the Bab’s sepulchre (later to be enhanced to become the Shrine that we know today) was in fact a fort from which Abdu’l-Baha was planning to gather the people under his own banner and wage war against the government to claim land and soverignty for Himself! So seriously were these allegations taken that Abdu’l-Baha almost called for the election of the UHJ so that the Faith would not be without leadership if anything were to happen to him.

So I wonder if Baha’u’llah, in saying the above, is soothing the worried brows of the governments of the time by admonishing Baha’is to listen and obey them. If not, then how should we as Baha’is behave in a situation where lying to the government or going against their laws would in fact save innocent lives. Such a hypothetical situation isn’t difficult to contemplate. Think back to the early Baha’is in Germany. Would you lie to the Gestapo if your Jewish neighbour and friend was hiding in your basement? or would you follow Baha’u’llah’s instruction above?

Obviously the principle of moderation comes into play here. Life is not black and white and we need wisdom and tact to be able to navigate the grey areas.

But then, the administration sure does speak up against governments which it believes are behaving wrongly. In fact, there has been an active agenda to use the NGO status of the Faith in the UN to lobby for better rights and freedoms for the Iranian Baha’is and elsewhere. How is that not in contradiction to what Baha’u’llah is saying above? why can the administration speak up against governments while individual Baha’is can not? where was this distinction made possible in the Writings?

Also, I found this quote about war which was alarming, to say the least:

A conquest can be a praiseworthy thing, and there are times when war becomes the powerful basis of peace, and ruin the very means of reconstruction. If, for example, a high-minded sovereign marshals his troops to block the onset of the insurgent and the aggressor, or again, if he takes the field and distinguishes himself in a struggle to unify a divided state and people, if, in brief, he is waging war for a righteous purpose, then this seeming wrath is mercy itself, and this apparent tyranny the very substance of justice and this warfare the cornerstone of peace. Today, the task befitting great rulers is to establish universal peace, for in this lies the freedom of all peoples.

Now I’m really confused! How is this any different from the neo-con agenda implemented by the current US administration? From their point of view their motivation is righteous. They believe they are bringing peace, freedom and an improved economic standard to Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as denying terrorists a haven.

Note that I’m not commenting on the current US govt policies but rather about the Baha’i Writings and what they say regarding this topic. I’m just using the current situation of the neo-cons as a convenient example. Nothing more.

Getting back to the issue at hand, what I find confusing specifically is who is to say if a particular war is ‘righteous’ or not? I suppose the Manifestation of God would be able to make that distinction with His authority. But I don’t think anyone else or any other institution can do that. So where does that leave us today?

Also we are told in the Writings that all rulers should rise up in unison against an aggressor nation. This is the most practical formula for eliminating wars around the world. And, arguably, we saw a version of it in the Persian Gulf war where a group of nations, led mainly by the US fought back the Iraqi army and indeed did liberate Kuwait. Unfortunately, that is probably the only recent example – more recent wars have offered the world similar opportunities but in the majority of the cases, the world has stood by and watched horrendous massacres take place without straining a muscle to stop the aggressor’s hand.

In any case, how are we to reconcile these two different viewpoints? how can rulers be asked to unite and stop an aggressor when that same aggressor can claim that his war is ‘righteous’ and therefore sanctioned by God? Again, who decided who is morally right in such a case? what criteria can we use to distinguish between these two situations?

I don’t know. But I do know that the Baha’i instititutions don’t even attempt to answer such tough questions. Instead, as they have in the past 3 years, they tell Baha’is to keep quite and to be inconspicuous. They also put out such documents as “Questions and Answers on War and Related Issues” – a childishly simple attempt to answer these troubling and complex issues. This document has a Q and A format where the Baha’is are supposed to simply read and memorize the answers – ala Ruhi. No critical thinking, no discussion,etc.

But while attempting to maintain a veneer of neutrality, there are certain hints dropped here and there which might suggest that the institutions have themselves decided that this war is of the ‘righteous’ variety and therefore, must go on unperturbed. Maybe it is the mentions of America and its leaders in the Writings which give them this apparent conviction:


May this American democracy be the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the universality of mankind. May it be the first to upraise the standard of the Most Great Peace . . .

Various prominent Baha’is (occupying elected or appointed status within the administration) have in effect voiced similar opinions. And while they are just that, opinions, they do belie a sense that the whole administration is embued with the same ‘opinion’. In speeches and talks, they are basically saying that the recent wars waged by the US is the first steps towards the Most Great Peace and that the US government is basically doing God’s work!

Finally, its worth pointing out that neutrality is not always neutral. In many situations, not doing or saying anything, is considered as an implicit agreement. The fact that the Baha’is around the world have been muzzled on this issue speaks volumes of the way the people in the institutions are leaning. I especially don’t understand why Baha’is were told to not participate in peace rallies around the world when the Guardian says that participate in peaceful demonstrations is ok – especially when it is to advance a principle of the Faith.

This tacit approval by the institutions for war has alienated a huge number of rank and file Baha’is. Not surprising, as most Baha’is are liberal minded and peace loving people.

The Real McCoy

I posted about this a few days ago and made sure that I stressed that I hadn’t confirmed the authenticity of that letter. Now, I have, through an impeccable source, confirmation that that letter purported to have been written by the Baha’is of Iran is indeed genuine and was, in fact, written by them.Furthermore, with striking audacity and courage it was not only delivered by individual Iranian Baha’is to the president of the IRI, Khatami, but as well, it was presented to a large number of other lesser governmental representatives in Iran. In the near future, I hope to post an English translation of the contents of that letter. But until then, I will summarize and say that it is a laundry list of oppressive actions which have been perpetrated by the Iranian government and endured by the Baha’i Iranian community. Actions which, as the letter points out, are in direct violation of the current laws and constitution of Iran.

Such a document is indeed historical because it is a startling break from the usual manner of silent forbearance which has up to now marked the history of the Baha’i community in Iran. I can not imagine that the response to it will be adequate by the Iranian regime. However, if nothing else, it opens a new chapter in the struggle for the Baha’is in Iran to be acknowledged and recognized by the IRI as a separate religion with the right to exist.

LA Study Class Newsletter [#4]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER

My Notes:

In this edition of the newsletter the class discusses the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Baha’i Faith’s “Mother Book” and the Book of Laws. This was before the completion of the official translation and publication of the Most Holy Book under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice in 1992. So the Baha’is of that time only had access to the “Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas” (published in 1973) as an official, but incomplete translation, and to the unofficial but complete translation of Miller/Elder. The class, specifically, discusses the charge that the Baha’i Faith (and/or the Kitab-i-Aqdas is ‘sexist’). This is a pretty hot button issue, even today among Baha’is and I am, yet again delighted that the class goes about knocking over one taboo subject after another.

They then go on to discuss an issue which is arguably the most contentious one in recent Baha’i history: women’s exclusion from serving on the House of Justice. The class barely scratches the surface on this topic and for those who are interested in further material, this might be of interest. There is also a plethora of discussions on this topic in various Baha’i discussion forums.

As well, a great deal of the newsletter is taken up by the exuberant reply from MacEoin to the criticisms levelled at his article in the previous class’ newsletter.

Before proceeding, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70′s class . . .

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Notes from the Baha’i study group (assemblage? class?), (we never did settle on a formal name) from the meeting of Dec 11, 1976, in Merdat Amanat’s [Ed. correct name is Mehrdad Amanat] apartment (sorry about the spelling on the names) . Those who attended were: Tony Lee (enfant terrible and ringleader), Mehrdat Amanat (did I get it right that time?), Greg and Paula Wahlstrom, Bob Ballenger (secretary and scapegoat) and, truckin’ a bit late, Don and Susan Berkman.

Shahin Carrigan didn’t make it (again), so no presentation on “value free science.”

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Organizational trivia dept. : at Tony’s suggestion, we decided that the notes for these letters should be taken by one person in attendance, on a rotating basis. Since Bob Ballenger couldn’t think of an excuse not to do it fast enough, he wrote this mishmash. Lawsuits for the contents may be directed to the firm Quimby, Eggplant and Frebish.

The topic for the class was a critical analysis of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, with particular attention to seeming sexism [in] the language of the text. As it happens, there is a complete translation of the Aqdas available. The slim red volume most Baha’is are familiar with is a synopsis with only a fragmentary made of the Book’s passages. However, two Christian missionaries, William Miller and Earl Elder got their hands on an authentic copy of the text and they translated it in a rathe awkward rendition freighted down with a wooden style. Still, it provides the reader with a more complete idea of what Baha’u’llah had in mind when He wrote the Book in 1873.

Our discussion of the Aqdas (based on the Baha’i version, which we used) let us to conclude that Baha’u’llah wrote what amounts to an outline of Baha’i law, not a legal text in the codified form. The Aqdas is not a narrative. The text frequently jumps from subject to subject. Sometimes, it seems as if virtually every line in some passage in on a different topic. Our review of the book was hampered by the fact that those related works such as “Questions and Answers” which Baha’u’llah intended as a supplement to the Aqdas, and the various tablets He later revealed, also modifying or clarifying passages in the Aqdas, were not available to us.

Even a cursory reading of the text reveals it to be eliptical and, members of the class agreed, theBook poses a puzzle to the Baha’is who must now live with it. As these discussions go, there was considerable digression into side issues, but we managed to explore these as they arose with dispatch and returned to the business at hand pretty well.

Some things did emerge from the discussion. For instance, it was proposed that, because Baha’u’llah placed more emphasis on male roles (viz. inheritance laws) He evidently intended that men continue to be the primary supporters of their families. Still this did not resolve the seeming ambiguities in the Aqdas that we discovered. Such resolution will have to come at some later date.

As is almost inevitable in discussions such as the one we had, the fact that women can not serve on the UHJ was trotted out thrashed about. There is no doubt about this, by the way. In the text of the Aqdas, Baha’u’llah addresses the members of the Universal House as “men of justice”. No one apparently knows why women are thereby apparently excluded from membership, but its a fact of Baha’i administrative life that they are. We discussed this point at some length. It was noted that women are not precluded from administrative service. They regularly are elected to various local and national assemblies. So if women were (for some reason) to be excluded from administrative responsability, it seems logical Baha’u’llah would have taken care to do so all the way down the line…and didn’t. Although there was no concensus on this next point, it was worth noting that it was suggested there is nothing peculiar about women that causes their exclusion on the UHJ. Rather, what appears to be the case is that the special nature of the Universal House somehow precludes women from serving on its membership. So, in essence, the reason is not a sexist one, but has some other basis in being. (Incidentally, in that regard, it was pointed out that even if the reason for the exclusion of women from membership on the House, and their seeming second class treatment with regard to inheritance, for example, were sexist, that’s just too bad. Baha’u’llah, specifically warns those who read the text to “Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established amongst men.” Sexism and our contemporary concern with it, it could be argued, is just such a “current standard” that simply is in error.)

More speculation. One theory offered up (on the condition the author of it remain nameless; we’ll call the person Deep Vote) suggest that the exclusion of women from House membership does not involve any alleged inferiority on their part. As the theory goes, members of the House must work closely and intensely together, sometimes for extended periods of time. Men and women under such conditions, might arouse suspicions (on the part of non-Baha’is) of possible hanky-panky. Since the UHJ is the supreme Baha’i administrative institution, there must never be a hint or suspicion about impropriety among its members. Therefore, to avoid giving rise to such suspicions, women are excluded. (To which, it might be argued, why not exclude men? To which it can be replied that, in the current state of the unliberated world, women in certain lands would find it impossible to serve on the House.And so it goes.)

Probably the best refutation that the Baha’i Faith is secretly sexist, is its own history. After all Tahirih played a major role in the Babi Dispensation and is considered a Baha’i (well, Babi) heroine. Also, when Abdu’l-Baha came to Europe, and America, He called the equality of men and women one of the most important Baha’i principles. Now, He was not indulging in press agentry or misrepresentation when he did so. When Abdu’l-Baha left the Holy Land on his western trips, He left His sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf, in charge of the whole shooting match. All questions relating to the Faith, all administrative functions, and running the Baha’i household — everything was up to her. She was the de facto head of the Faith while Abdu’l-Baha was away. Early in his own ministry, Shoghi Effendi also put the Greatest Holy Leaf in charge on atleast two occasions when he went to Europe in the 1920s. Again, if women were, in the Baha’i view, somehow inferior, this wouldn’t have happened.

Okay. This (too long) sample is to give those who didn’t make it some idea of what went on. The classes tend to be discursive but informative. Besides, where else can you sit around and talk (seriously) about the Baha’i Faith without winding up stuck in the muck of fireside misinformation?

Next class will deal with the myths and rituals of the Baha’i Faith. (Funny, don’t they always say at firesides that we have no myths, no dogma, no ritual?) The class will be held at 2 pm Sunday, Dec. 19 at the spacious apartment of Mehrdad Amanat, [Ed. address follows]. From there, we adjourn to the new Idi Amin Hotel in downtown Botswana for tea.

[Ed. handwritten note reads:]

Editor’s Note: Susan Berkman will read a paper on the topic of “Myth & Ritual in the Baha’i Faith” at the next class. It promises to be most stimulating.

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[Ed. the following is from Denis MacEoin in reply to the discussion and critique of his article]

[Ed. illegible title heading but most probably it is the tile of article being discussed"The Concept of Nation in Islam" ]

In reply to certain objections raised at a seminar held in Los Angeles on November 27, 1976.

I must thank these friends who took part in the above seminar, not only for having had interest and patience to discuss my article, but for having given me this opportunity to reply to the criticisms which were raised regarding certain aspects of it. Perhaps I shall be able, in the course of this reply, to clarify some of the statements which became the subject of criticism and thereby make possible a deeper understanding of the subject as a whole.

[Ed. illegible word] I begin by remarking that I felt that much of the criticism was unjustified seemed to result from a very superficial reading of the article. In particular – as I shall show in more detail later – the introduction of the red herring, of ‘nationalism’ led the seminar into areas of discussion quite removed from the initial argument of my article and resulted in a very serious misunderstanding of what I was trying to say.

The first criticism made was that the article was either hopelessly broad or hopelessly narrow – perhaps the very fact that such an extreme range of views existed on this point is evident that the article was somewhere in between these two extremes. More serious criticism was that the article was mistitled and that I was more interested in showing the concept of nation in Europe than in Islam. It seems quite obvious to me that whoever made this suggestion had not read the article at all [Ed. the following word is difficult to read and may be another] clearly; the whole point of the article was to demonstrate that it was in Europe and not in the Islamic world that the first nation states arose. In the last paragraph, I wrote: “It would seem, therefore, that in direct terms, that the Mission of Muhammad was frustrated within Islam itself… If, as we have tried to show, the purpose of God was brought to a satisfactory resolution in the emergence of nations in Europe. It is this interaction between the religions and cultures of Islam and Christianity which constitutes the most remarkable feature of the Dispensation preceeding the Baha’i Dispensation” The reason for the title is really very simple – it is intended to draw attention to the common misconception among Baha’is that, in simple and literal terms, Islam brought the nation state to the world; I began with the statement of Shoghi Effendi that “the Faith of Islam … introduced … the conception of the nation as a unit and a vital stage in the organization of human society, and embodied it in its teaching” and went on went on to try to reconcile this statement with observable historical facts about the rise of nations. This necessarily meant dwelling to some extent on the development of the European nation-state, but it is simply not true to say that I was ‘more interested in the concept of the nation in Europe than … in Islam’ – please simply count the number of pages devoted to each topic.

Another criticism is that, having put forward the hypothesis that ‘Islam is the ultimate source of nationalism in Europe’, I should, as a minimum requirement ‘demonstrate some historical connection between the concept of nationhood in Islam …and the European idea of nationalism’. This you say, I ‘utterly failt to do’, and since I myself admit this failure , you ask what point if any, I was trying to make. This is an exceptionally unfair criticism; it is up to the reader to discover what point I am trying to make rather than to first decide for himself what point I should have been trying to make and then condemn me for not having made it. The demonstration of that historical connection is nowhere said by me to be the purpose of the article; it is, as you say, in my so-called admission of failure, nothing more than a theme, on which it would be useful to elaborate. I am not even convinced that there is a direct connection between the ‘umma concept and the European political thought, and I clearly say so. What I do believe is that there was a direct influence by the Islamic world on Europe, both in the Carelingian [Ed. previous word is difficult to make out] period and in the Middle Ages, and I feel that I have presented a reasonable amount of evidence such influence existed. To be more precise, I have tried to show that there was some sort of interaction between Islam and Christendom which brought mankind, by the nineteenth century to the point where nation states could become the universal political unit in readiness for the next stage of political development, that of world unification. If I have to some extent, succeeded in this effort, I can hardly be attacked for not having achieved what someone else thinks I should have done.

Your next criticism is both the most important and, if I may say so, the least justified. You say that I indicate that the quotations I cite from Shoghi Effendi require us to believe ‘that European nationalism (that is the modern, popular, and secular nationalism which we know today) was introduced by Muhammad and its beginnings in Islam’. I am glad to see that most of those present disagreed with this interpretation, since it is your own interpretation and is nowhere made or suggested by me. It seems to me that the bulk of your criticism consists in putting words into my mouth and then attacking me for having said them. This is not only unscholarly, it is impertinent. To begin with, the definition of nationalism given here (‘modern, popular and secular’, and below ‘modern, militaristic and god-less’) is yours and not mine. For this reason alone, the whole argument presented by your group here falls down completely inasmuch as it is in no way related to the concept which I actually discuss. Again, the suggestion that this nationalism ‘was introduced by Muhammad and had its beginnings in Islam’ is entirely yours; I have gone to pains in my article to show precisely that the form of nation-state introduced by Muhammad very quickly vanished from Islam and that the modern concept of the nation does not have its beginnings in Islam; as I state on page 15 of the article ‘… after the death of Muhammad, we are faced not with the development of ‘umma but with the creation of an empire, and again (on page 19); ‘Something clearly went wrong with Islam …’. You go on to say that I attribute the rise of the ‘evil’ of modern nationalism to a Manifestation of God (i.e. Muhammad); I would appreciate it if you could possibly tell me exactly where I have made such an attribution.

More serious, perhaps, than your mistaken allegation that the concept of which I was was concerned in my article, was nationalism in the bad sense, is your confident assertion that Shoghi Effendi speaks only disparagingly about nationalism. On the contrary, he clearly distinguishes between false and true nationalism, between the harmful ‘philosophy of nationalism’ on the one hand and the reality of the genuine nation states on the other. He writes: “The love of one’s country instilled and stressed in the teachings of Islam, as ‘an element of the Faith of God’, has not, through this declation, this clarion call of Baha’u’llah, been either condemned or disparaged. It should not, indeed, it can not be construed as a repudiation, or regarded in the light of censure pronounced against, a sane and intelligent patriotism, nor does it seek to undermine the allegiance and loyalty of any individual in his country, nor does it conflict with the legitimate aspirations, rights, and duties of any individual state or nation” (Promised Day Is Come pp. 126-127). Again, “let there be no misgivings as to the animating purpose of the world-wide Law of Baha’u’llah. … its purpose is neither to stifle a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s heart, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to supress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples of the world (World Order of Baha’u’llah p.41).

That the national concept, in the modern sense, is regarded by Shoghi Effendi as the stage of social organization immediately prerequisite to and absolutely essential for the unification of mankind in a federated world state is made abundantly clear by him in many places. He writes: “To the states and principalities from the welter of the great Napoleonic upheaval, whose chief preoccupation was either to recover their rights to an independant existence or to achieve their national unity, the conception of world solidarity seemed not only remote but inconceivable. It was not until the forces of nationalism had succeeded in overthrowing the foundation of the Holy Alliance that had sought to curb their rising power, that the possibility of a world order, transcending in its range the political institutions these nations had established, came to be seriously entertained” (World Order of Baha’u’llah p.44). Again: “Unification of the whole of mankind is the hallmark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end” (World Order of Baha’u’llah p.202). That it is to the essentially European concept and fact of nationhood that Shoghi [Effendi] is referring is made abundantly clear by him in a passage quoted by me in my article, where he states: “The conception of nationality, the attainment to the state of nationhood, may, therefore, be said to be the distinguishing characteristic of the Muhammadan Dispensation, in the course of which the nations and races of the world, and particularly in Europe and America, were unified and achieved political independance” (Promised Day Is Come p. 125). Perhaps you could tell me in what respect my argument differs from that outlined by the Guardian in the above sentence? That this, and not some rediculous attempt – such as you attribute to me – that modern nationalism in its most exaggerated form had originated in Islam, was what I set out to demonstrate in my essay was made even clearer by me by my quoting the second part of that sentence a second time (p.12). I would suggest that you read again, and this time with more care, the second paragraph on page 12. The simple fact is that the modern nation state does form the basic building block from which a federated world system will be constructed, just as individual states of North America formed the units out of which the Unites States came into being; it is also a fact that these nation states came into being within the period of the Islamic Dispensation; it is also a fact that Baha’is believe that everything during the Dispensation of a Manifestation has its origin in the creative forces released by Him and can ultimately be traced back to His influence; it is also a fact that Shoghi Effendi, as quoted above, explicitly attributes the rise of national states to the influence of Muhammad. To drag the debased and corrupt forms of modern nationalism which have been developed during the Baha’i Dispensation (because the nation concept is now outgrown) into this argument is completely out of place and utterly unwarranted. Modern nationalism is nothing but a corrupt expression of a valid concept; it has nothing to do with the matter under consideration.

You even go so far as to say that I was misled by false ‘fireside information’ in preparing my article, when it should be abundantly clear to anyone reading the article with a minimum of attention that it is precisely in order to dispel the absurd fireside myth that the nation actually within Islam itself, that the article has been written. May I, therefore, end here, by requessing all of you to take the advice given to me towards the end of your reply and read again the quotations from the Guardian which I have given in my article and above, and to try to grasp the fairly obvious points made in them. I would also recommend that each of you read, once again, the article itself and attempt to understand what I’m actually saying rather than making completely unfounded allegations about what you thought I was saying. It may be that I was not sufficiently clear about my arguments in the original, but I hope that this reply will make them clearer and make it possible for you to have a more constructive discussion on what I believe to be important concepts deserving of some attention.

May I thank you all once again for your kindness in allowing me to thus reply to you criticisms; I do look forward to hearing more of the activities of your group and wish you all every success in the study of the deeper implication of the Baha’i revelation.

With warmest love,

Denis MacEoin

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Links:
The original scanned documents can be found here.