The Baha´i Approach to SED

I know it is easy to fall into a trap of excessive negativity and simply become a source of criticism just for the heck of it. In order to not be so charged, I wanted to share positive ideas regarding the Baha´i approach to social and economic development.The Baha´i Writings contain repeated and intense guidance that we are to help our fellow man, to feed the poor, heal the sick, aid the helpless, etc. They are at once beautiful words as well as extremely high standards to which we must strive. Baha´u´llah mentions this duty, so does Abdu´l-Baha, and so does Shoghi Effendi. I really don´t want to fill up these paragraphs with quote after quote because those interested can do a simple search, either at the Baha´i online library or at Ocean.

Yet, for the most part, the Baha´i international community has not heeded these clear and repeated instructions. We have not really done much. Sure, there is an SED office at the Baha´i World Centre and there are ongoing projects under their supervision. But they are but drops to an ocean. As well, the priority given to them by Baha´u´llah and Abdu´l-Baha have been superceded by other priorities put forward by the UHJ and the ITC.

Primarily, the priority is to teach and to expand the numerical growth of the Baha´i international community. When questions arise as to the reconciliation of these two priorities, words to the following effect are often cited:

“Because love for our fellowmen and anguish at their plight are essential parts of a true Baha’i’s life, we are continually drawn to do what we can to help them. It is vitally important that we do so whenever the occasion presents itself, for our actions must say the same thing as our words — but this compassion for our fellows must not be allowed to divert our energies into channels which are ultimately doomed to failure, causing us to neglect the most important and fundamental work of all. There are hundreds of thousands of well-wishers of mankind who devote their lives to works of relief and charity, but a pitiful few to do the work which God Himself most wants done: the spiritual awakening and regeneration of mankind.”

(From the Universal House of Justice Messages 1963-1986, p. 126)

Basically, it boils down to the argument that the best thing that Baha´is can do for their fellow man is to teach them the Baha´i Faith. But where does this leave the thousands who are destitute, sick, hungry, orphaned and helpless?

To me such an argument is revulsive and wholly incompatible with the words of Baha´u´llah and Abdu´l-Baha. Did the Master stop a poor man on the street and teach him, or did He stop and duck in an alley way to remove His shirt to give to him? Did He ask what religion the poor man professed? or whether he had heard of the Baha´i Faith?

This sort of lukewarm, shrugging of the shoulders and moving on, response is what we witnessed with the Tsunami tragedy of late last year.

Does the person without food really want to listen to your great news about a new religion? or would they rather eat something and feed their family? Would the sick prefer to be cured or to hear of a new Manifestation of God? Put yourself in those shoes right now and think about it for one second.

If these acts are “doomed to fail” and are not the “work that God wants us to do”, then pray tell why did Abdu´l-Baha, the Exemplar, repeatedly behave in this manner? and why did such acts take such a high prominence in the Writings?

I think that, as in many things, Baha´is must learn to practice moderation. Moderation here means that one doesn´t ignore the wailing of the poor or the plight of the sick (stepping over them as a triffling inconvenience of the “Old World Order” on our way to our 5th repetition of Ruhi), neither does it mean that we give up teaching the Faith or deepening.

So where are the positive ideas, you ask?

The first idea is simple, to encourage Baha´is to exit their self-imposed bubble and go out into the real world to help those in need. This can be done in a rather simple way. Making a list of charities and organizations who already do have the infrastructure and systems in place but need human resources. Baha´is can volunteer a few hours a week or month and in so doing, they are not only implementing the Writings about helping our fellow man, but they are doing themselves a huge favour. They are getting out and actually talking with real people, dealing with real problems and co-operating with those on the front lines trying to do something about them. Don´t you think this is much better than to sit in a classroom and rot your brain with the mindnumbing, parrot-like repetition that is Ruhi?

All you need to do is to make a list of like minded organizations in your community and bring it to the Feast and make a short presentation (and be the first to volunteer to set an example). Unfortunately though, most Baha´i communities have become so dense that they will probably cock their heads and ask you, is this approved by the LSA/NSA/UHJ/ITC?

ok, ok, ok . . . I promised to be positive. On to the second idea:

This is a bit more complicated and requires that your whole community be on the same page (more or less). The idea is to pick a sister Baha´i community somewhere way out there in the world. The only stipulation being that they be in a developing or marginalized part of the world and that they have some similarities with your language and culture. For example, the Baha´is of Lisboa can pick a small community in Brasil (say somewhere in the interior). The aim of such partnering is to encourage inter-community communication and allow the Lisboa (in our example) to send funds and other resources to the Brasilian community in need.

The beauty of this sort of partnership is that Lisboa doesn´t need to send a lot of money as their currency (Euro) is quite strong against the Brasilian Real. So a €50 transfer, which is not much for a community such as them, would mean the world when exchanged into Reals. But it doesn´t have to be just money – the community can send books, for example. The actual help will have to come about after an initial dialogue between the two communities. As well, there are many unquantifiable benefits accrued to both communities in such a partnership.

I´m not suggesting a simple wealth transfer but a two way relationship where both parties gain – albeit in different ways. Also, the point of this is to allow the economically poorer community to help itself and improve its conditions – not to simply receive hand outs. Of course, this idea is not simple and implementing it appropriately would take time and a lot of loving patience on both sides. But just think about the benefits and the fruits that it can yield.

There you have it, two positive ideas. Now go run with it.

LA Study Class Newsletter [#11]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER

My Notes:

In this newsletter we see that after the interaction with Dr. MacEoin, the classes (and the resulting newsletter) are gaining further scholarly attention. Three more Baha’i scholars in England join the mailing list in this edition.

They are: Peter Smith, Abbas Amanat and Moojan Momen. All three are well regarded Baha’i scholars today and all resided then in England. Of the three Moojan Momen is probably the most well known in today’s Baha’i circles and is also the person currently in charge of the Afnan Library. Abbas Amanat is now rumoured to be estranged from the Baha’i community (I assume that he is still a Baha’i) but is nevertheless an erudite scholar and a significant contributor to Baha’i and Babi sholarship.

There has developed, over time, a division in the ranks of Baha’i scholars between those who follow the scientific inquiry of scholarship wherever it may lead and those who are ever mindful of the widely accepted norms of their time and attempt to wrestle their research into the confines of these accepted boundaries. Those who grududgingly (or even contentedly) submit themselves to pre-publication review and those who see it as an anachronism and nothing more than a thinly veiled process of censorship by individuals who are do not even have the academic qualifications to pronounce judgement on such works.

Abbas Amanat, Juan Cole, and MacEoin (among others) were ones who could not stand the status quo and in different ways paid the price. Amanat, who is a devout and loyal lover of the Persons of the Bab and Baha’u’llah has apparenlty chosen to withdraw. MacEoin, tragically is no longer a Baha’i having been ‘forced out’ for his views. Juan Cole admits that he lost his Faith for a while but has since reaffirmed it and continues to be a Baha’i as well as an active scholar. Each of these personal histories is available on the internet, with varying degrees of detail, if you wish to know more.

Unfortunately, many of the Baha’i ‘scholarly’ works today simply don’t measure up to widely accepted standards and would not be accepted by scholars in their respective fields. In fact, Baha´i authors are normaly only considered ‘scholars’ within the Baha’i community, where they enjoy a popular following; travelling to different communities and conferences to give talks and lectures. I feel that the only way that scholarship can expand the boundaries of knowledge is to be on the edge of what is accepted and what is not and then to break through these limitating demarcation lines. Scholarship has to be unbiased, scientific and yes, creative. Unfortunately, the only sanctioned type of Baha´i scholarship nowadays is that which limits itself to simply reaffirming what is already known. For an example of scholarship that does measure up to widely accepted standards and is accepted by the peers of the author, check this book out. Or you may wish to join Talisman where other scholars post their on going works in progress.

This newsletter contains a fascinating, first person anecdotal description of the Ishqabad Baha’i community by Mr. Kazemzadeh. Another prominent member of the Baha’i Faith who was also there along with him was the Hand of the Cause of God, Dr. Ali Akbar Furutan. He was well known in the Baha’i community not only as a member of that chosen elite corps, but also as a great educator. His books on child rearing and education are still a mainstay in Baha’i families.

In memory of the late Dr. Furutan, I’ll share with you a small anecdote. The Guardian held Dr. Furutan in such high regard that once when he was not elected to the LSA of Ishqabad, Shoghi Effendi cabled the Baha’is there and instructed them to hold another election. Although he did not explicitely say it, he wanted Dr. Furutan on that LSA! And when Furutan was elected (again) to serve in that capacity, the Guardian cabled back with a congradulatory message.

This slice of history interesting to me because it makes me think: had we a Guardian, would he seek such influence in the elected institutions? would that influence, lacking today, have changed the LSAs and NSAs around the world to be much different than they are now? and would such an influence have been frowned upon or would it have been accepted by the Baha’is?

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]
[Ed. personal address]
March 6, 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends:

These are the latest additions to our mailing list:

Peter Smith [Ed. personal mailing address follows for each]
Dr. Moojan Momen
Abbas Amanat
Irene Trulear
Robin Riles
Allen and Teresa Tarson
Shidan and Suzanne Taslimi
Richard and Bambi Betts
Richard Powerll

For those living outside of the United States, this newsletter is free. However, for everyone else a subscription costs one dollar a month. There are several who have not yet paid their share. We hope that they will do so soon in order to avoid being dropped form the mailing list. Money should be sent to Anthony Lee [Ed. mailing address follows].

At the last class we had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Kazem Kazemzadeh discuss his personal reminscences of the Baha’i community of Ishqabad. The session was fascinating and the class decided to invite Mr. Kazemzadeh back on April 3rd. Watch for further details.

Enclosed is a narrative summary of information which we obtained from Mr. Kazemzadeh on Ishqabad which Robert Ballenger has kindly prepared from his notes. Stenographic notes of the talk were also taken and will eventually be deposited in the archives of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Los Angeles for the benefit of future historians.

Also enclosed is another contribution from Dr. Denis MacEoin. He has kindly offered to share with us his own analysis of the sources for the words of the Central Figures of the Faith. He cautions us, however, that this analysis is only a preliminary attempt which was prepared about seven years ago. Mr. MacEoin states that there are important changes that he would make today, if he were to revise the outline, especially with respect to the question of authenticity. He is now inclined more towards the use of more scientific data to determine this question.

The reader will recall that in the newsletter of December 21, 1976, Anthony Lee offered a tentative categorization of the Baha’i Sacred Writings. It is interesting and useful to contrast the two analyses. We must again offer our sincere thanks to Mr. MacEoin for his general contribution to our class.

THE NEXT CLASS will be held at 3 pm at the house of Anthony Lee [Ed. home address and phone number follows]. Greg Wahlstrom will be making his log awaited presentation on the Calamity.A pot-luck dinner will follow, and since we will be fasting, everyone should bring a substantial amount of food.

[Ed. the following is the summary of the talk by Mr. Kazemzadeh, prepared by Robert Ballenger]
[Ed. personal address]
March 6, 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends,

In the early 1900’s, at the height of its power and influence, Ishqabad was the most complete Baha’i community in the world. Within a few years, its influence was shattered, its institutions dissolved, its believers imprisoned and, in some cases, executed and its existence all but snuffed out. The Baha’i Study Class of Los Angeles heard the details of this transformation from a man who saw much of it happen, Mr. Kazem Kazemzadeh, now living in Santa Monica, California. Here is what he told us at our class of March 6.

The area of Ishqabad was seized from Persia by Russia in 1881. Before the Russian conquest, Ishqabad was little more than a tent city of some 500 dwellers on a windy plain. Czarist authorities decided to make it the administrative center of Turkistan (now known as the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic). They pushed through a railroad and Ishqabad became an important administrative center in Southern Russia. Almost overnight, Ishqabad, a dusty, sleepy backwater, was transformed into a boom town. Around 1884, a relative of the Bab named Muhammad Riza [Ed. alternative spelling: Ridha] visited Ishqabad and recognized its potential. Not far from Iran’s northern frontier, it seemed an ideal place for a Baha’i community. Muhammad Riza travelled to Akka and conferred with Baha’u’llah about the possibility of sending Baha’i pioneers to Ishqabad. Baha’u’llah agreed and wrote a Tablet to Persia, urging Baha’is to emigrate to Ishqabad. About 200-300 believers , from all parts of Persia, did so. It was not hard to recruit volunteers. Iran was in the throes of one of its periodic persecutions of Baha’is. Baha’is began moving to Ishqabad, buying land, and beginning new lives as merchants and tradesmen. As Mr. Kazemzadeh, who was born in Ishqabad, put it “in comparison to Persia, it was paradise.” By 1890, there were about 1000 Baha’is living in the Ishqabad area.

They were not the only emigrants to this new land. Other Persians, Muslims, also moved into Ishqabad, often bringing their fanatical hatred of the Baha’is along with their baggage. In September, 1889, Muhammad Riza was murdered in the town’s bazaar in broad daylight by two hired assassins. The czarist government moved quickly. About a dozen Muslims were arrested as participants or accomplices to the crime. Czar Alexander III sent in a military commission from St. Pertersburg (now Leningrad) to conduct the trial. The trial itself had some curious aspects. The Muslims arrested readily admitted having killed Muhammad Riza. They claimed he had insulted the Imams, which provoked the wrath of the deeply religious Islamic community. But underlying their statements was a confidence borne of experience. In Persia, one could kill Baha’is with virtual impunity and not fear punishment. Indeed, the Muslims were so certain of acquittal that they began laying plans for a general massacre of the Baha’is once the legal formalities were over. Meanwhile, the Baha’is feared that, once again, they would be the victims of a religious pogram.

This time would be different. The judge in the trial ordered his courtroom segregated to separate the Baha’is from the Muslims. That constituted the first official recognition that the Baha’i Faith was not an Islamic sect. As the prosecutor presented his case, he asked each of the defendants if they had murdered or conspired to kill Muhammad Riza. They all testified openly that they did. Summarizing his case to the court, the prosecutor urged that the two assassins be hanged and the others involved banished to Siberia for various prison terms. The Muslims were stunned. The judge agreed to that sentence and ordered it carried out. Upon learning of the verdict and sentence, the Persian and Turkish governments attempted to intervene on behalf of the Muslim defendants, but the czarist government rejected their pleas. Swallowing their pride, leaders of the Muslim community approached the Baha’is and asked them to intercede and seek lesser sentences. The Baha’is agreed and asked the Russian governor of Ishqabad to reduce the punishment. The governor passed the request along to his superiors in Tashkent. On the day the two assassins were to die on the gallows erected in front of the local high school, government authorities announced that, because of the intercession of the Baha’is, the two murderers would not be hung. Instead they, along with the other Muslims involved in Muhammad Riza’s slaying were banished to Siberia.

The trial and its result established for the first time ever that the Baha’is had a right to exist free from persecution of the Muslims. By successfully persuading the authorities to reduce the punishments for the Muslims, the Baha’i community gained an enormous amount of prestige. The end of the trial signaled the beginning of the flowering of the Baha’i community in Ishqabad. Developing land they had purchased earlier, the Baha’is began to build elementary schools, one for boys and one for girls, as was the custom in those days, a Baha’i library, a hostel for visitors, an auditorium, and, in 1902 they undertook the construction of the first Baha’i House of Worship in the world. As evidence of the growing prestige of the Faith, the Czar sent General Krapatkin, the governor-general of Turkistan, to represent the House of Romanov at the laying of the foundation stone. Under Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions, a Baha’i named Haji Mirza Muhammad-Taqi, a cousin of the Bab, was directed to personally oversee [the] erection of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. Muhammad-Taqi dedicated his entire fortune to the project. The Baha’is also established their own cemetary in Ishqabad. At this same time, they created their own journal, called “Sun of the East” and written in Persian. The local assembly had between 12 and 16 members who were elected for terms of about 5 years. Things were going so well that Abdu’l-Baha had to warn the Ishqabad believers not to make too much progress too swiftly lest it provoke problems for the Baha’is in Persia. Meanwhile, construction of the House of Worship progressed slowly. It was expensive and funding was always a problem as was buying all the necessary building materials. In the end, it required about 19 years to complete the work, and the Temple was not completed until 1922.

Although it was not immediately apparent, the bubble burst with the Russian Revolution of 1917. At first it seemed as if the Bolshevik takeover might work to the advantage of the Baha’is. Though the czarist government had been tolerant of Baha’i activities, it was cruel and depotic. The Bolsheviks promised an end to the erratic tyranny of the czarist regime. And it seemed as if even greater freedoms were within reach. Up until the revolution, the Baha’is were forbidden to teach among the native Russian population. They could, and did, convert Muslims, and import members of their own Faith. It was illegal, under czarist law, for anyone born into an Eastern Orthodox family, to convert to any non-Christian religion. After the first Revolution broke out in February, 1917, the czarist rules vanished, and Baha’is began teaching among Russians, Armenian and Caucasian peoples. The Bolsheviks tolerated this and did not interfere. Ishqabad was thousands of miles away from the center of the revolution in northern Russia.

When the fighting ended in victory for the Bolsheviks, the Baha’is sent a delegation of believers to Moscow, the site chosen as the new capitol of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Baha’is assured the members of the new government they could be trusted: loyalty to government was a cardinal Baha’i principal, they explained. The Bolsheviks, busy consolidating their powers, listened and made no objections. During the four year period from 1918 to 1922, Baha’is held open public meetings with as many as 400 people in attendance to proclaim the Faith. Local assemblies flourished as far north as Moscow and Leningrad. The Bolsheviks, knowing that Baha’is were routinely persecuted in Persia, hoped to use the Faith as the cutting edge for their revolutionary ideals, spreading these to India. Things began to go sour when the Baha’is refused to allow themselves to be exploited as carriers of Bolshevik ideology.

As the relations between the still-growing Baha’i community in Russia and the newly installed Communist started cooling, the Baha’is sent a new delegation to Moscow. Mr. Kazemzadeh was a member of that party. In a meeting with a government official, the Communist bureaucrat candidly told the Baha’is he was not all all worried about supplanting the influence of the Christians and Muslims in Russia. And then he added, “Frankly, you are more dangerous than the others.” In 1922, the official gazette of the new communist government published an article in which it accused the Baha’is of turning the thoughts of the Russian youth away from Bolshevik ideals and toward their own religion. The Baha’i efforts would have to be stopped, the article stated. Baha’i meetings in Moscow and Leningrad were broken up by the police and believers arrested. In Ishqabad, the recently finished House of Worship was seized as state property and the Baha’is were forced to sign a contract to rent it for their own use. The Baha’i community of Ishqabad, now numbering about 2,000 strong, began to feel the full weight of government repression.

During 1927 and 1928, the Russian Baha’is in Moscow were arrested and imprisoned. There followed sporadic incidents of more arrests, banishments to Siberia (reviving a czarist practice) and, in the case of some Persian Baha’is exile back to their native land. In 1933, the Baha’is of Ishqabad were forced to sign a new, five-year lease of the House of Worship. They were allowed to meet there but, public teaching of the Faith was forbidden. Publication of “Sun of the East” was barred and the printing press which produced it was seized by police authorities. In 1937, with the onset of the Stalinist purges, things grew much worse. Thousands of Russians were rounded up and shipped off to forced labor camps in the polar regions of Siberia. In Ishqabad, 280 Baha’is were arrested and most were put on trains heading for Siberia. The lucky ones were expelled back to Persia. A handful of Baha’is, accused of being spies for England (a favorite dununciatory tactic during Stalinist times) were executed. Josef Stalin died in 1953, after a massive stroke. And although the systematic, oppression eased, the Baha’i community of Ishqabad was broken. In 1938, the House of Worship was taken over by Soviet authorities, who converted it into an art gallery. Ten years later it was severly damaged in an earthquake and had to be demolished as a structural hazard. A few Baha’is, released from concentration camps in Siberia, trickled back to Ishqabad. And, although the Communist authorities allowed them to have meetings, public teaching remained banned, nor was it permitted to re-form the local assembly. Today, there still exists the remnant of a Baha’i community in Ishqabad, but it is cut off from contact with the Baha’i world at large. Under Soviet rule, the Baha’is were never persecuted as subversive to the state, but were oppressed for the reason that they presented too strong and too valid a competition for the atheistic ideals of the Communist cause.

NEXT CLASS: the long postponed calamity will be upon us at 3 pm, Saturday, March 19. Greg Wahlstrom, who has gathered the material for this session (presumably that meas stockpiling an array of nuclear arms and other exotic weapons) will present the class. For those of you hoping to purchase one-way tickets to Tierra del Fuego, off the coast of Argentina, sorry, we’re all sold out. After Greg’s presentation, we will break the fast together (assuming anyone still has the stomach to eat) with a potluck supper, so those of you planning to attend, please bring food. The class will be at Tony’s apartment [Ed. address follows]. It might also be nice for some of you to show up early and help Tony put the finishing touches on the fallout shelter he is building.

NEXT NEXT CLASS: will be our regular time, 2 pm, Sunday, April 3. It will be at Carol Alston’s house, but since she is moving, we don’t know where it will be yet. Watch this space for further developments. We’ve asked Mr. Kazemzadeh to return as our speaker, this time to give us what amounts to a short history of Baha’i persecution in Iran. Mr. Kazemzadeh served as defense counsel at a famous trial of Baha’is in Yazd. PS please bear in mind that these newsletters are no longer free. Those of you on our mailing list are asked to pony up $1 a month (cheap at twice the price, gang) to keep getting them. Otherwise, we’ll cut you off the list. Honest.

[Ed. what follows is the analysis of Dr. Denis MacEoin of the sources for the words of the Central Figures of the Faith]
ANALYSIS OF SOURCES FOR THE WORDS OF BAB, BAHA’U’LLAH, AND ABDU’L-BAHA Denis MacEoin

WORDS OF THE BAB

Written by His Own hand (from Baha’i sources)
Written by His Own hand (from Azali sources)
Written by His Own hand (from Muslim sources)
Written by Amanuenses at His dictation (from all above sources, and also from European sources)
Related in Babi histories
Related in Muslim histories
Related in “neutral” histories
Related by contemporary Babis in letters, etc.
Related in contemporary documents by non-Baha’is
Related in later memoirs by contemporaries or their descendants
Quoted by Baha’u’llah
Quoted by Abdu’l-Baha
Quoted by Mirza Yahza [Ed. Subhi-Azal]

WORDS OF BAHA’U’LLAH

Written by His Own hand (from Baha’i sources)
Written by His Own hand (from other sources)
Written down by Abdu’l-Baha
Written down by Mirza Aqa Jan
Written down by other amenuenses
Written down by any amenuensis and transcribed by Zaynu’l-Muqarribin
Written down by contemporaries and recorded in letters, etc.
Written down by contemporaries and recorded in later memoirs
Written down by contemporaries and recorded by their descendants
Written down by contemporaries and authenticated by Abdu’l-Baha or the Guardian
Related in Baha’i histories
Related in non-Baha’i histories
Related in contemporary documents from non-Baha’i sources
Quoted by Abdu’l-Baha (in any of the following ways)

WORDS OF ABDU’L-BAHA

Written by His Own hand (from Baha’i sources)
Written by His Own hand (from other sources)
Written down by amenuenses
Recorded in Kitab-i-Badayl’ul-Athar (Mahmud’s Diary)
Recorded from talks and collated by the Local Spiritual Assemby of Tihran
Noted down roughly when spoken
Recorded in translation without the original
Recorded in newspapers
Recorded by contemporaries in letters, etc.
Recorded by contemporaries in later memoirs
Recorded by descendants of contemporaries
Recorded by contemporaries and authenticated by the Guardian

(Note also Risaliy-i-Tisa Ashariyya written by Sohrab but amended and corrected by Abdu’l-Baha)

WORDS FROM OTHER SOURCES IN THE WRITINGS OF BAHA’U’LLAH

From authetic scriptures (eg the Bayan, the Qur’an)
From the Gospels – Words of Jesus
From the Gospels – other portions
From the rest of the New Testament
From the Old Testament
From the Bible, but altered from the original
From Hadith (tradition) attributed to Muhammad
From Hadith attributed to an Imam
From other traditions
From Hadith Qudsi
From philosophers, mystics, poets, etc.
From words of believers (eg Haji Shaykh Muhammd Ali)
From words of enemies
From words of Covenant-Breakers
From words of enquirers
From words of the Bab, in Baha’u’llah’s Own Words (ie, not recorded by the Bab)
From words of Jesus and other Prophets (not previously recorded)

(Also note passages attributing words to allegorical personifications such as “the True Faith”, “Trustworthiness” or “All Created Things”; passages which purport to “quote” the words of the “infidels”, etc.; passages taking the form of a dialogue between Baha’u’llah and God; passages appearing to have been written by Mirza Aqa Jan.)

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

Blog Update

I made a few cosmetic changes to the blog, adding a counter and a few external links. I´m not really sure why I put the counter on my blog because I´m not really concerned with getting people to read it. As I mention in my profile, it is really for me; if someone happens to stumble onto it, that´s fine too. But if you do happen to read something and have a comment, know that you can always tell me and the world using the little button that blogger provides at the bottom of each post. I do value other people´s opinion, even if I don´t necessarily agree with them, so keep them coming. As to the links, they are to a couple of neat sites and you can count on the link section growing in the coming days.

LA Study Class Newsletter [#10]

My Notes:This edition of the study class is about what might be called “women´s issues”; contraception, abortion, etc. All very controversial topics under any circumstances but even more charged in a religious context where there is really no explicit treatment of these issues.

It also touches on a topic of some concern for many Baha’is: internal and unnecessary bureaucracy. The example mentioned below is about the strange mechanistic notion adopted by the Guardian that Baha’i communities should be organized according the legal limits of counties, municipalities and cities. Most of the time this serves the community well, but as the example below shows, there are some times which is appears to be simply idiotic. Of course, there is no reason why a more flexible approach can not be adopted where it is applied in larger communities and then done away with in small communities to adapt to their reality. Unfortunately, this sort of flexibility is lost because the guidelines of the Guardian are upheld rigidly 50 years after his passing in a mistaken belief that this is piety or “strength in the Covenant”.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70’s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]
[Ed. personal address]
February 28, 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends:

Here are the latest additions and corrections to our mailing list:

Dennis Best [Ed. personal mailing address follows for each]
Susan Engwall
Carole Anston
Bobbie Inahara [Ed. location: Switzerland!]
Margaret Fife
Richard Bruce
Brian Abrom
Ron Thomson
Daniel Agyemang

Please remember that this newsletter is no longer free. A subscription costs one dollar per month. If you have not yet paid your share please do so before your name is dropped from out mailing list.

The class met last on February 19th. Unfortunately, there was a last minute change in schedule which caused Greg Wahlstrom’s presentation on the Calamity to be postponed yet another time. Since our next class or maybe two (maybe three) will be devoted to Mr. Kazemzadeh and the history of the Baha’i community Ishqabad, the calamity has been pushed back to some future date.

The last class had no formal presentation last time. We had a visitor from Wyoming, Larry Lipshin. He started things off by giving us a short report on the state of the Baha’i community of Wyoming. The state has a population of 300,000; 65,000 of whom live in the capital of Cheyenne. There are only 122 Baha’is in the state however, and 55 of them are isolated believers. The largest Baha’i community in the state, Cheyenne has a grand total of 14 Baha’is. It seems that teaching in the state is slow. Even in the best of times the success rate in teaching is frustratingly low. People do become Baha’is in Wyoming, but not very many and not very often. It is easy for the Baha’i community to experience long lapses in activities, too. Baha’i administrative red tape is also a hindrance. Although Ft. Collins, Colorado is only 50 miles south of Cheyenne, getting a speaker to come in from there involves going through two local assemblies and two district teaching committees. Larry explained that state boundaries present quite a mental barrier to Baha’is.

Next the class took up the subject of birth control and other related topics. It seems that it has become common recently to hear Baha’is at firesides presenting “the Baha’i view” of birth control or abortion or contraception. These statements are usually dogmatic and inflexible. . . and usually wrong. The class read quotations from a compilation on Birth Control put out by the National Spiritual Assembly [of the Baha'is of the United States] which is available upon request (write to: 112 Linden Avenue, Wilmette, Illinois 60091).

There were three quotations on the subject of contraception. The first was a letter from Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer written through his secretary [on] October 14, 1935. In it Shoghi Effendi states that neither Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha ever revealed anything about birth control. (So much for the idea that the Writings contain answer to every possible question.) This is an important statement because it means that Baha’is may be guided by their own consciences in this matter. However, the Guardian warns that the idea of birth control has certain dangers to the foundation of social life, namely, marriage. For the Writings clearly teach that procreation of children and their education in the teachings of God is the primary purpose of marriage. So, the Guardian went on to say, “Birth Control,except in exceptional cases, is therefore not permissible.”

The next quotation was also from the Guardian through his secretary to an individual believer (the same one?) dated February 4, 1947. In it Shoghi Effendi again states that there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject (which, of course, makes it impossible for him to give any interpretation on this subject). “We, as Baha’is, are not therefore in a position either to condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it.” However, there are teachings on the subject of marriage which the Guardian interpreted to mean that the use of contraceptives to prevent having any children at all within a marriage is contrary to the spirit of the Faith, and therefore, forbidden to the believers. But, he added that the House of Justice would have to legislate on this issue in the future.

The final quotation was from the Universal House of Justice (July 13, 1967) saying simply that the time was not right for it to make any decision on this matter, and that, in the meantime, the Baha’is could be guided by the above quotations.

The quotations taken together (and any one of them would be difficult to understand in isolation) seemed to set a moderate course, which balances two principles against one another. The first, that there are no Baha’i teachings on this subject and therefore the Baha’is may do as they please. The second, that the primary purpose of marriage is to raise up children to worship God. (We noted that this is not the only purpose of marriage, as the Writings clearly state.)

Next, abortion. From a letter dated August 25, 1939 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer we read simply that “abortion is forbidden in the Cause”. However, the Universal House of Justice wrote to a National Spiritual Assembly on May 5, 1971 [explaining] that while abortion merely for the purpose of getting rid of an unwanted child is absolutely forbidden, there are some circumstances in which an abortion could be justified. Again, we have an issue which is not dealt with in the Sacred Text and upon which the House of Justice does not wish to legislate at this time. So, the believers, it is stated must be guided by the above principle, the best professional advice they can get (medical, psychological, possibly legal?) and their own consciences.

The class noted that the House of Justice does not mention the Institutions of the Faith as a source of guidance here. Presumably, a woman considering an abortion could seek advice from a local Assembly, let’s say. But, the Assembly would clearly have no binding authority in the matter. They could not forbid her to have an abortion or direct her to do so. Ultimately, it is her decision and hers alone. . . at least at this point in Baha’i history.

Again contradictory principles find an uneasy reconciliation. And, again the quotations would be very difficult to interpret alone.

And sterilization. A letter from the House of Justice dated August 14, 1967 states that Shoghi Effendi stated that sterilization is not permissible and that one who commits it is responsible before God, the sterilizer or the sterilizee. Presumably both. But, there is only one quotation in the National Assembly’s compilation in this subject and it is next to impossible to understand alone. The class decided that we could draw no conclusions without other quotations or references.

The class continued a free discussion through the afternoon and kicked around such topics as chastity and sex, dating behavior among Baha’is, the Merida Conference, etc. We got into one real donnybrook about whether or not Baha’is should maintain their ethnic identities within the Baha’i community or shed it as a vestige of the old world order. Specifically, the problem is Jews who become Baha’is. At least in this area, they tend to shed as much of their Jewish identity as possibly as soon as they sign their declaration cards. Some objected that this was a gross misunderstanding of the Faith, while others argued that it was the proper thing to do. We were 180 degrees apart on this one. The subject will, no doubt, come up again.

THE NEXT CLASS will be held on Sunday, March 6 at 3 pm. It is during the Fast, so eat a big breakfast. We will have a kind of living history lesson since the class will be given over to Mr. Kazem Kazemzadeh , a Persian Baha’i who was born in Ishqabad, Russia under the Czarist regime. He will talk to us about his recollections of the early Baha’i communities in Russia. (We understand that he served on the local spiritual assembly of Moscow for a time.) The class will be held at the home of Anthony Lee [Ed. home address and directions follow]. Dinner will be served when the sun goes down and we will socialize and talk into the night.

THOSE WHO ATTEND THIS CLASS are asked to prepare for it by reading up on the Baha’i community of Ishqabad in God Passes By and in the Baha’i World Volumes IV, VIII and XIX. Please come prepared to ask intelligent questions.

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

Resignations and Arrests Connected?

What started it all seems to have been the arrest of several Baha´is in Iran and the apparently concomitant resignation of two long serving members of the UHJ. A source, not known for 100% accuracy made this interesting observation and was derided until a few days later when official confirmation arrived in a curtly worded press release.I don´t really want to get into this situation as it has already been discussed in depth in various other blogs and in the varied Baha´i discussion forums. I just want to add that there is a much larger story here and that perhaps with time, we will find out what is really going on.

There is no question that whoever these Baha´is were (either foreigners or native Iranians), they were under the direct supervision of the ITC/UHJ. No Baha´i dares take any trip to Iran without informing their NSA (as instructed by the UHJ). As well, the recent letter addressed to Baha´is outside of Iran clearly discouraged them from even travelling to Iran. Saying that if they must, it is their duty to practice restraint and moderation, lest they put the Faith at risk or encourage the Baha´is there to leave. So it is clear that a Baha´i, on their own, would never in a million years travel to Iran and do anything that would be so questionable. Unless they were doing so “under the auspices” of the institutions. To suggest otherwise is preposterous.

But for the moment you can count on the official Baha´i channels to be in full damage control mode. Not until things calm down, do I hope to know what the heck was going on behind the scenes.

If you know of any information regarding this (either proving or disproving the connection of the two events or anything else related), please let us know. The Baha´i world community derserves to know the truth.

I pray that all the Baha´is detained are treated well and released. And I also pray that the Baha´i world community really thinks this time when they go to the ballot box to choose the replacement for Semple and Martin.

Having said that, realistically, their replacements will probably come from the ITC´s XY chromosome pool.