Fahrenheit 245

This is pretty self explanatory, so no comments from me (other than to wonder how soon other NSAs around the world will follow suit, and whether the decision was made by the Universal House of Justice and delegated for implementation):

of the
536 SHERIDAN ROAD, WILMETTE, ILLINOIS 60091-2849 ? (847) 733-3537? EMAIL: secretariat@usbnc.org

December 29, 2005
To all Local Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bah??’? Friends,

Enclosed for your information is a copy of our letter of today’s date addressed to Kalim??t Press. We ask you to comply with the decision we have made that all national and local Bah??’? agencies cease to distribute books and other items marketed by this publisher. However, you may continue to sell whatever you may have in stock until your inventories are depleted. Individuals are free, of course, to decide to purchase books from any publisher.

Our decision was regretfully reached as a result of increasing concern in recent years that a number of titles handled by Kalim??t Press, aside from those which have enriched Bah??’? literature over the years, contain matter inimical to the best interests of our Faith. It is highly inappropriate for Bah??’? institutions, which are obligated to safeguard such interests, to provide channels of distribution for publishers promoting such titles.

With loving Bah??’? greetings,

Robert C. Henderson

of the
536 SHERIDAN ROAD, WILMETTE, ILLINOIS 60091-2849 ? (847) 733-3537? EMAIL: secretariat@usbnc.org

December 29, 2005

Mr. Anthony Lee
Kalim??t Press
1600 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 310
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Dear Bah??’? Friend,

We write to inform you of our decision to instruct the Bah??’? Distribution Service and all other national and local Bah??’? agencies serving our community to cease to acquire and sell any titles marketed by Kalim??t Press. We have been impelled to so decide out of a serious concern that your company is increasingly offering titles that are inimical to the best interests of the Bah??’? Faith.

Yours in His service,
Robert C. Henderson

Related Links:

Karen’s commentary on her blog.
Alison’s commentary and podcast on her blog.
My commentary on this decision (I know, I know, I said no comment).

Kalimat Press website.
NSA letter to LSAs (pdf file).
NSA letter to Kalimat Press (pdf file).

Christmas Cheer

It is that time of the year again! You know, when Baha’is start wringing their hands about whether they should celebrate Christmas. Or just how much ‘celebrating’ is too much…is getting a tree too much? what about exchanging gifts? Oh my Gosh! What about sipping eggnog? In the Yahoo! Group: Unenrolled Baha’i there’s a discussion about the approach of Baha’is (enrolled and unenrolled) towards Christmas. And in the LiveJournal Baha’i forum there was a recent question about the same.

Since I never officially celebrated Christmas with my family growing up, I don’t know what I’m missing. We never had a tree, never hung mistletoe, nor stockings. Our house was immaculately bereft of all festive paraphenalia. And yet, I never once got the impression that the celebration of Christmas by others (Christians, agnostics, atheists, Baha’is, etc.) was wrong or bad. Of course, I know that Shoghi Effendi gives guidance that Baha’is not celebrate Christmas but c’mon !

Asking Western Baha’is who have grown up seeped in the tradition of that jolly nordic saint with his toy sweatshop hidden in the arctic, is like asking Iranian Baha’is to stop celebrating Chahar-Shanbeh Soori. After all, they are both un-Baha’i; having nothing to do with the Faith and having both lost so much of their original significance. And yet, in both cases, people just can’t stop continuing the traditions.


In case you’re not familiar with it, Chahar-Shanbeh Soori is an ancient festival (probably preceding Zoroastrian times) which literally translated means the Last Wednesday of the Year. There’s a lot of different activities (like Christmas) but the most famous one and the most visually spectacular is undertaken on Tuesday night. Imagine the streets coming alive with children and people as families spill out of their homes and greet each other. Soon fathers are seen congregating with sticks, tinder and other flammable objects. Before you know it, roaring bonfires are lit and people gather around them.

Then suddenly someone is the first to go; taking a running start and jumping over the fire they yell ‘Sorkhie to az man… Zardieh man az to’. Literally: ‘Your redness to me … my yellowness to you’. This rhyme complements this ancient purification ritual where the healthy glow of the fire is beseeched to bless the person and to take away all their maladies and ills.

Another activity associated with Chahar-Shanbeh Soori is when people wear strange costumes – usually wrapping themselves up in sheets to symbolize the shrouds of the dead – and head out into the street armed with pots and pans to create a cacophony you will never forget. As the saying goes, they could wake the dead! And that’s pretty much the intention; this ancient ritual is said to ward off evil spirits. For their trouble the kids then go door to door and receive treats – heaven help the poor soul who isn’t liberal with the treats. They probably won’t be left alone to sleep a wink that night. And here you thought that the West had a monopoly on Halloween, didn’t you?

As you can well imagine, the fundamental Muslims in Iran view all of this as peccant pagan rituals which defile the Islamic purity in their society. For more than 25 years (since the 1979 revolution) they have made futile attempts to stop people from celebrating Chahar-Shanbeh Soori. They have beaten people, imposed curfews, thrown people in jail….all to no avail. This ancient tradition is just too deeply bred in the bone. Something ingrained in the psyche of the Iranian society for thousands of years can not be simply erased by two measly decades.


So that’s what I think of when talk turns to Baha’is celebrating Christmas in the West. Isn’t it hypocritical that Baha’is in Iran celebrate by jump over bonfires and no one bats an eyelash but suddenly when the same Baha’i family comes over to the US they get all uppity when they see the North American Baha’is putting up and decorating a coniferous tree?

That’s why I say, relaaaaaax. Chill out Dorothy! You’re not in Kansas anymore. Grab a cup of eggnog and learn a few of those silly Christmas carols.

Then after its all over, see if you can suggest to your neighbourhood a new way to dispose of all those dried up Christmas trees (hint: tree=wood).

Related Links:

Wikipedia article on Chahar Shanbeh Soori.

An article explaining the different activities of Chahar Shanbeh Soori.

The Return of the Hojatieh

With the arrival of the new president, everyone has noted that Iran’s political situation has taken a very bad turn. Unfortunately most people don’t have even a clue as to the extent nor the underlying reasons. I hope to shed some light in the next paragraphs and once again, show why I believe the UHJ’s policy of encouraging Baha’is to remain in Iran is completely wrong and extremely dangerous.


Within a few months, Ahmadinejad has swiftly reversed years of careful and painstaking transformation by the moderate outgoing president (Khatami). All the efforts of the previous administration to strike a conciliatory note with the West (“dialogue of civilizations”) as well as the attempts to inject moderation, flexibility, and democracy within Iranian society have been destroyed. Ahmadinejad has already purged all the most important government posts and appointed his own candidates. The one exception being the most important: the head of the Petroleum Ministry, which the Majlis (parliament) has fought tooth and nail – and won. In any case, in all instances where he has been successful, the candidates have shared his particular brand of Islam and were, through and through, fiercely loyal to him and his version of the ideals of the Islamic revolution. As expected, the candidates’ competence were of no consequence.

A case in point being the newly appointed president of Tehran University – the first person to occupy the post without having a university education himself. If this pattern of appointing cronies with no competence sounds like another present world leader, wait till you see the other similarities.

Other ominous changes in Iran have occured with blurring speed. Small changes, like the removal of all foreign language signage in airports, as well as large ones; the imposition of a strict dress-code with renewed vigour; extreme limitations on the press and media; and renewed censorship of the arts (movies, music, etc.). On the surface, the intention of Ahmadinejad is to take Iran back to the ‘purity’ of the first months of the Islamic revolusion under Khomeini.

But what is underlying all these changes? And who is Ahmadinejad anyway? How did someone so unknown, with such little political experience and capital, sweep so quickly to the top at the ballot box?

To answer these questions, we have to go back more than 50 years into Iran’s past – back to the establishment of a semi-secret society known as the Hojatieh. They were the fundamentalists, fundamentalists. If you consider Khomeini a loonie case – take him to the nth degree and you may have an inkling about the Hojatieh.

The Hojatieh were mostly made up of the businessmen (bazaar-i) and fanatical mullahs. Among other things, they opposed communists, Marxists, and atheists. Their overarching raison d’?tre, however, was to prepare the world for the coming of the 12th Imam – the Mehdi. These and other activities were added slowly over time. At the moment of its creation in the 1950’s, however, the Hojatieh had but one singular purpose: the elimination of Baha’is.

And they carried out their goal with ruthless zeal. From the inception of the organization, countless Baha’is were either killed by them directly or turned in to the authorities, with predictable consequences. They played a very small role in the 1979 revolution and its aftermath – they viciously eliminated the leftist alternative (the Tudeh party) to the Islamic society proposed by Khomeini and they further helped Khomeini by mobilizing their members to vote in the post-revolutionary constitutional referendum. However, immediately afterwards, when their leader refused to accept Khomeini’s wacky thesis of valiat-e-faghih Khomeini had them disbanded. As you can imagine, a society such as the Hojatieh doesn’t simply vanish. The close ties of its members – cemented by years of mercantile exchange – can not be simply erased. So, they quietly went underground and operated towards their goals – except now with the added characteristic of stealth.

Much like Opus Dei, the Hojatieh lurked like a shadow in the halls of power. Everyone knew they were around, no one talked about it. Recent events prove that the Hojatieh has not only survived its banishment underground all these years but that it has gained strength and crept to the forefront of the political scene in Iran. Indeed, it has boldly come out into the open and is now busily engaged in molding the political destiny of Iran. Ahmadinejad is one of their most visible and devoted members. And through him, most of the upper ranking officials of the current regime are as well.

In the same way that George W. Bush has a spiritual advisor in Billy Graham, Ahmadinejad has Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi (the defacto leader of the Hojatieh). He is known for his extremist views on Islam; he condones and promotes suicide bombings, attacks on civilians in the West and once said, ‘if anyone tells you their own interpretation of Islam, punch them in the mouth!’. Recently a cartoonist was jailed and severely beaten when he drew a smiling crocodile – a reference to Mesbah-Yazdi’s features.

And much like the Bush administration, Ahmadinejad also demands complete submission and loyalty to his agenda. All high level officials appointed by him have to demonstrate their loyalty by signing documents devoting themselves to the Imam Mehdi – in effect, cementing their Hojatieh identities.

Almost everyone in the West misinterprets the recent extremist speech of Ahmadinejad and blames it on a politically inexperienced man making public gaffes. And surprisingly, in reporting on his speech to the UN, the Western media completely missed the significance of his repeated references to the return of the Mehdi. Most of the audience was dozing off ofcourse, but the fact that the media didn’t pick up on this big clue shows just how much the West is ignorant of the true underlying forces in Iran (for Ahmadinejad’s surreal personal take on his UN speech see the video link below). Everything Ahmadinejad does in his capacity as president is coloured by his religious ideology. In fact, he has gone as far as re-writing history and saying that the sole purpose of the Islamic revolution was and is to bring about the return of the Imam Mehdi.

The Hojatieh is extremely dangerous because it subscribes to an ideology of apocalypsism. In the same way that Christian fundamentalists expect the Rapture, the return of the Mehdi is awaited by Shi’ite Muslims. They believe that the conditions for the return of the 12th Imam is a sort of end of days scenario. Imagine: war, pestilence, earthquakes, plagues, etc. To them such events are to be welcomed since only when things are downright nasty will the Imam see fit to return. Most shockingly, some ultra fanatics within this camp even go as far as saying that anything one can do to bring about such mayhem is good since it will perhaps speed up his schedule.

If you temporarily subscribe to the ideology of the Hojatieh, suddenly all the puzzle pieces fit together. Would someone who sees the world through this perverse lens be distressed by a runaway drug problem in their country? Not at all. In fact, it would be congruent with their belief system to throw open the border of Afghanistan and let the opium flow freely into Iran (…with the requisite cut of the proceeds, ofcourse). Would someone with such a belief do anything to address other social ills such as unemployment, prostitution, bribery, graft, corruption, etc.? Again, no. If anything they would take clandestine measures to exacerbate the problems.

To expect Ahmadinejad to be perturbed by the world’s reaction to his recent outburst regarding ‘wiping Israel off the map’, is to be ignorant of his ideology. Upset? Far from it! He relishes the chaos and confusion… the agitation that such actions produce in the West. If he had his way, it would extend and envelop the whole world – so as to hasten the arrival of the Mehdi. In his perverted view of things, the worse things get, the better!

Warning him, chastising him, or threatening him (as the IAEA, the US and Israel have done) is as effective a deterrent as waving a red cloth in front of a bull. Visions of a nuclear holocaust will only bring smiles to his face.


This is exactly why, more than ever, it is paramount that the Baha’is leave Iran. The gains that the Hojatieh have made in political circles have garnered them a tremendous amount of power. And we’d be foolish to think for a second that they have forgotten the primary reason they were founded more than fifty years ago.

The recent arrests and persecution of Baha’is in Iran are, I’m afraid, only the beginning of a renewed campaign of persecution. Unlike previous administrations in Iran which were reluctantly influenced by international pressure, the perverse ideology to which this one subscribes to allows them to be immune to such forces. Any and all actions taken by the civilized world against the Iranian regime as a consequence of the persecution of Baha’is, will only reinforce the belief system of the Hojatieh and result in their redoubled efforts to sow the seeds of chaos.

I pray that I am completely wrong in my understanding of the situation and wholly ignorant of the real political cross currents in Iran. I pray so because if I am right, many Baha’is are in extreme and imminent danger.

I beg them to get out, for if I am wrong, the consequence is acceptable. They and their families can build a life in one of many civilized countries in the world and simply go back when Iran’s future changes for the better. But if I’m correct, then the consequences of staying in Iran will be tragic.

Related Links:

A recent Channel 4 (British) video story – wait a bit for buffering.

(If you have trouble with the link, you can read the transcript here. Scroll to the bottom where it begins: “LINDSEY HILSUM, CNN CORRESPONDENT”)

(Persian) Video clip of Ahmadinejad saying how he was enveloped by light in the UN assembly.

Recent Baha’i World News articles regarding the increase in persecution of Baha’is (which coincides with the rise in power of the Hojatieh): story one, and two.

“Waiting for Rapture in Iran”: (By Scott Peterson) Christian Science Monitor

The Mehdi Hotline (another CSM article) and the story behind the story.

excerpt from Debating Muslims by Michael M.J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi on the Anjoman-e Imam-e Zaman, later renamed Hojjatiyya (The Anti-Baha’i Society)

Here and There II

Recently a Baha’i was inspired from discussions on Talisman to begin a group dedicated to formulating Alternative Learning Institutions. I’m glad to pitch in with a few measely ideas of my own in the hopes of contributing to its success. Its necessary to go beyond criticisim (however well deserved) and demonstrate a clear alternative that is better than the status quo. The only thing that will overcome the inertia of apathy and the group think of top-down imposed Ruhi institutionalization is the success of an alternative. I don’t think this is a particularly difficult challenge since Ruhi is now in its 5th year of world wide implementation and it has yet to show any significant evidence of efficacy. If you want to be part of this endeavour, you can join the Alternative Learning Institute Yahoo!Group.


A new website, the Heyday, has been created by and for the Baha’i youth of Australia. It looks pretty comprehensive with not only current events but multimedia, a few regular columns, discussion forums and even an advice column by ‘Ace’. Its similar to Baha’i Youth (the US site) as well as the now defunct MJBaha’i (the Latin American site). Needless to say, you don’t have to be an Australian youth to use it. So if you know a Baha’i youth who would benefit, point them in the right direction.


There are quite alot of Baha’i related websites with new ones popping up every day it seems. But it is very confusing when you see one that purports to be one thing and then is something entirely another. Take for example the bizarre Yahoo!Group: Afghan Baha’i. In its introductory blurb it says “In this Website you will learn more about AFGHAN BAHA’IS…”

Along with many other Baha’is I am interested to know how the Baha’is are doing there after such a harrowing time under the oppression of the Taliban. So, silly me, I joined and hoped to find out some good news about the renewed activities and freedoms they enjoy. I was baffled when the only thing that appeared, day after day, week after week and month after month, was the reposting of Baha’i World News Service stories – which had nothing to do with Afghan Baha’is, inside or outside Afghanistan. But don’t bother trying to point out the inanity of the whole thing. Apparently the creator and moderator of the group is completely immune to logic.


It’s dead, Jim.

I’m. Sorry. I. Really am.

Just like you, I hoped that Spiritual Degrees would tackle some of the difficult issues which most Baha’is sweep under the rug. And bless them, their heart seemed to be in the right place (give or take a few inches). But when when Bones says it’s dead, its dead.


The trend of podcasting seems to have finally been embraced by Baha’is. As well as Alison’s which I’ve already mentioned, here are a few other ones:

But although this may be relatively new to the Baha’i region of the internet many others have been quite active for a while now. I stumbled upon one such podcast in this blog. It is an interview with a Baha’i describing her personal journey towards the Faith.

The audio clip, at almost an hour, is rather longish. And I also would be remiss if I did not add a cautionary note for listeners with sensitive constitutions: it contains material of a rather graphical nature regarding the wanton masculinity of a certain Burl Barer and its unintended consequences on a hapless young girl. But then again, all is fair in teaching and consolidating, right? Now that you have been duly warned…what are you waiting for? clicky, clicky!


Baha’i World is a great website for keeping up to date with conferences and such. I’m mentioning it so that more become familiar with it and actually use it so that it can get over the critical mass hump and really become useful. Go ahead and add your local Baha’i activities and events. Get the word out through the internet and you’ll be surprised at how many will show up. Also pass it on to others so they can do the same with their events. Just make sure you put up your event ahead of time to give people a chance to find it and attend.


Badi has started a personal blog. I’m always happy to read the thoughtful comments of other Baha’is about real substantial matters (not to be confused with the sort of drivel that gets put up on most blogs by Baha’is: I ate pizza… my cat had a bowel movement… etc.). The only thing is Badi’s blog is in Spanish. So if you ‘no habla espa?ol’ … get with the Universal Auxiliary Language already !!

Commentary on McGlinn’s Unenrollment

Many moons ago when I was quite young and had yet not heard of any ‘heretical’ ideas… Back when the internet was just a twinkle in the eyes of DARPA nerds (I mean scientists)… back when the only way most Baha’is would hope to hear anything interesting would be to attend conferences or live in California. Back when innocence reigned…

I remember going to a particular youth conferences with a few friends. One night, we went out to socialize in a coffee shop that the conference attendees frequented. After all, that is really the main purpose of conferences from the perspective of the typical Baha’i youth. We sat down at a table which was next to another group of older Baha’i youth and with the help of one of our group who knew them, started talking to them. When we huddled together again at our own table, my friend lowered his voice and said that ‘so-and-so’ (one of the older youth we had just met) had recently resigned as a Baha’i. We were shocked because eventhough we didn’t know him personally, we knew that the person in question had impressive Baha’i ‘pedigree’. He was also quite intelligent as he was attending one of the best universities around and doing a double major to boot. Our connection to the older group then explained that he had resigned because he didn’t believe in something called theocracy. I felt sheepish but mustered the question outloud and was told, He doesn’t believe that Baha’is will or should run things, you know, like the government. Unfortunately this didn’t help because I couldn’t really wrap my mind around this novel and strange idea. Why would Baha’is want to run the government or be the government?, I thought to myself, feeling rather ignorant.

I also remember thinking, Man, that’s silly! Why would you resign just based on that? Especially when you father is… Being a teenager, my thoughts soon wandered off in other directions. No doubt, aided in part, by the arrival of a gaggle of Baha’i youth of the opposite sex.

It was many years later that I realized that, on that night, I had had my first brush with the controversial issue of theocracy and had inadvertantly, met my first unenrolled Baha’i.


Alison has published a commentary by Juan Cole, from H-Baha’i, regarding the recent unenrollment of Sen McGlinn. I look forward to reading her own thoughts as well (this is an audio – MP3 – file!). Karen has done likewise here and others, in different Baha’i forums, are discussing it as the hot topic of the day. Seeing that I’m composed enough now, below, I offer a few semi-coherent comments of my own.

The first thing I would like to comment on is the letter of the House of Justice regarding takfir.

As you’ll notice in the beginning of the letter, the UHJ cautions against using quotes out of context because doing so may ‘deliberately or inadvertantly’ ‘distort’ its meaning or intention. I agree. And I wish they had followed their own advice when they selectively quoted McGlinn out of context and disseminated to all the NSAs the baseless allegation that he is claiming ecclesiastical rank.

The UHJ brushes aside any relevance to their act of unenrolling Baha’is by explaining that declaring someone takfir is something between persons and does not involve religious authorities. This is incorrect as declarations of takfir carried no weight unless they came from a religious authority (a Mullah, a Mujtahid, a Calyph, etc.). Their explanation gives the erroneous impression that Muslims walked around the street and, pointing to each other saying ‘takfir, takfir’, engaged in a surreal sort of religious tag. But since takfir was issued by a religious authority (otherwise it had no influence or effect) it is relevant for it to be compared to the act of throwing Baha’is out of their religious community. And as Abdu’l-Baha’s clear words show, such practice is abolished in the Baha’i Faith.

Leaving aside such semantic arguments, I personally have difficulty in understanding the actions of the House in unenrolling Baha’is because I have difficulty in separating belief and membership.

When teaching a seeker, we ask them, do you believe? do you believe that Baha’u’llah is the Manifestation of God for today? do you believe that the Baha’i Faith is for you? and finally, do you want to be a Baha’i?

If they say yes, then they are a Baha’i.

But now, we are told that these two things: belief and membership, are two distinct and separate matters which are not up to the individual person but which can be determined and imposed by the House of Justice. That is, even if a person believes in Baha’u’llah and wishes to join His Faith, he can be denied by the House. Or if she already is a member in good standing and a lover of Baha’u’llah, she can be kicked out.

Furthermore, the process by which this decision is made is not clear; the method used, opaque and the justification, completely absent. It leaves me scratching my head. Why? Why is belief in Baha’u’llah not enough to choose to be a member of His community?

Why is it that while some profess belief, and voluntarily enter on that ground alone, others who profess the same belief are plucked up and thrown out?

If a person wishes to declare their belief in Baha’u’llah and not enroll as a Baha’i officially… I can understand that. After all it is their choice. But what I fail to understand is how those who do wish to be a part of the community and do declare belief, can be denied.


In the Aqdas, there are two requirements or duties outlined for every person: recognizing Baha’u’llah’s station of Prophethood, and abiding by His laws. The two are inseparable. According to Baha’u’llah: one, without the other, is meaningless.

And yet, they are not events per se but rather processes. Or if you prefer, they are not destinations but rather journeys. Just as one can never instantly abide by God’s laws but instead is continually forced to live life, day by day to face challenges; so are we also faced with the awsome opportunity of discovering Baha’u’llah’s Revelation and His station (irfan).

This has deep implications for the whole issue of takfir or ‘unenrollment’. As you know, Baha’is are not thrown out of their faith community if they fail to abide by God’s law. They are not declared to not be Baha’is by the recognized administrative authority of the Baha’i Faith if they steal, cheat, kill, defraud, etc.

If that were the case, I’m sure all Baha’is would be ‘unenrolled’ immediately (yours truly being the first to get the boot). But why, may I inquire are they not punished by being declared ‘not Baha’i’? Haven’t they all clearly shown by their actions that they did not abide by Baha’u’llah’s words? Or is there one among us now who is a perfect Baha’i in every sense?

That Baha’is are not treated so is because we recognize that people are on a journey. We all acknowledge that we may fail here or there along this journey. But that is to be expected since we are frail and imperfect beings. What truly matters is that we have set out on a course and are struggling to live better lives by trying to be Baha’is in the full sense of that word.

It is for this reason that I’m confused why the same approach is not extended to its twin requirement (as set out in the first paragraph of the Aqdas). Assuming that the UHJ has the ability to somehow peer into our very hearts and souls to determine our belief in Baha’u’llah, why are Baha’is not given the same flexibility to fail and trundle along on this journey? Why are they thrown out of their communities and considered to not be worthy of the appellation Baha’i on their first stumble? Or isn’t irfan also a journey?


Finally, an attempt is made to shut down any and all discussion of these issues by claiming that this is a personal issue between Sen and the insitutions – meaning that it is none of other Bahai’s business and we simply should close our yaps and not talk about it. First of all, McGlinn himself chose to share this with others. Second, while the intimate details of this situation are personal and Sen is due his privacy, the wider issue of unenrollment matters to all Baha’is. Especially when it is used as a tool to punish the expression of personal convictions regarding the Faith.

Related Links:

Letter of the House of Justice to the NSAs regarding McGlinn’s book.

Message from the NSA of the Netherlands, communicating the decision of unenrollment by the House of Justice.

Alison’s commentary in three parts: one, two, three.
Juan Cole’s commentary from (H-Baha’i).
Karen’s commentary.