Recently BBC Radio 4’s “Beyond Belief” program hosted by award winning host and producer, Ernie Rea held a surprisingly frank discussion on the Baha’i Faith.
This type of program is rather rare but hopefully not for much longer. Usually media mentions of the Baha’i Faith tend to be public relations type story plants which announce an important milestone or event like the recent completion of the multi-year renovation of the Shrine of the Bab
Most general media audiences are not familiar with the Baha’i Faith making it a low priority for most journalists. Even more esoteric are the relatively new challenges and frictions within the worldwide Baha’i community.
This program features Denis MacEoin, a Babi, Baha’i and Muslim scholar who left the Faith in the 1980’s as a result of the infamous clashes that occurred between academics and various persons within the Baha’i institutions at the time. Although he was half a world away, MacEoin participated in the LA Baha’i Study Class of the mid to late 1970’s. Ernie Rae’s panel also includes Moojan Momen and Lil Osborn, both Baha’is. As well as Fidelma Meehan, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United Kingdom who recounts how she learned of the Faith in university. The complete audio of the program and transcript is below. I welcome your thoughts and comments.
It make more sense to listen or read the program before reading my reactions. Several important points jumped at me as I listened. First, I’m surprised that someone as knowledgeable as MacEoin would claim that the Bab wasn’t really concerned about the next Manifestation of God. I’m also surprised that MacEoin says that the Bab was the first to lay claim to being the “Mahdi” or Qaim, the 12th Imam or the Hidden Imam. There were in fact 8 previous claimants going back as far as the 8th century and 6 other claimants after the Bab – Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyyiha movement being the most famous and successful among this group. Even today there are people making the claiming.
It is also surprising that neither Momen nor MacEoin take this opportunity to raise the issue of Momen’s irredeemable paper “Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha’i Community” which resulted in an unprecedented editorial response from the publication declaring:
This incident clearly points to the absence of a code of research ethics in our ?eld. The fact that so many individuals felt a need to protest against what they perceive as misrepresentation illustrates the need to take potential dangers to the in-tegrity of persons more actively in to account in the review process and editorial decisions. Possibly, we need to change our procedure in cases where people are targeted in ways that go beyond the usual forms of scholarly discussion (such as in reviews). The editors of Religion have begun discussing the possibility of dedicating a special issue on research ethics in the study of religion(s).
Religion subsequently published several responses, including one from Denis MacEoin, (as well as Momen’s own rebuttal): Challenging apostasy: Responses to Moojan Momen’s ‘Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha’i Community’
It is unfortunate that the discussion about the “paradox” of the exclusion of women from the House of Justice does not touch on the points raised in such papers as The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha’i Faith. Of course I don’t expect Momen, Osborn or Meehan to bring it up but MacEoin doesn’t either.
Momen’s defense of the Baha’i institutions is equally puzzling when he claims: “All of the institutions of the Faith are elected…”. Only one pillar out of two is elected, the other is appointed. Furthermore, in recent years we have seen a phenomena where the appointed bodies have come to have more prominence and clout. And the members of the Universal House of Justice sourced from the very same group of individuals the House of Justice itself appoints! This circular administrative order at the top of the Baha’i leadership is most definitely not “democratic”. Point to MacEoin – if anyone is keeping score.
The claim that the Baha’i Faith envisions the world governed by one world government does not mean that that government would be either Baha’i in nature or a theocracy. For more, see Baha’i Views on Church and State. The treatment of Baha’i publication review is equally superficial with no acknowledgement that the Faith is now engaged with a dynamic global audience that is able to ascertain fact from fiction and to differentiate between a person’s opinion or actions and the official policies of their respective religious authority. Do you think any of the 99% of the Catholics who use contraception need to be coddled about how one individual Bahai’s opinion about a matter may not necessarily match with that of the Universal House of Justice?
Another golden opportunity would have been the paper written by another member of the NSA of the UK, Barney Leith arguing that it is now time to do away with publication review (written in 1995!): Baha’i Review: Should the ‘red flag’ law be repealed?
Of course many other fascinating points of discussion were also ignored. For example, the view of the Baha’i Faith on homosexuality.
Ernie: Hello, members of the Baha’i Faith hold to three cardinal beliefs: the unity of God, the unity of religion and the unity of humankind. Human beings are here to learn to love God and to be of service to others; universal principles. But Baha’is have suffered dreadful persecutions for their beliefs in places like Iran, Egypt and Afghanistan. So who are the Baha’is? what do they believe? and why do they attract such opposition in some Islamic countries? and what challenges does modernity pose to their own principles of equality and tolerance?
Joining me to discuss the Baha’i Faith are Lil Osborn, herself a Baha’i and whose book on the Baha’is in Britain will soon be published. Moojan Momen a Baha’i researcher and writer and Denis MacEoin a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly who used to be a Baha’i but has left the Faith.