LA Study Class Newsletter [#11]

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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 . . .

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[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.