LA Study Class Newsletter [#3]

My Notes:In this newsletter the class discusses an article by Denis MacEoin, a brilliant Baha’i scholar who is no longer a member of the Baha’i community. The story of how MacEoin was marginalized, harassed and pushed out of the community is a very interesting one – one of the quintessential examples of objective scholarship battling fundamentalist dogma in recent Baha’i history. However, I won’t attempt to do it justice in this post. Let’s just leave it by saying that the Baha’i community and Babi/Baha’i scholarship lost a brilliant star when they lost MacEoin. Thankfully, we still have many of his works and articles (such as the one being discussed below).

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

On with the 70′s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

[Ed. home address and phone number]
December 5th, 1976

Dear Baha’i Friends,

On November 27th, a few Baha’is gathered for the third session of the new class. (Will someone please suggest a proper name for it.) The competition of the holiday weekend unfortunately kept attendance to a minimum. Shahin Carrigan was again unable to be present, so the formal part of our discussion dealt only with the World Order article which was suggested last time.

(Corrections to previous letters:

Anthony Lee [Ed. home phone number]
John Hendershot

The last meeting was held on November 13th, not November 30th.)

(The following persons have been added to our mailing list:

Donald and Susan Berkman [Ed. home phone numbers and addresses follow for each]
George Dahl
Blanche Grent
Robert Gundry
Lorraine Johnson
Manila Lee
Denis MacEoin
Aurora Ragston
Hamid Rastegar [Ed. surname difficult to read]
Greg and Pam Wahlstrom)

(Copies of previous newsletters were also sent to Denis MacEoin informing him of our plans to discuss his article and inviting his comments.)

(A copy of this summary is also being sent to World Order magazine for possible publication of excerpts in “Interchange”, the section devoted to letters to the editor.)

The group dived headlong into a discussion of the article entitled “The Concept of the Nation in Islam”, by Denis MacEoin (World Order 10 1976 #4 pp. 7-21). The article took some heavy critisicm. (Since this letter is being sent to Mr. MacEoin, he will, atleast have a chance to reply. Any communication received from him will be duplicated and sent to everyone, that is, if he does not object.)

There was agreement that Mr. MacEoin had a difficult time getting a hold of his topic. Some felt that this was because the topic was hopelessly broad, while others seemed to think that it was excessively narrow, atleast in the way that it was defined. Someone suggested that the article may have been “mistitled”. Mr. MacEoin was certainly more interested in the concept of the nation in Europe than he was in the concept of the nation in Islam.

However, the point of the article seems to be to lend scholarly support to the idea that Islam is the ultimate source of the rise of nationalism in Europe. If this is the case, then a minimum requirement would be for Mr. MacEoin to demonstrate some historical connection between the concept of nationhood in Islam (that is, the idea of ‘umma) and the European ideas of nationalism. This he utterly fails to do. Indeed, the failure is admitted in a footnote on the first page of the article. This admission leaves the reader wondering what point, if any, Mr. MacEoin is trying to make.

A second, perhaps more important point was made. That is that the quotations from Shoghi Effendi which are cited in the beginning of the article do not say what Mr. MacEoin seems to think that they say. He indicates [Ed. word is misspelled as indicarads] that the quotations require a Baha’i to believe that European nationalism (that is, the modern, popular and secular nationalism which we know today) was introduced to the world by Muhammad and had its beginning in Islam. Most of those present vigorously disagreed with this interpretation. One person noted that Shoghi Effendi uses the word “nation”, “nationality” and “nationhood” and seems to deliberately avoid the term “nationalism” which, atleast in its modern form, is a different thing altogether. Someone noted that even MacEoin himself admits that popular, political and secular nationalism did not rise in its glory until 1789 with the French Revolution. He argued that a better date might be 1848, with the popular Revolutions of that year, putting nationalism (as we know it) squarely within the Baha’i Dispensation. Indeed, it is very curious, if not incredible, that nationalism, which is clearly a nineteenth-century phenomenon, should be attributed to anything which Muhammad did in the seventh century. Surely, only a Baha’i would be convinced by such an odd historical argument, and the Baha’is who were present at the class certainly were not.

Furthermore, Shoghi Effendi has strongly condemned modern nationalism in his writings (e.g. The Promised Day is Come pp.117-118) as a “false god”. It seems strange that we should attribute the rise of this evil to a Manifestation of God! Rather, we should understand the “nation” that Muhammad brought as just that unity of believers in a social community, owing common allegiance to the Prophet and the Law of God, and respecting each other as brothers in Faith, regardless of differences which MacEoin so able explains on pp.16-18 of his article. That this Divine Order had anything to do (in any more than a marginal way) with the grotesque monstrosity of modern, militaristic and god-less which we know today, is highly unlikely.

So why does Mr. MacEoin feel constrained to make such a connection? Especially in light of the weakness and scarcity of the quotations from the Baha’i Writings (which even, perhaps, wrongly) may be cited to support this view? The answer is simple. A common piece of misinformation at firesides is that Muhammad brought the nation-state as we know it today. Being aware that nationalism actually developed in Europe and not in the Islamic world, he felt constrained to resolve this contradiction. Since he was unable to trace connections between the idea of ‘umma and the idea of secular nationalism, he was forced to spin out the elaborate and convoluted argument which his article presents. We may be thankful that Mr. MacEoin is an Islamic scholar, and not a student of the Classics. Imagine trying to trace the city-state to Jesus and his teachings!! Both examples, illustrate the danger of taking “fireside information” at face value.

How much simpler to return to the original quotations; read them with a little more care; redefine”nation” and “nationhood” (separating it from “nationalism”); and then let it go at that. Perhaps, Mr. MacEoin will consider this alternative.

After discussing this article, the group turned to other topics, which space will not allow me to summarize here. Let it be said though that some found the free discussion much more interesting than the above. The NEXT MEETING will be on Saturday, December 11th at the home of Mehrdad Amanat [Ed. home address follows]. Same place as last time. Subject: the position of women in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. EVERYONE WILL BE EXPECTED TO HAVE READ THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOPSIS AND CODIFICATION WRITTEN BY THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE, and the sections of the Synopsis of Marriage and Inheritance.

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:
The original scanned documents can be found here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1062602 Karen

    Dear Baquia,

    Just so you know: Denis MacEoin, in later years, described this article as being “very weak”, while more conservative Baha’is praised it, and disparaged his later, more academically sound work.

    As I understand it, Denis’ story of being intimidated by Baha’i authorities over his academic work never came out until the Internet came along — and he still has said relatively about it, except he described his experience of having two UHJ members play “good cop/bad cop” with him “one of the most unpleasant encounters” of his life. At the time, he was painted as being just suddenly and inexplicably “disaffected”. I’ve heard that the LA group both admired him as a groundbreaking scholar, but deplored his rather pointed criticisms of the Faith. The article discussed here was written when he was still a Baha’i.

    Love, Karen

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1062602 Karen

    Dear Baquia,

    Just so you know: Denis MacEoin, in later years, described this article as being “very weak”, while more conservative Baha’is praised it, and disparaged his later, more academically sound work.

    As I understand it, Denis’ story of being intimidated by Baha’i authorities over his academic work never came out until the Internet came along — and he still has said relatively about it, except he described his experience of having two UHJ members play “good cop/bad cop” with him “one of the most unpleasant encounters” of his life. At the time, he was painted as being just suddenly and inexplicably “disaffected”. I’ve heard that the LA group both admired him as a groundbreaking scholar, but deplored his rather pointed criticisms of the Faith. The article discussed here was written when he was still a Baha’i.

    Love, Karen

  • Anonymous

    I suspect that the name of the person listed as “Hamid Radtegar” should be “Hamid Rastegar,” who is today a well-known Baha’i in a suburb of Los Angeles.

  • Anonymous

    I suspect that the name of the person listed as “Hamid Radtegar” should be “Hamid Rastegar,” who is today a well-known Baha’i in a suburb of Los Angeles.

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    Anon. Thank you, I’ve corrected the surname.

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    Anon. Thank you, I’ve corrected the surname.