Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #104 (English)

Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy

July 9–12, 2011.

Abdu'l-Bahá's Encounter with Modernity during His Western Travels

by Wendi Momen

Having spent almost His whole life as a prisoner and an exile in the Middle East, `Abdu'l-Bahá, son of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh, was set free in 1908. He travelled from the Middle East to Europe in 1911 and to Europe and North America in 1912-13, taking His father's message of the renewal of religion and how to build a new civilization based on the spiritual principles of peace, justice and unity to a western audience.

On His travels `Abdu'l-Bahá encountered developments in material civilization — steam travel, the skyscrapers of New York, the telephone, the bright lights of cities; modern social movements — suffragettes, socialist politics, new religious thought; and people living in democracies in relative prosperity and comfort, who had still not cast off racist and sexist philosophies. This paper looks at some of these and `Abdu'l-Bahá's responses to them.
Click here to read this paper online.

Abdu'l-Baha in Edinburgh

by Iraj Ayman


Abdu'l-Baha's Commentaries on the Qur'an

by Vahid Rafati

In Islamic civilization, no books can be found with more influence and vitality than the Quran. The book that has been the source of everything in that civilization. The book that has fascinated thousands of believers throughout the centuries. The book that has been the main source of knowledge, understanding, and inspiration for Islamic philosophers, theologians, religious thinkers, poets, and even anybody and everybody in Islamic lands. The book that more than any other book has been the source of research by non-Muslim orientalists. The book that has been translated into hundreds of languages and has been the most well-known work in human society.

The Revelation of the Báb started with a commentary that he wrote on the sura of the cow and continued with his commentary on the sura of Joseph and yet continued with a number of major works that he wrote on some of the principal thoughts and concepts in the Quran. Although not in existence, the Báb has been reported to have written commentaries on the entire Quran while he was in Maku. It is therefore obvious that the revelation of the Báb is strongly and deeply involved with the Quran and a new understanding of its message.

Although Bahá'u'lláh is not known to have written an independent commentary on the quran, a superficial survey of his works clearly demonstrates that Quranic terminology, concepts, images, personalities have been occupying central themes in many of his works. In his early works, such as Seven Valleys, Four Valleys, Hidden Words, all the way to his last works such as his Epistle to the Son of the Wolf and his Will, Quranic verses and expressions are vividly present. His Book of Certitude (Kitab-e Iqan), among other themes, includes extensive coverage of new insight that he has offered on understanding of the most important ontological and scatological concepts in the Quran, such as the meaning of Resurrection, Bridge, Hell, Paradise, Sun, Moon, the Last Day, and the Day of Judgment.

During his Akka years, he wrote his commentary on the sura of the Sun (tafsir vash-shams), which is one of the major works that he has written on the Sura of the Sun.

The most important aspect of Quranic interpretation in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh deals with the claim of his prophethood according to the quranic expectations. It is clear that the Quran maintains that the prophet Muhammad was the Seal of the Prophets, and therefore no other prophets were expected to come him. In numerous places in his works, Bahá'u'lláh clearly accepts the finality of the prophet Muhammad as a prophet or messenger of God. Finality, however, in his mind, is valid according to the Seycallic understanding of the universe. In this sense, although the prophet Muhammad is the final prophet, his prophethood only marks the finality of the prophethood within the Adamic cycles, after which a new cycle is expected to be opened. The Báb, according to this understanding, is the beginning of the new cycle followed by Bahá'u'lláh. To establish and support this argumentation, Bahaullah in his numerous writings refers to the Quran to show that although finality of the prophethood is strongly established in the Quran, the Quran at the same time strongly suggests that a new cycle will follow the Adamic cycle in which the prophet is the final and the Quran is the last book. To explain the argumentation, Bahá'u'lláh very often refers to the concept of Ayyamu-llah (Days of God). According to Bahá'u'lláh's understanding, Days of God, which are supposed to come, are the days of the new manifestation of God.

The Quran prophesized that the great announcement (naba-e Azim) will appear. According to Bahá'u'lláh's understanding, naba-e azim is a direct prediction to a new announcement that will occur as a result of the proclamation of the new manifestation of God. The Quran proclaims there will be a "day on which men shall stand before the Lord the worlds." (83:6). In a number of his works, Bahá'u'lláh refers to this verse as a direct reference to his advent and to his message being the fulfillment of the Quranic prophesies. The Quran speaks of the Muhammadan community (umma) as a "Middle Umma". By making reference to this verse (2:143), Bahá'u'lláh in his Surat-ol Sabr raises this issue that if the Mohammdan community is the Middle Community, there will be a possibility for another religious community to follow it. To this fact testifies the Quranic verse 7:34 and 10:49, that "for every nation there is a doom, so when their doom is come they shall not remain behind the least while, nor shall they go before". And further to this point, we read in 13:38 that "for every term there is an appointment."

The argumentation of Bahá'u'lláh is well rooted in general sense of the Quran, which testifies to the continuity and change that are the characteristics of the universe.

Another mighty concept of the Quran about which numerous verses can be found in the Quran is the concept of Meeting with God. (Laqa-ullah). According to the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, meeting with God can not be materialized in the physical sense and therefore it should be understood as meeting with the Manifestation of God.

Abdu'l-Baha's Visit to Montreal, 1912

by Will C. van den Hoonaard

Based on historical records, interviews, and retracing the steps of `Abdu'l-Baha in Montreal, this paper explores the known facts and assumptions of His Visit to Montreal in late August and early September 1912. Record keeping of His Visit was sparse. There are differences and inaccuracies surrounding the reported dates of that Visit. Mainstream Baha'i publications regularly omit the overwhelming media coverage in the French language of that Visit. There were significant cultural differences in the coverage by the media in English and in French

The visit of `Abdu'l-Baha was a keystone event in the life of the Bahá'í Community of Canada: it transformed the aggregate of individual Bahá'ís (an amalgam of liberal, free-thinking people, and, in some cases, socialists) into a community of believers, thereby altering the growth and spread of the Bahá'í Faith in that country and elsewhere. The paper presents the original state of the Bahá'ís living in Montreal, who had a faint appraisal of Bahá'í tenets and whose organizational life did not articulate itself as a community. The Canadian artist Percy Woodcock and family warned Him about fanaticism of Catholics in Montreal and tried to dissuade Him to travel there.

The paper examines the preparations undertaken by the Maxwell family in anticipation of His Visit. Montreal experienced its most rapid expansion in its history.

Once in Montreal, `Abdu'l-Baha lengthened his stay from 5 to 9 days, 30 August-9 September 1912. The weather was unpleasant and The Master caught a cold during the second half of the visit. Making seven informal presentations and eight public presentations, some 2,500 people heard Him speak. The most extensive press coverage of His sojourn to the West occurred in Montreal.

The paper provides a daily outline of His visit. The most significant highlights included His talk to striking garment workers, meeting with the Principal of McGill University, and His presentations in a number of churches. Throughout the visit, too, `Abdu'l-Baha, having taken note of cathedrals in the city, urged the Bahá'ís to be like the Apostles of Christ. While the Montreal Bahá'ís numbered about fourteen souls--two fewer than when the community first organized itself in 1908--the believers were now stronger in faith and more steadfast than before. In conclusion, the paper explores the extent and nature of press coverage of French- and English-language newspapers on occasion of The Master's Visit to Montreal. First, the French-language press did not carry any advance announcements of `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit and carried reports of only two of his public addresses. The first French-language articles (in Le Canada and La Presse) appear five days after `Abdu'l-Bahá's arrival in Montreal, and climaxed in coverage on 6 September, three days before his departure.

Second, the French-language press highlighted the so-called economic teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, while the English-language press devoted more space to present `Abdu'l-Baha's ideas of peace and His prophetic warning about the coming of a world war. We have been able to ascertain that 38 articles and/or announcements of His talks involved not only the French and English press, but also one Yiddish newspaper. The differences in the reporting by the English- and French-language press were thus striking. The English-language press, as mentioned above, was overwhelmingly more interested in war and peace and religion, while `Abdu'l-Bahá's ideas on humanity received less attention. `Abdu'l-Bahá's life and Bahá'í economic teachings created far less interest among the English-language press than among the French-language newspapers.

Third, perhaps most importantly, the tone of the reports differed widely between the two presses. On the whole, the English-language press offered a more sympathetic view of `Abdu'l-Bahá's statements, while the French-language press, with the exception of Le Devoir, tended to be more critical.

Apocalyptic Thinking and Process Thinking: A Baha'i Contribution to Religious Thought

by Moojan Momen

The key feature of classical religious apocalyptic thinking is that affairs are static until they are suddenly moved from one state to another by God. Thus the change in affairs is sudden and immediate and it is supernaturally directed and actioned. Human beings are passive participants in this in that although the change usually affects them they play no part in bringing the change about. The Bab and Baha'u'llah initiated a change in this type of religious thinking. They initiated the idea that religious change is a process not a jump from one state to another and that it is to be brought about through human effort and not by a magical Divine intervention.

In this paper, this change in religious thinking will be examined in relation to Baha'i expectations of the Lesser Peace, about which there was a great deal of apocalyptic thinking in the years prior to 2000. The main features of the Lesser Peace as described in the Baha'i texts are listed and then the extent to which these have come to pass in the course of the twentieth century is considered. From this, a sequence of four stages for the fulfilment of these features is delineated. It is furthermore suggested that all of these features reached the third stage during the twentieth century. It is therefore for this reason that the Universal House of Justice was able at the close of the 20th century to confirm `Abdu'l-Bahá's description of this century as the "Century of Light".
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Bahá'u'lláh's Persian poems written before 1863

by Julio Savi

A provisional list of Bahá'u'lláh's Persian poems written before 1863 is provided. These poems are described as an early fruit of the mystical experiences Bahá'u'lláh had in the Síyáh-Chál of Teheran in October 1852. Those experiences produced in Him an irresistible "fire of love" that He sang in those poems. Bahá'u'lláh's love was not a common love, it was "that spiritual attraction and that ecstatic love of the lovers of the Beauteous One for the beauty within their own self," which later on `Abdu'l-Bahá described in His "Commentary to the Tradition of the Hidden Treasure." Bahá'u'lláh uses in these compositions the language of the ancient Persian mystical poets, but He also introduces new perspectives. Persian ancient mystical poems are mostly pervaded by an incurable feeling of separation and remoteness and by the consequent pain.

Bahá'u'lláh also mentions the pains of the lover. They are the pains the lover should be ready to accept if he wants to come closer to his Beloved. The Beloved says to his lover: "If thine aim be to cherish thy life, approach not our court; / But if sacrifice be thy heart's desire, come and let others come with thee." However, whereas the pains of the lover in the ancient Persian poetry were hopeless, Bahá'u'lláh's poems also speak of the joys of nearness and reunion, which are made possible by the presence of the Beloved Himself Who "Like unto Joseph in Egypt, moves now through alleys and bazaars" and "hath renewed the world through His Cause, / And quickened the spirit of Jesus by His breathe."
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Book of Proverbs meets the Hidden Words: Some preliminary notes

by Ami Schrager

Both the book of Proverbs (Mishley) and the Hidden Words (Kalimát-i Maknúnah) contain short lyrical verses that are to be considered as personal guidelines for human life. The book of Proverbs is to be found in the Bible between Psalms and the book of Job. Together with the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) these five books contain a unique literary genre. This genre is known as Wisdom literature in which we can find advices and guidance for the right moral life. Yet contrary to the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh these recommendations do not come from a divine authority. Whilst in the book of Proverbs we find Wisdom that is based on human knowledge transmitted from father or mother to their son, in the Hidden Words the knowledge stems from God passing it through to his subjects. The book of Proverbs stresses the fear of God as the first step towards Wisdom: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge". The Hidden Words on the other hand introduce the love of God as the leading guideline:
The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds.
Although both works were created more than 2000 years apart we can found many similarities yet also differences. Thus my presentation will start with a short introduction to the book of Proverbs and its unique genre (wisdom literature) and will be followed with few examples of verses from both works and their meanings.

Childhood Malnutrition and Poverty: The Baha'i Perspective

by Lua Wilkinson

Despite advances in agriculture and medicine over the last century, over 3.9 million children under 5 die each year as a direct result from hunger and malnutrition. Millions more are permanently affected. While malnutrition clearly debilitates the health of a child and warrants the attention of the medical community, chronic hunger remains a social illness. Abdu'l-Baha says "where we see poverty allowed to reach a condition of starvation, it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny". The Baha'i Writings address many social problems in the context of justice. A just society is one that recognizes the extreme of poverty and hunger as not merely an economic issue, but a social one. Justice harnesses the extremes of poverty and starvation through an ethical framework that synergizes law, economic redistribution, and equality in order to eradicate corruption that often provokes malnutrition.

Through examination of the Baha'i Writings, this paper will explore childhood hunger in China. Much of China's success in nutritional status improvements can be attributed to rapid development, including in the economic, technological and agricultural sectors. Along with these extraordinary gains, however, a divide still exists between rural and urban areas, and the coexistence of malnutrition and obesity among children in China is becoming more prevalent. Recent surveys by the Chinese Ministry of Health signify that while rates of childhood malnutrition have decreased by half since the 1990's, rates of childhood obesity are steadily increasing. Micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron and Vitamin A, remain widespread in rural areas.

Notwithstanding the continued challenges China will face in the decades to come, the improvement of the health and nutritional status of China has been unprecedented. As such, China stands out as an outstanding example of continued support for nutrition and health intervention programs promoting economic development and vice-versa. Good nutrition provides a society with a firm foundation to poverty reduction, and Baha'is must respond to this challenge by using justice as a guide.

Concept of Progressive Revelation in the Writings of the Báb, The

by Habib Riazati

The two aspects of divine unity and the progressive and non-linear continuity of all revelations are among the foremost fundamental verities of all the religions of God.

The purpose of this research is to underscore the significance of the concept the continuity and the progressive unfolding of truth, in the major works of the Primal Point. In particular, the multidimensional contexts in the Persian Bayán, in which this fundamental concept has been discussed and emphasized, will be examined.

Genetic basis of our uniquely human ability, The: The gift of speech and language

by Faraneh Vargha-Khadem

Recent advances in neuroscience and brain imaging techniques, have enabled studies of higher order cognitive functions, and unique human attributes such as consciousness, perception, language, and memory. There is growing awareness among neuroscientists that the products of the human mind transcend the functions of the brain. This in turn has led to questions about how modern humans evolved and became distinct from other species, what attributes make us human, and what are the neural substrates of our moral, ethical, and belief systems. This presentation will review the current understanding about the evolution of our species over the past 4-6 million years, and will address the convergence between the neuroscience view of modern humans, and the Baha'i view of humans as spiritual beings.

Institution of the Nineteen Day Feast, The: Administrative and Social Psychological Perspective

by Iraj Ayman

One of the innovative measures in the Baha'i Faith is the institution of the Nineteen Day Feast. This injunction is revealed in the Book of Aqdas (#57). This verse starts with these words "It has been enjoined upon you" which means you are obliged "to offer a feast once in every month". In answer to the question as to whether this injunction is obligatory, Baha'u'lláh stated that it was not (Q&A 48). However, Shoghi Effendi (in a letter written on his behalf) further comments:
Attendance at the Nineteen Day Feast is not obligatory but very important, and every believer should consider a duty and privilege to be present on such occasion. (Note 82)
Although this injunction is revealed in a very concise and brief manner, its significance has been gradually elucidated and unfolded in a number of the writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.

This monthly gathering was originally instituted by the Báb in Bayan. Baha'u'llah, while confirming it in the Book of Aqdas, has clarified its main purpose which is the unifying role of this monthly gathering. `Abdu'l-Bahá has delineated the three main functions of the Nineteen Day Feast, namely praying and meditation, socializing in a loving manner, and promotion of philanthropic affairs. He has further stated that by attending this Feast, the friends "finds themselves spiritually restored and educed with a power that is not of this world" (NDF3). Shoghi Effendi incorporated the institution of the Nineteen day Feast into the structure of the Baha'i Administrative Order as its first level foundation and a unifying factor within the Baha'i community. This presentation is an attempt to look at the structure, goals and functions of the Nineteen Day Feast from the social psychological and administrative perspective.

On Sustainability and Prevalence of Violence

by Bahman Mohajerin

We are witnessing that violence, in the forms of violent thoughts and deeds, is widely and abundantly spreading in all corners of the world. However despite the measures adopted and the efforts exerted to reverse this trend and occasional progress achieved so far, not only the violence is not uprooted but actually since 1980's it has been advancing and spreading throughout the world like drought and AIDS. Our history is full of evidences of how violence been preached and sanctified. Many people have experienced violence in one way or other during their childhood and even later stages of their lives. The general atmosphere in many parts of the world shows a deterministic acceptance of violence, especially by women, even though they are at the frontline of suffering from such attacks.

Lack of effective and appealing solutions to counteract the alternative pattern help the spread and prevalence of violence. Post-world war II era has witnessed two new developments: the advent of a new breed of religious fundamentalism advocating violence and deliberate, acute and systematic violent acts aimed at wide majority of people by their respective governments.

As the Army of Light our duty is to do our best in reversing the above-mentioned trend. Baha'i Writings contains especial recommendations and guidelines on the needed approach in rectifying this deplorable situation. In this presentation we try to briefly review the current literature on the phenomenon of violence and the Baha'i prescription for counteracting violence in words and in deeds.

Our history is so full of violence; preaching and sanctifying the violence. Many people have their upbringing by ways and means of violence. The general atmosphere in many parts of the world shows a deterministic acceptance of violence, especially by women, even though they are at the forefront of such violent behavior.

On the Tablet of All Food

by Peyman Sazedj

The Tablet of All Food (Lawh-i-Kullu't-Ta'ám) is the first emanation of the Pen of Bahá'u'lláh in response to an inquiry and `one of the first fruits of His Divine Pen'. It was revealed in response to Haji Mirzá Kamálu'd-Din's questions on the Qur'ánic verse: "All food was allowed to the children of Israel..." Nabil testifies in his Mathnavi that if nothing else were to be revealed by His Pen, this Tablet would in itself constitute, to all eternity, a sufficient testimony of God's Revelation.

In this Tablet Bahá'u'lláh describes some of the spiritual realms of God; explains the meaning of food in relation to these realms; further elucidates, in a second commentary, the meanings of `food', `Israel', and `the children of Israel' in relation to the Báb and His followers; alludes to His own station as the Manifestation of God destined to succeed the Báb; stresses the burden of His sufferings and the strain of His imprisonment in the Siyáh Chál; intimates the desire to depart from the midst of those around Him; confers upon Quddús the supreme appellation of Nuqtiy-i-Ukhra (the Last Point); and identifies Himself with the Imám Husayn, alluding to the tragic fate that he was made to endure, and ending the Tablet with a moving prayer attributed to that same Imám.

The notes presented in this paper are the result of the research that went into the preparation of a new translation of the Tablet of All Food. The aim was to prepare a non-technical translation of the Tablet, aligned with the style of English employed by Shoghi Effendi. It is an attempt to bring to the attention of a wider audience the significance of this Tablet, `the beauty of its language', and `the cogency of its argument.' The notes include: the historic circumstances that led to the revelation of the Tablet; some background on its recipient; insights into the roots of the Qur'ánic verse and traditional commentaries about it; references to the Báb's commentary on the same verse; and a discussion of the realms of God and the meaning of the verse in relation to these realms.

Philosophical concepts in the Talks of `Abdu'l-Bahá

by Vahid Rafati


Some notes on the historical background of Bahá'u'lláh's Epistle to the Son of the Wolf

by Armin Eschragi

In 1891 Bahá'u'lláh addressed a long message to the powerful Shiite leader residing in Isfahan, Nadjafí II. Shoghi Effendi translated the work under the title "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf" and described it as "the last outstanding Tablet revealed by the pen of Bahá'u'lláh," calling it the termination of His prodigious literary achievement. (God Passes By p. 219) In this work, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith sums up His 40 year-long prophetic career. It contains valuable information on His own biography as well as on the early history of the Bábí-Bahá'í Faiths. Mainly quoting from earlier Writings, He also dwells on the major ethical concepts of His message as well as on principles for guiding society which He had announced to several political leaders some years earlier.

Since the book is at its core Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual testament for the community of His believers and, in some sense, for whole mankind, the question rises why He would address such an important Tablet to Nadjafí II, who was possibly the most fierce enemy of His community by the time and responsible for the death of several martyrs. A study of the biography of Nadjafí II and the political circumstances of the time, particularly the situation of the Bahá'í community of Iran but also the general situation of the country and its population, allow us to come up with several possible explanations.

Towards Building a Teaching Strategy: Abdul-Bahá's Public Addresses in the West

by Vargha Taefi

In His public addresses in the West, our Beloved Master has clearly set before us an example1of a teaching strategy.

In this paper we try to use our analysis of `Abdul-Bahá's language when speaking to various types of audience, level of emphasis on common views or differences, description of the Bahá'í Faith, His usage of certain notions, methods of popularising Bahá'í principles, His types of logic and argumentation, exclusivism or inclusivism, length of His conversations, application of wisdom in His approach, level of attentiveness or passiveness in His intercourse, degree of generality or specificity, liberalism or conservatism, cautiousness or abruptness, passion or soberness in the content of His utterances and arguments, confidence or doubt in His tone, solidity and steadfastness, or weakness and instability in His conviction, and dignity in His manners when presenting the Cause to the public in the West, 2 in order to draw insights in raising our capacity for service, 3 and to identify the elements of success for our teaching strategy, particularly in unfamiliar settings and with dissimilar and heterogeneous audience.

Notes:
    1. Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. 1, p. 206.
    2. Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, pp. 69-70.
    3. The Universal House of Justice, 29 August 2010.

Unsealing the Sealed Wine: Slaying the dragon of dogmatism in the Writings of the Báb

by Habib Riazati

The principle of individual investigation of truth is one of the fundamental verities mentioned in the writings of the Bab. According to the writings of the Bab, everyone should on his/her own, investigate the truth and make his/her own decisions. Moreover, this is considered the main principle around which all other beliefs revolve. According to the Bab's later writings such as Seven Proofs, Persian Bayan and Panj Shan; no one should accept or reject anything based on the affirmation or rejection of others, regardless of who the other person(s) may be or what position or authority they may hold in society. According to the Bab, such individual investigation of truth will impact one's own individuation, differentiation and helps him/her to discover his/her hidden noble gems, as well as his/her attitudes and interpersonal relationships with others. According to Persian Bayan everyone has been given the gifts of thinking and reflecting that can be used to understand the truth according to his/her own capacity. Moreover, no one should Judge another person's faith or intention. The diversity of opinions should be allowed and encouraged. According to Bab's Rasala Suluk, there are manifold alternative paths to know the truth. Hence, according to Persian Bayan, no one should feel that his/her way of approaching the truth is the most fitted or the only way for everyone else. Everyone according to his/her capacity understands the truth. Upholding this principle will uphold the unity in diversity of humankind.

One of the most important qualities of a true seeker is to uphold "Purity" in all things. According to Bayan, by purity is meant true detachment from everything but the Truth. The True seeker should not see anything but the truth, not hear anything but the truth. The true seeker needs to always concern itself with the ultimate objective of all things and never be content with blind obedience to the laws and ordinances. He/she should follow the light and not to feel in love with the lamps or get attached to the mirrors that are reflecting in them. He should see the reflections and the manifestations of the Sun of Reality (Primal Will) in every created being according to their own capacities and stations. Among other important attributes of a true seeker is to pray to God to make him/her to become insightful so that he/she can recognize the realities of all things and to judge the truth based on its own evidences and nothing else...

Valleys: Their representation in Bahá'í and other religious writings

by Moshe Sharon

In literature, whether religious or secular, valleys and other natural phenomena, such as clouds, rain, oceans, rivers and so on are used metaphorically. Valleys are topographical formations that are connected naturally with mountains. Valleys can only exist in mountainous territory. Thus, for instance, it would be difficult to communicate the idea of a valley to a Dutchman who has never left Holland. It is understandable, therefore, that we find references to valleys in literary creations and holy writings that were produced in mountainous countries and hilly regions. The Bible, born in the hilly regions of the Holy Land - in Judea, Samaria, and even other regions of the Middle East (see Ezekiel 37) is full of references to valleys as is the hadíth, the Islamic tradition, which refers to the mountains of Arabia, in particular to the Hijáz, the region of Mecca and Medina in western Arabia. It is not surprising to find the same references to valleys in many of the writings in Greece, India and Iran as well as other places in the East. In this discussion we shall remain in the Middle East especially in the territories which influenced the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In all of these writings, references to valleys are to the real physical feature of the gap between mountains even when the valley is used metaphorically. Thus when the seeker moves from valley to valley and in each he undergoes a spiritual experience it is still seen as a moving from one real valley to the other. This movement is a progressive movement which involves a great effort, because in order to reach the valley one has to cross a mountain or a chain of mountains. The valley which the traveler reaches represents the temporary end of a tiresome effort, a station of physical rest and tranquility before the beginning of the subsequent effort to reach the next station on his path of progress. The valley is the place where, under the shadows of the mountains around him or maybe on the bank of a river flowing through the valley, he can rest before commencing once again his journey to the following station, the following valley that brings him nearer, to the last valley, the final station of his voyage. This is how the journey was seen by Bahá'u'lláh who transformed the physical journey from valley to valley into a spiritual progress. One must keep in mind that, as with any metaphor, the real entity stands before the writer.

Unlike Bahá'u'lláh, who transformed the valleys into a mystical site in the journey of the soul very much in accordance with the Súfí tradition, in the other three religions we find a variety of attitudes to valleys, from a description of the physical topographical features to complete metaphors. Whereas in the Greek religion the valleys were always concrete sites in which some events concerning both gods and humans were involved, a fact that turned the valley unto a holy site or at least to a place where holy institutions were erected.

In this paper, the representations of valleys in their various appearances in the religious context will be presented and analyzed. It should be emphasized that the word valley (wádí in Arabic) does not appear in the Qur'án but figures abundantly in Islamic tradition, on the whole, only as a physical feature.

As far as Bahá'u'lláh was concerned, he was always an integral part of the mountainous landscape of his youth in the district of Núr of Mazandrán to the south of the Caspian Sea to which the following quotation from the writings of `Abd al-Bahá' testifies:
"O thou compatriot of `Abdu'l-Bahá! Although my birthplace is Tehran and I was an exile for continuous years in Iraq, banished for some time to the land of Rumelia, and imprisoned for forty years in `Akka, nevertheless my native country is Mazandarán, that is to say, in the environs of Miyánrúd in the district of Núr. For this reason I address thee as compatriot." (Muntakhabát-i- az Makatíb-i Hadrat-i `Abdu'l-Bahá, vol. 5, no. 1)
Although `Abdu'l-Bahá refers to himself in this passage, his statement is valid to his father even more, since he remembered the landscape of Mazandarán as a small child whereas Bahá'u'lláh lived in it as a young man.