Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #107 (English)

Louhelen Bahá'í Center: Davison, Michigan USA

October 7–10, 2011.

Abbás Effendí: Centenary of His Visit to Egypt (1910-1913)

by Nabil Fares

'Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás (23 May 1844 - 28 November 1921), known to the Arab and Islamic worlds as Abbas Effendi, and to the west as `Abdul-Bahá, was the greatest middle-eastern mind that explained the spiritual and material issues in a contemporary way. His creative ideas led the reformation movements at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

He was the first middle-easterner that carried to the west the message of unity and accord, and created a program for enduring world peace. He gave us the brightest reflections on the verses of the Holy Scriptures, Quran, the Bible and Torah (Old Testament), and explained their verses logically and in a scientific way.

His thoughts overpowered equally the East and the West, especially Egypt (Misr) and the Arab world. The people of the East titled Him "the Knowledgeable Scientist", "the Great Pious Shaykh", "the Essence of Kindness and Perfection", "the Miracle of his Era", "The Rarity of His Time", "The Master of the Spiritual Reformers".

At the age of 64, after forty years of imprisonment, `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás was set free by the Young Turks revolution (new Ottoman). As soon as He was freed, He travelled outside Palestine (currently Israel) for three years from 1910-1913. Egypt was the first country `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás visited and he used it as a center for his travels to Europe and North America. `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás spent three years outside `Akká and Haifa, one and half year of which He spent in Egypt.

Abbás Effendí arrived in Egypt in August/September 1910. As the Centenary rolls over, I offer this humble presentation with the aid of Professor Suheil Bushrui's book "`Abbás Effendí", "`Abdu'l-Bahá" by H. M. Balyuzi among other tables from Star of the West.

The presentation will create a context to cover some of the following subjects:

`Abbás Effendí's Writings in Egypt

  1. Speeches
  2. Discussions and dialogues
  3. Books and writings
  4. Messages to the institutions and international societies and gatherings
  5. Tablets to individuals regarding scientific; philosophical and religious topics
  6. General letters and tablets addressed to the believers in the East and the West
  7. Personal tablets
  8. Will and Testimonies
  9. Prayers and meditations
  10. Prayers and meditations for certain occasions
  11. Tablets of Visitation
  12. Poetry and prose
`Abbás Effendí's relation with the Arab and Islamic leaders of thought
  1. Imam Shaykh Mohammed 'Abduh
  2. Prince Mohamed Ali Towkiq
  3. Shaykh Ali Youssef
  4. Ármin Vámbéry
  5. Mohamed Jamil Beyham
  6. The prince of perspicuousness / eloquence — Shakib Arselan
  7. Slaim Qabein
  8. Gubran Khalil Gubran
  9. Amin Al-Rihani
  10. Prince George Beg Lutf-Alla

Abdu'l-Bahá: The Mystery of God

by Faris Badii

Even though "`Abdu'l-Bahá" was the title preferred by the Center of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh Himself, His titles and appellations are many. Among them "the Trust of God," "this sacred and glorious being," "this Branch of Holiness," "the Limb of the Law of God," "this sublime, this blessed, this mighty, this exalted Handiwork," "the most great Favor," "the most perfect bounty," and "the Master," are noteworthy. However, "The Mystery of God," conferred upon Him by Bahá'u'lláh is perhaps the most intriguing. We would like to explore some aspects of this title and its historical evidentiary aspects. From His birth, to His knowledge of that which was hidden to the commoners, to conditions surrounding His marriage, His selection and appointment of His successor, His astonishing predictions including the end of "Pax Britannica" and even conditions surrounding His ascension all point to unique and enigmatic historical events that mystify the mind.

Abdu'l-Bahá in New York 1912 : An Illustrated Narrative

by Hussein Ahdieh

`Abdu'l-Bahá, the eldest Son and appointed successor of Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, visited United States of America for 239 days from April 11, 1912 to December 5, 1912. During that sojourn He spent 85 days in the City of New York. This presentation covers some of the most poignant accounts of His visit in New York City from diaries and autobiographies written by the believers who met and travelled with Him. His acclaimed station was the `Abdu'l-Bahá, (Servant of Bahá), a Servant to the Covenant of His Father's Cause. He was called "The Master", a title which was respectfully used by the followers of the Faith in United States when referring to `Abdu'l-Bahá. The historic event which took place in New York on June 19, 1912, is the basis of New York's distinguished title of "the City of the Covenant".

This presentation is an attempt to give glimpses of His humility, grandeur, power and purity trough pictures and quotes as well as priceless eyewitness accounts, written records of `Abdu'l-Bahá's addresses, and newspaper and magazine articles. It focuses on the chronology of `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit in New York city and it attempts to provide a practical frame of reference. The Master's stay in New York was the longest in one place. The length of this sojourn and the demanding schedule that `Abdu'l-Bahá engaged in while in the city are further evidences of the attention He bestowed on this community. `Abdu'l-Bahá found New York City of 1912 to be a place of tolerance, compared to other racially segregated societies, and planned the first Bahá'í interracial marriage to take place here. New York City welcomed `Abdu'l-Bahá. Religious congregations, peace societies, and universities vied to invite Him. Bahá'ís and others alike, attracted by His love and wisdom, followed the Master from place to place. The chronology of the visit of `Abdu'l-Bahá to New York City and United States is primarily based on two sources: The Diary of Mahmud Zarqání and the Diary of Juliet Thompson. Mahmud was one of the Persian secretaries who accompanied `Abdu'l-Bahá in His travels to the West. Juliet Thompson was one of the early New York City believers, a talented artist and writer, whose diary stands out as a phenomenon, unique in the history of religion. In this candid and vibrant testimony, we experience the vicissitudes of a passionate and sincere woman's spiritual experience. Juliet as a painter and a writer brings to life in perceptive details the scenes surrounding `Abdu'l-Bahá and succeeds in making us see and feel the reality of the extraordinary spiritual power of One Whom Bahá'u'lláh hailed as "The Mystery of God".

After the young Turks' Rebellion of 1908 which freed `Abdu'l-Bahá and his family from prison, `Abdu'l-Bahá decided to travel to the West to spread the message of Bahá'u'lláh. The western Bahá'ís had been pleading with the Master to visit America in 1911. `Abdu'l-Bahá made his first historic trip to Europe, then He returned to Egypt, to Ramleh, a suburb of Alexandria until the spring of 1912. On March 25, the Master and His retinue boarded the S.S. Cedric in Alexandria, heading for the United States. The American Bahá'ís had sent thousands of dollars for His journey, urging Him to leave the Cedric in Italy and travel to England to sail on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. But the Master returned the money for charity and continued His voyage on the Cedric. `Abdu'l-Bahá's entourage was an unusual mixture of Easterners and Westerners. `Abdu'l-Bahá usually wore a long robe, white or light tan, a dark `abá (overcoat) and a white turbaned headdress on His flowing, silky, white hair. The Persians in His entourage wore western clothing and the red fez. At Naples, a few Americans and an English believer, Miss Louisa Mathew, joined the traveling party for the rest of the trip. At the table "the intermingling and assembling together of the Easterners and Westerners attracted the eyes", wrote Mahmud. It also caused misunderstanding and distrust due to the war between Turkey and Italy at the time. However, during the voyage the officers of the ship asked `Abdu'l-Bahá to address a public meeting which they arranged in the lounge. Among the large number of people attending were the consuls of Russia and Italy, who conversed regularly with the Master afterwards.


Deganawidah The Peacemaker - Many Messengers of God : A Native American Perspective

by Paula Bidwell

Indigenous people from oral traditions such as the inhabitants of North and South America, Africa and the Island Nations have not had their Messengers of God universally "recognized" by theologians, scholars and other academics. The Bahá'í́ Writings give an opportunity for this to be changed through the addition of categories.

In the Kitáb-i-Íqán and Gems of Divine Mysteries, Bahá'u'lláh describes qualities, traits and events of Messengers of God from the East which serve as proofs of Prophethood. "And since in their inmost Beings they are the same Luminaries and the self-same Mysteries, thou shouldst view their outward conditions in the same light, that thou mayest recognize them all as one Being, nay, find them united in their words, speech, and utterance." (Gems of Divine Mysteries p. 33)

The purpose of this paper is to use these proofs along with other proofs from the Writings of the Bahá'í Faith to suggest the possibility that Deganwidah (The Peacemaker) of the Six Nations is one of many Messengers of God worldwide, a possibility that can go a long way toward restoring dignity to an oppressed people.

This paper is an attempt to use proofs of Prophethood primarily from the Kitáb-i-Íqán and Gems of Divine Mysteries, in order to provide a convincing example for this possibility. The author uses Deganawidah of the Six Nations who appeared on the North American continent about 1,000 years ago. Deganawidah's Message was recorded in intricate and extensive wampum objects. These objects are "read" like a book every few years and take approximately eight hours a day for four days. The accuracy of wampum recordation was discovered very early by transcribers who at different times, with different tribal members recorded the Message of Deganawidah. These transcriptions vary only slightly giving us undeniable proof that oral history can be accurate.

This paper, although is written at a "grass roots" level, is a preliminary attempt to maintain a scholarly and authentic approach regarding Native American spirituality and religious traditions. It is hoped that it will serve as an effective teaching tool for the Bahá'í́ community in sharing the Message of Bahá'u'lláh with Native peoples. At the same time, it is written as an encouragement for Indigenous peoples around the world to write about their Messengers of God using the Bahá'í́ Writings as a guideline. The Universal House of Justice stated in a letter dated 25 May 1975 to all National Spiritual Assemblies, "...there are tribes and minorities who still live in their traditional ways in the midst of other cultures...we should seek them out, teach them the Cause of God, and enrich through their membership the Bahá'í communities of the lands in which they live."

Click here to read this paper online.

First We Must Speak of Logical Proofs: Some Reflections on `Abdu'l-Bahá's Discourse in America

by Franklin Lewis

This essay reflects upon the positioning of Abdu'l-Bahá's discourses in the United States as examples of interfaith dialogue and attempts to draw some paradigmatic conclusions from them about current Bahá'í efforts at interfaith discourse. In addition, it evaluates the reception of this public presentation or recitation of the Bahá'í message in intellectual circles, as measured by the representation of Bahá'í characters in fictional works (poems and novels, from Ezra Pound to Jon Stock). Among the questions to be considered are: the rhetorical and epistemological assumptions of Abdu'l-Bahá's interfaith discourse in America; what common ground does he stake, intellectually, for that discourse; how were decisions made about which particular groups to engage; to what extent did engagement with one group or type of group exclude engagement with others; and what conclusions may be drawn for the current efforts at evolving a sophisticated and now very public interfaith and intellectual discourse?

Race, Religion and Progress in the Talks and Actions of Abdu'l-Bahá

by Robert Stockman

The nineteenth century dialogue among civilizations focused on several themes; among them, race, religion, and progress were particularly prominent. Race and religion related to the question of which culture was the best fitted to shape the future of humanity, which was living on a world shrunken by the telegraph and the power of steam. An historian of religion in America speaks of the "conflation of race, religion, and progress" as a dominant theme in American discourse during the period; in other words, that white people, possessing the superior religion (Christianity in its Protestant form) were fitted by God to lead human progress forward. Other western colonial powers had their own form of this discourse. In response, nineteenth century Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Persians, and Japanese crafted their own responses to the notion of the superiority of white Christian civilization and put forth their own claims.

When one looks at the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh in the context of this discourse, the revelation can be seen as a response to and reformulation of arguments about race, religion, and progress. The oneness of humanity is a response to the notion that a particular race is superior; the oneness of religion constitutes a response to the notion that a particular religion is superior; and the Bahá'í revelation in general offers a definition of what "progress" should look like.

`Abdu'l-Bahá's first contribution to this discourse was The Secret of Divine Civilization (1875), which fleshed out both spiritual and practical aspects of development and progress. His Occidental sojourn provided numerous opportunities to flesh out his arguments and expand on aspects of them. In over 400 North American talks, He emphasized the oneness of humanity and the oneness of religion in particular, and expatiated on certain related principles, such as equality of the sexes, the union of blacks and whites, and the need for universal education. He also stressed the danger of imminent war in Europe; a war that shattered the notion of the superiority of western Christian civilization, 1914-18. In His many talks before African Americans and Japanese Americans he spoke about the oneness of humanity in frank and bold terms. His encouragement of Louisa Mathew and Louis Gregory to marry concretely demonstrated implications of the oneness of humanity that were unrecognized or rejected by liberal Christians. His numerous visits to settlement houses underscored the Bahá'í commitment to raising the poor out of poverty.


Synopsis of the Shared Concepts and Themes in the Persian Bayán and the Kitáb-i-Iqán

by Habib Riazati

The Persian Bayán is identified as the "mother book" of the dispensation of Bayán by Bahá'u'lláh, and the Kitáb-i-Iqán has been referred to by Shoghi Effendi as "the most important work of Bahá'u'lláh after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas" and the completion of Persian Bayán. One of the main purposes of this paper is to outline some of shared themes and the common concepts in these two major works of the twin Manifestations of Bahá'í cycle. While the main concentration will be on the common fundamental verities found in these two books, we shall also refer to the other works of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh that these same themes have been discussed in a lesser extent.

Another major objective of this research is to show the mystical unity of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh through the study of their doctrinal works. These Books upheld, the belief in the sanctity of the personal but unknowable God, the unity of all of Manifestations and their twin stations, the progressive revelations, the importance of individual investigation of Truth, the causes of denial of the new Manifestation by those who continuously await His Coming, the role of clergies in becoming veils between people and the Truth, The misunderstanding of the concept of Finality of the Manifestations of God, the importance of critical, dialectical thinking and insightful attitude in discovering the truth of every matter, and the interpretation and the meaning of certain terms frequently occurring in the previous Dispensations such as Paradise, Hell, Death, Resurrection, the Return, the Balance, the Hour, the Last Judgment, the Angles, the Grave, and the like.


Technology and the Bahá'í Faith

by Jessie McBride

This is an interactive presentation allowing input from all participants. We shall go over the many resources that Bahá'ís have available to them through the medium of technology. We shall be going over multiple ways how we can use technology to not only teach the Faith, but to deepen ourselves on the Writings. Various ways to use technology and use the World Wide Web for teaching the Faith and ways which one can learn more about the Faith through this medium will be presented.

The Choice of the West for Abdu'l-Bahá's Epoch-Making Trip

by Baharieh Rouhani Ma'ani

When `Abdu'l-Bahá gained freedom, after fifty-eight years of exile and confinement, He made preparations for a momentous trip. By August 1910, when He began His trip, the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh had spread beyond the borders of lands gripped in the yoke of Islamic fanaticism and orthodoxy, and was established in areas which enjoyed religious freedom. However, He chose the West for His historic trip. The presentation on this topic explores the reasons for His choice and discusses the tremendous results achieved by the visit He made to Europe and North America, particularly the United States.

Also presented in Persian.

Click here to read this paper online.

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

by Iraj Ayman

One of the innovative measures in the Bahá'í 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, Bahá'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 Bayán. Bahá'u'lláh, 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 "find 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 Bahá'í Administrative Order as its first level foundation and a unifying factor within the Bahá'í 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.


Towards of World Federation: It Is Time to Implement Abdu'l-Bahá's Advice

by Sovaida Ma'ani

It was almost a century ago, during His historic trip to the United States, that `Abdu'l-Bahá advised a high official in the service of the federal government that he could best promote the interests of his government and people, if he strove in his capacity as a citizen of the world, to gradually apply the principle of federalism to the world beyond the United States.

Now, almost a century later, the necessity for the application of this principle has become increasingly apparent. Indeed, it is indispensable, if we are to effectively tackle seemingly intractable collective problems such as climate change, the increasing demand for equitable access to clean energy, nuclear proliferation, use of force, financial stability and food and water security to name but a few.

This presentation will both demonstrate the crying need to apply the principles of federalism today and propose some concrete steps that can be taken by the international community to move in this direction.