Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #137 (English)

Bosch Baha'i School: Santa Cruz, CA

May 26–30, 2016.

Dawn of a New Creation, The: The Difference in Understanding Creation in Western Philosophy, Christianity and the Bahá'í­ Faith

by Wolfgang Klebel

On Monday, October 23rd 1911, 'Abdu'l-Bahá talking in Paris, France, about the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh reaching the West stated this.

Then shall humanity put on a new garment in the radiance of the love of God, and it shall be the dawn of a new creation! (PT 34)
The question is what is this new creation that is dawning? What is the new understanding of the creation as revealed by Bahá'u'lláh? What is this new garment of humanity, of which 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaks? And even more importantly, what is the difference of this new creation compared to the understanding of creation in Christianity and in the western world?

What is this new garment of humanity, of which 'Abdu'l-Bahá speaks? And even more importantly, what is the difference of this new creation compared to the understanding of creation in Christianity and in the western world? As seen from my perspective, the difference is in the relation between spirit and matter. In the Bahá'í Writings the relationship of spirit ad matter is most often expressed in these terms: Inside and Outside, Seen and Unseen, Hidden and Manifest, always a pair of oppositional concepts that are together in some unity. This is in contrast to the Christian world view, where spirit and matter are seen more in terms nature and super-nature, lower and higher, and of different nature. This is an inheritance from Saint Augustin's theology, influenced by Neoplatonism. For Plato reality was in the ideas, the physical reality was only the shadow world. The creation is an emanation starting with the spiritual and going down to ever lower levels of the physical.

In this paper we will look into what Bahá'u'lláh said about creation and what the new understanding is, the New Heaven and New Earth, which were promised in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. The difference between spirit and matter is not in its intrinsic value but in how it should be approached by man, developing from the material towards the spiritual. Therefore, prayer is as valuable as service to mankind. Civilization needs to be advancing, and the unity of humankind is the goal of this development. The way we use these different aspects of our life, the way we go in this path to God makes the difference. In Christianity it was better to enter a monastery and dedicate oneself to the contemplative life. So-called laypeople, who married, were regarded as second class citizen in the church. Contrary, Bahá'u'lláh recommends the monks to leave the monastery, marry and make the world a better place.

The conclusion is that both spirit and matter are created equally by God and express His Glory.


Exploration of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Address to Stanford University

by Vafa Bayat

At the invitation of David Starr Jordan, the president of Stanford University, who had for the first time in history, and since, closed the university so that all might be able to attend, `Abdu'l-Bahၠgave a talk in which he discussed several important themes including the importance of scientific discovery and universal peace. President Jordan was reported to have said in relation to `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit and talk that He "will surely unite the East and West for he treads the mystic way with practical feet." `Abdu'l-Bahá's talk was subsequently published in many prominent newspapers of the day. He often exhorted the friends to study it and even memorize it for their education and teaching efforts. In light of this, we have undertaken a detailed exploration of the key points of this talk in its appropriate historical context and in relation to passages from `Abdu'l-Bahá's other talks and the Sacred Writings of the Faith.

Financial Relationship between Bahá'u'lláh and the Bahá'í­ Community, The

by Mehrdad Bashiri

The purpose of this presentation is to examine some aspects of Bahá'u'lláh's financial relationship with the Bahá'í­ community during His ministry. This talk is organized around the following four subject matters:
  1. Various ways and means connecting the Bahá'í­ Community to Bahá'u'lláh in areas of financial matters
  2. Financial features of some Bahá'í­ laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
  3. Reviewing Bahá'u'lláh's instructions and teachings related to the believers' approaches in financial matters
  4. General assessment of Bahá'u'lláh's financial circumstances during His Ministry

Haj Mehdi Arjmand: A Biographical Review

by Faris Badii

Annual sessions of Irfan Colloquia were established about 18 years ago in honor and memory of Haj Mehdi Arjmand. Irfan has enjoyed continuous support and sponsorship of the grandchildren of Haj Mehdi Arjmand.

Haj Mehdi Arjmand is arguably one of the most successful, most skilled and most eminent Baha'i teachers of Iran. He embraced the Baha'i Faith as a young man. He was from a Jewish background and as such had not learned the Farsi language. To be able to understand the readings during Baha'i gatherings, he decided to learn Farsi. With his innate ability and keen intellect, he taught both Farsi and Arabic to himself and mastered the Old and New Testaments as well as the Qur'an. His mastery of scriptures made him a respected and renowned teacher in Baha'i communities. When Dr. Holmes traveled from America and took up residence in the city of Hamadan in order to convert the Jews to Christianity, the LSA of Hamandan asked Haj Mehdi to represent the Baha'is in religious debates with Dr. Holmes. Weekly meetings that lasted at least one and a half years resulted in Dr. Holmes becoming respectful of Baha'i revelation and confessing to Haj Mahdi's mastery of the Holy books. Haj Mehdi published a collection of his talks with Dr. Holmes in a comprehensive book titled "Golshan-i-Haqayeq" which can be translated as "Flower Garden of Truth". He became the honored recipient of several tablets from Abdu'l-Baha.

A brief account of his life and teaching activities, cursory look at the contents of his book, and a review of some of the tablets he received from Abdu'l-Baha are included in this presentation.


Meta-History and the Bahá'í­ Writings

by Ian Kluge

The doctrine of progressive revelation is a "grand narrative" or meta-historical account of humanity's spiritual and psycho-social progress over the length of human existence. In other words, this teaching presents the story of the unfolding or actualizing of uniquely human potentials in our struggle with the material world and our own animal natures. The foreseeable goal is the eventual unification of humankind and the attainment of the spiritual and psycho-social maturity of mankind. This paper will compare and contrast the Bahá'í "grand narrative" with other meta-historical theories in order to help clarify our understanding of the explicit and implicit Bahá'í teachings about the nature of human history as well as human destiny. The major authors we shall examine are Georg W. H. Hegel, Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee, Lewis Mumford and Pitrim Sorokin.

Mindfulness Meditation on Metaphors of Leadership and Empowerment used by `Abdu'l-Bahၠand Shoghi Effendi in Relation to Realization of the Tablets of Divine Plan

by Keyvan Geula

"The Tablets of the Divine Plan, described by Shoghi Effendi as "the Charter of the New World Order", had been penned by 'Abdu'l-Bahá over the period of a year, from March 1916 to March 1917, during the course of the First World War. History tells us that only a few individuals responded, mostly on their own initiative, to the call to travel to other countries and teach the new Faith. It remained for Shoghi Effendi, years later, to set in place the instruments and to prime the processes that would guarantee a systematic and sustained response.

Recent research about mindfulness and mental health acknowledges the role of intellectual, social, psychological and spiritual components of leadership. Bahá'í­ Writings serve as powerful instrument that rescues the individual mind from wayward patterns of thought qualifying mankind to create and perform in one universal and divine symphony, therefore realizing the ideal of oneness of all humanity.

This presentation explores some samples of the Writings such as the one bellow identifying examples of language of rhetorical excellence in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets of Divine Plan and Shoghi Effendi's letters in teaching the friends the unique privilege and manner executing an organized and systematic campaign of teaching and expansion of the Faith. We will examine the use of the powerful and emotionally charged language of metaphors to engage and uplift the minds, enchant the hearts of the believers and move them into a global systematic action.


Phenomenon of Newly Emerging Entities and the Twofold Process

by Jena Khadem-Khodadad

The following words of Bahá'u'lláh launch this session:
I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose...than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation...
Newly emergent entities arise de novo; they introduce new possibilities and fresh propensities into a system: that which was impossible becomes possible; that which was highly improbable becomes probable. Two examples of newly emergent entities - metaphors - from natural sciences will be offered for reflection: (1) the emergence of oxygen, a significant product of the activity of photosynthetic molecules and (2) the birth of a new star in the physical universe.

The emergence of oxygen made animal life possible. Sentient beings evolved capable of consciousness and self awareness. The emergence of oxygen - that essential stuff of life - is an apt metaphor for the emergence of the life giving forces with their vivifying influence which are introduced into existence through Divine Revelations.

The birth of a new star in our physical universe is another insightful metaphor for the birth of a new Star, a new Revelation, in the spiritual universe. The birth of a star generates around itself a whole new field of gravitational forces which had not been there before. These forces pull, attract, and create tension - generating conditions hitherto unimagined. The birth of the Star of the Revelation, of the twin Manifestations, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh in mid-nineteenth century inaugurated a new Dispensation. It unleashed powerful gravitational forces — the onrushing forces - into creation. In a passage, Shoghi Effendi attributes: "The onrushing forces so miraculously released through the agency of two independent and swiftly successive Manifestations..." to the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.

These forces attract, pull and also create turbulence with consequent disequilibrium and chaos. Their tumultuous effect may be discerned from the following statement of Bahá'u'lláh:

No sooner had that Revelation been unveiled to men's eyes than the signs of universal discord appeared among the peoples of the world, and commotion seized the dwellers of earth and heaven, and the foundations of all things were shaken. The forces of dissension were released.
Numerous passages in the Baha'i sacred texts, also bear the tidings of the quickening, vivifying and regenerating outcomes of that discord, commotion and dissension.

In conclusion, this session highlights a direct connection between the emergence of the new entities through the revelation of the twin Manifestations to the culmination of the twofold process in history. Two examples, of perception and physiology of vision, are offered as metaphors to illustrate and explain the assurance which the Baha'is evince in a glorious outcome of the titanic struggle between these two forces of disintegration and integration.


Role of the Bahá'í­ Faith in a World Government

by Farjam Majd

Right answers can only follow the right questions. Anything else would be an exercise in word games. Hence, the process of finding answers starts with defining the issues that characterize the question.

This paper is more about defining and characterizing the question of world government, what it means, what its boundaries are, who its players are, why it is necessary or even desirable, and the role of the Bahá'í Faith, its principles, and its institutions in such world government. This paper is also about finding some of the major problems in the process of creating it.

The purpose and functions of government and its history and forms are briefly explored. The concept of a governing body is extended from a localized entity to a global entity while considering the issues of scale that are encountered in such extension. Some of the specific functions and purposes of government that are briefly addressed include creation and enforcement of laws, safeguarding public welfare and individual rights, education, national security, promotion of arts and sciences and industry, creation and maintenance of infrastructure such as roads and utilities, and the processes associated with these functions such as elections.

Each of the above functions raise many questions as to their nature and scope, but there are some overarching issues that relate to them all. One, is the issue of the integration of various, and often incompatible, governments along with their respective nations, cultures, and histories into one world government and one world community.

What is not included here are definitive answers. Given the complexity and scope of this subject, even identifying at least a few of the important issues is a difficult proposition at best, let alone defining all the right questions and coming up with the right answers.


State of Meditation

by Mehrdad Ehsani

To come in touch with reality is the purpose of the art of meditation. Most of religious practice is verbal: verbal prayers, sermons, and lectures. On the other hand, meditation is contemplative and experiential: inner silence, listening, and observing the inner and outer real- ity. In this context, meditation is not what is usually called religious prayers.

Bahá'u'lláh, quoting from Rumi, said of this practice: "In thy soul of love build thou a fire. And burn all thoughts and words entire." [Seven Valleys, P. 28]

Further, Bahá'u'lláh said: "... every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself, to appreciate the Beauty of God the Glorified ...," [Gleanings, P143]

The great Eastern mystic, Mowlana JalaÌ„l ad-DiÌ„n Rumi, said: "To the spiritual man the 'inner voice' is its own evidence, and needs no proof." [The Masnavi I Manavi of Rumi Complete 6 book page 71]

Also, Beloved Guardian emphasizes the need and necessity of medi- tation and has given us a vision and guidance regarding a Bahá'í way of meditating.

We will discuss meditation and some of its misunderstandings. We will show that this is a very straightforward and reproducible cognitive process.


Study of the Role of Religion in Wealth and Poverty, A

by Hooshmand Badiee

The association between religion, material well-being and poverty is fundamental in exploring how religious affiliation affect the quality of life of its members. Doctrines of well-being and prosperity in the major world religions provide various incentives for economic activities. A comparative study and analysis of religions indicate that each promotes and encourage followers for hard work, while discouraging idleness. However, observations of religious communities around the world suggest a misconception that religious affiliation and beliefs contribute to poverty. But, what religion teaches about wealth and poverty? And where is the place of the poor and the rich in the various Scriptures?

This presentation will consider how religion, wealth and poverty are interconnected, and conclude that factors other than religion contribute to the creation of wealth and poverty.


Tablets of the Divine Plan: Virtues of Effort, Magnanimity, and Sanctity

by Marlene Koswan

Following `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to America He wrote The Tablets of the Divine Plan which laid out His vision of the spiritual conquest of the planet. In this paper we will review the virtues He mentioned in these Tablets and their context. In some instances the virtues are used to highlight the qualities of individuals, to provide instructions as to the behavior Bahá'ís need to develop, or have been included in prayers as attributes the believers are requesting God's assistance. Focus will be placed on the three virtues of effort, magnanimity and sanctity by referring to `Abdu'l-Bahá's talks as recorded in Promulgation of Universal Peace.

Tablets of the Divine Plan - Heading the Call: The Early Travels of the Mother of the Bahá'í­s of South America, Leonora Stirling Holsapple, 1921 to1927

by Kristine Leonard Asuncion Young

The little-known story of the Mother of the Bahá'í of South America, Leonora Stirling Holsapple [Armstrong], who, having witnessed the unveiling of the Tablets of the Divine Plan in New York City as a 23 year old young woman in April 1919, and receiving a Tablet from Abdu'l-Bahá, and with subsequent advice and support from May Maxwell and Martha Root, pioneered to Brazil in January 1921.

This is the story of a unique young women raised as a Bahá'í in the early 1900's American Bahá'í community; about the practice of obedience and faith; of the transformation of a timid young woman into a humble spiritual giant. It is a story of obedience to the call of Abdu'l-Bahá in His Tablets of the Divine Plan, of stalwart perseverance, and unstinting service. Through examination of the aspects of her many tests and difficulties, her continued inspiration in her two Tablets from Abdu'l-Bahá and her obedience to the Covenant through correspondence with Shoghi Effendi, the future book will attempt a presentation for future generations of Bahá'í, the record of her humble and selfless example.

This year's paper will focus on the teaching trips Leonora made by ship between 1921 and 1927, visiting some ten countries and 17 cities, many of them in which she was the first person to bring the Message of the Bahá'í Revelation. Leonora continued to be the sole Bahá'í pioneer on the continent of South America for many years at the request of the Guardian, and the first translator of Bahá'í literature into both Spanish and Portuguese, until her passing in Salvador, Bahia in 1980.

In April of 1919, Leonora Stirling Holsapple, a shy, studious girl of 23, was in the audience at the unveiling of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. She was moved greatly and proceeded to write to 'Abdu'l- Bahá for guidance upon how to go about fulfilling her desire to be of service. His reply took almost a year, but meanwhile she was guided to write to Martha Root, who advised her to go to Argentina. Leonora immediately began studying Spanish. Shortly before her departure, Martha told her of three enthusiastic Theosophists who lived in Santos, Brazil, and were receptive to learning about the new Revelation; thus she changed her plans to Brazil —a country where she had no friends, no relatives, nor knew the language.

Leonora's father was totally against the idea of his eldest daughter leaving America alone on a ship to an unknown country. He threatened to disown her if she did so, and her relatives cast all sorts of doubts and aspersions. "Martha gave me every encouragement, but family and friends did not — what could a young girl do entirely alone in a strange, far-off country (far-off, indeed, it seemed thirty years ago, [now 95 years ago] with no planes or radios, and few boats) —what madness could prompt her to take such a "leap in the dark"? The only one who was thrilled at her devotion was her maternal grandmother, also named Leonora, who was the first in the family to learn of the Bahá'í Revelation in 1906, and who had met `Abdu'l-Bahၠin 1912 when he travelled to America. Leonora's courage wavered as she contemplated the vastness of her proposed adventure, but one day when she was required to travel on business to northern New York, she decided to slip up to Montreal. It was to- ward the end of 1920 when she made this visit to May Maxwell in Montreal and laid bare to May her conflicting emotions. May was ill in bed, but "Her luminous eyes turned full upon me —with fire in them, it seemed to me - and in ringing tones that still re-echo in my heart, she exclaimed: 'Go! What are you waiting for? Go!' 'I will take the next boat,' I replied. My passage was reserved the next day. I dared not wait to save up more money, lest again love of dear ones cause me to waver." Her boat left New York City on 15 January 1921, and after total trust in Bahá'u'lláh, Leonora began her first return voyage to the United States in the spring of 1922. Taking a journey of over six months, she stopped in various ports along the east coast of Brazil, the north coast of the continent, and shared the Bahá'í message with many. By 1927 she would make four such trips.


"The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order...": Insights from the Science of Chaos

by Jena Khadem-Khodadad

These prophetic words of Bahá'u'lláh, launch and illumine this session. This statement attributes the prevailing world disequilibrium, turbulence, and disorder to the destabilizing impact of the emerging new world order- introduced by the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Moreover, the statement: "Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead" [GWB] confers assurance that, in time, a new order will replace the present day order.

Turbulence, disequilibrium, and apparent disorder, are all features associated with the process of Chaos; the science of Chaos portends the emergence of order out of apparent disorder. Our times display the characteristics of a true Chaotic process.

The term "chaos" - in common usage - is applied to systems that are disorderly. However, the science, of "Chaos", tells us that there is a process which appears disorderly on the surface; albeit, it camouflages an emerging order. Therefore, it is important to be cognizant of two types of "chaos": 1. A process which is disorderly with no emerging order and 2. A process which appears disorderly but results in the emergence of order. For this presentation, "Chaos" is used with capital C as in "2", above. Such a process can give rise to a higher level order. The process of Chaos may be distinguished by its mathematical feature of fractals. [Fractal: a mathematical feature of chaos. Fractal is derived from the word "fractional"; it signifies any image or process that displays the attribute of self-similarity at all scales. Simply put, fractal is repetition of a pattern or property at all levels of magnification and enlargement. Thus the same pattern or feature is repeated at each level.]

The Science of Chaos

The science of Chaos, along with relativity and quantum mechanics was one of the major theories of science in the twentieth century. The process of Chaos was predicted early by James Clerk Maxwell, Noble laureate physicist. His essay contains the essential ideas of the modern Chaos theory, "sensitive dependence on initial conditions;" that is a very small change (in non-linear systems) under appropriate condition can have a very large outcome. This concept is described, poetically as "the butterfly effect" of the science of chaos.

The implications of Chaos are sweeping. Chaos is entailed in the workings of the twin processes of disintegration and integration explained in the Bahá'í­ sacred scriptures. The science of Chaos sheds insights on the tempo and tenor of our times. Insights imparted by the science of Chaos on the course of human history and the attainment of a global civilization are of particular interest. Furthermore, the "butterfly effect" of Chaos holds implications for a significant enhancement in the growth and advancement of the Bahá'í­ Faith. These points will be introduced in this presentation.

(There are numerous publications on the science of Chaos. See Prigogine, Ilya (Nobel Laureate), and Isabelle Stengers, Order out of Chaos, Bantam Books, 1984. For a comprehensive introductory book on Chaos see Gleick, James. Chaos - Making a New Science, Penguin Books, 1987).


Theology of Tahirih as Revealed in Her Poems

by Anthony Lee

She is most commonly designated Qurratu'l-Ayn (Solace of the Eyes), certainly the most well-known woman in Bahá'í history, and the most controversial. `Abdu'l-Bahၠrecognizes her as a saint with these words in Memorials of the Faithful: "A woman chaste and holy, a sign and token of surpassing beauty, a burning brand of the love of God, a lamp of His bestowal, was Jinab-i-Tahirih."

As a Babi, Tahirih wrote many learned treatises in defense of the Bab and Babi doctrines. In these she makes use of the traditional conventions of Islamic jurisprudence and theology. Amin Banani, in the preface to his translation of a selection of Tahirih's poems, makes a distinction, however, between Tahirih's learned dissertations and her poetic voice. He insists that her scholarly works are "too arcane and abstruse" to reveal her "tempestuous temperament" and her true doctrine. This distinction between Tahirih's words and Tahirih's voice is useful and instructive. This paper will investigate her poems to find a structure of mystical theology. Her poems inhabit a structure that does not rely upon Muslim scholarship for its arguments, but rather insists on the inspiration of the spirit for its power and legitimacy.

The poems reveal Tahirih's belief in the abrogation of the Islamic shari'a, the dismissal of all law while awaiting the universal proclamation of a new dispensation. They also reveal her antinomian sentiments, her reliance on feminine power, her call for social justice and universal reconciliation. She speaks of unity with God (fana') and devotion to his Manifestation. All this was a new theology that broke with Islam and its traditional theology in favor of a revolutionary new doctrine.

Click here to read this paper online.

Transformative Power of the Maid of Heaven, The: An Exploration of Grammar, Gender and Poetics in Bahá'u'lláh's Ode of the Dove

by Brian Miller

pact of the Maid of Heaven on the soul of Bahá'u'lláh. She is so powerful that she transforms everyone and everything touched by her radiance. The Ode also foreshadows the trials and sufferings endured by Bahá'u'lláh in His love for her beauty.

Poetry has been used a vehicle for revelation in past Dispensations. It plays a pivotal role during the first period of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry, starting with the Rahsh-i-'Ama'. How does it work, that is to say, what are the features of poetry that lend itself to revelation and how do those features operate? The literary tradition of Arabic poetry places certain expectations and constraints on the text, which the poem transcends, thanks to the power and presence of the Maid of Heaven. Many verbs used by Bahá'u'lláh should be masculine in form according the rules of Arabic grammar. However, we find that Bahá'u'lláh frequently uses the feminine form because they are feminine in meaning or in relation to the Maiden. One could say that the force of her presence feminizes the whole poem, though it must be said that the necessities of the rhyme scheme are a factor too.

Bahá'u'lláh adds his own annotations to the text of the poem. What do they suggest by their very addition to the text? They indicate strongly that Bahá'u'lláh foresees the impact this poem will have and the objections that will be raised. They also help us to read the poem "correctly" or as intended by Bahá'u'lláh.


Twin Shining Lights, Part 1: Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zayn al-Din al-Ahsa'i

by Stephen Lambden

Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zayn al-Din al-Ahsa'i was born in eastern Arabia (now Saudi Arabia) in the mid. 18th century, during the sacred seventh Islamic month of Rajab, in the year 1166 AH., or sometime during May, 1753 CE. His exact birthdate is unknown, though it is recorded that it occurred in an Imami Shi`i village named Matayrafi in the vicinity of a small settlement named al-Ahsa (or al-Hasa) within the Bahrayn region of Arabia.

Shaykh Ahmad was born in a very largely Sunni Muslim country with its religious centre in the Mecca-Medina sacred region. For five or six generations, his forbears were twelver Shi`i Muslims, though prior to this they had been Sunni Muslims like the majority of Muslim believers in the Ottoman domains and in modern Saudi Arabia.

As a young man who, some decades after his passing, came to be viewed as the fountainhead of an innovative Shi`i movement later designated as al-Shaykhiyya (Shaykhism, so after Shaykh Ahmad), he came to experience dream-visions. In one such experience, his authoritative, elevated religious status was acknowledged through the bestowing of ijaza or a `certificate of religious authorization to interpret and transmit knowledge' by each of the twelve Imams from `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d.40/661) through to the final twelfth messianic, occulted Imam, designated Muhammad al-Mahdi (the rightly guided) and al-Qa'im (the future "Ariser", d. 260/ 874 CE).

In the early 1770s (1186 AH), when about twenty years of age, Shaykh Ahmad left Arabia for the centers of Shi`i learning in Iraq, residing in certain sacred `arabat ("thresholds") shine cities such as Najaf (Imam `Ali is buried here) and Karbala (Imam Husayn is buried here). Resident there were supremely learned Shi`i religious authorities of great reputation. He studied with several of them, and they came to acknowledge his erudition, insight, and authority to instruct.

After about a year at the above-mentioned shrine cites, al-Ahsa'i returned for about twenty years to his place of origin and its surrounds, al-Ahsa and the Bahrain region. This until he returned to Najaf and Karbala for about a five year period (c. 1207-12 AH = c. 1792-7 CE). Then, for the next five or six years, he resided in various localities in southern Iraq, including Basra and such smaller villages as Dhuraq, Nashwah and Safawah.

In 1221/1806, Shaykh Ahmad went on pilgrimage to Mashhad in the Persian province of Khurasan, where the eighth Imam `Ali al-Rida' (d. 201/818) is buried. His return journey to Arabia was halted when Shaykh Ahmad accepted an invitation to reside in Yazd. He remained there and in Persia or Iran for the next few decades, until his final Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina where he passed away in 1826, his tomb being located in the al-Baqi ("the Eternal") cemetery in Medina. Apart from Yazd, Shaykh Ahmad visited or resided in various Iranian localities including Tehran (1808-9, as guest of the Shah), Mashhad, Isfahan, Kirmanshah and Qazvin. He also went on a number of further pilgrimage visits to the shine cities of Iraq and to Kazimayn.

From around 1223/1808 the second Qajar Shah, Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1769-1834) began to correspond with the now famous and widely-esteemed Shaykh Ahmad. For this Shah he wrote several treatises, including his Risala al-Khaqaniyya, which contains, among many other things, discourse about the human afterlife and fate in terms of bodily and meta-bodily realms of existence. Many more than one hundred of Shaykh Ahmad's earlier and subsequent writings were written in response to the often complex theological and philosophical questions of his devotees and disciples. Several of the best-known works of Shaykh Ahmad are commentaries upon Qur'anic verses and motifs or on Prophetic and twelver Imam relayed hadith or traditions. The following texts should be noted in this respect:

  • Tafsir Surat al-Tawhid (Commentary upon the Surah of the Divine Unity, Q. 112).
  • Sharh al-Ziyara al-Jami`a al-kabira, a weighty and lengthy four volume commentary on an important visitation devotional text relayed through the tenth Imam, `Ali al-Hadi (d. 254/868).

Having written in excess of 150 largely Arabic works expressing a deep, inner, often imamological interpretation of Islamic thought and scripture, Shaykh Ahmad died during the course of his last pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina on the 21st of the Islamic month of Dhul-Qada 1241 which corresponds with June 27th 1826.

For Bahá'ís, Shaykh Ahmad is a centrally important philosopher, theologian and interpreter of Shi`i Islam. In his Lawh-i Qina' (Tablet of the Veil) Bahá'u'lláh refers to him as "the most Glorious, most Gracious, the Midmost Day of Islam (zuhr al-islam), and the Ka`bah of the peoples (ka`bah al-anam)". Shaykh Ahmad is in fact viewed by Bahá'ís as a harbinger or forerunner of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, who both spoke very highly about him and his writings. While the Bab wrote an important Ziyarat-namah (Visitation Tablet) in honor and praise of Shaykh Ahmad, Bahá'u'lláh cited and interpreted certain of his writings and stated that He had heard from him and his successor Sayyid Kazim Rashti, "what hath not been realized by any except God, the Knowing, the Discerning" (cited Ishraq Khavari ed. Ma'ida-yi asmani, 4:134-5).

In this presentation, aspects of the biography of Shaykh Ahmad will be examined, along with some extracts from his writings of importance within Shaykhism and the Babi and Bahá'í religions.


Twin Shining Lights, Part 2: Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti

by Stephen Lambden

Like the Bab, Sayyid Kazim al-Husayni al-Rashti was a descendent of the third, martyred Imam Husayn (d. 60/680). Little is known about his early life save that he was born in Rasht, a city in northern Persia. His precise year of birth remains unknown. Estimates for his birthday vary by as much as fifteen years, from between 1198/1784 and 1214/1799-1800. It might thus be said that he was born around the mid. 1780s (c. 1199/1784 or 5) or some time in the early1200s AH / 1790s CE. The date of his death which was in Karbala (Iraq) is firmly established as having happening in 1259 [60] /1843 [4], a little more than five and a half months (CE) before the Bab declared his mission in his Shiraz house to Mulla Husayn Bushru'i (May 22, 1844). Authorities thus differ only a little regarding the exact day of Sayyid Kazim's death, though it can confidently asserted that he died in very late 1259 or very early 1260, perhaps on the last day of 1843 or on the first day of 1844.

It was while he was a young teenager visiting Yazd, between c.1810-1815 (?), that Sayyid Kazim became a staunch disciple and champion of the elevated status and inspired doctrinal viewpoints of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i. These Shaykh-centered perspectives he championed and defended throughout his life in Iran and Iraq. He consolidated and established the Shaykhi phenomenon.

Like his master teacher, Sayyid Kazim wrote a great deal in Arabic and Persian. The number of works has been conservatively catalogued by one of the twentieth century Shaykhi leaders, the sixth Kirmani Shaykhi leader, as amounting to 172 items. Very few of these works have been studied by western academics or by Bahá'ís. Until recent times very few of al-Rashti's works had been printed; apart, that is, from a few 19th century lithograph editions and compilations of great importance.

Among his most important works is hisDalil al-mutahayyirin (Evidence for the Perplexed), which was written in 1258/1842 in defense of the purpose and position of Shaykh Ahmad. The polymathic knowledge of al-Ahsa'i is asserted as is his fundamental orthodoxy within the realms of a twelver Shi`i universe of discourse.

His Sharh Du`a al-simat (Commentary on the Prayer of the Signs) of Sayyid Kazim is a lengthy phrase by phrase or word by word exegesis of an Arabic supplication transmitted by the fifth and sixth Imams, Muhammad al-Baqir ( d. c.126/743) and Ja`far al-Sadiq (d. c 48/765). Among the beautiful passages within this prayer is the following text which at times reflects or is modelled upon the Biblical verse Deut. 33:2 :

اللهم بمجدك الذي كلمت به عبدك ورسولك موسى بن عمران في المقدسين فوق إحساس الكروبين، فوق عمائم النور فوق تابوت الشهادة في عمود النور وفي طور سيناء وفي جبل حوريب في الواد المقدس في البقعة المباركة من جانب الطور الأيمن من الشجرة وفي أرض مصر بتسع آيات بينات،

I beseech Thee, O my God! by Thy Glory (majd) through which Thou did converse with Thy servant and Thy messenger Moses son of `Imran in the sanctified [Sinaitic] regions (al-muqaddasin) beyond the ken of the cherubim (al-karubiyyin), above the clouds of Light beyond the Ark of the Testament (al-tabut al-shahada) within the Pillars of Light. And in Mount Sinai (tur sina') and Mount Horeb (jabal al-hurib) in the sanctified Vale (al-wad al-muqaddas), in the Blessed Spot (al-buq'at al-mubaraka) in the direction of the Mount [Sinai] (al-tur) situated at the right-hand side of the Bush [Tree]. And likewise [he conversed] in the land of Egypt through nine Luminous Verses (ayat bayyinat)...

Certain of Sayyid Kazim's comments upon this passage will be surveyed in this presentation, as will aspects of his explanations of the al-ism al-a`zam (the Greatest Name) reference towards the beginning of this important prayer. This will be supplemented with a presentation of select statements made by Sayyid Kazim upon the graphic Shi`i form of the Greatest Name so often cited by the Bab in his numerous writings.

It is believed by Bahá'ís that Sayyid Kazim intimated the importance of the word baha' (viewed by Bahá'ís as the Greatest Name of God), at the very beginning of his Sharh al-Qasida al-Lamiyya (Commentary on the Ode Rhyming in the Letter "L") a poetical writing by a certain Ê»Abd al-Baqi Mawsili (of Mosul). The text of this commentary opens as follows:

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Praise be to God who ornamented the brocade of existence with the mystery of differentiation (sirr al-baynunat) by virtue of the ornament (tiraz) of the emergent Point (al-nuqtat al -bariz, at the base of the letter "B" = ( بfrom which comes the letter "H" (al-ha' = ( هthrough the letter "A" ) اbi'l-alif) without filling up (ishba') or segregation [splitting] (inshiqaq)....

Above is a translation of the scan from the opening page of the 1270/1853 lithograph edition of this Sharh al-qasida. Its opening lines following the basmala have been interpreted within Babi-Bahá'í literatures. Bahá'u'lláh has interpreted them in a scriptural Tablet to Mulla `Ali Bajistani (cited Ishraq Khavari, Ma'ida 7:139) as does his son and successor `Abbas Effendi, `Abdu'l-Bahၠin his Tafsir on the basmala. It is viewed as a cryptic, acrostic spelling out The Arabic word baha' (= B ب + H Ù‡ + A Ø¡ + ا hamza), conjoined spelling = بهاء baha') which they viewed as the quintessence of the al-ism al-a`zam, the Mightiest or Greatest Name of God.

In this presentation a few aspects of the life and writings of Sayyid Kazim will be presented along with some aspects of his importance within the Shi`i-Shaykhi, Babi and Bahá'í religions.