Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #14 (English)

Bahá'í Centre: Manchester, England

July 4–6, 1997.

Theme: "World Religions and the Bahá'í Faith"


African Religion and the Bahá'i Faith

by Enoch Tanyi

Both African religion and the Bahá'í Faith consider religion, in essence, as acts and sentiments that enable man to turn to his Creator. This definition of religion is one of the similarities between the two religions. This paper attempts to draw out the similarities and harmonize the differences found in these two religions. The paper is organized into five sub-headings - the belief in and worship of God; the kingdoms of God and their spirits; the nature of man, life after death and judgement; ancestors and ancestresses; and mysterious forces.

Both religions believe in one, supreme God called different names according to the various languages in Africa. He is worshipped through outward forms that convey a united essence - turning towards God.

The creatures of God are grouped in five kingdoms -- mineral, vegetable, animal, human and spiritual -- each of which has some basic driving force called `spirit' which differs in meaning from one to the other religion. In African religion, divinities are anthropomorphic spirits and deified forebears, and they act as intermediaries between God and man. The Bahá'í Faith, on the other hand, maintains that each of the five kingdoms has a unique spirit which can neither be anthropomorphized nor deified, and is not an intermediary between God and man. No material object or mundane thought is worthy of worship.

Man has a dual nature, both religions concur -- a composed body, and an intangible spitrit that lives on after death in a life that differs in some details from one to the other religion. Judgement takes place in the material as well as the spiritual worlds, bad deeds being punished and good deeds rewarded.

Life after death naturally introduces the concept of ancestors and ancestresses. Both religions believe in their continued existence and enjoin upon their adherents their veneration, performing good acts in their name, praying for them and through them, and believe in them in them praying for the living on earth and their influencing life on this earth. The manner of veneration differs in some aspects from one religion to the other.

For human reasons, African religion tries to harness supernatural forces by the use of psychic phenomena, occultism, mysticism, and herbalism.

The Bahá'í Faith recognises the truth as well as some falsehood in these matters. What is forbidden in the Bahá'í Faith is the invocation of the spirit of the departed or perpetration of acts that imply membership in another religion, or are contrary to Bahá'í principles. Some forms of mysticism and herbalism are acceptable in the Bahá'í Faith.

To conclude, the points of similarity in both religious stages in one religion. As a very long time separates the times of revelation of the two, one would expect differences due to the different requirements of the respective times of revelation, the different levels of understanding of the peoples living at the different times, and due to the interpretations that wear away the pillars of divine truth and vitiate the waters of religion.


African Traditional Religion: A Bahá'i View

by Akwasi Osei

Many things African have largely been misunderstood by Westerners. African Traditional Religion is one such thing that largely remains unappreciated, in this case not so much because the African peoples are themselves not much understood, but because the pheniomenon of religion is not appreciated, outside the Bahá'i world, as being progressive and time-dependent leading to the relativity of religious truth.

Africans are a heterogenous group of peoples with widely differing languages, cultures and models of worship. Early writers on Africa looked at these differences and described the modes of worship as tribal religions, not seeing how these could fit into their scheme of understanding of religions, described them as paganism, animism, ancestral worship, polytheism, etc. Modern writers agree that these descriptions were largely wrong but how do they fit them into the religions of the world? Christianity, as believed by Christians, has a simple answer: the African worship is no religion or is a false religion. Islam will similarly not recognise it because no African prophet is mentioned in the Qur'an. But how do the Bahá'is see this matter?

From the Bahá'i writings these points are clear: there are many prophets whose names we do not know; every land has had its prophet at one time or the other; the knowledge of God by any people is through the advent of a prophet of God there; religion changes its nature over time through corruption, adulteration, etc. and every religion was suited to the people at the time of its advent. It is, from the Bahá'i perspective, therefore not too difficult to see the legitimacy behind the African modes of worship. If the African modes of worship are looked at very closely, there are more similarities than differences -- which fact enables us to see these various modes of worship as variants of one religion rather than different religions. This paper looks at these differences and similarities. African Religion is also compared to traditional religions of other peoples and a suggestion is made that the name "African Traditional Religion" is a misnomer.

The African Religion may be looked at in terms of its beliefs, practices and values. There the beleifs which at best may be regarded now as superstitious. They may have served some purposes in the past but will need to be looked at scientifically and modified as appropriate. Likewise some practices and values which may not promote progress. In this paper the common ground between the Bahá'i Faith and African Religion is explored and the differences reviewed. Where they differ, areas of change to the African Religion to make it conform to the modern world view are discussed. There are the values and practices which, by all standards, are admirable and need to be encouraged. These are also discussed. If an African sees his or her traditional religion being in so much conformity with the Bahá'i Faith, it should not be too difficult for him to accept the Bahá'i Faith as a fulfilment of his expectation as an African worshipper.


Bahá'i Approach to Other Religions, The: The Example of Buddhism

by Moojan Momen

In this paper, we examine the way that the Bahá'i scriptures approach other religions. We look at the way that Bahá'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Bahá approach the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions and extrapolate from that the general principles that could then be applied to other religions. We try to analyse and systematise this approach so that we can then apply it to a religion that is little dealt with in the Bahá'i scriptures, Buddhism. We find that the Bahá'i Faith acknowledges the station of the founders of other religions. It accepts the texts of their holy books as being inspired and as providing true guidance for spiritual development. Where the Bahá'i approach to the scriptures of another religion may differ from that of the adherents themselves is in the interpretation of the scriptures. We derive a series of principles that underlie the Bahá'i hermeneutics of the scriptures of other religions. Where these relate to theological and metaphysical doctrines, the principles would appear to be: that we should strive to discover the single truth underlying the appearance of contradictions and variance in religious discourse; that the Ultimate Reality is beyond all descriptions and beyond the ability of human beings to establish any direct relationship with it, any appearance of such a descriptions or relationship is a misinterpretation and applies to a lower level of reality; that religious language is metaphorical and allegorical in nature and therefore where it appears to be describing physical phenomena and events, it is often, in fact, referring to spiritual realities and events; that religious language is often typological and the description of one significant person in religious history may also relate to others who are typologically similar but appear in other dispensations. A similar approach applies to the Bahá'i approach to the prophecies of other religion: the application of metaphorical, allegorical and typological interpretations.

Bahá'i World Centre, seen from the perspective of the history of the religions

by Per Akerdahl

One reason for building religious centres is their function as symbols of the visions of that faith. A building or group of buildings has not only a practical function, but it has a message to people. This is true for any building and it is certainly true for religious buildings. The central buildings of a religion must carry all the symbols necessary to fulfill its function. It must be able to symbolize the full spectra of that religion and especially to become the outer symbol of God himself for generations to come.

In the Bahá'í Faith, Mount Carmel is the Centre of the World - the Axis Mundi, as well as the administrative centre and the spiritual centre. If the international centre of a religion can manage to carry all these functions and also to be a living symbol of vision, this is no doubt of great importance to that religion. There are large numbers of examples to be studied. To the Catholic church, the administrative and spiritual centre is Rome, but the Centre of the World does no longer exist as a living concept. To the Muslims, the centre of the world is Mecca, the spiritual center is also Mecca, but there is no common administrative centre. In Judaism, the temple, which was the Centre of the World, the spiritual centre and the administrative centre, is destroyed and gone for two thousand years. The only remaining part is one of its walls. Many other religions are parts of the same pattern, showing that these centres are of major importance to each religion.

Organized religion has a multitude of dimensions and to study all of them in one paper is not possible. Those three dimensions that are brought to the forefront in this paper is the need for the individual to come closer to God, the spiritual dimension, to accept the World Order of God, symbolized by the Axis Mundi, and to accept the authority of a divinely appointed administration. If this is to be, it is necessary that the individual is given a vision that he can integrate these three dimensions. This vision must be so clear that he can relate his beliefs and his life to it and to be able to bring this vision constantly to life. In order to do this, he needs other pictures, even clearer, that can symbolize the vision. This has been the need of men all through the history and answers the question why organized religion always carries so many symbols.

Monotheistic Religion in Africa: The Example of the Swazi People

by Crispin Pemberton-Pigott and Margaret Pemberton-Pigott

Following the encouraging mass conversions in the Teso and Tilling areas of eastern Uganda in the 1950's, the failure of the Bahá'i Faith to penetrate very far into the majority of African cultures 40 years later gives us cause to ponder whether or not the message of Bahá'u'llah is being presented in a way that reaches the hearts of the masses. A brief reading of the literature available in Africa will leave little doubt that the Bahá'i Faith is taught through the channels of Christian and (in the north) Islamic scriptures and idioms. It is rather like trying to teach the Bahá'i Faith in Ireland entirely through the sayings attributed to the Buddha. There are, however, a great many corners of the continent where, despite outward appearances, the attachment to these religions is superficial and whose belief systems are only partially accepted. The traditional African world view or belief system is often deeply at odds with the modern tenets of these Faiths, and is, perhaps surprisingly, frequently more in line with Bahá'i teachings.

Most foreign pioneers to Africa come from either a Christian or Islamic religious background. Both of these groups naturally believe that the Bahá'i teachings justify and confirm their previous belief system, symbolized by the nine doors leading into a Bahá'i Temple. Upon arrival in Africa they find at least three types of religious belief: traditional systems, Christian and Moslem ones. In a great many cases, the traditional belief systems are in open conflict with the other two. In the Bahá'i community there is a natural gravitation towards teaching through the two "mainline" religions and it is on these that Bahá'i instruction and literature have concentrated.

If the Bahá'i teachers were to understand that the traditional belief systems so widely and firmly held in most African countries have a Divine origin, and are in fact the corrupted remnants of an earlier glorious Revelation, they might engender a far greater acceptance of the Bahá'i message by the masses. This paper attempts to describe the similarities between the recently revealed Bahá'i Faith and the ancient traditional beliefs of the Swazi people of Southern Africa. Its purpose is to raise an awareness in the reader of the remarkable similarities between many aspects of the two, and to raise the possibility that the Bahá'i Faith may be carried directly from the Pen of Bahá'u'llah into the hearts of the Africans without passing through the corrupted and degenerated interpretations of Christian and Islamic clerics. Until Africans feel truly free to accept the message of Bahá'u'llah without having to simultaneously accept a great number of questionable doctrines, they will remain only mildly attached to the Cause and live their lives firmly attached to the remnants of the cultures that have served them so well for so long.

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New Age Movement and the Bahá'i Faith

by Zaid Lundberg

Although the New Age Movement (NAM) has been promulgated by its adherents and has been severely attacked by the Evengelical Churches during a few decades in this century, the NAM has only recently caught the attention of various scholars of religion. Some have noted that it is basically a western and perhaps postmodern phenomenon while others state that it has "surpassed" and out-dated Christianity as a worldview in the West. What is especially questionable is that some authors have identified the Bahá'i Faith as part of the New Age Movement. One possible explanation for this identification is perhaps that the NAM has been admittedly problematic to define and study. Yet, certain areas have been identified as the NAMs salient characteristics, e.g.: millennialism, holism and healing, eclecticism and syncretism, monism and pantheism, consciousness and paradigm, evolution and reincarnation.

Although it is possible to identify a variety of similarities and differences between the NAM and the Bahá'i Faith, such comparisions or correlations do not establish any causation or historical influences. More importantly, when one compares some of the most central tenets of the NAM: its theology, cosmology, ontology, soteriology, and especially its view of reincarnation, it becomes increasingly evident that the NAM and the Bahá'i Faith stand far apart and that the latter is more akin to the ancient prophetic religions.

However, the NAM and the Bahá'i Faith do not only differ on the theoretical levels but also in their origins and organisational structures. The NAM is loosely structured and has been defined as a "meta-network"; hence it has no common founder or established origin, no holy canon, no unifying doctrine, no common mythology or ritual. The Bahá'i Faith, on the other hand, claims a new and unique revelation from God, revealed by two prophet-founders; it has a holy canon, a unifying doctrine, and it contains relatively few myths or rituals. In this respect, the Bahá'i Faith more resembles the classical religions rather than the NAM.

Although the Bahá'i Faith does contain quite a few commonalities with the NAM - especially the concept of the emergence of a New Age - such parallels should be traced to the historical-, religious- and geographical contexts of the Near- and Middle East, rather than in 19-20th century Europe or America. Hence, scholars of religion who identify the Bahá'i Faith with the contemporary phenomenon of the NAM have failed to understand its religious origin and context, and its rather obvious similarities with the classical religions.

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Qa'im (Ariser) and Qayyum (Deity Self-Subsistent): The background and significance of twin messianic advents in Babi-Bahá'i scripture

by Stephen Lambden

According to the Bahá'i poet and historian Nabil-i Zarandi, the Shaykhi leader Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d. 1260/1843[4]) predicted that ".. after the Qa'im the Qayyúm will be made manifest" (Dawnbreakers, 41). It is clear from numerous passages in Babi-Bahá'i scripture that this was understood to refer to the twin messianic advents of Sayyid `Ali Muhammad, the Bab (1819-1850 = the Qa'im) and Mirza Husayn `Ali, Bahá'u'llah (1817-1892) considered the Qayyúm as the eschatological advent of divinity. Thus, in one of his writings the founder of the Bahá'i religion addresses humanity exhorting them to "Rise up!" for the victory of God in the light of the fact that the Qayyúm [Bahá'u'llah] has appeared about whom the Qa'im [the Bab] gave glad-tidings (Iqtidarat 99).

In this paper something of the linguistic, theological and messianic background of the terms Qa'im and Qayyúm will be sketched along with aspects of their Babi-Bahá'i import. Those familiar with the Markan, New Testament record of Jesus' regenerating Aramaic words to Jairus' young daughter in (loose, expanded) Greek transliteration, "Talitha cumi" meaning, ".. little girl arise!' (Mk. 5:41) will have encountered a word related to Qa'im. The Aramaic feminine imperative form cumi or qumi ("arise!") like the Arabic/ Persian (active participle) qa'im and the masculine noun qayyúm are derived from the same Semitic root (Q-W[W]-M). Readers of the Hebrew Bible may also recall reference to God (YHWH; or a manifestation of Him) as one who descended in a cloud and stood with Moses on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 34:5). In Samaritan (Jewish) Aramaic the Hebrew word for "stood" in this Biblical text is qa'mu and came to be related to human-angelic-divine manifestations of the Deity. The Arabic Qa'im is used of God in the Qur'an as well as in Babi-Bahá'i scripture. Its Shi`i messianic sense indicative of an Imam who will *arise* from the family of Muhammad (Per. Qa'im-i al-i Muhammad) and redress injustice may be rooted in Samaritan Jewish texts and traditions.

The Bab did not openly claim to be the expected eschastological Qa'im until well into his six year mission (1844-50). In súra 78 of his multi-faceted first major work, the Qayyúm al-asma (loosely, `Eternality of the Names'; mid. 1844) he claims to be "naught but one of his [the expected one's] servants". Some four years later, most notably in a Tablet to Mulla Shaykh `Ali Turshizi, `Azim (late 1848?), he made his `messianic secret' known by explicitly claiming Qa'imiyya. Many of the later works of the Bab contain sections in which Shi`i notions relating to the identity and times of the Qa'im are given novel interpretations or demythologized in the light of his being to be the Qa'im (Ariser) and the Mahdi (Righty Guided One; the same figure). Qa'imiyya was also claimed at various times by certain of the Bab's followers.

Between the 1850s and his passing in 1892 the claims of Bahá'u'llah were also gradually communicated to the Babis and later to all humankind. They culminated in his theophanic claim to subordinate divinity in the light of the expected personal appearence of God on the Day of God. In quite a number of post-1863 Tablets he claimed to be the deity who is the Qayyúm or that eternal divine being who is Self-Subsistent.

In one Tablet interpreting an alchemical saying of Mary the Copt/Jewess (fl.1st cent BCE ?) Bahá'u'llah clearly puts the transcendent Divine Essence beyond being either Qa'im (`Eternal') or Qayyúm (`Self Subsistent') -- undertood as divine attributes. As in the Qur'an, however, God remains in such writings of Bahá'u'llah as the Lawh-i anta al-kafi (`Long Healing Prayer') a transcendent Being who is both Qa'im (`Overseer') and Qayyúm (`Deity Self-Subsistent'). Additionally, numerological aspects of Qa'im-Qayyúm are interpreted as a chronological prophecy relative to the appearence of Bahá'u'llah in `the year nine' (1269 = 1853/3) and the mystery of Bahá as the personal `greatest name of God' (al-ism al-a`zam).


Scripture in the Perspective of Comparative Religion and the Bahá'i Faith

by Robert Stockman

In both the field of comparative religion and in Bahá'i Studies, scripture is not a simple term to define. From a sociological point of view, a text becomes scripture when a group of people begin to treat it as such, by venerating it and viewing its authority as superhuman. While Bahá'is tend to assume that only the Word of God deserves such consideration, even in the Bahá'i Faith the concept of scripture is broader than simple divine revelation. The Bahá'i Faith classifies its own "scripture" (if one may use the term in its absolutely broadest sense) into various categories. The terms for each are not always found in the Bahá'i scriptures; some (in asterisks) I have coined myself.
  1. Canonical Texts
    1. Divinely revealed Word: the writings of Bahá'u'llah and the Bab.
    2. *Sacred Texts*: the writings of Bahá'u'llah, the Bab, and `Abdu'l-Bahá.
    3. *Bahá'i writings*: the writings of Bahá'u'llah, the Bab, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi.
    4. *Authoritative texts*: The writings of Bahá'u'llah, the Bab, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice.
  2. Semi-canonical Texts
    1. Talks by `Abdu'l-Bahá
      1. Those recorded in the original spoken language (Persian or Arabic)
      2. Those recorded in the language of translation (English, French, or another language)
    2. Pilgrim's Notes
    3. Translations of non-canonical works by Shoghi Effendi (Nabil's Narrative)
At least four issues about these seven categories of "Bahá'í scripture" have yet to be resolved. One is what to call the various categories (my terms are provisional and sometimes have problems). Second, what status to give Shoghi Effendi's translations of non-canonical works (the "folk tradition" regards them highly). Third, what terms should be used to describe the divine process behind the production of each (the words "revelation" and "revealed" work for the writings of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh; the term does not quite work for `Abdu'l-Bahá's writings, even less so for Shoghi Effendi's, and less still for the writings of the Universal House of Justice; yet "inspired" seems too weak of a word to be of much use). Fourth, the status of the writings of the Bab in the Bahá'í canon requires elaboration and exploration, since part of them have been superseded by Bahá'u'lláh's writings and interpretations of them by `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. There are also unusual features of Bahá'í scripture to note: the writings of the Bab may not be binding, but can be used in worship settings such as Feast; the writings of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice are authoritative and binding but cannot be used in a worship setting.

Turning to scriptures in other religions, it is common for most religions to recognize two or more levels or types of scripture. Thus, for example, Judaism has the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament, to Christians) and the Talmud, a body of authoritative commentary. Christianity recognizes Old and New Testaments, and has not always viewed them as being of equal weight; indeed, a major struggle in early Christianity was whether to accept the Hebrew Bible as scripture at all, because of the strong discontinuities in doctrine between the two works. In the New Testament, some Christians consider the gospels as having more weight than the letters of Paul, which have more weight that other documents. Both traditions recognize semi-canonical "apocryphal" texts. Both traditions also have a history of sectarian groups producing their own scriptures (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Book of Mormon). Islam emphasizes the peerless nature of the Qur'anic text, which it regards as uncreated and eternal, but also gives authoritative weight to the hadith qudsi, the sayings of the Prophet almost universally recognized as historically genuine.

Concepts of scripture become even more complicated in traditions where the concept of prophet or Manifestation and the concept of God play smaller roles or no role at all. Hinduism recognizes two levels of scripture, shruti texts that the ancient rishis or sages heard murmured by the wind; these texts are eternal and go back to the creation of the world. The Vedas fall in this category. On the other hand, smriti texts were created by human beings and subsequently passed down to posterity. Ironically, India's most popular scriptural text, the Bhagavad-Gita, is usually regarded as falling in this category.

Buddhism venerates the words of the Buddha highly and tends to base its teachings on them, but since it recognizes the possibility that the enlightened can recall words of the Buddha heard in their previous lives, its scripture contains thousands of alleged sermons of the Buddha recognized by only a few sects. The production of "remembered" sermons has been the impetus of much of Buddhism's doctrinal diversity.

Sectarianism and the Bahá'i Faith

by Iraj Ayman

A striking difference between the Bahá'i Faith and other religions and creeds is the built-in unity of the Bahá'i community protecting it from schism and sectarianism. Communities belonging to other religions are usually divided into sects, denominations, or factions. While all such groupings within one religion share certain verities and principles and considering themselves to be true followers of the founder of the religion, they differ with each other in terms of interpretation of the scriptures or manners of practising their religion. In the absence of a binding injunction keeping the adherents united in one community, various religious leaders or scholars advocate their own personal understanding of the teachings of the founder of the religion and contentiously add to the number of sects and denominations within their religion.

Bahá'u'llah, Founder of the Bahá'i Faith by making a clear and unequivocal covenant with His followers has made it impossible for them to branch out into various sects or denominations. In other words it is impossible for a person to confess that Bahá'u'llah is the Manifestation of God and claim to accept and follow His revelation but not be a member of the mainstream community of Bahá'is. While individual Bahá'is are free to have their own personal understanding and interpretation of the words and message of Bahá'u'llah, they are strictly forbidden to propagate their views for the purpose of forming a group of fellow travellers and split the community into sects and factions. Giving the official guidelines is the prerogative of the central institution expressly stated in the text (mansus). This is a unique characteristic of the Bahá'i Faith that calls for both theological as well as sociological considerations.

There have been and presently there are certain groups of people who use the word "Bahá'i" as part of their designation and claim to be adherents of Bahá'u'llah. The mere adopting of the name does not justify their claim because the Bahá'i Faith is structured in a way that one cannot be a Bahá'i without accepting the legitimacy and authority of the unitary world centre of the Bahá'i Faith. In other words Bahá'i Faith is an integral entity and is indivisible. This presentation attempts to describe this unique aspect of the Bahá'i Faith, identify various categories of those who have either stopped to follow the succession line or rejected the legitimacy of the centre of the Faith, and demonstrate that while they are religious groups that subscribe to certain parts or aspects of the revelation of Bahá'u'llah they could not be classified as "Bahá'i sects."

Sufi stages of the soul in The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys of Bahá'u'llah

by Julio Savi

The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys are addressed to two Sufi leaders and therefore their style and content are conceived according to the understanding of their addressees. If we want to have a better understanding of the two epistles, it is important also to understand the Sufi concepts Bahá'u'llah referred to. Both the Seven Valleys and Four Valleys seem to allude to the Sufi stages of the soul. The Sufis mention at least seven stages of the soul:
  1. Nafs-i-ammara (the depraved, commanding nafs)
  2. Nafs-i-lawwama (the accusing nafs)
  3. Nafs-i-mulhama (the inspired nafs)
  4. Nafs-i-mutma'inna (the serene nafs)
  5. Nafs-i-radiyya (the fulfilled nafs)
  6. Nafs-i-mardiyya (the fulfilling nafs)
  7. Nafs-i-safiyya wa kamila (the purified and complete nafs)

Bahá'u'llah mentions in one His Tablets six of these stages: "concupiscence (ammarih), irascibility (lawwamih), inspiration (mulhimih), benevolence (mutma'innih), contentment (radiyyih), Divine good-pleaure (mardiyyih)". And in several of His Tablets, `Abdul-Bahá describes the same and other stages, like for instance the perfect soul, the soul of the Kingdom, the soul of the Dominion and the soul of the Heavenly Court.

It is suggested that the seven stages of the Seven Valleys may correspond to the seven stages of the soul as described by the Sufis. At the beginning the soul is a slave of the world, and it commands to evil. But as soon as the soul becomes aware of its abased condition, it accuses itself and begins its journey towards the goal of higher spiritual degrees (the Valley of Search). In the Valley of Love the soul has become aware of the importance of obeying the spiritual laws out of love for the Beloved, and therefore it is inspired (mulhimih) by the Book. In the Valley of Knowledge the soul has become assured (mutma'innih) through its newly acquired capacities of inner perception. In the Valley of Unity, the soul has learnt how to look on all things with the eye of oneness and therefore it is satisfied with the will of God. In this stage the soul is very similar to the Islamic fulfilled (radiyyih) soul, which is pleased with whatsoever God ordains. In the Valley of Contentment, and even more in the Valley of Wonderment, the soul has become endowed with even subtler capacities of spiritual perception that make it completely submissive to the Will of God. It seems the condition of the Islamic fulfilling or well-pleasing (mardiyyih) soul. Finally the condition of the soul in the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness seems to be similar to the condition of the Islamic perfect soul (nafs-i-safiyya wa kamila). The animal condition (rutbih hayvani) has been destroyed, the meaning of humanity (ma`ani insani) has come to light. But whereas the Sufis considered the perfect soul as having attained the station of perfection, Bahá'u'llah explains that this is only the beginning of a new spiritual growth which He says that will be described "should a kindred soul be found".


Taiping and other Chinese Messianic Movements in the Nineteenth Century

by Kamran Ekbal

Bahá'i sources generally refer to an upsurge of messianic movements in the early part of the 19th century. The Seventh-Day Adventists in the USA and the German Templers who arrived in Haifa in 1868 are usually given as examples of such movements preceding the revelation of Bahá'u'llah. Bahá'i historiography seems unaware of two other significant movements. One of these originated in southern Germany in about 1816-7 and led in the year of the birth of Bahá'u'llah to an emigration of the predecessors of the Templers into the Caucasus, expecting the coming of the Lord "somewhere on the shores of the Caspian." A chain of German colonies ensued from this wave of messianic migration into the vast regions of the Caucasus.

During the same period that the Shaykhi and Babi movements were proclaiming the advent of the new millennium in Persia and Mesopotamia, messianic movements characterised by millenarian visions rose also to prominence in another part of the East. The White Lotus Movement (1796-1805), which had predicted the imminent arrival of the millennium to be ushered in by the Maitrea Buddha was revived in the 1810s in the Eight Trigrams rebellion (1813). Its leader, Lin Ch'ing (1770-1813) declared himself the reincarnation of Maitrea Buddha and said that Li Wen-ch'ang (1770-1813), another leader of the movement, would rule on earth as "King of Men". Both movements were checked by the army of the emperor, but the millenarian hopes generated by them remained.

The most prominent of the successors to these movements was the T'ai-p'ing t'ien-kuo, or Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. Its founder, Hung Hsiu-ch'an (1813-64) had visions of ascending to Heaven and being appointed by Jehovah to exterminate the "demons", which represented to him the spirits of traditional Chinese folk religion. Hung, who believed that he was the second son of Jehovah and younger brother of Jesus, gathered great numbers of adherents. At the same time as the Babi uprisings in Iran, the Taiping Rebellion started in 1848 and achieved decisive victories against the imperial troops. Nanking was taken in 1853 and became the capital of the Heavenly Kingdom. The reconciliation of Christian and Confucian tradition was one of the major aims of the Taipings. Like the Bahá'i Faith later, it became a major rival of Christian missionaries and could only be subdued by European auxiliary forces under Charles Gordon.

Many elements of Hung's teachings, such as the belief that the coming Messiah was not a single event in history but rather an apocalyptic world crisis that would recur any number of times, bear similarities to Babi and Bahá'i doctrines and will be discussed in this paper.