Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #15 (English)

Bahá'í­ National Center: Wilmette, Illinois USA

August 9–10, 1997.

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


Ascertaining the Validity of Islamic Hadíth: A Personal Prospective

by Azadeh Mohandessi-Fares and Nabil Fares

The validity of Islamic Hadíth is questioned, scrutinized, rejected by some scholars of theology, and admitted, recognized, accepted by others. The Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, have referred to some hadíths in their sacred writings.

In this paper we will reflect to ascertain the efficacy of Islamic hadíth through the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. The revelation is the point of reference for substantiating any non-Bahá'í writings including the hadíth. We will attempt to explore how to recognize some of the authentic traditions and distinguish them from the spurious ones.

In approaching this issue, we selected a few hadíths prognosticating the coming of the Mahdi and Christ. In our commentary on these hadíths we will discuss some connotations and allusions to both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. Stemming from the conviction that our Central Figures are Points of Truth and reality, the validity of the content of these hadíths, and maybe their context as well, will be accepted, providing that they conform to the Point of Truth.

Nabíl Fares, born in Egypt into a family of long-time Bahá'ís, graduated with a double major in psychology and English literature from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. A doctoral candidate in Technology Management, he now lives in Sacramento, California, with his wife, Azadeh, and their two daughters. He works for the Department of Motor Vehicles and teaches at the University of California-Davis.

Azadeh Mohandessi-Fares, a Bahá'í from Iran, escaped that country two years after her father, a member of the Spiritual Assembly of Tehran, was executed. Azadeh holds a B.A. in Journalism and worked as a journalist in Iran for three years until the paper was closed down after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. She lives with her husband, Nabíl, and their two daughters in Sacramento where she works as a volunteer tutor with Native American children.

Blind Men and the Elephant, The: Differing Perspectives in Buddhist and Bahá'í Metaphysics

by Dann May

Bahá'í­ theology incorporates a number of important doctrines regarding other religious traditions. Among these doctrines are the claims that the world's religions originate from the same ultimate source, that they are similar in propounding the same essential teachings, laws, and moral principles, and that the differences between religions are due to varying historical, cultural and linguistic factors. While these doctrines regarding the world's religions work quite well when applied to the theistic religious traditions of the West (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Bahá'í­), they appear to run into difficulties when applied to many of the Eastern religious traditions, especially the nontheistic traditions (i.e., Buddhism, Jainism, and the Chinese religions). This is especially true when such ideas are applied to the Buddhist tradition. Not only is Buddhism explicitly nontheistic, some would even say, atheistic, its doctrines of anatta ("no soul"), sunyata ("emptiness"), nirvana, rebirth, karma, and its decidedly process ontology, seem completely incompatible with Bahá'í­ theology. Some Buddhists have even argued that the Bahá'í­ doctrine of the unity of religion greatly misrepresents the Buddhist teachings. Traditional Bahá'í­ approaches to these doctrines and issues are not only inadequate philosophically, they are often the cause of ill-feelings and contention between Buddhists and Bahá'í­s.

My presentation will outline the beginnings of an alternative Bahá'í­ approach to these important Buddhist doctrines. This approach will draw on general sources in philosophy of religion as well as diverse sources within the Buddhist and Bahá'í­ traditions. Since a major source of contention centers around the uncritically accepted theism of most Bahá'í­ discussions, I will begin with a general critique of theism followed by a brief discussion of apophatic theology. The Bahá'í­ and Buddhist views of ultimate reality will then be set within a perspectival framework that considers all views of ultimate reality as laden with mythopoetic language. The Bahá'í­ concept of the soul will also be subject to a type of apophatic theology, and then it, together with the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, will be set within a perspectival framework. Drawing on the thought of John Hick, I will argue that the conflicting truth claims of the Buddhist and Bahá'í­ Faiths result from what Buddhists call avyakata ("undetermined questions") — claims about the nature of reality that are unable to be determined, that are formulated in a mythopoetic language that does little more that point in the general direction of the great mysteries of the universe. Last, I will demonstrate that the Bahá'í­ principle of the unity of religion is not uniquely Western nor Bahá'í­, but rather, has its parallels in various Asian traditions, including a number of Buddhist traditions.

Dann J. May is an Adjunct Professor at Oklahoma City University where he teaches classes in philosophy and religious studies. He has also taught philosophy and religion classes at the University of North Texas, and at the South Campus of the Tarrant County Junior College in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dann received his Master of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of North Texas (12/1993) and his Master of Science degree in Geology from the University of Washington, Seattle (1980). He has been an active member of the Bahá'í­ Faith for twenty-two years and has given numerous lectures, classes and seminars around the country, including classes in world religion for the Wilmette and Faizi Institutes. Dann's academic interests include philosophy of religion, Asian religions and philosophy, and interreligious dialogue. His essay "The Bahá'í­ Principle of Religious Unity: A Dynamic Perspectivism," was recently published by Kalimat Press in Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í­ Theology.

Buddy, Can You Spare a Paradigm?: The Bahá'í Faith and the New Age Movement

by Paul S. Dodenhoff

"Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of fellowship and friendliness," is the counsel given to Bahá'í­s by Bahá'u'lláh. In the midst of shifting world views in our increasingly pluralistic society, this becomes an even greater challenge for the Bahá'í­ community as it is confronted with the truth claims an ever-growing number of so-called new age belief systems and practices.

While the New Age Movement cannot be properly called a world religion, it can rightly be called a worldwide religious movement. Drawing on a wide variety of established faith traditions as well as admitting the truth of continuing divine revelation in various forms and modes, the movement is marked by a distinct lack of any particular doctrine, prophetic figure or practice. Like a guest at a spiritual smorgasbord, one may choose or reject any of the items offered, returning for seconds or thirds or moving on to try some other spiritual morsel. Some adherents choose one, perhaps two, particular beliefs that seem to satisfy their spiritual hunger while others move from one belief or practice to another, never fully satisfied. .

Through an examination of the Bahá'í­ understanding of Covenant, Administrative Order, and the radical changes effected spiritually, physically, and psychologically within society through the advent of the Manifestations of God, in this instance the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, this paper explores the relationship between the Bahá'í­ Faith and the New Age Movement. Addressing the issue of the Bahá'í­ Faith itself as new age and syncretistic, raised by many critics, it proposes instead that the Bahá'í­ writings serve not only to make sense of new age beliefs and practices, but offer the necessary theological framework by which these beliefs and practices will increasingly play an integral role in the revolution of values and spiritual awareness necessary for the establishment of a "New World Order" and "an ever-advancing civilization." Further, it suggests that as the Bahá'í­ Faith continues to be recognized as an emerging global religion, and as rigorous Bahá'í­ theological scholarship continues, students and scholars of religion will be afforded a new "lens" through which to view the progressive nature of religion, resulting perhaps in a clearer understanding of that amorphous movement called "new age."

Finally, it asks the question: What should Bahá'í­s learn from the new age movement? To "consort" means to "associate with" some person or group of persons. The challenge for Bahá'í­s, then, is to find areas of agreement with "new-agers," while maintaining a distinctive Bahá'í­ faith and practice in daily life, and to this end, the paper concludes with some of the writer's observations on this subject.
Paul S. Dodenhoff attends Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Over the past two decades he has studied and practiced a wide variety of religious traditions, including Christian Fundamentalism, Zen Buddhism, and an assortment of New Age practices. He became a Bahá'í­ two years ago after reading the "Tablet of the True Seeker" while studying the Sufi philosopher Ibn al-'Arabí. He plans to pursue the Ph.D. program at Drew University in American Religious History, concentrating on twentieth-century religious movements.

Comparison of Mass Movements in Hindu Villages, A: Bahá'í and Christian

by Susan Maneck

Most studies of mass movements in India have dealt with the conversion of tribal peoples or untouchables to one of the great literate traditions: either Christianity, Islam, Hinduism (the Sanskritized tradition), or Buddhism. Conversion in the case of tribal peoples is similar to those of other non-literate cultures.

Non-literate cultures tend to take a pragmatic approach to religion and are willing to utilize whatever forms appear most effective. Where other peoples appear especially powerful non-literates will readily accept their religious forms in order to obtain the power it is perceived to have. New forms are readily adopted and old, dysfunctional ones fade as the situation demands. Change occurs often, yet imperceptibly, since there are no written records to confirm that such a change has taken place. However once a literate tradition is accepted boundaries become clearly defined. While non-literate peoples may readily convert to the literate tradition, movement away from it appears more difficult.

Untouchables represent largely non-literate persons with a marginal position within the literate tradition of Hinduism. While excluded from access to the most important Hindu texts, they are none the less essential to village Hindu life, as distinct from the tribal peoples who generally inhabit separate areas. Untouchables organize themselves in patterns similar to other Hindus especially in terms of their corporate identity. Conversion in these cases represents a dissatisfaction with the status conferred upon them by higher caste Hindus and an attempt to raise that status by adopting a new identity.

This particular study focuses on conversions within the Hindu village culture, particularly among caste Hindus, in order to determine what factors are involved in conversion movements occurring from one literate tradition to another. Substantial conversions among caste Hindus have been exceedingly rare, but I will utilize two cases for comparative analysis. The first was a movement among Sudra to Protestant Christianity which began in Andhra Pradesh around 1906 and ended around the time of Independence in 1947. A more impressive movement has occurred more recently in Malwa among caste Hindus who have embraced the Bahá'í­ Faith in the 1960s and 70s. I will examine the various groups involved in the conversion movements to determine what factors inclined them to convert. I will also examine the similarities and differences of approach utilized by Christians and Bahá'í­s in each context. Finally, I will investigate the particular manner in which village converts perceived the message of each respective religion.

Four factors seem to be involved in the conversion of persons from one literate religious tradition to another. The first involves the investment persons or groups have in their present status within the caste system. Lower caste often see conversion as a means of raising their caste status while higher castes may be concerned with maintaining the status quo. The second factor, closely related, is the accessibility of persons or groups to the written scriptures. Those with no or limited accessibility are more likely to deviate from the written norm and at the same time be more attracted to another tradition which will give them such access. In this both the Bahá'í­s and the Christians succeeded equally. The third factor involves the flexibility of the system from which conversion is occurring and its ability to tolerate such changes. In Hinduism this is fairly high while in Christianity and Islam it remains low. While converts from Hinduism might be easily obtained they are, for this same reason, difficult to consolidate. The fourth factor which proved particularly important in this study, is the flexibility of the religion to which conversion is occurring. This involves the ability of the new religion to affirm the religious heritage of the old one. The Bahá'í­ Faith is better able to do this than Christianity with the result that whereas Christianity has been accepted only among the disaffected within Hindu villages, the Bahá'í­ Faith succeeded in reaching all strata. Yet here too, what makes for widespread acceptance hinders consolidation.

Susan Maneck is an assistant professor (World Civilizations, World Religions, the History of Islam, the History of the Modern Middle East, Women and Religion, and the History and Religion of India) at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. She received a A.B. in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and an M.A. in Oriental Studies and a Ph.D. in Asian History and European History from the University of Arizona. She has published a variety of articles and made numerous presentations in her fields of study at meetings of the American Academy of Religion, the Association for Bahá'í­ Studies, the Middle East Studies Association, and other events.

Hidden Treasure, The

by Mozhan Khadem

This presentation is an attempt to explain the basic ideas of Bahá'í 'irfán as revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and the Guardian and to explain what the concepts of "the Most Holy Outpouring," "the Holy Outpouring," "Search," "Love," "Knowledge," "Unity," "Wonderment," "Annihilation in God," "Life in God," and "Visitation of the Countenance of God" mean. Is Bahá'í 'irfán different from Moslem or Christian 'irfán?

The first part of the presentation will discuss some of these themes as they relate to the World of God, the World of Cause (Alam-i-Amr) and the World of Creation (Alam-i-Khalq).

Bahá'í sources used for the presentation primarily include the Kitáb-i-Iqán, The Seven Valleys, Bahá'u'lláh's Mathnavi, Rashh-i-'Amá, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's commentary on "The Hidden Treasure," Some Answered Questions, Taherzadeh's The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, and others. To clarify the mystical background of Bahá'í 'irfání language, many relevant non-Bahá'í sources also will be included.
Mozhan Khadem is President and a founding Principal of a Boston architectural design company. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Illinois and a Master of City Planning from Harvard University; his thirty-five years of experience include numerous award-winning projects in the United States and the Middle East.

Since childhood he has been interested in Persian works of literature, especially of the 'irfání kind, and has spent considerable time studying as an avocation the mystical poets of Iran and the 'irfání writings of the Bahá'í Faith.

Religion and Science in Harmony: A New Reality

by Muin Afnani

Humanity has witnessed two accelerated trends in its affairs in the twentieth century. One is the rapid growth in scientific and technological achievements which has opened new possibilities, never dreamt of before. The other is the decline of religious and moral values, which has manifested itself in various forms: increased crime, a general sense of insecurity in society, illegal drugs, gang related activities in schools and in society at large, weakening of the family structure, immoralities portrayed in some TV programs and movies, and corruption in public and private sectors, just to name a few.

The Bahá'í writings tell us that the many problems we experience in our societies are the direct results of weakening of the foundation of religion.

Many people feel that religion and science are inherently incompatible. It is said that one is based on scientific method, and the other is rooted in superstition and blind faith.

This presentation is aimed at demonstration of the essential harmony of science and religion. It defines science and religion, evaluates the scientific method and compares it to the role played by religion in the search for truth.

The sources contributing to the misunderstanding of "true" religion are addressed. Both science and religion are evaluated as yardsticks or standards for revealing truth. Does either one of them constitute a perfect measure or balance to judge truth?

Further, historical evidence from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is provided in support of the essential harmony of religion and science. The impacts of these religions on the civilizations of their time are also discussed.

Finally, the dangers of living in a society bereft of the benefits of religion or science are enumerated, and passages from the Bahá'í writings on this topic are shared.

Muin Afnani is a Ph.D. Candidate in Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley with emphasis on Islam, classical Arabic, and Mysticism. He received a Bachelor of Science in Electronics Engineering (1981) and a Master of Science in Sociology (1983) from Utah State University and a Master of Science in Information & Systems Management from the University of Southern California (1987). His research interests include the history and original writings of the Bahá'í Faith, mysticism, and the role of Bahá'í institutions in socioeconomic developments.

Mr. Afnani works as an engineering manager at a semiconductor electronics company in Milpitas, California; serves as chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of Bahá'í of Fremont, California; is an assistant to an Auxiliary Board member for Protection; and is the father of two daughters.

Salvation: Staticity into Motion

by Joan Sheppard

Since the beginning of monotheistic religious tradition, salvation has been represented in fragments; through art and literature, as the River Styx, the Pearly Gates, the Resurrection, the Garden of Paradise. In the Bahá'í Faith, this fragmented and highly imaginative picture takes on a more realistic and scientific dimension. The vision of salvation presented in the Bahá'í Faith is simple and unadorned, and for the first time gives unity and practical significance to the entirety of mankind's existence. It speaks to the maturity of mankind.

This presentation will focus on the development of the concept of salvation, from the beginning of the monotheistic religious tradition in Judaism to the Bahá'í Faith. The concept will be examined in relation to changing paradigms of the universe, and also as a construct of the society and culture of each religion.

Significant aspects of salvation, such as the heavens, the journey of the soul after death, good and evil, and heaven and hell, will be looked at with respect to their changing aspects as a result of the process of maturation. By tracing the development of the concept of salvation, from the Christian practice of "buying time" to the Bahá'í concept of salvation as motion, as a progression towards spiritual perfection, the progression of the concept of salvation as something that is "out there" will increasingly become located inside the individual believer.

Joan Sheppard has a Master of Arts in English Literature from York University. After teaching English as a Second Language for several years, she returned to university last year to complete a B.Ed. degree at the University of Toronto. Ms. Sheppard lives in Rockwood, Ontario, where she is also a freelance writer and a member of the Eramosa Writers' Group.

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

by Robert Stockman

In both the field of comparative religion and in Bahá'í 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. But all religions recognize various levels of sacredness or authoritativeness in their scriptures. For example, Judaism has the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament, to Christians) and the Talmud, a body of commentary that is authoritative but is not necessarily sacred. 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 Jewish Bible as scripture at all, because of the strong discontinuities in doctrine between the two works. Within 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 semicanonical "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'ánic text, which it regards as uncreated and eternal, but also gives authoritative weight to the hadíth qudsí.

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 described as eternal and said to 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. The scriptural core of the tradition-the Tripitaka represents an oral tradition about the Buddha's life and teachings that goes back to the Buddha, but it is not the normative text for all Buddhist groups.

The Bahá'í Faith classifies its own "scripture" (if one may use the term in its broadest sense to encompass all authoritative texts) into various categories as well. The terms for each are not always found in the Bahá'í scriptures; some I have coined myself.
  1. Canonical Texts
    1. Divinely revealed Word: the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb.
    2. Sacred Texts: the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
    3. Bahá'í writings: the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi.
    4. Authoritative texts: The writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice.

  2. Semicanonical 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 (Nabíl's Narrative)

    There are various issues about "Bahá'í scripture" to resolve. 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 Báb and Bahá'u'lláh; but they do 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 Báb in the Bahá'í canon requires elaboration and exploration, since some of His teachings have been superseded by Bahá'u'lláh's writings or by interpretations of them by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. One must also note that the writings of the Báb 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.

    Robert H. Stockman has a doctorate in history of religion in the United States from Harvard University. He is the author of The Bahá'í Faith in America, volumes 1 and 2, as well as various articles about Bahá'í history and theology. Currently he is coordinator of the Research Office of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States and an instructor in religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.

Sectarianism and the Bahá'í Faith

by Iraj Ayman

A striking difference between the Bahá'í Faith and other religions and creeds is the built-in unity of the Bahá'í 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 consider themselves to be true followers of the founder of the religion, they differ from each other in terms of interpretation of the scriptures or manners of practicing 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'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í 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'lláh is the Manifestation of God and claim to accept and follow His revelation but not be a member of the mainstream community of Bahá'ís. While individual Bahá'ís are free to have their own personal understanding and interpretation of the words and message of Bahá'u'lláh, 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 (mansús). This is a unique characteristic of the Bahá'í Faith that calls for both theological and sociological considerations.

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

Dr. Iraj Ayman received D.Ed from Edinburgh University (Scotland) and Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He completed post-doctoral studies at Harvard University. He is professor emeritus of the University of Teacher Education in Iran and has been visiting professor of education and management at the University of Tehran, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Philippines (Manila). He has served at UNESCO as Regional Advisor and Chief of the Center for Educational Planning and Management for Asia and the Pacific Region and Chief of Training Educational Personnel Center, in Paris, France. Dr. Ayman is the founder and served as the first director of the Landegg Academy and is presently serving as the consultant to the Office of Education and Schools at the United States' Bahá'í National Center. He is a member of the faculty and a member of the Board of the Wilmette Institute as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Religious Education Association.