Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #20 (English)

Louhelen Bahá'í School: Michigan USA

October 9–12, 1998.

Bahá'í Position on Christianity, The

by Dann May

The Divine Origin of Christianity is Unconditionally Acknowledged
    The Greatest Virtues of Humanity
The Station of Christ
    The Bahá'í­ Faith Glorifies Christ
    Christ's Words Can Never Be Altered
    Christ Sacrificed Himself for Our Sake
    We Must All Follow the Example of Christ
    Bahá'í­ Belief in Regard to Christ
The Holy Bible
    The Holy Bible is Divinely Inspired
    "The Glorious Melodies of the Gospel" ('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 36)
The Station of the Apostles of Christ
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Best of Stories (Ahsan al-Qasas), The: Joseph Motifs and the Bábí-Bahá'í Interpretation of the Joseph Narrative

by Stephen Lambden

The person and story of Joseph is important in both the Bible (Genesis 37-50) and the Qur'án (sura 12) where the account of this patriarch-prophet is the longest qur'anic narrative — an aspect of the "best of stories" (ahsan al-qasas). In Sunni and Shi'i Islamic sources Joseph is pre-eminently a model of righteous piety (al-siddiq) and a paragon of handsome beauty (husn; jamal). The latter hagiographical motif is, for example, indicated in the Shi'i Tafsir núr al-thaqalayn ('Commentary [expressive] of the Light of the Twin Weights') of al-Huwayzj (d. 1112/1700) where it is recorded that the sixth Twelver Imam, Muhammad al-Baqír (d.c. 126/743) stated that "Whoso reciteth the Sura of Joseph each day or during every night will be raised up by God on the Day of Resurrection such that their beauty (jamal) will be consonant with the beauty of Joseph..." (11:408). Qur'án 12:4 records the dream-vision of Joseph; "Behold, Joseph said to his father: 'O my father! I saw eleven stars, and the sun and the moon, I saw them bowing down before me!'" Among the interpretations of this verse are the following words again from the fifth Twelver Imam, "The inner sense (al-ta'wil) of this dream-vision (al-ru'ya') is that he [Joseph] will rule Egypt; and there shall enter before him his father [Jacob/Israel] and his brothers. As for the "sun" (al-shams) it is Rachael (Rahil) the mother of Joseph while the "moon" (al-qamar) is Jacob (Yaqúb). Now the eleven stars (alkawákib) are his [eleven] brothers. When they entered before him they prostrated in gratitude before God alone; the moment they caught sight of him was that of the prostration before God." (cited Bahrani, Kitáb al-burhan, 11:243).

The Shi'i imamological understanding of the Joseph narrative is registered in various authoritative traditions (ahadíth; khabar) and tafsir works. Aspects of its non-literal (allegorical-typological...) exegesis had messianic implications relative to the ghayba ("occultation") and eventual advent or "return" of the expected (hidden 12th) Imam. This provides the background to the Bábí-Bahá'í­ interpretation of the Joseph narrative which is often eschatological; messianic and theophanological.

The first major work of Sayyid 'Alí Muhammad, the Báb, (1819-1850 CE) was (loosely speaking) a tafsir (exegetical) work composed in mid-1844 CE (=1260 AH). It is variously (among other titles) known as the Tafsir Sura Yusuf (Commentary on the Sura of Joseph) and Qayyum al-asma' (lit. 'Self-Subsisting [Deity] of the Names') — the divine attribute Qayyum and the personal name Yusuf have an identical numerical (abjad) value (=156). A fairly lengthy (roughly 300+ pages) wholly Arabic work this revelatory, partially rewritten neo-tafsir frequently contains non-literal, often imamologically and eschatologically oriented expository rewrites of most of the 111 verses of the twelfth Surat Yusuf of the Qur'án. A novel 'Bábí Qur'án,' it was communicated by the Báb speaking with the voice of God as the earthly representative of the hidden (messianic) Imam. This new sacred book is modelled upon and very closely related to the Qur'án though it transcends it in being overtly Shi'i, sometimes Sufistic, mystical-qabbalistic and suggestive of an all but realized eschatological hope. The Qayyum al-asma' is thus more of a remodelling or partial rewriting of select pericopae ('paragraphs') of the Islamic holy book than a commentary in the classical sense of say that of Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 310/923) or 'Alí al-Tabarsi (d. 548/1114). It is usually towards the end of the new suras of the Báb's Qayyum al-asma' that a verse of the qur'anic Joseph narrative is exegetically or (more precisely) eisegetically rewritten. One is reminded of such Jewish targumic often paraphrastic, interpretive (Aramaic) 'translations' of the Hebrew Bible-such as that referred to as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan.

The Báb's initial remarks on the Qur'ánic story of Joseph are found in the Vth chapter of his Tasfir which is entitled Sura Husayn. Here the dream-vision of Joseph (Q. 12:4) is cited and commented upon. Among other things, it is asserted that God intended by Joseph the nafs, the "Logos-Self" of the Messenger (=Muhammad) and the "fruit of the [womb of the] the Virgin" (thamarat al-batu'l) by which Fatimah's son, the martyred and expected to "return" [Imam] Husayn (4/626-61/680) is intended. The sun, moon and eleven stars seen by Joseph in his vision symbolize Fatima (="the sun"), Muhammad (="the moon") and the [Twelver] Imams (presumably 'Ali Hasan al-Askari = "the stars'; see Q 12:7). The twelve Imams are also representative of the 12 letters of the kalimat al-tawhid, the Islamic affirmation of the Divine Unity (= the 12 letters of la ilaha ila Allah = 'There is none other god but God').

In his later writings the Báb associated the beauteous Joseph (Yu'suf al-bahá) with the Bábí messiah figure man yuzhiruhu'lláh ("He Whom God shall make manifest") as well as with an expected theophany of Imam Husayn. It was in this light that Bahá'u'lláh came to claim to be the 'True Joseph: the returned Husayn and an incarnation of baha as that 'beauty-glory' which he identified with the greatest Name of God (al-ism Allah al-a'zam).

For Bahá'í­s Joseph was a Manifestation of God. His life story prefigures and reflects that of Bahá'u'lláh. Just as Joseph was abandoned by his jealous brothers and subsequently imprisoned so was Bahá'u'lláh rejected by his half-brother Mirza Yahya Núrí (c.1830-1912) and incarcerated by the Ottoman authorities for several decades of the nineteenth century. In this paper these and related themes and motifs will be sketched and analysed.


Brief Overview of the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh during the Istanbul-Adrianople Period, A

by Iraj Ayman

The immensity of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation during the Adrianople period, as testified by Himself and recorded by eyewitnesses, is beautifully summarized by Shoghi Effendi in the following paragraph:

A period of prodigious activity which, in its repercussions, outshone the vernal years of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry. "Day and night," an eyewitness has written, "the Divine verses were raining down in such number that it was impossible to record them. Mírzá Aqá Jan wrote them as they were dictated, while the Most Great Branch was continually occupied in transcribing them. There was not a moment to spare." "A number of secretaries," Nabíl has testified, "were busy day and night and yet they were unable to cope with the task. Among them was Mírzá Báqir-i-Shírází.... He alone transcribed no less than two thousand verses every day. He labored during six or seven months. Every month the equivalent of several volumes would be transcribed by him and sent to Persia. About twenty volumes, in his fine penmanship, he left behind as a remembrance for Mírzá Aqá Jan." Bahá'u'lláh, Himself, referring to the verses revealed by Him, has written: "Such are the outpourings ... from the clouds of Divine Bounty that within the space of an hour the equivalent of a thousand verses hath been revealed." "So great is the grace vouchsafed in this day that in a single day and night, were an amanuensis capable of accomplishing it to be found, the equivalent of the Persian Bayán would be sent down from the heaven of Divine holiness." "I swear by God!" He, in another connection has affirmed, "In those days the equivalent of all that hath been sent down aforetime unto the Prophets hath been revealed.'' "That which hath already been revealed in this land (Adrianople), " He, furthermore, referring to the copiousness of His writings, has declared, "secretaries are incapable of transcribing It has, therefore, remained for the most part untranscribed."[1]

Some of the Tablets are known by specific names or titles. About forty-four of such Tablets were definitely revealed during the Istanbul-Adrianople period. Out of them thirty-four Tablets have so far been published in original Persian or Arabic languages and a few of them, totally or in parts, are available in authorized English translations. This presentation attempts to present a brief sketch of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh during this period.

Notes

1. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1971, p. 171.

Comparative Study of Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith, A

by Gary Selchert

While the concept of numerous Manifestations of God initiating a like number of dispensations characterized by moral advance followed by decline is a commonplace in Bahá'í thinking, Christian theology on the whole depicts a rather different view of things. History from that viewpoint proceeds from Creation and the Paradise of Eden, to the Fall, through a phase of preparation culminating in the incarnation, an event utterly unique in human history. From then on, all history is but a wait for the climactic and cataclysmic return of Christ on the clouds of heaven from the right hand of God to judge the quick and the dead.

If this were the only possible interpretation of the Christian scriptures, there would truly be as little for the Bahá'ís and Christians to discuss as fundamentalist cult-fighters would wish their readers to believe. Careful study of the New Testament, however, with some attention shown to the Greek text does in fact suggest that the New Testament authors may not have been so stubbornly dogmatic. Specifically, Paul in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians intimates that the knowledge of spiritual things possessed by the church, even after the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost, is incomplete or imperfect. He further avers that at some point in the future, Perfection will be attained, and at that point all the imperfect knowledge and prophecy available to the church will be, not completed or perfected, but katargeo, nullified. My paper will briefly contrast the traditionalist view of Torah demonstrated by the evangelist Matthew and the bold assertions of liberty proclaimed by Paul. I will survey Paul's use of the term katargeo in his writings to define the relationships between the dispensations of Abraham, Moses, Christ and Perfection. I believe it can be shown that Paul had in mind a concept much like the notion of annulment or abrogation which Bahá'u'lláh (Iqán pp. 71-74) identifies as one meaning of the Clouds of Heaven.

Certainly, the charism of prophecy played an important role in determining the leadership, doctrines, and expectations of the early church. But once the relationship between perfection and katargeo is realized, it becomes apparent that Paul accepts the possibly non-literal nature of church-sanctioned eschatology. The apocalypse is the termination not of the world, but of the world-view. Rather, the fundamental requirement of true prophecy is the reappearance of Perfection, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit in the human realm. Once this occurs, the requirements of the old prophetic literalism are accounted null and void in the new dispensation.


How Bahá'u'lláh Taught Christians: The Rhetoric and Pedagogy of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings to Followers of Jesus Christ

by Ted Brownstein

In order to create a real unity among the followers of the world's religions, the message of Bahá'u'lláh had to go beyond verbal affirmations of unity. Members of those religions would have to hear and accept the station of Bahá'u'lláh. Christianity, as the world's largest and most wide-spread religion, could not be ignored.

How did Bahá'u'lláh present His message, so at to attract Christians? How did He go about declaring His station? How direct and explicit were the proclamations? How was His audience prepared? What appeals were made to heart, mind and conscience? What proofs did He marshal? In what order where the proofs presented? What poetic or rhetorical devises were employed? How was the presentation shaped to effectively persuade and win converts to His Cause?

This presentation will look at several of Bahá'u'lláh's writings to Christian audiences in order to address these questions. Of particular value are the Tablets to the Kings, especially the Tablet to the Pope, as well as Lawh-i-Aqdas (the Tablet to the Christians).

The Tablets to the Kings constitute a special case, in that they are specifically addressed powerful rulers, rather than Christians in general. Nevertheless, it will be argued that these Tablets are really a type of open letter, and that Bahá'u'lláh intended to use the Tablets to the Kings as a vehicle to speak to larger Christian audiences.

In addition to its historical and academic value, it is hoped that this study will have practical value for teachers of the Bahá'í­ Faith. A detailed examination of Bahá'u'lláh's teaching methods should provide important guidance as to how the message of Bahá'u'lláh can best be presented to Christians today.

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Introducing Kitáb-i-Badí'

by Nader Saiedi

Kitáb-i-Badí' (The New Book) is one of the most important writings of Bahá'u'lláh which should be considered as his main apologia. This wonderful book is revealed in Adrianople and responds to the distortions, objections, and accusations of Mirzá Mihdí-ye-Rashtí, influenced by Siyyid Muhammad, against Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh defends his station and refutes the arguments raised against his revelation.

In this lecture I will first discuss the date, style, and some of the historical implications of the revelation of Kitáb-i-Badí'. Next I will outline the objections and accusations raised in Mirzá Mihdi's letter. The subsequent main section of the talk will explicate Bahá'u'lláh's refutation of those objections. I will show that similar to Kitáb-i-Iqán, Kitáb-i-Badí' responds to the objections against the Manifestation of God at two distinct levels, one methodological ,the other substantive. The methodological discourse is considered by Bahá'u'lláh as his main message and argument and the core message of all revelations. This same methodological discourse is the heart of the Hidden Words, Iqán, and Kitáb-i-Badí'. Bahá'u'lláh's methodological discourse is simultaneously a discussion of the conditions of spiritual journey, hermeneutics, and covenant. In this sense we can understand all the writings of Bahá'u'lláh as an explication of the same methodological principle which is most clearly visible in Kitáb-i-Badí'. Consequently, Kitáb-i-Badí' can be considered as the key for understanding other writings of Bahá'u'lláh as well. After discussing in detail both the methodological and substantive arguments of Bahá'u'lláh I will conclude the discussion by explicating Bahá'u'lláh's own concluding remarks of his text which is an affirmation of his hermeneutics and covenant. Mirzá Mehdi's arguments can be summarized in seven parts:
  1. Bahá'u'lláh's claim is based upon esoteric interpretation (Ta'vil) of Báb's writings and entirely ignores the explicit and categorical (Muhkamát) aspects of Bayán.

  2. Bahá'u'lláh's claim to be the Promised One cannot be true because according to the Bayán the next Manifestation would not appear before the completion and perfection of the cause of Bayán.

  3. According to the Bayán, Yahyá Azal is the vicegerent of the Báb, and he is praised by him by highest titles which are the Names of God.

  4. Bahá'u'lláh's claim cannot be true because he is either the return of the Primal Point or is subordinate to him. The first is not possible, the second makes him subordinate to Yahyá.

  5. The references to Bahá in Bayán is general and not related to the person of Bahá who happens to have the same name.

  6. Bahá'u'lláh supports his claim by claiming to reveal the verses of God (Ayát). However, revelation of verses is not adequate evidence and proof. Every one can bring verses.

  7. Bahá'u'lláh has been motivated by the desire for power and material comfort.

These distortions are responded through both epistemological and substantive arguments.


Lawh-i-Sultán

by Iskandar Hai

Lawh-i-Sultán is the lengthiest of Bahá'u'lláh's addresses to Kings and Rulers of the earth. It was revealed in Adrianople and it was the only Tablet which was hand carried by a courier (Badí') to the Monarch of Iran in person. A brief biography of Aqá Buzurg-i-Khurasání (Badí') will be included. The full text of the Tablet as translated by Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University will be reviewed with occasional references to its original Persian/Arabic as warranted.


Principles of Bahá'í Theology in the Tablet of Salmán

by Iraj Ayman

Two Tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, addressed to Salmán, have so far been published. Both of them are revealed in Persian. A short biography of Shaykh Salmán whom Bahá'u'lláh named "Messenger of the Merciful" is recorded by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Memorials of the Faithful.[1] One Tablet is revealed in Adrianople and the other in 'Akká. The former is over thirty pages long and is one of the "most significant among Bahá'u'lláh's Writings".[2] A summary of this Tablet is rendered by Adib Taherzadeh in The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh Volumes I and II.[3] English translations by Shoghi Effendi of some selected parts of this Tablet appear in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.

This Tablet, among other topics, contains the explanation of some of the fundamental issues related to the Bahá'í theology. Some such principles inferred from this Tablet are:
  • Words of God are sealed treasuries of the divine knowledge

  • The letters of negation and affirmation in connection to the Covenant

  • Bahá'í concept of the relationship between the Creator and humankind

  • The total encompassment of the Will of God

  • The significances of the names and attributes in the realm of God and in the world of creation

  • Bahá'í interpretation of reunion with God and the concepts of unity vs. diversity

  • The nature of belief and disbelief
In addition to Iqán, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys, some of the Tablets contain further explanations of some of the main topics of the Tablet of Salmán. For example, Lawh-i-Nuqti for the supreme power of the Words of God, Lawh-i-Násir, Lawh-i-Sarraj and Súriy-i-'Ibád for the nature of belief and disbelief.

Notes

I. 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Memorials of the Faithful. Translated and annotated by Marzieh Gail. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1971.

2. Taherzadeh, Adib. The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Oxford, U. K.: George Ronald, 1977, Vol. 11, p. 283.

3. Ibid.

4. Bahá'u'lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Translated by Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, rev. edn. 1953, sections XXI, CXLVIII, CLIV.

Tablet to the Kings: Human Rights and Collective Security

by Sohrab Kourosh

The magnificent scientific and technological achievements of the twentieth century have led to its characterization as the Atomic Age, the Space Century, the Computer Century, the Communications Century, and so on. The impact of each one of these achievements on the various aspects of the human life has been so significant that it is difficult to choose one of them alone to characterize this century. However, in the field of social progress and achievements, there is no dispute; this century is the Human Rights Century.

The recognition and establishment of "Human Rights" as defined in the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Bill of Rights, which are ratified by the member States, is the most significant social achievement of the century, or possibly of the entirety of human history.

There is a common belief among the Bahá'ís that the scientific and technological advancements of the past 150 years have been achieved under the influence of the spiritual forces of the new Manifestation of God to prepare the physical environment for the establishment of His New World Order and to promote an ever-advancing civilization. However, this remains in the realm of subjective belief and conjecture, because it can be argued that these advancements are the results of the evolutionary process of science and technology that started with the Industrial Revolution of the 1760s and are not the result of Divine intervention.

At any rate, the concept of Human Rights, as we know it today, is not the result of a gradual evolution of the ideas and ideals of the leaders, philosophers, and philanthropists of previous centuries. The concept of Human Rights as adopted in this century is fundamentally different in both its basis and paradigm with the 1870s Human Rights concept. A review of the historical evolution of this concept is indicative of a paradigm shift in this century; the new concept is very similar to the fundamental basis of Human Rights as God-given rights, rather than a social contract and as rights that transcend national boundaries and legal jurisdictions, and are guaranteed by a system of global governance and laws. Such rights, in general form, were revealed in the Tablet of the Kings and their characteristics defined in other Bahá'í scriptures.

Universal Human Rights is an integral part and a pillar of the unity of mankind. Although the different elements of this social edifice, this new paradigm, are scattered in the vast treasury of the Bahá'í scriptures, some of its most important elements were defined and announced for the first time in the Tablet to the Kings and the proclamations to the leaders of the world.

The new definitions of the power, the authority, and the duties of kings and leaders as the trustees, not owners, of the powers and rights; the concept of the rights of the people (the downtrodden); the definition of justice as safeguarding the rights of people and giving to each its due; the concept of collective security as means of reducing the burden on the people and subjects; and the unity of the nature of man and the elimination of any natural distinction among humans, are announced in a universal manner to the kings and rulers of the world in this Tablet.

The revelation of these Tablets and proclamations "signals the advent of an organic change in the structure of the present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced." Humanity, which was just rescued from the condemnation of "original sin" and its station elevated and ennobled in the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh, received its due and its God-given rights eventually were restored. The establishment of human rights based on the Bahá'í paradigm "is a fresh manifestation of the direct involvement of God in history."


Third Copernican Revolution, The: "Transparent Dialogue and Relational Theology" — Unity and Diversity and The Development of a Global Vision of God's Relationality

by Christopher Jones

This paper is in two parts. The first part is a reflection on praxis and seeks to examine elements of inter-religious dialogue from a Bahá'í­ perspective. It focuses on both practical and theoretical insights gained while completing a theology degree as a Bahá'í­ in a completely Christian environment.

It is proposed that opening ones self to the "other" in authentic and genuine dialogue acts as a radical catalyst which matures and deepens not only our own empathy and understanding of another tradition, but greatly deepens the understanding of our own traditions. It is proposed that this is at the heart of facilitating "unity in diversity in the context of both inter-religious and multicultural" challenges.

The characteristics indicative of the nature of such a catalytic form of genuine and authentic dialogue will be discussed.

The second part of this paper represents a potentially radical reappraisal of pluralism and the kernel of a new paradigm of theological consultation between the worlds religions.

It is proposed that currently, Bahá'í­ scholarship is much too parochial and self-reflective. It will be argued that a radical shift is necessary for the authentic development of Bahá'í­ theology.

It will be briefly illustrated how each religions theology (or theologies) is contextual. Primarily focusing on how each revelation's theology" is partly an moderation and correction of the extremes of the current state of theological development of its time. Using Bahá'í­ hermeneutics it will be illustrated that each religions theology has a unique truthful perspective about the relationality of God's Being which must be earnestly sought out in consultation, particularly in this stage of religious evolution, in order for a holistic global theology to come of age.