Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #28 (English)

London School of Economics: London, England

July 14–16, 2000.

Theme: "Mysticism and the Bahá'í Faith"


'Abdu'l-Bahá's Commentary on the Qur'ánic Verses Concerning the Overthrow of the Byzantines: The Stages of the Soul

by Moojan Momen

This paper is a translation and commentary upon a work of' 'Abdu'l-Bahá in which lie give a mystical commentary upon the first few words of the thirtieth Surah of the Qur'án, the Surah of' Rum. These words refer to the overthrow of the Byzantines. 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives the standard Muslim commentary upon these verses. Despite the fact that these verses have an obvious outward meaning, 'Abdu'l-Bahá goes on to give nine esoteric or mystical interpretations of the word "al-Rúm" and of the phrase "The Byzantines have been overthrown." In the last of these interpretations, 'Abdu'l-Bahá delineates the different types of soul: mineral, vegetable, animal, human and the Soul of Lahút, the realm of the Primal Manifestation. With regard to the human soul, 'Abdu'l-Bahá also lists the nine stages in its ascent. These consist of the commanding soul, the blaming soul, the inspired soul, the assured soul, the accepting soul, the accepted soul, the perfect soul, the soul of the Kingdom of God (Malakút) and the soul of the Realm of Divine Command (Jabarút), This last is the ultimate goal in the world of creation. 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes these stages in the ascent of the human soul and how progress may be made from one to the other. This work of 'Abdu'l-Bahá thus performs two functions, It establishes the principle that the Word of God has many meanings some of which are external and obvious while others are hidden and mystical, It is also a manual or guide to Bahá'í mysticism in that lays out the pathway or stages for the ascent of the soul from its lowest state of abasement and preoccupation with the things of the world to its highest state where the human qualities are effaced and only the divine attributes are manifest in the individual, the state where it becomes aware of the secrets of hidden and invisible realities. (Also published in Baha'i Studies Review 12 (2004), pp. 67-90.)
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Apophatic Scholarship: When the Pen Breaks and the Ink Leaves but a Blot

by Ismael Velasco

If God is beyond the description of aught except Himself; if the Word of God transcends words and letters; if true Understanding shatters discourse, what point is there to Scripture, let alone to scholarship. If knowledge is but a point which the ignorant have multiplied, is discourse an exercise in ignorance? This presentation will explore the relationship between mysticism and language in both the Bahá'í scriptures and some classics of mystical literature from previous religious traditions. It will highlight, and try to understand, the paradox of a history of writers penning volumes on a subject which they assert cannot be grasped by language. It will finally suggest that the relationship between mysticism and language lies at the root of the Universal House of Justice's call for a religiously inspired reorientation of scholarship.
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Background and Significance of Bábí-Bahá'í Interpretations of hurufat al-muqatta'at, the Mysterious Arabic Letters of the Qur'án, The

by Stephen Lambden

Both Sunni and Shí'í Islamic traditions and sources contain numerous passages which dwell upon the secret, mysterious nature of those letters of the Arabic alphabet which open or occur before 29 of the 114 (=6x19) súrahs of the Qur'án, the Islamic Holy Book. At the beginning of certain súras varying numbers of Arabic letters are set down, sometimes single letters ("N", súra 68) or groups of between two (e.g., "T-S", súra 27) and five letters (e.g., "A-L-M" = súras 2, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 and "K-H-Y-'-S", súra 19). In total fourteen different Arabic letters are used in this way. The phrase al-hurufát al-muqatt'át collectively designates these letters and has been variously translated into English; al-muqatta'ah indicates the letters as being, "isolated," "detached," or "mysterious," etc.

The obscurity of these letters is registered, for example, in the clear, voluminous Tafsír of al-Qurtubí and in other Shí'í sources which relay a tradition of (among others) 'Alí ibn Abí TáIib (first lmám of the Shí'ah, d.40/661) or Sufyán al-Thawrí: "The [isolated letters] are the sirr Alláh (mystery of God) in the Qur'án. For God there is a sirr (mystery) in every [sacred] Book among His books." Tradition has it that the significance of these letters is known only to God. They are often classified among the mutashábbihít, the "ambiguous," "unclear," or "obscure" verses; as opposed to those of muhkamát, "unambiguous," of "established" significance. Despite the arcane nature of the letters, attempts to clarify and expound their significance are legion. While concrete sense have been allotted the letters by western orientalists and academics, they have also been given mystical, qabbalistic and esoteric meanings by Muslims. Deep and allusive senses have been thought to be implicit in these mysterious letters of the Qur'án.

In a number of the alwáh ("Tablets") or writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, interpretations of the mysterious letters can be found. On occasion they likewise use similarly "detached" Arabic letters a( the beginning of their writings. Following qur'anic precedent and from the very outset of his mission (1844-50), the Báb in his neo-qur'anic Tafsír súrat yúsuf (Commentary upon the Surah of Joseph) set down disconnected letters before most of the named súrahs of this work; which is also known as the Qayyúm al-asmá' ("Self-Subsisting [Deity] of the Names"). Various other shorter works and alwáh of the Báb including his Kitáb al-fihrist (Book of the Index) commence with detached letters.

The Báb also drew attention to the chronological and prophetic import of the mysterious letters found in the Qur'án and touched upon in Islamic tradition.

He even corrected some abjad-numerologial speculations recorded in the Bihár al-anwár (Oceans of Lights) of the great Shí'í encyclopedist Muhammad Báqir Majlisí (d. 1699). In His Persian Seven Proofs (Dalá'il-i sab'ih), he refers to an IsIamic tradition as transmitted through Abí Labíd Makhzúmí from Imám Abú Ja'far (=Muhammad al-Báqir d. 126/743) in which the year 1260[7] AH is indicated in certain of the sets of disconnected letters of the Qur'án.

This tradition was relayed by 'Ayyáshí and is recorded, for example, by Mullá Muhsin al-Fayd al-Káshání in his Qur'án Commentary, Tafsír al-Sáfí (on Q. 2:1). The Báb interpreted this tradition relative to the year (AH) of the coming of the Islámic promised one, the time of the advent of the Mahdí-Qá'im. This can be calculated from the chronological realization of the numerical value of the first seven sets of disconnected letters, those which occur between A-L-M (in Q. súra 2) and A-L-M-R (in Q. súra 13). Bahá'u'lláh, in his lengthy Lawh-i-hurufat al-muqatta'a (c. 1857?), refers to this or a similar tradition.

Such chronological prophecies were early on utilized by Bahá'í apologists in Bahá'í teaching activity. The great Bahá'í apologist Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl Gulpáyigání (d. 1914), for example, clarified and used this lslámic proof text in several of his writings including his early Sharh-i áyát-i muvarrikhah ("Commentary upon the chronological proof texts") which was written in Hamadán (Iran) around 1888 CE.

In this paper notes upon these and other Islamic and Bábí-Bahá'í significances of the mysterious, isolated letters of the Qur'án will be registered, as will examples of their use by the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.

British Bahá'ís and the Western Mystical Tradition

by Lil Abdo

This paper is taken from a larger work that applies Sperber and Wilson's theory of the principle of relevance to the Bahá'ís in the British Isles prior to 1930. The theory is based in linguistics but goes beyond that discipline to explore the possibility of a unified theory of cognitive science. To this end it is argued that for information to be communicated it must be perceived as relevant. Crucial in determining relevance is the collection of assumptions referred to as a "context." In applying a theory of cognition to the acceptance of a religious ideology, we do not intend to explain why people become Bahá'ís but rather how people become Bahá'ís. In other words, what was it in the Bahá'í teachings that the earliest British adherents found "relevant"? In investigating the Bahá'í Movement between 1899-1930, a number of currents or networks become apparent. The role of networking in the recruitment to religious movements has been considered by a number of commentators; however, we will argue that a network is a context for cognition rather than a group of individuals. In this paper we will examine the network-context of those who approached the Bahá'í teachings from the perspective of Western Mystical Tradition. These individuals were immersed in their understanding of the Celtic religious tradition with a particular emphasis on the myths surrounding the Holy Grail in relation to Glastonbury. The people were linked to numerous magical and mystical orders including The Golden Dawn, the Order of the Table Round, and the Society of the Inner Light, as well as the Bahá'í Movement.

This grouping is interesting for a number of reasons. First, their ability to enrich certain aspects of the Bahá'í teachings in order to slot them into their preexisting belief systems gives a clear example of the principle of relevance. Conversely, their failure to remain within the Bahá'í sphere indicates a loss of relevance that we will attempt to explain.

We will also consider the Western Mystical Tradition in the context of Native Manifestations within the Bahá'í hermeneutic and pose t lie question: can the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh be equated with the Holy Grail?

  1. Dan Sperber & Deirdre Wilson, Relevance, Communication & Cognition, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1986.

Concept of the "Perfect Man" (Pole) in Sufism and the Bahá'í Notion of the Manifestation of God, The

by Youli Ioannesyan

This paper aims to trace some of the analogies and essential differences between the concept of the "Perfect Man" (Pole) in Sufism and the Bahá'í notion of the Manifestation of God based on the Bahá'í Writings and the works of prominent Sufi scholars-theologians: At-Tirmidhí, Ibn al-'Arabí, Dáwud-al-Qaysarí, Haydar Amulí etc. What underlies both these notions is the idea that at all times the Divine Will manifests Itself to humanity through or in a certain Person, whose purpose is to be a shepherd, guardian and educator of humankind, directing it towards the good and keeping it from what is wrong.

This idea is expressed in Sufism by the teaching about the "Muhammadan Essence" or "Muhammadan Light" (analogous to the "Logos" of Neoplatonians and the "Word" of the Christians), the first emanation from God, also going by the name of the Primal Intellect. This is the Image of God in its undifferentiated (undivided) unity, by Whom and from Whom all things were created and Which preexisted all things in creation (not in time but as a cause to the effect). This "Muhammadan Essence" is realized successively in Adam, the Prophets and the Poles each of whom is "The Perfect Man of the age."

The philosophic development of this issue in the form of a doctrine is associated with the name of the great Sufi philosopher from Andalousia (Southern Spain) Ibn al-'Arabí (11651240), though clear allusions to the same idea can be traced in the work of an earlier Sufi writer--at-Tirmidhí (IX c.).

In the Bahá'í teaching there is also a notion of the Divine Will making Itself manifest at certain intervals in a special Person, divinely preordained for this Mission. The similarity of the characteristics applied to the "Perfect Man" in Sufism and the Manifestation of God in the Bahá'í teaching is obvious. However, in spite of these remarkable analogies there are also striking differences between the Sufi and the Bahá'í notions. What is implied by the Divine Manifestations in the Bahá'í Faith is a special category of created Beings who are sent down to humanity with a new Revelation from God at more or less definite intervals. These are the Great Prophet-Founders of' the Religions. In contrast to this the Sufi concept reflects the predominant Moslem view that Prophethood was terminated in the Prophet Muhammad, consequently there can be no prophet after Him. From this point in history the "Muhammadan Essence" is realized in the "saints," specially chosen by God, who are called "Wali." The latter act on behalf and within the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad.
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Defining Bahá'í: A Sect, a New and Independent World Religion, or the Changeless Faith of God?

by Zaid Lundberg

Who is to define whether Bahá'í is an Islamic sect, a new religious movement, a religion, a new and independent world religion, or the changeless Faith of God? According to some researchers (Pike & Harris) one useful and important methodological distinction is that between the emic (insider) and etic (outsider) perspectives. Hence, any religious community could be approached and defined from two major, but fundamentally different, perspectives. For example, from an etic perspective Ninian Smart states that it is possible to identify in every world-view (religious or nonreligious) six to eight major dimensions, one of which is the doctrinal dimension. Furthermore, Smart and other scholars of religion state that one essential feature of doctrines/creeds is that they define the religious community, i.e., they function as normative self-definitions. Consequently, it should in principle be possible, even from an etic perspective, to study how a religious community (in this case Bahá'í) normatively and emically defines itself.

It is well known that the etic definitions of Bahá'í range from "an Islamic sect" to "a new religious movement" or "a world religion" and where the latter definition increasingly is becoming the more universally accepted one. What is less well known, however, are the emic definitions of Bahá'í as being simultaneously "a new and independent world religion" (Shoghi Effendi) and "the eternal Faith of God" (Bahá'u'lláh).

In order to understand this wide array of definitions one may:

1) etically employ G. H. Mead's idea of "a social self" since Bahá'í is normatively defined in terms of "significant others," especially older and/or dominant religious communities (Bábism, Shí'í Islam, Christianity, and Judaism); view what some scholars of religion refer to as "religious innovation" as a radical reinterpretation of' older and/or dominant religious world-views, or what David Tracy refers to as a fundamental change in the "root metaphors. From SL1tic perspective every religious community has, at an early stage, been involved in what can be labeled "interreligious hermeneutics."

2) emically explain and solve--through the Bahá'í doctrine of progressive revelation--the apparent contradictions and paradoxes that Bahá'í is defined as both eternal, ancient, and yet new, or that various religions are fundamentally one Faith, interconnected, and yet independent from each other.

Firm Cord of Servitude, The

by Theo Cope

Many works on mysticism from a psychological point of view adopt a view that is psycho-physiological. A true psychology takes the psyche/soul as an independent and autonomous reality. 'Abdu'l-Bahá informs the Baha'i teacher that they must become "embodied intellect and personified spirit," offering us an approach to mysticism that is embodied and psychological. Often, when one explores religious texts, the known ideas and their genealogies are the "lens" one interprets with. This article uses the psychological ideas of Carl Jung, especially the "God-concept," as well as the introversion, and extraversion typologies, to present ideas about mystic experience based upon these essential types. The article calls for a serious re-thinking and revisioning of mysticism's claims of "union with God" in light of the Baha'i Teachings as well as Jungian psychology. Usually a psychological approach is eschewed since most views are a "psychology without the psyche" that is, a psychology founded upon psycho-physiology instead of a psychology with the soul as Jung proposed. If one looks at the Baha'i Writings and how they respond to the claims of the wahdat al-wujúd and wahdat ash-shuhúd found in Islamic mystical thought, and explores them in light of Jungian typology, the claims and counterclaims become irrelevant. We can come to a humble realization that no matter what the claim of any mystic is, no matter how profound their concepts are, "such mind and heart can never transcend that which is the creature of their own conceptions and the product of their own thoughts." In so doing, we come to express profound nature of the soul, the psyche, in creating the God-image. This leads us to consider an embodied mysticism and a "mystery- minded" mysticism which is in accord with the station of' servitude that the human reality embodies. This article is a written meditation on passages of the Baha'i Writings. and the point is argued that when we come to again learn the profound mystery of the soul, the limitation of a contingent reality become freeing instead of viewed as limitation. We come to ]earn for the first time how it is that "He hath known God who hath known himself," and that this is embodied in the psyche as a reflection of the Primal Word. No matter how far one progresses in mystic illumination, we can never transcend the station of servanthood.
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Fundamentalism and the Bahá'í Faith: The Chapter Karen Armstrong Might Have Written in Her Book The Battle for God

by Roger Prentice

We live in a troubled world characterized by warring ideologies as well as warring peoples. Such conflicts traditionally include rationalism and faith, where "faith" is seen as "Churchianity" and its jurisprudence and authority as repressive. But greater confusion reigns because on top of traditional ideological conflicts there are greater confusions where one or more "camps" have been found to be "sleeping with enemy"; churches that want the mystical to be rationalized, "camps" that have progressively delegitimized mythos to the point where it is "nonbeing," seekers who want (pseudo) spirituality free of communal and religious obligation, earnest philosophers who want to overcome the dichotomy of fact and value. It is not surprising that in this maelstrom many groups become fundamentalist.

Is fundamentalism possible in the Bahá'í Faith? Karen Armstrong's book on fundamentalism, The Battle for God, published this year, concerns itself only with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This presentation speculates what she might have included had she written a section on the Bahá'í Faith, following afair examination of the Bahá'í Writings and the state of the Bahá'í community.

The presentation identifies some of the defining characteristics of fundamentalism and then goes on to identify some of the chief reasons, based on covenantal obligations and specific statements by Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, why fundamentalism can never prevail within the Bahá'í community.

The presentation puts forward the "middle way" perspective as taught by Bahá'u'lláh, and other messengers of God, as both a means for analysis and as a means for restoring balance, should that ever be necessary. In particular the presentation uses the need for balance between "mythos" and "logos," a major theme through Armstrong's book, mythos being under pressure within both science and religion.

Logos: (Greek, "word," "reason," "ratio"), in ancient and especially in medieval philosophy and theology, the divine reason that acts as the ordering principle of the universe. (Encarta)

Mythos: I the complex of beliefs, values and attitudes, etc., characteristic of a specific group or society. 2 another word for myth or mythology. (Collins)

N.B. The terms as used in this presentation include intrapersonal as well as cosmological meaning--they are intended to include such dualities as head and heart, masculine and feminine principles, yin and yang.

Of course even with the safeguards that will always prevent fundamentalism consuming the Bahá'í Faith there are always difficult questiong such as: What is the place of subjectivity in the Bahá'í view of reality? What is the balance, or tension, between uniformity (sameness) and diversity? Is unity simply a limiting of diversity and individuality, or vice versa? Does Bahá'í unity include the notions of "catholicity" and "broad church"? Is "I'm OK, you're OK" a principle implicit in Bahá'í teachings or not? What freedoms, and responsibilities, are concomitant with such principles as "independent search after truth" (is that supposed to stop upon becoming a Bahá'í?) and the "autonomous individual," priesthood having been abolished? Are "religion and science" the same as "mythos and logos"? And, if so, how do they connect with concerns such as subjectivity and mystical experience--"the core of religious faith is that mystical feeling which unites man with God"? (LOG, p. 507) Does 'Abdu'l-Bahá actually tip the balance away from logos? How would Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá have treated contemporary "deviants"?

The presentation ends by pointing out that the balance taught by Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá is needed in all areas of society. This is evidenced by the Reith lecture by Prince Charles. (Rather than say that the Prince put "the cat amongst the pigeons," we might more correctly say that he has "put the mythos amongst the logos.") The Reith lecture, and more particularly the responses that it elicited, show clearly the need for the same balanced middle way in dealing with the cardinal virtues of truth, beauty and goodness, that were given us by Bahá'u'lláh.

Human Intellect, The: A Bahá'í-Inspired Perspective

by Adrian John Davis

The term intellect has been used very loosely in psychology, from being equivalent to everything rational to being a generic term covering cognitive processes as a whole. Even in everyday language we hear the term used in a loose cognitive way to denote people who are intelligent, such as, "He has a fine intellect." In this article, however, I wish to show that the term intellect denotes two faculties of the human being. For instance, in the Bahá'í writings, while the term intellect is also used in connection with the rational power of Man, it also denotes a spiritual faculty which transcends such mental faculties. Thus, in general usage, the term has two different meanings although unfortunately they are frequently interchanged, with the second denotation being subsumed and lost under the first meaning, causing a blurring and veiling of the Intellect's higher exalted nature.
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Justice, Fairness and the Meekness of God

by Susan Maneck

This presentation would discuss the distinction and confluences of the concepts of fairness and justice as are found in the Bahá'í Writings. While justice is an attribute primarily urged upon rulers, scholars and the learned have been given a particular responsibility to uphold fairness. Finally attention will be given to those instances where as individuals we are called upon to forego our own sense of entitlement, to allow ourselves to become "wronged" in order that the distinctions between truth and falsehood can be more clearly seen. In connection with this I will be examining the Lawh-i-Dhabíh (Gleanings, CXV) from the standpoint of its emphasis upon the "meekness" of God as shown through the suffering willingly endured by the Manifestation. The term meekness is mazlúm which literally means "wronged" or "oppressed." In Arabic oppression is the antonym of justice. This presentation aims to show how it is finally through the willing endurance of oppression that true justice can prevail.

Lawh-i-Amváj ("Tablet of the Waves" [Billows]) of Bahá'u'lláh, Alwáh-i-Mustagath, Lawh-i-Baqá, The

by Stephen Lambden

The Lawh-i-Amvaj (Tablet of the Waves [or Billows])[1] of Bahá'u'lláh has been published in Majmu`ih-yi alwah-i-mubarakih-yi hadrát-i-Bahá'u'lláh.[2] It also exists in numerous unpublished manuscripts. This Tablet was apparently written for a certain `Áqá Siyyid Yahyá[3] and is a 3-4 page Persian and Arabic Tablet of the middle to late West-Galilean period.[4] The title Lawh-i Amvaj is derived from the fact that Bahá'u'lláh states towards the beginning of the Tablet that the "Ocean of the [Bahá'í] Exposition" (bahr-i bayán) is characterized by the Waves [Billows] of [Demonstrative] Proof and [Pure] Bounty (burhán va faDl) of the person of Bahá'u'lláh. Later in the Tablet, four ethico-religious "waves" of divine revelation are set forth; these four "waves" [of the Ocean of Revelation] billow forth various religio-ethical principles consonant with the realization of the eschatological "Day of God". The Tablet concludes with a wholly Arabic prayer for the protection of the Bahá'í friends and the illuminative potency of their good works.

The Tablet has not, so as far as I am aware, been fully translated into English.[5] A complete, but very provisional translation follows. For further details, see my forth-coming work on Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets, Traces from the Musk-Scented Pen: A Chronological Survey of the Major Writings of Mírzá Husayn `Alí Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892).
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Mysticism East and West

by Farhang Jahanpour

Although it would be inaccurate to suggest that all religions are identical in their teachings and their world-view, nevertheless, in the area of mysticism we have the greatest degree of unity and similarity of views among the mystics from different religious traditions. Each mystical tradition speaks about the "journey in God," of intense longing for God and devotion of the soul to God, of surrender and purification, of renunciation and abandonment, through union in Love. It has been said that all mystics recognize one another, because they come from the same spiritual country.

At the same time, while there is a great deal of similarity between various mystical traditions, there are some differences of stress about the nature of divinity and man's relationship with it. Some believe in Monism or the Oneness of Being and maintain that man will be ultimately united with God, while others believe in Monotheism and maintain that God is and will always remain transcendent. Therefore, although man may attain God's presence, union with the divine essence will be impossible.

It has been generally acknowledged that Christian mystics and Islamic Sufis have a great deal in common, but it is not so readily admitted that Hindu and Buddhist ideas are also not completely alien to theistic mysticism. The paper will briefly discuss the meaning and nature of mysticism and will then investigate some of the leading ideas in Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Bahá'í mysticism, exploring some of their similarities and differences.

The paper will try to show that although, on the surface, different views about God and man's union with Him may differ, yet ultimately these debates will not fundamentally change the essence of mysticism. As God is by definition so far removed from human understanding, different interpretations of His being are ultimately meaningless. What is important is the recognition of divine reality in the world and the desire to achieve union with His manifestations.
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Persianate Historiography and Family Trees: The Use of Genealogy in Safavid Chronicles and Select Bábí-Bahá'í Sources

by S. Quinn

In 1501, Shah Ismá'íl (r. 1501-1524) proclaimed Twelver Shi'ism the official state religion of Iran and at the same time, established the Safavid ruling dynasty. Over the next two centuries, the Safavids proclaimed their right to rule based partly on their genealogy, which came to form a conventional element in Safavid chronicles and an important component of Safavid legitimacy. The purpose of this paper is to analyze aspects of Safavid genealogical claims, in particular their claim of descent from Musá al-Kázim, the seventh Imam of the Twelver Shí'ah. The Safavid genealogy will be placed in the context of neighbouring Ottoman and Mughal genealogical assertions. The paper will conclude by offering some suggestions for the context in which we can understand genealogical claims associated with the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.
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Point, Pillar and Manifestation: Parallels That Never Met? Kabbalah and the Bábí-Bahá'í Faiths

by Moshe Sharon

Kabbalah (Qabbalah, Cabbalah), the systematic mystical thought in Medieval Judaism, has very ancient roots in Biblical as well as in early post-Biblical sources. However, when it burst as a daring doctrine in Provence and Spain early in the thirteenth century into Jewish religious life, it came as a reaction to philosophy that attempted to empty the Divine Being from his personal nature, and turn him into a pure transcendental being, which has practically nothing to do with creation. It came also as a reaction to strict Rabbinical Judaism, which though maintaining the idea of a personal God ruling over and directing His Creation through the holy law, avoided any discussion of the essence of God Himself, and had no reference to the actual process of revelation.

The Kabbalah does exactly this; it deals with the Divine Being Himself and explains the meaning of the revealed God and his action in the world of reality.

In other words the hero of the Kabbalah is God, He is also the object of its investigation. Fascinated by creation and by its perpetual renewal, by the dichotomy of good and evil, and by the special relations of love and estrangement between God (the bridegroom) and Israel (the bride) Kabbalah offers itsown mystical explanation to all these phenomena. It gives a systematic explanation to the occurrence and renewal of creation, as a manifestation of the active major creative powers of a dynamic male-female God revealing himself in a hierarchy of emanated forces in the form of the Sefirot.

There are many parts in the Kabbalistic presentation of God and his relation to creation, and in the methods of this presentation which remind us of Sufi, Shaykhí, Bábí and Bahá'í theories. Consider, for example, the issue of "the point of creation," described as a point of light, the purest concept of the revealed creative Divine Will that emanates from the ever-concealed unknowable Divine Essence (the ein sof, to become the source of the revealed Divine Being, ultimately leading to the formation of the world of physical reality.

Zohar is one of the main Hebrew words used to describe this hidden light concentrated in the Point. Light as the substance associated with the divine is the most common idea in religious (not necessarily mystical) thought, and Zohar is just a Hebrew word for Arabic Bahá. In both cases the word is regarded as the greatest attribute, or Name, of God, and in both systems the point of light was identified as the point of the letter Beth (or the letter bá' in Arabic), the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which begins the Book of Genesis, the book of creation, and thus the Torah and the whole Bible. It is the letter with which the creation came into being. Letters and numbers are used in Kabbalah in much the same manner as we later find in the Bábí-Bahá'í system. Thus the point of the letter bá' is regarded in the system as the point of creation and the point of light. Is it just a coincidence?

There is textual evidence that Kabbalistic material reached Iran in the late Middle Ages, and there are strong indications for Kabbalistic material flowing from Safed, the center of Kabbalistic activity in the sixteenth century to Iran. This flow of material was concurrent with the evolvement of the Kabbalah of Safed around the ARI and his group of disciples in that century.

Neither the Báb nor Bahá'u'lláh were as daring as the Kabbalists, but the idea of the necessary presence of a certain figure who serves as a channel of grace from God to the world of creation is present in the Kabbalah and it shows similarities to the shaykhí-Bábí-Bahá'í doctrines. In Kabbalah, the figure of the Tzadiq serves as the center of the world, or better, the central pillar of the creation, just as we have this idea of the nuqtah in Bábí thought or al-insán al-kámil in the Shaykhi system. The difference is, however, that in the Bábí-Bahá'í theory the central pillar is a channel of Divine Grace and a manifestation of God Himself, whereas in Kabbalah He is a part of the revealed God, identical with the sefirah of Yesod, representing, so to speak. the male organ of the revealed divine being (hence pictured as a pillar, a pipe, or a channel), the organ through which flows the Divine male seed to Its female counterpart (shekhinah), thus enabling the process of perpetual creation. The more this Tzadik is strengthened by righteous people endeavoring to comprehend the reality of the divine, the more he is erect and able to function as the channel of the flowing of the divine creative matter. Creation is badly effected if this pillar collapses when due to the scarcity, or lack, of righteous men in the world it does not receive the needed support.

In spite of the similarities, neither the Báb nor Bahá'u'lláh were so daring as to go so far.

Religious Unity Towards the Challenge of Religious Diversity

by Anne-Sophie Lamine

Although the principle of religious unity is one of the central themes of the Bahá'í religion, few works have been carried out in order to contribute to develop a Bahá'í theology of religions, which would both develop this concept together with the concept of progressive revelation with a respectful and responsible view of other religions.

In this contribution, these two Bahá'í concepts and the related writings will be questioned by practical experiences and theoretical reflections on interfaith dialogue, as well as the cultural and theological context.

In a world of religious diversity, can we consider that a given religion is better than the preceding one in time? Is this vision of time and progress acceptable? Doesn't a kind of progressive revelation also occur within each revelation? Does the recognition of a further religion necessarily imply conversion to it?

As to the principle of religious unity, it was certainly quite challenging to assert it as 'Abdu'l-Bahá did, at a time when it seemed so difficult to conceive, but to assert it now sounds more new age than thought-provoking. If one considers, respects, and even rejoices in the richness of religious diversity, isn't this concept more a mystical principle than an evidence?

Solution to the Ethnic Identity Problems in Swedish Schools with the Help of Bahá'í Material, A

by Per Akerdahl

The center of the Christian Syrian community in Sweden in the town of Sodertalje, situated 45 kilometers southwest of Stockholm. The Syrian-Orthodox church in this town has two bishops who are spiritual guides to a community of growing affluence. The reaction of the majority community of ethnic Swedes has not always been positive to this influx of immigrants that have arrived during a period of about twenty-five years and there have been a number of incidents between ethnic Swedes and ethnic Syrians in schools as well as outside schools.

In one of the high schools of that town, there has been a problem with the clash of one group of Swedish students, being Satanist and one group of Christian Syrian students. I was asked to solve this problem and I chose to do this by the help of the basic principles of the Swedish school system. The common basis of values in the Swedish school system is a set of humanistic principles, very close to the Bahá'í principles. This resulted in that I held discussions with these classes, using the Bahá'í principles as a way of describing the foundation of values of the Swedish school and the Bahá'í martyrs as a means of connect these discussions with the existential questions of the students. In this way I could bind together the humanistic principles of the Swedish school system with the identity development of the students.

I could also combine the statement on ethics in the basis of values that says that ethics of Swedish school rest on "Christian tradition and Western humanism." This statement is well known as a theoretical statement, but of little help to the teacher. One of the reasons for this is that Christian tradition and Western humanism not always have been supportive, but often been antagonistic towards each other. In analysing discussions between teacher and students in the classroom this problem often become a major obstacle to understanding the intention of the author. When using the Bahá'í principles, however, this problem disappears as the Bahá'í Faith is neither burdened by the Christian tradition or the history of Western humanism. Therefore these principles are acceptable both to Christian Syrians and to ethnic Swedes, especially when the principles are discussed in connection to a presentation of Bahá'í martyrs who died for these very principles. This method has been used in order to solve the urgent problem of the clash between the Christian Syrians and the ethnic Swedes as well as another clash between a Swedish history teacher and representatives of the Syrian Christian community regarding Syrian Christian ethnic identity.

Three Stages of Divine Revelation, The

by Guy Sinclaire

In a summary of the major themes of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Shoghi Effendi states that Bahá'u'lláh "adumbrates and distinguishes between the three stages of divine Revelation." This paper locates Bahá'u'lláh's discussion of three kinds of revelation in the text of the Íqán, and proceeds to explore the implications of Shoghi Effendi's assertion that they constitute stages in a process of revelation, Our exploration of this theme commences with an examination of two kinds of revelation or "outpouring" which are commonly recognised in Islamic mysticism; in particular, in the works of Muhyi'd-Din Ibn 'Arabi and his followers. This paper concludes that, in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá'u'lláh extends and modifies this Sufi cosmogonic scheme, in particular placing greater emphasis on the role of the Manifestation of God in the Divine act of creation.