Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #30 (English)

Louhelen Bahá'í School: Michigan USA

October 6–8, 2000.

Theme: "Mysticism and the Bah'i Faith"


Báb's Epistle on the Spiritual Journey towards God, The

by Todd Lawson

One of the earliest, if not the earliest, extant compositions of the Báb is a brief discussion of the mystic quest, entitled Risála fi's-Sulúk. This work is extremely important for the light it sheds on the Báb's relationship to the Shaykhi movement and to Siyyid Kázim in particular. It was written well before two other early works (Tafsír súrat al-Baqara and Tafsír súrat Yásuf/Qayyum al-Asmá). However, the concerns and topics of this earlier work continue to appear in the Báb's later writings. The discussion will highlight the Qur'ánic verses and the Hadíth that form the basis of the Báb's teaching about the mystic quest in this Epistle, together with some thoughts on the nature of the teaching itself. A preliminary translation will be offered of the entire text and, it is hoped, improved upon by fellow conference attendees.

Click here to read this paper online.

Correlating Mystical Experience to the Knowledge of God

by Jack McLean

In the dual perspective of philosophical theology and the psychology of religion, this paper makes the argument that mystical experience and theology ("the knowledge of God") are not two distinct and unrelated forms of activity, but rather expressions of one manifold. Experience in circuitous fashion, inform and depend upon one other. This process is called simply symbiosis. Such a process is not essentially speculative but is rather empirical since experience has always been a fundamental component of knowledge, whether scientific or humanistic. This thesis is validated through a general rather than "hard proof" discussion of the following six points:
  1. Debunking certain objections to mysticism.
  2. Outlining three basic characteristics of mysticism.
  3. Considering the symbiosis of knowledge and experience in The Seven Valleys (Haft Vád') and The Four Valleys (Chahar Vád') and the Kitáb-i-Iqán.
  4. Correlating Bahá'í mystical theology to St. Augustine's metaphysics of inner experience.
  5. Examining the benefits of mystical theology for Bahá'í scholasticism.
  6. Presenting Bahá'u'lláh's universe of the mystical valleys as attainable rather than unattainable spiritual experiences.
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Firm Cord of Servitude, The

by Theo Cope

Many works on mysticism from a psychological point of view adopt a view that is psychophysiological. A true psychology takes the psyche/soul as an independent and autonomous reality. 'Abdu'l-Bahá informs the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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 psychophysiology instead of a psychology with the soul as Jung proposed. If one looks at the Bahá'í writings and how they respond to the claims of the wahdat al-wujud and wahdat ash-shudud 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 are, 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 Bahá'í 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 becomes freeing instead of viewed as limitation. We come to learn 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.


Issue of Issac/Ishmael, The: A Sacrifice Controversy

by Iskandar Hai

Jews and Christians believe that God, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, instructed Abraham to sacrifice His son Isaac, whereas Muslims believe that it was His other son, Ishmael, who was supposed to be sacrificed. The question has been posed to Bahá'u'lláh, to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and to Shoghi Effendi. The purpose of this discussion is to meticulously examine what they said and to find out if their answers are different or if they convey fundamentally the same message.


Keys to the Proper Understanding of Islam in The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh

by Brian A. Wittman

The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, Shoghi Effendi's concise statement of the fundamental verities of Bahá'í belief, contains a number of important keys which lead Bahá'ís to a more complete understanding of Islam.

The Dispensation makes direct reference to other Bahá'í writings that shed light on Islam, including the Kitáb-i-Iqán (which quotes extensively from the Qur'án) and Nabíl's Narrative. God Passes By, a later work by Shoghi Effendi, envisioned in The Dispensation, traces the death-knell of the law of Islam back to trumpet-blast sounded by Tahirih at the conference of Badasht and predicts the universal recognition and acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh by the Muslim world. In The Promised Day is Come, the Guardian analyzes the impact on Islam. of its refusal to accept the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, including the collapse of the Caliphate, the abolition of the Sultanate, and the annulment of Shariah canonical law.

The Dispensation upholds Islam as an independent religion and confirms the Imams as the legitimate successors of Muhammad. `Alí's appointment by Muhammad as His successor was made verbally and is not to be found in the Qur'án. The split of Islam into Sunni and Shi'ah branches, a schism which the Guardian has characterized as "permanent and catastrophic," can be traced to the lack of a written document from Muhammad establishing 'Alí as His successor. The lack of written Covenant, Taherzadeh argues, should not be viewed as a failure of the previous Manifestations, but is due to the immaturity of the people of previous ages who could not have sustained the rigors of such a Covenant.

Errors that have crept into Islam are due to two sources: misinterpretation of the Qur'án (which is authentic) and the use of hadíth, which are the reported sayings of Muhammad and the Imams. Several errors addressed in The Dispensation include the finality of Revelation (since Muhammad is the "Seal of the Prophets" His Revelation is final), and the non-belief in the crucifixion of Christ. The Dispensation confirms that the process of Revelation is ongoing and eternal and that Christ was crucified, as attested to by Bahá'u'lláh Himself.

The Bahá'í Faith, being the latest Revelation from God, provides for religious and administrative features not found in earlier religions, including Islam. These include the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, which establishes in written documents the succession, the unique station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and the Bahá'í Administrative Order. The Bahá'í Administrative Order includes the Guardianship, the Universal House of Justice, a system of elected administrative bodies, a series of appointed positions, and a comprehensive and authoritative body of administrative principles and guidelines laid down by Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi. The Qur'án, while laying down the basic laws and ordinances of Islam, is silent on the questions of succession and administration. There exists no provision in Islam, such as the Universal House of Justice, to provide for ongoing authoritative legislation.

Finally, the Bahá'í Faith seeks not to undermine Islam, but to restore and reinvigorate it and to assist in the realization of its highest aspirations. To be true to the Message of Bahá'u'lláh, we must view Islam and the Bahá'í Faith as essentially different stages of one and the same religion. "This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future."

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Presentation on the Tablet of Ishráqát, A

by Nader Saiedi

The Tablet of Ishráqát is primarily a discussion of the functions of the Universal House of Justice. Different parts of the tablet constitute an organic whole and a coherent discourse. The paper will emphasize the unity of the tablet, the question of the Most Great Infallibility, and the political function of the House of Justice.


Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple): A Review

by Ghasem Bayat

Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrah of the Temple) has been designated by the Beloved Guardian as one of the most challenging works of Bahá'u'lláh. This Tablet was first revealed in Adrianople, then with a few minor changes was re-revealed in Akká around 1869. The Blessed Beauty ordered this tablet to be combined with five of the most important of His Tablets to Sovereigns of His age and written in the form of a pentacle, symbolizing a human temple.

Thus Bahá'u'lláh associated Súriy-i-Haykal with the prophecy of Zechariah in the Torah. The existence, destruction, and, ultimately, the rebuilding of the Israelite temple are central to the Jewish experience. Bahá'u'lláh identifies Himself as the promised Temple through which both Israel and all the nations of mankind will find redemption.

This tablet contains numerous references to the manifold stations of a Manifestation of God and offers guidance for a deeper appreciation of the Unity that exists in the Realms of the Cause. The tablet consists of a series of addresses by the Most Great Spirit to the physical Temple of His Manifestation on earth, and His promise to create a race of men to proclaim and support His Cause. It is in this context that religious leaders, sovereigns, and people are being addressed and warned of their transgressions.

Some of the mightiest statements of Bahá'u'lláh about the power that has been infused into His Revelation appear in this tablet. Many topics such as the spiritual birth of man, the creative power of the Word of God, and the example of the life of His Manifestation are covered in this Tablet. A brief but moving account of Mirza Yahyá's early life and education under the direction of the Blessed Beauty and finally his transgression against Bahá'u'lláh is also given in this Tablet. This tablet, with its numerous addresses to the Bábí communities, along with other books such as the Kitáb-i-Badí', was instrumental in the mass conversion of the Bábí communities to the Cause of Bahá.

Sections of this mighty tablet were translated by Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day is Come and The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. In addition, Anton F. Haddad made a literal translation from the original Arabic into English.

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Some of the Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed in Akká

by Muin Afnani

Tablet of Hádí

The recipient of this Tablet is Hádí Qazvíní who was one of the Letters of the Living. Sadly this person broke the Covenant during the time of Bahá'u'lláh and joined Yahyá Azal. This person should not be confused with another Hádí who was from Dawlatabad, near Isfahán, and was appointed by Azal as his successor. The Tablet of Hádí was revealed in response to certain questions of Hádí. The major themes of this Tablet are:
  1. Islamic tradition of "He who recognizes himself has recognized God." Bahá'u'lláh explains that human soul or rational faculty is an emanation from God. While human beings are incapable of recognizing their own reality, how can they hope to know the station of God? In essence, Bahá'u'lláh interprets this tradition as a negation, i.e., it is impossible to know the essence of God just as it is impossible to know one's own reality.

  2. The station of true believer.

  3. The concept of "Return" discussed in the scriptures.

  4. Admonition and warning to the people of Bayan, followers of Yahyá Azal.

  5. Firmness in the Covenant.
Tablets of Mustagháth

There are several Tablets in which the subject of Mustagháth has been discussed. One of the accusations of Yahyá Azal and his followers against Bahá'u'lláh was that Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest should not appear until two thousand one (2001) years after the appearance of the Báb. The Azalis said this is the numerical equivalent of the word Mustagháth. In several Tablets Bahá'u'lláh explains the true meaning of this word and quotes from the writings of the Báb that the Promised One of the Bayan should appear in the year 19 or nineteen years after the Báb's declaration. In depth understanding of these Tablets requires familiarity with the writings of the Báb and the metaphors used in these Tablets.

Tablet of Saháb (Cloud)

This is a general Tablet addressed to all the believers. Bahá'u'lláh explains that true believers are like unto clouds. Should they pass over a city made of pure gold they would not get distracted by it. In this Tablet the Blessed Beauty mentions the qualities and attributes of His true followers and exhorts them to arise and fulfill all that has been written about them in the Tablets. This Tablet is entirely in Arabic. Other themes of this Tablet include:
  1. Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to the King of Iran, and the person who was created by Him to be the carrier of that Tablet.

  2. Invitation to the religious scholars to investigate the Faith. All the Manifestations of God had appeared to prepare people for this Great Announcement.

  3. References to the people of Bayan and their failure to recognize the Promised One of the Bayan.
Súrah al-A'ráb (Tablet to the Arabs)

This Tablet, which is entirely in Arabic, is addressed to the believers of Arabian decent. Frequently the Blessed Beauty addresses them by similar terms and encourages them to take shelter under the Tree of God from which the voice of God is being heard. Bahá'u'lláh says they should be thankful that the Manifestation of God chose to announce the glad tidings in the land of Iraq. Then Bahá'u'lláh makes reference to His hardships in Iraq and subsequent lands. Other themes:
  1. Arise to assist the cause of God by the sword of speech and wisdom.

  2. Detachment from the world; God has chosen the hearts of believers as His dwelling place.

  3. Trustworthiness is the most cherished attribute in the sight of God; He cherished it even before the creation of Adam. Do not deprive yourselves of it.

  4. At the time of His departure from Iraq, the prophecies about the appearance of "the golden calf" and "the birds of darkness" were fulfilled.
Surah al-Mursil

The word "Mursil" is an active participle, meaning "one who sends." In particular, it is a reference to God as the One Who sends the prophets (Messengers). Bahá'u'lláh equates this word with His own name. Then He gives several interpretations of this word and of those who have been sent, the Messengers, and those who carry the scriptures and words of God with them. This is the Name under which all the prophets have taken shelter. Bahá'u'lláh's explanation of these terms is fascinating. This Tablet, which is in Arabic, is rich in metaphors. Bahá'u'lláh also mentions some historical events, including the martyrdom of the Báb, His exile to Iraq and Istanbul, and the plots of the two governments that were responsible for His exile to the Most Great Prison.


Theological and Rhetorical Significance of Mathnavíy-i-Mubárak

by Frank Lewis

Bahá'u'lláh composed several formal poems in rhyme and meter. One of these poems, the Mathnavíy-i-Mubárak, concerns Bahá'u'lláh's disclosure of his station to the Bábís and to humanity. Bahá'u'lláh's Mathnaví alludes to the world-famous Mathnaví of Jalal al-Din Rumi, whose followers founded the spiritual confraternity known as the "Whirling Dervishes" (Mevleviye or Mawlaviyyah Order), which was quite active in Istanbul and Edirne during the time of Bahá'u'lláh's exile.

This paper suggests the theological and rhetorical significance of Bahá'u'lláh's use of the discourse of Sufism, 'specifically Sunni Persian poetry; discusses the importance of Rumi among nineteenth-century Iranians, in particular the Bábís and the Bahá'ís; outlines the date and circumstances of composition of Bahá'u'lláh's Mathnaví; proposes some of the factors to consider in establishing a critical edition of the poem; and proposes possible understandings and translations of some of the more difficult passages or allusions.