Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #4 (English)

DePoort, Netherlands

November 4–6, 1994.

Theme: "Kitab-i-Aqdas"

Bahá'i marriage laws in a historical perspective     edit

by Kamran Ekbal

Bahá'i marriage laws in a historical perspective, especially regarding bigamy.

Church and State in the World Order of Bahá'u'llah     edit

by Sen McGlinn

Because the Baháíí Faith offers a definite model for both the political and spiritual transformation of the human world, it is liable to be criticized and even feared on the sensitive issue of the ideal relation which it proposes between religious and political institutions. The question is made even more current by the republication, in the framework of the Aqdas, of Bahá'u'lláhís statement that: "All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice . . . `

Will the Bahá'ís eventually set up a church state? The widespread fear of any political system run on religious principles, combined with a less widespread identification (among certain fundamentalist Christian groups) of the idea of world unity with the antichrist, creates a dangerous mix. It is therefore essential that the Baháíí teachings on this be better understood. We also need to understand the theory behind our relationship with the state in general. Is the civil state no more than a temporary, perhaps necessary evil? Or is it an institution mandated by God? Is the principle of obedience to civil authorities which at present governs our behavior a short-term tactic adopted during the period in which we have no political power, or a permanent principle?

This paper will approach these questions not through a direct textual and contextual analysis, but rather by making a broad survey of the principles involved as we find them in the Baháíí writings. I have selected "landmarks" which are easily memorable and which seem to me to sum up the fundamental principles involved.

1) Shoghi Effendi said that the Baháíís should not allow their Baháíí administration to supersede national governments.'

2) Bahá'u'lláh says that God has given the task of government to kings and rulers, while the cities of men's hearts are reserved for GoV

3) The civil and religious administrations of a Baháíí social order are distinct but not separate: they are organs of one body, whose distinct natures are required so that they can work together in a "harmony of forces."'

In trying to understand what constitutional relations might flow out of these principles, I start not with the government and the House of Justice, but with the Baháíí administrative order which is the "pattern of a New World Order."' The administrative order is an organic system, characterized by division into separate organs, each with its own intrinsic nature and mode of operation, and each organ requiring the others.

It will then be possible to apply this conception of organic unity to the government institutions of the World Order, and to the relationships between these institutions and the Bahá'í Administrative Order.
  1. Aqdas: Other Sections, page 91, also in the "Eighth Ishraq," Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 128.

  2. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66: "Theirs is not the purpose . . . to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries."

  3. Gleanings, CXV: "The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings . . . that which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men's hearts . . . ."

  4. Will and Testament of 'Abdul-Bahá, pp. 14-15: "This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through die close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong . . . ."

  5. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 144.

Click here to read this paper online.

Cultivating a Bahá'i Response to Homosexuality     edit

by anonymous

The material here has been removed at the request of the author who wishes to be unnamed.

Distinguishing Features of the Kitab-i-Aqdas as Compared to the Bayan, The     edit

by Habib Riazati

Distinguishing Features of the Kitab-i-Aqdas as Compared to the Bayan

European Themes in the Kitab-i-Aqdas     edit

by Roman Bohacek

Christian Europe became involved in the Baháíí Revelation on the night when the Báb declared His mission and revealed Surat al-Mulk, the first chapter of the Qayyúm al-Asmá, to Mullá Husayn. The scope of the relationship between Europe and the Baháíí Faith expanded during the time of Bahá'u'lláh, especially when He was banished to Adrianople, bringing the Supreme Manifestation of God to the European continent.

It may be seen as a divine plan that the cycle of Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets to the Kings began in Europe and not in Asia, where it reached its consummation. After Bahá'u'lláhís Tablets to the Kings--most of whom were to Europeans--the Most Holy Book of the Baháíí Revelation was revealed. It contains several aspects which can be described as "European themes" or themes relevant to Christendom.

Two of the European Kings, William 1, the King of Germany, as well as Francis Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, were addressed by Bahá'u'lláh. Further, He also makes mention of the city of Berlin and addresses the banks of the Rhine. Bahá'u'lláh's address to the "spot that art situate on the shores of the two seas"--a reference to Constantinople which is half European and half Asian--should not be seen as irrelevant to the topic under consideration.

From the passages of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas where the above persons and places were mentioned, several theological and historic points related to issues which find their significance and application in the Baháíí revelation can be deduced. In the passage where Bahá'u'lláh addresses the "King of Berlin," He makes mention of the "Temple," a biblical theme which has been elaborated by Bahá'u'lláh in several Tablets that were most probably revealed to individuals of Christian associations. In the same passage, a reference is made to Napoleon III. In this respect, the relations between the "King of Berlin" and the "King of Paris" should be clarified in order to shed more light on the true significance of the passage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas.

As for Francis Joseph, Bahá'u'lláh calls him "malik al-namsah," al-namsah being an arabisized word for "Nemecko" - a Slavic word which in Czech, Slovak and a couple of other Slavic languages means Germany. Bahá'u'lláhís address to Francis Joseph refers to al-MasJid al-Aqsá which is a reference to Jerusalem. It is interesting to note here that Bahá'u'lláh refers to Jerusalem by the name of a Muslim mosque which was not the object of the King's attention. The reason for this may lie in the fact that in some tablets Bahá'u'lláh refers to Himself as al-MasJid al-Aqsá, which literally means the highest or most supreme mosque. By relating this fact to the "term" Jerusalem in the Bible, very striking conclusions can be reached. In the other parts of Bahá'u'lláhís address to the King of Austria, He makes mention of four other biblical themes: the Kingdom of God, the Branch and the Root, Our Name, and the One the Christians invoke day and night.

By considering all the theological points that Bahá'u'lláh refers to in the two passages of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas we can see how He has included in His Most Holy Book fundamental issues of Christian Europe. Thus, the message of God has been symbolically delivered to all of Christendom through two European Kings who, most probably, never had any knowledge about the Kitáb-i-Aqdas or any such messages delivered to them.

In this way such themes in the Most Holy Book, which apparently have an individual and limited connotation, find a universal application.

Examination of Androgyny and Sex Specification in the Kitab- i-Aqdas, An     edit

by Lil Abdo

The purpose of this paper is to consider the use of male definitions and standpoints in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in relation to the Bahá'í principle of equality of the sexes, to evaluate the concept of mutatis mutandis and the laws to which it does not apply within the context of a rejection of androgyny and androcentric language, and the development of a feminist hermeneutic.

To develop a feminist perspective it is necessary to consider the Kitáb-i-Aqdas with particular reference to the use of androcentric language. A fundamental consideration of the development of feminist theology and of the wider feminist hermenetitic has been the rejection of the assumption that humanity is male.
For where the male has been thought to represent the whole of humanity, the half has been mistaken for the whole, so that what has been described has been distorted in such a way that we cannot see it correctly. As long as men believe that their experiences, viewpoint, and ideas represent all of human experience and all of human thought, abstract definition and description of the real will alike be inaccurate.1

The absurdity of the androcentric use of "man" is challenged by Mary Daly by the use of linguistic contradictions such as the "sisterhood of man."2

A number of the laws contained in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas at first sight present difficulties for the development of a feminist perspective. The laws are in general from a male standpoint, especially in regard to marriage and divorce. The money back guarantee on a bride's virginity, the exemption from obligatory prayer and fasting for menstruating women, and the laws of intestacy which give a larger share to male heirs, are not obvious starting points for sex equality.

The situation is compounded by the principle of mutatis mutandis which means laws are equally applicable to men and women-where biology permits. This could be argued to reinforce the assumption that woman is the biologically determined "other," whilst the male is the norm.

However, some laws it would seem are more mutatis mutandis than others. For example, the instruction that hair should not be worn below the ear is accompanied by the following note:
Shoghi Effendi has made clear, that unlike the prohibition on shaving the head, this law forbidding the growing of the hair beyond the ear pertains only to men. The application of this law will require clarification from the Universal House of Justice.3

Meanwhile, pederasty, biologically impossible for women, has been interpreted to include all forms of homosexuality, including lesbianism.

It is hoped that this paper will answer some of the above points and demonstrate that the Aqdas contains the nucleus of a non-sexist law code. On the other hand, it may raise as many questions as it answers.
  1. Loades, Ann (ed), Feminist Theology, A Reader, p. i SPCK (London)1990.

  2. Daly, Mary, Beyond God the Father, p. 9, The Women's Press (London) 1991.

  3. Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 198.

Experience of Taking the Most Holy Book to the Masses Using Structured Educational Material, On The     edit

by Vadim Nomokonov

During the last year a number of seminars and other educational events specifically focused on the Kitáb-i-Aqdas have taken place in Russia. The experience gained reflects great interest and expectations on the part of believers and non-believers. It also exposes considerable difficulty experienced by the teachers in revealing the majesty and extraordinary significance of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Even greater difficulties were encountered by the learners, who mostly were new Baháíís in such countries as Russia.

The task is to promote a deeper perception in the masses of the spirit and the meanings of the concepts, laws, and ordinances revealed by Bahá'u'lláh so that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas becomes a powerful instrument for personal spiritual transformation.

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas can and should be placed in the center of our major educational activities. This would enhance the process of teaching the Faith and uplift the consolidation of communities to a new level. For this purpose much has to be done in teaching methodology so that presentations of this unique Book are made in a much clearer, more dignified, and elevated mariner, appealing to the hearts and minds of people and capturing their attention.

We have tried a number of approaches for the presentation of the text, such as discussion of successive verses, moving gradually from the beginning towards the end; putting an emphasis on specific laws, prescriptions and prohibitions; making broader presentations on certain subjects of the text; and presenting a general description of the text followed by answers to arbitrary questions. The following conclusions and recommendations have been made within the context of our present conditions. It has been found that it is preferable:

• To put more emphasis on the fundamental concepts and basic matters before dwelling on concrete laws and regulations;

• To restructure the material of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas for the purpose of study so that all verses and notes dealing with a specific topic are concentrated in a single section and the succession of sections is carefully designed;

• To explore the inner spiritual meanings of every point of the Aqdas, however minor.

It was found urgently necessary to produce educational material according to these recommendations which would be based on the following ideas:

(1) the Book is not "a mere code of laws,"

(2) in the Synopsis and Codification there already is an order in which the text can be studied, and

(3) Bahá'u'lláh has allowed us to ask Him questions.

Thus, the prepared material contains about 350 questions concerning topics which are important for teaching the masses today. The answers to them were taken exclusively from the Aqdas (from all parts of it) and grouped into twenty-six sections. The basic version of the material (130 pages) is finished. The preparation of an enlarged version, which will contain additional relevant information from other Bahá'í sources, is in progress. Special attention which needs to be given to particularly difficult to understand aspects of the Book could become an international project.

Use of the material makes it comparatively easy to:

• prepare a course for systematic study of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas;

• to give a consistent presentation on a given topic;

• to get a set of authoritative quotations on various subjects;

• to organize an efficient self-study process.

The material was produced in the spirit of Baháíí consultation with the participation and guidance of scholars from the Baháíí Academy in Panchgani under the supervision of Dr. Muhammad Afnan, to all of whom my deepest gratitude is expressed.

January 1995

General Nature of Divine Laws, The     edit

by Iraj Ayman

The wisdom and rationale of any one of the Baháíí laws will be more clearly and thoroughly understood when it is studied in the light of the context of the total body of the laws and guidelines revealed by Bahá'u'lláh. It is vitally important, in such studies, to take cognizance of the general nature of the divine laws and the special provisions stipulated for their gradual implementation through a developmental process that includes authoritative interpretation and elucidation as well as continuous supplementary legislation.

Sometimes questions and issues raised in relation to the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are due to singling out a particular commandment and examining its relevance in relation to the current trends in the society without due consideration of its dynamic relationship to the totality of Baháíí laws and teachings. The same approach is usually used in comparative studies when a single law from one religion is compared to a similar provision in other religions. Disregarding the impact of the context of the total body of laws, ordinances, social teachings and spiritual principles of a religion on the meaning, advisability and feasibility of a single provision in that religion completely distorts the nature, purpose and function of that provision. There are a number of devices built into the processes of formulation, interpretation, preparation for and implementation of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas that need to be considered for such evaluations.

Divinely revealed laws and ordinances generate a milieu and a culture of their own that affect their appreciation and observance and makes them different from "social contracts" and civil laws. In this paper an attempt is made to present the main features of the divinely revealed laws particularly in reference to the questions and issues related to the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The need for, the basis, and the sources of such body of laws are explored. The loci of the authorities and the responsibilities in the Bahá'í community, the effects of the provision for supplementary legislation and the progressive development of the laws and ordinances are briefly reviewed.

The impact of education, of the progressive implementation of the laws, of the Bahá'í philosophy of life, and of the locus of power in the Bahá'í community on the adherence to and observation of the divine laws is addressed. Mechanisms controlling the adherence to the laws, the process of implementing them, and the holistic approach to the application of the laws in the Baháíí community are examined.

The laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas can be judged in fairness only through a contextual and comprehensive approach, and with the understanding that a number of the Bahá'í laws are meant to be implemented in a mature Bahá'í community that adheres to the totality of the Baháíí teachings and in a society that is influenced by the spiritual forces of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.

History of Writing and Transmission of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, The     edit

by Moojan Momen

No Manifestation of God comes into a vacuum. Baháíuílláh came into the social setting of Iran. Most of his followers were Iranians who had entered the new religion from a background of Shi'i Islam. Inevitably, Shi'i Islam colored the views of his disciples and influenced the sort of questions that were asked of him.

Bahá'u'lláhís claim to be an independent Manifestation of God was openly announced from Edirne in about 1866 and was accepted over the next few years by the majority of the Bábís. In the Aqdas (198), Bahá'u'lláh indicates that one of the questions asked him by his correspondents concerned the laws of the new religion which he was to establish. The Islamic view of religion is a very legalistic one-to be a Muslim means to follow the Holy Law of Islam-while to be a Christian is more a matter of what beliefs one has, i.e. what creed one follows. One is not therefore surprised that on joining a new religion, these early Bábís wanted to know not what they should believe--as a Christian might have wanted to know-but what the new Holy Law was to be. It is interesting to note that Bahá'u'lláh states that it was as a "consequence" of these enquiries that the Aqdas was revealed (Aqdas 198). Bahá'u'lláh is however evidently anxious to differentiate the Aqdas from the Holy Law in Islam and Judaism by stating that it is not a "mere code of laws" (Aq. 15).

In a section of quotations relating to the revelation of the Aqdas Fádil Mázandarání gives a number of quotations that indicate that Bahá'u'lláh began to reveal some laws in Persian as early as the Edirne period but that he had not found the time appropriate then to release these (Amr va Khalq 1: 10). There are indications in these passages cited by Mázandarání that Baháíuílláh had begun to reveal parts at least of the Aqdas from the first years of his arrival in 'Akká (or perhaps even the very last year in Edirne) and that the process of revelation was complete by 1873 (Ekbal, "Kitáb-i-Aqdas: Redating its Beginnings"). In one tablet written through Mírzá Aqá Ján Khádimu'lláh, probably addressed to the Hand of the Cause Mírzá 'Alf-Akbar Shahmírzádí Hájí Akhund and dated 15 Jamadi 1 1290 (10 July 1873), Bahá'u'lláh states that he has given permission for Jamál Burujirdí to take a copy of the Aqdas and he hopes that Hájí Akhund will see this and will try, with prudence, to implement its provisions. From this it would appear that Burújirdi was responsible for bringing the first copy of the Aqdas to Iran.

From this time onwards, we hear of the distribution of the Aqdas in Iran and of various attempts to implement its provisions. For example, Sayyid Asadu'lláh Isfahání relates that, in about 1294/1877, attempts were made to set tip a House of Justice in Tehran in accordance with the provisions of the Aqdas. As there are no instructions in the book regarding the establishment of this institution, however, they merely called together an ad hoc group of prominent Bahá'ís and called it the Assembly of Consultation (majlis-i-shawr) and the house in which they met the House of Justice. They consulted about the affairs of the community but they were a self-appointed body and even kept their existence a secret from the main body of the Bahá'ís (presumably for security). (R. Mehrabkhani, "Mahifil-ishawr dar 'Ahd-i-Jamál-i-Aqdas-i-Abhá" Payám-i-Bahá, 28 February 1982, pp. 9-11; 29 March 1982, pp. 8-9). Other evidence of the early implementation of the provisions of the Aqdas in Iran is the nomination in 1878 of Sháh Muhammad Manshidi as Trustee of the Huqúqu'lláh.

Manuscript copies circulated in Iran in large numbers. E.G. Browne had no difficulty acquiring a copy in Iran in 1888 and many other manuscripts exist from the time of Bahá'u'lláh, including one in the handwriting of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (see frontispiece of RB3). 'Abdu'l-Bahá himself indicated the accurate text of the book is the one transcribed by Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin (q.v., AVK 1: 11).

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas was first published in Bombay in 1308/1891 on the instructions of Bahá'u'lláh. This volume contained other tablets as well and was in the handwriting of Mírzá Muhammad-'Alf. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has stated that Mimi Muhammad-'Alf interfered with the text of this edition. There have been several other editions published in Bombay, Cairo, and Tehran, containing several other important Arabic tablets.

The most important of the non-Baháíí editions of the Aqdas is that published with a Russian translation by Alexander Tumanski, Kitabe Akdes (Zapiski Imperatorskoy Academii Nauk S. Peterburg [Memoires de L'Academie Imperiale des Sciences de St Petersbourg] 8th ser., Vol. 3, No. 6, 1899), which was prepared with the help of Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl GuIpáygání. Other non-Baháíí editions include: Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ed. Kh. A. Enayat (1st ed.; Baghdad: Maktabatu'l-Amrikiniyyah, 1349/1931); and as a supplement in 'Abdu'r-Razzáq al-Hasaní, Al-Bábíyün wa'l-Bahá'íyún (Sidon, 1957, pp. 150-72).

The earliest translation was the above mentioned one by Toumansky. An English translation by Anton Haddad was never published though it enjoyed considerable circulation in typescript in the early American community and is still occasionally found. A translation by the American Protestant missionaries, Earl E. Elder and William McE. Miller, was published by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1961 (Al-Kitáb al-Aqdas or the Most Holy Book, London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1961, p. 74.) and was reprinted in Miller, The Baháíí Faith.

Shoghi Effendi translated most of the passages of general interest, comprising perhaps a third of the whole in works such as Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and Promised Day is Come (see SCK 11-28). A number of short passages were later translated under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice. A Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was published in 1973 in fulfillment of a goal of the Nine Year Plan. This work contains all the passages translated by Shoghi Effendi, a detailed outline of the contents of the Aqdas and Questions and Answers, and explanatory notes. These formed the basis of the full translation published by the Universal House of Justice in 1993.

Huququ'llah, Zakat, and Khums     edit

by Vahid Behmardi

The roots of these three laws are to be found in the Qur'án. They were developed by the Báb in the Bayán, and subsequently by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and some of His other writings. However many details were left unmentioned in order to have the Universal House of Justice introduce legislation on the matter in accordance to the circumstances and requirements of the future.

The way these laws were formulated by Bahá'u'lláh makes it clear that they were intended for a world order rather than a limited prophetic order, as is the case in the Qur'án and even in the Bayán.

A comparative Islamic, Bábí and Bahá'í survey of this topic must consider the Shí'í understanding on this matter rather than the Sunní viewpoint. The reason for this lies in the fact that the "right of God," according to the Shi'i understanding, must go to the line of the Successors of the Prophet rather than to a secular authority that is considered to be fallible. Within the context of the Baháíí world order, however, Baháíuílláh has made considerable modifications to these laws as they appear in their Shí'í, or Bábí forms.

The creation of an infallible legislative authority in the Baháíí world order by Bahá'u'lláh makes it possible for the details regarding the application of these laws to be left to their discretion.

In the case of zakát, for example, where Bahá'u'lláh states that "what hath been revealed in the Qur'án" should be observed, the details have been clearly left to the Universal House of Justice. Two reasons can be given for this: firstly, the Qur'án does not provide enough instructions on the matter and, secondly, the laws of Huqúqu'lláh, (the Baháíí form of the Shi'i khums) cover some elements of the zakát as it is found in Islám.

Therefore, after considering the Qur'án, the Bayán and the Baháíí holy writings, one can have a clearer picture of the huqúqu'lláh and zakát in the Bahá'í Faith. These two laws form the basis from which will appear, over the passage of time, the elaborations of the supreme legislative body of the Bahá'í world order.

Last, but not least, al ' though these laws deal primarily with matters of a financial nature, their spiritual significance should not be overlooked. Huqúqu'lláh and zakát are very closely linked to the Covenant, since Huqúqu'lláh is the only law mentioned by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament. They should also be considered in the light of concepts such as detachment and cooperation among human beings.

Inheritance Laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas     edit

by S Fazel

Laws encapsulate principles. In some cases they appear to conflict. Although the equality of men and women is among the major social principles of the Baháíí Faith, Bahá'u'lláh's legislation does not treat men and women identically in every respect. It would appear that the complex Bahá'í laws of inheritance in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas favor men over women. In cases of intestacy (when an individual dies without leaving a will), male heirs receive more of the estate than do female heirs. The eldest son receives the father's house and clothing as part of his inheritance, plus a share of the estate that is divided equally among all the children. A deceased son's inheritance from his parent is passed to his son's children, but that of a deceased daughter is divided among other heirs. Widows inherit relatively little of their husbands' estates (15%); a man's children, especially his eldest son, are the main beneficiaries. It has been argued this system of inheritance advocates a mildly patrilineal family where the continuity of the family is traced through the male line. The biological father retains social and economic responsibility for his children. Men bear primary responsibility for the family; widows, step-children and orphans are the responsibility of their male blood-relatives. Thus, it would seem that men are provided with economic incentives that tie them to the family.1

However, Baháíuílláh specifically states that every Bahá'í is obliged to leave a will (Aqdas, Q69), and nowhere does Bahá'u'lláh suggest or advise that the intestacy pattern should be used as a model for wills. Rather, the relativity of the inheritance laws is suggested by considering the intestate provisions for non-Baháíí inheritors.2 The Aqdas states that non-Baháíís do not inherit when a Baháíí dies intestate and the entire estate reverts to the House of Justice. A non-Baháíí wife, a non-Baháíí son, daughter, grandchild, teacher or any other non-Baháíí who would normally be beneficiaries from the will receives nothing. However, Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, has stated that, "it is always possible for a Baháíí to provide for his non-Baháíí wife, children or relatives by leaving a will. And it is only fair that he should do so."3 Therefore by stating that "it is only fair" for Bahá'ís to provide for non-Baháíí relatives in their wills, the Guardian indicates that the intestate provisions in the Aqdas are not normative. Furthermore the principle of justice is highlighted, Rather the laws apply to a specific situation that happens when a Baháíí dies without a will.

This specific provision may also have been intended for a limited period of time. All Baháíís are required in the Bahá'í writings to write a will. We can assume that all Bahá'ís will fully observe these laws in the future through universal literacy and education, and the increasing awareness of Baháíí law in conjunction with the maturation of those institutions that would assist Baháíís in observing them. These and other factors would seem to indicate that the laws of intestacy may become irrelevant in the future. Why then do they exist at all?

The Aqdas was revealed around 1873 by Bahá'u'lláh in response to the repeated requests of Iranian Bahá'ís as to how they should arrange their affairs.4 These early believers found themselves in the position of no longer being Bib(s or Muslims and, in many cases, being cast out of their families as a result but still being forced to live by Islamic laws for lack of an alternative. Under these conditions, when a believer died intestate, which would have been the normal situation, the surviving Baháíí family would have had to apply Islamic laws of inheritance or rarely Bábí law; no secular civil laws existed. The need for a

Baháíí law to address this temporary situation was both extreme and immediate. The laws of inheritance in the Aqdas may have been revealed to fill this demand. Presumably, in the context of early believers, the intestate provisions for non-Baháíí relatives apply to the situation where a newly converted Baháíí was thrown out of his or her family for leaving their family's traditional religion of Islam. Then it would not necessarily be unfair if these relatives were not included in the estate.

There are other parts of the Aqdas that can also be seen to be relative to specific contexts. For example, Mírzá Yahyá is addressed at one point (K184); there are prophecies about Khurisin and Kirmán (K94, K164); the Bábí laws on the destruction of books, the prohibition of marriage of non-believers, the restriction on travel, and the prohibition of questioning the Founder of the Faith are all abrogated in the Aqdas (K77, K 139, K 13 1, K 126). Significantly Bahá'u'lláh enjoins the believers to recite an obligatory prayer in the Aqdas which he later changed (n9).5 The latter is an example of the specifics of an Aqdas law that was temporary; however, the injunction to obligatory prayer remains.

This line of thinking would suggest that the laws of inheritance were given to address a specific and temporary need of believers living in Muslim countries at the end of the nineteenth century. It would therefore be unusual if the laws did not take into account the patrilineal patterns of those societies. But Bahá'u'lláh seems deliberately and specifically to have added provisions to this law that would lead to its abandonment. To some extent, it is analogous to the marriage law in the Aqdas which appears to permit bigamy. However, as bigamy is conditional on justice, it is not permissible: "The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition.6 In the case of the inheritance laws, outside of their immediate historical context, they also depend on an unlikely condition that a Bahá'í would not write a will in his or her lifetime. Shoghi Effendi writes that every "Baháíí is permitted in his will to dispose of his wealth in the way he wishes" taking into account moral and spiritual principles.7 As for marriage, the principle of justice is pre-eminent among these. Laws encapsulate principles. The marriage law encapsulates an inviolable spiritual principle. Bahá'í inheritance laws should also reflect the principles of fairness and justice. In order to do so, the inheritance laws in the Aqdas for intestacy must be seen in their appropriate historical context.8
  1. Linda and John Walbridge, "Bahá'í Laws on the Status of Men," World Order 19.1/2 (Fall 1984/Winter 1984-85): 25-36.

  2. This concept of the relativity of the inheritance laws of the Aqdas is adapted and developed from Anthony Lee's response to the Walbridgeís paper which was published in "A Question of Gender," Dialogue (Summer/Fall 1987): 32-34.

  3. Shoghi Effendi. Dawn of a New Day. (New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1970) 77.

  4. Bahá'u'lláh, in Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Baháíí World Center, 1973) 3.

  5. I am grateful to Juan Cole for bringing this case to my attention.

  6. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, qtd. in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Haifa: Bahá'í World Center, 1993) 206.

  7. Shoghi Effendi, qtd. in the Aqdas, 182

  8. A longer version of this essay appears as a Sounding in The Baháíí Studies Review, 4.1.1994.

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Panel Discussion: Baha'i Penal Laws     edit

by Payam Akhavan and Sama Peyman

This morning was devoted to a panel discussion led by Payam Akhavan and Sama Payman about Bahá'i penal laws. Much of the presentation focused on a document about capital punishment by the Bahá'i International Community and comments on the principles the document set out.

Parallels between the Kitab-i-Iqan and the Kitab-i-Aqdas     edit

by Iscander Micael Tinto

Parallels between the Kitab-i-Iqan and the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

Service of Women on the Universal House of Justice     edit

by Wendi Momen

Bahá'u'lláh often stated that men and women are equal; it is not easy to understand, therefore, why women cannot serve on the Universal House of Justice. 'Abdu'l-Bahá has said that the exclusion "is for a wisdom of the Lord God's which will erelong be made manifest as the sun at high noon" (Selections from the Writings of 'Abdul-Bahá, 79-80). There are certain features and characteristics of the world in which we live that might have a bearing on this teaching:

1. In the time of Bahá'u'lláh, and in much of the world today, women had no rights at all; they lacked education, opportunities to better themselves, independence, and money. In consequence, many men judged them incapable of being educated, owning property, or making decisions in the public arena. Because of this we might expect that people in many parts of the world would have no respect for any governing system that included women.

2. Our present Western, liberal understanding of equality is much colored by eighteenth and nineteenth-century concepts of equality, power, and authority, and by the suffragette and feminist movements. But some of this understanding is incompatible with the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, as a reading of Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh reveals. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that one cannot infer from the fact that women do not serve on the Universal House of Justice that "either sex is inherently superior or inferior to the other, or that they are equal in their rights" (Dawn of a New Day, p. 85), suggesting that our linkage of membership on the Universal House of Justice to equality of the sexes is invalid.

3. As a result of our Western, liberal thinking, we are apt to equate roles of responsibility with power and authority, whereas we know from the Baháíí writings that such roles are really arenas of service to the Cause and to humanity. Membership on Baháíí institutions brings no personal power and privileges; they are not to be sought. We are not looking at a question of whether women are worthy or have the necessary qualities to serve on the Universal House of Justice. We are clearly looking at some other

dimension, something we cannot quite see yet. We need to change our concepts of what service on this institution means so that they are based on the Bahá'í teachings and not on modem liberal Western thought.

4. We know from the Bahá'í writings that the status of women is very high. The Bahá'í writings identify the following responsibilities and challenges for women: first educators of children; peace-bringers; negotiators of peace; governors of society; industrialists and scientists; artists; workers; and others.

5. In addition to not serving on the Universal House of Justice, women are also exempt from military engagement. This underscores their role as peacemakers.

We must accept that we will probably not be able to give an adequate explanation of why women cannot serve on the Universal House of Justice. In 1947 Shoghi Effendi noted that "As . . . the wisdom of this will be known in the future, we can only accept, believing it is right, but not able to give an explanation calculated to silence an ardent feminist!" The Universal House of Justice added in 1991 that "Baháíís accept this teaching as an article of faith" and that "the ineligibility of women for membership on the Universal House of Justice does not constitute evidence of superiority of men over women."

It is, we therefore might conclude, nothing in women that precludes them from service on the House of Justice, nor is it because of some deficiency in women, or even because of the inability of men to accept that women are equal. Rather, we must perhaps look at the nature of the House of Justice itself, the nature of the new world order, to glimpse why women are not to serve. Perhaps the better question to ask is "What is the Universal House of Justice?" rather than "Why cannot women serve?"

Terms Revelation, Interpretation, and Elucidation in the Bahá'i Writings, The     edit

by Robert Stockman

The release of the English translation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas invites a closer examination of the Bahá'í teachings and raises an entirely new series of questions about the nature of Bahá'í law. Often these questions are based on assumptions about the nature or composition of Bahá'í texts. This composition is described as either revelation (the process by which Bahá'u'lláh composed some of His writings), interpretation (the term used for 'Abdu'l-Baháís and Shoghi Effendi's writing, which probably represents two similar though distinct processes), or elucidation (one process used by the Universal House of Justice).

An examination of passages from Bahá'u'lláh's writings shows that revelation is not a straightforward transfer of God's truths to paper, but involves earthly processes as well as a divine one. Bahá'u'lláh utilized the words and grammar of nineteenth-century Arabic and Persian; His language is in a style distinct from that of the Báb and Muhammad; and when He revealed the same text on more than one occasion sometimes there were slight differences in wording. More significantly, Bahá'u'lláh sometimes refers to information that could have been available to Him via nineteenth-century Arabic and Persian books, even information that, as well as modem scholarship can determine, is probably not historically accurate (though such temporal information does not affect the reliability of the spiritual points He was making).

The same observations are true of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, who quote information that appears to be historically inaccurate in their books. Shoghi Effendi's secretary stated the Guardian was not infallible in matters of economics and science and apparently he did not claim infallibility in matters of history (though his historical writing clearly reflects a very high level of precision and accuracy).

Shoghi Effendi's translations appear to contain a mixture of infallible interpretation and prodigious genius, as this statement of the Universal House of Justice implies: "Shoghi Effendi's translations of the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh into English carry with them a large measure of interpretation of the intent and purpose of the Author" [italics mine]-sbut, the House adds, they are not a re-revealing of the text in English, therefore the English language should not "be considered as a language of revelation" (on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 16 September 1992). In the forward to the Kitáb-i-Íqán Shoghi Effendi echoed this view, emphasizing the impossibility of translating texts revealed by Bahá'u'lláh into English and exhorting future translators to use his efforts as an example in their attempt.

The translations authorized by the Universal House of Justice carry even less permanency, in that the House of Justice may decide to revise its own approved translations in the future, just as it can change its legislations based on the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. The door thus appears to be open for scholarly and other translations to be pursued at some point in the future.
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