Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #53 (English)

Bosch Bahá'í School: California USA

May 27–30, 2004.

Theme: "Philosophy, Science and the Bahá'í Faith"


Abdu'l-Bahá's "Tablet of the Two Calls"

by Manuchehr Mofidi

The earth seemed unearthly. We were accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there--there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were--No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it--this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity--like yours--the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you--you so remote from the night of first ages--could comprehend. And why not? The mind of man is capable of anything--because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.
The immortal words of Marlow, the narrator in Joseph Conrad's enduring classic, Heart of Darkness, as he journeys deep into the unknown, the darkness, to retrieve Kurtz, at one time civilization personified, but now the embodiment of crassness, avarice, barbarity.

Conrad's novel is a rumination on the thin line between civilization and barbarity. This relationship is the central theme of `Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet of the Two Calls. "Civilization is conjoined with barbarism," states `Abdu'l-Bahá.

There is arguably nothing more apt to ponder in our political (politicized) and ideological climate than how thinly civilization, a "terrible beauty," to borrow from W.B. Yeats, cloaks the darkness that envelops humanity. We will use `Abdu'l-Bahá's civilization and barbarity construct to understand the capabilities of humanity absent the "call of God," "the Most Great Guidance." In developing our theme, we will borrow liberally from literature and poetry. We will employ the construct also to situate the political and historical events alluded to by `Abdu'l-Bahá in his Tablet and to illuminate contemporary events where the boundaries between civilization and barbarity overlap uncomfortably, and where beauty and violence coexist indistinguishably.

Note: a version of this same paper was later presented at Session #58.

Abdu'l-Bahá's Commentary on the "Hidden Treasure"

by Mozhan Khadem


Interpretation of the Opening Words of the Qurían: A Comparative Study of the Islamic, Babi and Bahá'i Commentaries on "Bismillih"

by Ghasem Bayat


Life and Times of August Forel, The

by Sheila Banani

Swiss psychiatrist and entomologist, Dr. August Henri Forel, was the recipient of one of the most famous and well-studied Tablets from `Abduíl-Bahá on the subject of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, written in the last weeks of `Abduíl-Baháís life. Dr. Forel had sent a letter to `Abduíl-Bahá explaining his own points of view and asking if he might still be accepted as a Bahá'i. Several scholarly examinations and commentaries on `Abduíl-Baháís Tablet have been made, however awareness among the Bahá'is of who was August Forel is more limited.
My essay on "The Life and Times of August Forel" reviews chronologically some of Forelís scientific accomplishments, philosophical/religious perplexities, and social concerns which led him to embrace the Bahá'i teachings as he understood them during the last decade of his life in a world struggling and in need of a new "order." Such a biographical approach is an attempt to help explain a period of history as seen through the life of one of its more famous participants, Dr. August Henri Forel.
Click here to read this paper online.

Ontology: A Basic Survey, Explications and Commentary

by Ian Kluge

Like the sacred scripture of all religions, the Bahá'i Writings embody an ontology, that is, they contain teachings about the nature of what exists and the structure of reality. This paper is an initial survey and explication of the ontology implicit in the Writings. It pays special attention to the nature of human existence, that is, to nature of specifically human be-ing. In pursuing these goals, this paper will make a number of observations about the Bahá'i Writings and the philosophy of Nietzsche and some of his modern successors.
Click here to read this paper online.

Persian Bayán, The: Form and Content (themes)

by Muin Afnani


Prophetology in the Baháíi Faith and the Three Other Monotheistic Religions: A Comparative Approach

by Fiona Missaghian

Prophetology is an essential part in the theology of each of the four monotheistic religions. It deals with the unique nature, relevance, and credibility of the prophet as such, however also with the distinguishing features between previous and current prophets. We will base our research on the Holy Writings of each tradition and different interpretations of these.

After outlining the distinctive features of the prophet as understood by the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we will focus on the teachings of the Bah_'_ Faith about prophet- and manifestationhood. It will be shown to what extent there are similarities between Baháíi theology and that of previous religions and where the former offers unique and deeper insights into the topic. We will focus in particular on ideas of God-likeness versus human-likeness, and infallibility.

In the case of the Bah_'_ Faith, scholars have preferred the terminology "concept of manifestation" or theophanology instead of prophetology. Time-permitting, we shall see why this is the case and discuss the terms.

Review of the Bahá'í Writings on the Concept of Reincarnation, A

by Sateh Bayat and Vafa Bayat

Belief in reincarnation, that is, the return of man's spirit or some aspects of his reality to the material world after death, has risen from 21% to 25% in the U.S. over the past decade. Believers in this concept are now found amongst the adherents of most religions and even among non-religionists.

Given the overwhelming impact that this ideology can have in the life and belief of people and society, we will briefly explore this concept in the Sacred Texts of various religions and then offer the perspective of the Bahá'í Writings and, in particular, the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá on the subject.

The Bahá'í Faith rejects the notion of reincarnation and instead offers a far-reaching belief system that acknowledges God's love for man and his companionship as the purpose behind his creation. The first stage in the spiritual progress of man starts with his birth, is enriched with acquisition of virtues and noble qualities in his earthly life, and this process continues throughout the limitless spiritual worlds of God eternally. The Bahá'í belief changes man's age-long motivation for doing good in expectation of heaven and fear of hell, to a continuous and uplifting spiritual progress. The Bahá'í Faith provides a deeper understanding of manís spirit and its relationship to the physical body. Man's spirit is regarded as God's supreme talisman, traversing the innumerable spiritual worlds, each full of unconditional love and boundless grace, towards the court of His presence. He leaves behind the world of dust, limitations, weaknesses, and darkness for the world of freedom, perfection and light, just as he leaves the embryonic womb of limitations for the vast material world of colors, sounds and fragrances.

Thus, there remains no reason for man's spirit to return to this netherworld and become attached to a plant, animal or even another human body. After its severance from the human body, the human spirit, with its acquired virtues and Godís unique gift of free will, will soar and journey through the expanse of never-ending spiritual worlds, gaining an ever-greater measure of bounties and grace, and becoming ever worthier of His companionship.
Click here to read this paper online.

Signs of Prophethood: An exposition on a Tablet by `Abdu'l-Bahá

by James B. Thomas

In a rather short but particularly moving and powerful tablet `Abdu'l-Bahá defines a series of signs that show incontrovertible evidence of the Lord of Hosts. In a compressed form they cover a vast array of proofs as they apply to the reality of a Divine Messenger in the person of Bahá'u'lláh. This paper elaborates upon the ramifications of the extraordinary evidence of the signs of a Manifestation of God as articulated by `Abdu'l-Bahá in that tablet and is corroborated with exerpts from the Dalail-i-Sabíih (The Seven Proofs) by the Bab. It is also reinforced by Bahá'u'llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan and additional comments by `Abduíl-Bahá in Some Answered Questions.

The exposition is presented in three steps: First a definition of the form or type of proof utilized is defined by `Abdu'l-Bahá wherein he describes a truly reliable type of proof with respect to four different ways that humans arrive at proofs. These are expounded by the eminent Bahá'i scholar Mirza Abu'l-Fadl as he builds on these criteria with samplings from religions of the past.

Second, in the sequence of signs there are shown those that are obviously self-evident whereas others require probing to deeper levels of meaning. For example the references to `clues' and "the anticipation of the righteous" require search and reflection. On the other hand the reference to "the spreading of many and various tidings" is easily verifiable yet this too requires study because it opens doors to deeper mysteries and offers insight to the inquiring mind.

Third, emphasis is placed on historical confirmation. No Divine Messenger in history has had, in His own time, the impact on the life of man as that of the Prophet for this Day, Bahá'u'lláh.
Jim Thomas, a retired Aerospace Design Engineer living in La Crescenta, California with wife Ida has been a Bahá'i for twenty-seven years and is currently involved in Bahá'i teaching programs as an Area Coordinator with the Western Regional Training Institute. Travels include teaching efforts in China on two occasions as an Advisory Board member of the Pacific Rim Institute for Development and Education.
Click here to read this paper online.

Textual Resurrection: Book, Imam, and Cosmos in the Qur'án Commentaries of the Báb

by J. Vahid Brown

The Báb was a strong reader - some would say a strange reader - of the canonical texts of Islam. The bulk of his earliest writings were in the form of commentaries on these texts. In my presentation, I will discuss the radical notions of textuality underlying the Báb's Qur'ánic commentaries. Drawing upon categories from contemporary literary studies, I will first provide a framework for my discussion of textuality. I will then discuss the history of Qur'ánic commentary in Islam in light of these categories, focusing on elements in Akhbári Shi'i religious thought that can be seen to underpin the Bab's novel approach to the Qur'ánic text. Far from being traditional commentaries, I will argue, the Báb's readings of the Qur'án were messianic performances, enunciations of an eschatological restoration of the Imam, the cosmos, and of the Qur'án itself.
Click here to read this paper online.

True of Thyself: Firstness and Lastness, Outwardness and Inwardness (Ken Wilber's Integral Philosophy seen in the light of Bahá'u'lláh's mystical writings)

by Wolfgang Klebel

Click here to read this paper online.

`Abdu'l-Bahá's Commentary on the Islamic Tradition of "Hidden Treasure" (Kuntu Kanz): Historical Background

by Muin Afnani


`Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet of the Universe - Aflákiyyih

by Muin Afnani