Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #54 (English)

Institute of Commonwealth Studies: London, England

July 2–4, 2004.

Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet of Two Calls

by Farah Dustdar

This Tablet introduces new ideas on subjects such as concept of progress, duties of governmental and religious institutions, concept of happiness, state of nature, human nature, and the attitude of the people towards government. These subjects can be discussed from the points of view of various philosophical and scientific disciplines. Some of these subjects have a long tradition that goes back to the Greek philosophy and some of them are important for the Social and political structure of the modem societies. This paper presents a brief analysis of the philosophical discourse on these subjects in comparison with the positions explained by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, attempting to show how His recommendations improve upon them. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, at the end of this Tablet, mentions a few points as His last wish and His admonitions. The paper tries to explain why 'Abdu'l-Bahá has emphasized the importance of those points.


Báb's Dalá'il Sab`ah (Seven Proofs), The: Some Introductory Notes

by Stephen Lambden

It was perhaps towards the middle or latter part of his nine-months imprisonment at Mákú (The Open Mountain) between July 1847 and April 1848 in Persian province of Adhirbayjan (in the NW of Iran), that the Báb revealed the Persian and the shorter Arabic recension of his (Per.) Dalá'il-i Sab`ih (Seven Proofs). These closely related literary works are most centrally concerned with a seven-fold proof of the divinely revealed status of a sacred book, most notably the Qur'an and most centrally the Báb's own now extensive divine revelations which are post-qur'anic yet characterized by the inimitable style of the Islamic Holy Book.

While the Arabic version is a fairly brief, roughly fourteen page (with 19 or less lines per page) version of the more extensive Persian Seven Proofs spans just over 70 pages. In literary form both of these Persian and Arabic works constitute a variety of Istidláliyya ("Testimonia") text designed to set forth prophetic and other proofs of an Islamic and post-Islamic claim to (Ar.) wahy (divine revelation) and mazhariyya, the status of being a manifestation of God. Primitive Christianity missionary outreach was much facilitated by oral and written collections of prophetic proof texts (= Testimonia) culled from the Hebrew Bible and other sacred writings. In similar fashion both the two Seven Proofs works of the Bab and Bahá'-Alláh's major Istidláliyya best known today as the Kitáb-Íqán (Book of Certitude), are basically Istidláliyya type works. The Báb and Bahá'-Alláh both wrote proofs of the truth of their new religions and encouraged their followers to do likewise.

The Arabic Seven Proofs is less known and represented in mss. than the Persian Seven Proofs. It has never been translated into any European language and has only been published once in Tehran by Iranian Azali Bábís (in the mid. 1960s?) on the basis of four extant manuscript copies available to them. This wholly Arabic work opens with a Dhikr-type litany of more than 100 versions of basmala (= Bismi'lláh al----- al----- = "In the Name of God, the X, the Y) phrases often terminating with words derived from the Arabic trilateral root F-R-D having connotations of "uniqueness" (= al-fard = also meaning single, alone, solitary, unique, etc). The word expresses the unique, the quintessence of God's tawhid, his "oneness", the Divine Singularity.

The Arabic Seven Proofs thus begins with a double superlative of F-R-D, namely afrad = "most unique", supremely alone:

In the Name of God, the Most Unique, the Most Unique

In the Name of God, the Unique, the Unique
In the Name of God, the Unique, the Unique
In the Name of God, the Unique, the Unique

Bahá'í Perspective on Superstition and Idol Worship, A: Some of its Implications in Some Selected Beliefs and Concepts

by Enoch Tanyi

In this article, a number of Bahá'í texts would be discussed and a (some) Bahá'í definition (definitions) (or understanding) of the concepts "superstition" and "idol worship" would be derived. With these shades of understanding as the yardstick, some selected beliefs and concepts would be measured.

Among the beliefs or concepts discussed in this paper are:

The frequent exclusion of African Traditional Religion from the list of monotheistic religions; the assertion that adherents of all the major religions are prone to superstition and idol worship; the assertion that the spiritual station of an individual varies directly with his or her field of Bahá'í service or to the hierarchy of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh, the assertion that the value of an individual's service in the Bahá'í Faith varies directly with the level in the hierarchy of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh at which he or she is serving; the current political systems hold the key to true progress; and, social and economic development projects are not aimed at improving the quality of life of either the target group or the employers in these projects.


Beauty and Wonder from a philosophical and spiritual point of view

by Iscander Micael Tinto

The purpose of this paper is to focus the attention of the reader on the concept of beauty and the implication this has in one's life.

Contemplating the beauty means coming closer to Bahá'u'lláh, one of His titles being the Blessed Beauty, enhancing in this way the relationship every person has with the Manifestation of God, the source of love and life in this mortal world,

In the paper we will try to focus on various aspects of beauty as they are found around ourselves, and the implications that they have in our own lives,

To contemplate the beauty means to meditate, to reflect upon the meaning of life as it unfolds in front of our eyes. Through meditation and reflection great works have been created in the world, works that at times are the source of well being and attraction for many persons.

In our society the concept of aesthetic beauty is left aside in favour of material concepts, and in fact nature in itself is ill-treated with the consequence this has on the life of humanity in general. Nature, as we well see, is a sign of the love of God, and beauty one of His attributes offered to mankind. Contemplating the beauty means to focus our attention to this attribute which belongs to man too. Means to develop a new kind of loving relationship between every human being.

The tension arises in the presence of texts that radically undermine the twelver Shi'i position on the Twelfth Imam, which embodied the eschatological expectations that the Báb's message directly addressed. The re-writing of the eschatological drama of the occultation and return of the 12th Imam in Bahá'í texts takes place on three levels, in which both conflict and reconciliation maybe sought: the historical or literal, the hermeneutical or metaphorical, and the kerygmatic or anagogical, in which lies perhaps the key to the puzzle, opening a range of possible and valid interpretive solutions.


Future of the Global Economy, The: How Much of it is Worth Preserving?

by Augusto Lopez-Claros

This paper looks at the future of globalization and the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, from governments and corporations, to organizations of civil society and individuals. The paper views the process of globalization in light of Bahá'í notions of global governance. as found in 'Abdu'l-Bahá's "Secret of Divine Civilization" and in some of the letters by Shoghi Effendi.


History, Mythos and Kerygma: Provisioning the Tale of the Promised Qa'im

by Ismael Velasco


Import of Shoghi Effendi's Writings for Bahá'i Studies, The

by Jack A. McLean

This paper assesses the importance of Shoghi Effendi Studies for the developing field of Bahá'í Studies. It argues that the English-language writings of Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957). the former head and Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith (1922-1957). have suffered a benign neglect that needs to be remedied by the present generation of Bahá'í scholars. While referring to the Guardian's core writings, this paper points to potential areas of scholarly exploration. More specifically, the areas to be highlighted are as follows: (1) Bahá'í theology (The Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh) (1934). (2) The Guardian's view of providential history (God Passes By (1944), The Promised Day Is Come (1941). (3) Rhetoric and interpretation (letters and all writings). (4) Literary and dramatic elements (translation of Nabíl's Narrative and core writings). (5) His view of Bahá'í ethics and spirituality (letters and The Advent of Divine Justice (1939). This assessment will be made based on an in-depth theological and literary critical analysis just completed of the Guardian's writings called "A Celestial Burning: The Writings of Shoghi Effendi" (450 pages).


Metaphors as Maieutics of Learning

by Martin Cortazzi

This paper examines the mappings of meanings of sets of metaphors in the Bahá'í writings to argue that they create spaces for reflection and creativity in a `maieutic' function of serving as midwives of learning. Building on Hatcher's (1987, 1994, 1997) application of literary views of metaphor to Bahá'í texts, the paper employs the frameworks of cognitive linguistics (Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Lakoff 1993; Kovecses 2002) and its applications (Cameron & Low 1999; Cortazzi & Jin 1999) to learning and teaching, In the Kitáb-i-Iqán, for example, the explanations of symbols as metaphors are themselves textured in further sets of metaphors to provide readers with multiple meanings and systematically productive ambiguities. While some of these are conventional conceptual metaphors, or establish conventions, others are perhaps culturally specific.


Power and the Bahá'í Community

by Moojan Momen

More than fifty years ago, Shoghi Effendi was writing that the thinking world has already caught up with the "great and universal principles enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh". He was suggesting that Bahá'ís needed to find ways of presenting to the world "the capacity of His projected World Order to re-create society". This paper explores what exactly is meant by this latter phrase. It suggests that what could be meant is to examine the workings of the Bahá'í community and to see in what way these present solutions to the problems facing society. This paper examines two inter-related problems. First the fact that a large proportion of people in our societies feel that they are excluded or that they are unable to participate fully in society because barriers exist that prevent this. They feel a lack of power to determine their own lives and an inability to develop folly. On account of this, they also feel a sense of injustice and consequent resentment. The second problem is that the balance between individual freedom and central authority in society has not been satisfactorily resolved. While authoritarian regimes have been overthrown and democracy established in many parts of the world, many are now saying that the balance has shifted too far towards individualism and a lack of central authority, that the rampant freedom of the market has led to a danger of falling into a situation of the "rule of the jungle", where the wealthiest and most powerful have free reign to do what they like, It is the contention of this paper that the workings of the Bahá'í community present some possible solutions to these two problems.


Preliminary Account of Shi'i Esoteric Commentary on the 'Hadith-e Haqiqat'

by Bruce Wannell

The hadíth on the nature of ultimate reality is attributed to Hazrat 'Alí in conversation with Kumail ibn Ziyad al-Nakha'i, who figures in the Nahj al-Balagha as a confidante and recipient of the Imam's esoteric wisdom, and to whom is also attributed the great Shi'i prayer, the Du'a Kumail. In spite of some reservations by exoteric scholars about the hadíth's authenticity, it has nevertheless given rise to a tradition of commentary by some of the greatest minds to have worked in the greater Iranian and Islamic sphere from the time of the late Saljuqs and Mongols to the present day. Elements of the hadíth echo phrases found in earlier Sufi texts. The first extended commentary to have survived, and which influenced all later commentaries, is that by 'Abd al-Razzaq Kashani, who also quoted the hadíth throughout his extensive work on the "Manazil al-Sa'irin" of `Abdu'llah al-Ansari. The range of commentators encompass the founder of the Ni'matullahi Sufi order, Shah Ni'matullah Wali and his delegate in Shiraz, Shah Da'i ila Allah Shirazi, up to the 19th Century sectarian Shaikh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i and the philosopher Haj Mullah Hádí Sabzwari and 20th Century thinkers such as Ashtiyani and Estehbanati. Problems of authenticity, transmission, and the tradition of commentary will be considered briefly in this paper.


Role-models and anti-models: Islam and `the West'; in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Treatise on Civilisation

by Oliver Scharbrodt

'Abdu'l-Bahá's Treatise on Civilisation, known among the Bahá'ís as The Secret of Divine Civilisation, is one of the most interesting pieces of Bahá'í literature, Although Bahá'ís consider it to belong to the corpus of sacred scripture of their religion, the author conceives the text as a contribution to the reformist discourse in the late 19th century Middle East. Responding to reform attempts in Iran in the mid 1870s, 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the author remains anonymous and pretends to be a patriotic Iranian Muslim who supports the modernisation of his country. The paper will not focus so much on the actual contents of the treatise but rather discuss the strategies and argumentation employed in the text. The picture of Islam and Islamic history will be presented as well as the perception of 'the West' as both a role-model and WI anti-model for the Middle East. Finally, the treatise will be put in context with other contemporary reformist literature and related to Bahá'u'lláh at about the world reform programme which emerged at about the same time when the treatise was written.


Secularization: A Bahá'í Perspective

by Erfan Sabeti

What happens when the meaning of life no longer depends on divine Revelations? Does the search for transcendence end in the pursuit of worldly objectives? The modern man is frustrated. Dethroning of religion has not been successful in creating an alternative that gives an original meaning to life.

Drawing on the works of Peter Berger and Steve Bruce, we explore why and how this process of secularization has come about and the responses that Bahá'í Faith can offer to overcome the difficulties resulting from the absence of meaning in the secular world. We also examine the possibility of interpreting the Bahá'í Faith as the only Post-Secularist religion that exists today.


Shoghi Effendi: An approach to his artistic contribution to style in English literature and to standards in translation

by Nabil Perdu and Ismael Velasco

As the 50th anniversary of Shoghi Effendi's passing approaches, it is timely to advance the assessment of his wide literary legacy, and particularly his contribution to the field of translation and to the development of high standards in careful use of the English language; besides being critical for the shaping of Bahá'í identity in the 20th century and thereafter, and crystallising a scriptural language that will shape the rendering of Bahá'í writings into English and into other languages for quite likely centuries to come, his contribution was also groundbreaking and pioneering in its own right,

This field of study counts as yet with very limited treatment in the literature, and nevertheless is of a potential significance that at such proximity it is still hard to calculate. We will present some of the key elements we have been able to identify that shape Shoghi Effendi's work as a translator, and will try to identify a few of the linguistic devices and translation principles he adopted to achieve what he considered "as the unattainable goal -a befitting rendering of Bahá'u'lláh's matchless utterance." (The Kitáb-i-Iqán, p. i)

The originality of the style of language he created in English for his Persian and English translations will be approached historically, stylistically and linguistically, to track how he harnessed the formidable resources of English sacred and historical literature to create a new vehicle for conveying not just the literal meaning but the spiritual con-tent of the Word of God. The role of authorized interpretation in his translations will likewise be explored and its significance for "indirect' translation of Bahá'í scripture from English to the various languages rather than directly from the Arabic or Persian will be touched upon.

Click here to read this paper online.

Spirituality of Cinematic Experience, The

by Roger Prentice

Cinema has been referred to as the one true art form developed in the 20th Century. What kind of connections might cinematic art be said to have with the social and spiritual teachings of the Bahá'í Faith? Mainly with reference to narrative cinema, this presentation will include the following concerns:

1. Given Bahá'í views of what it is to be human, can a case be successfully made for seeing cinema as spiritual, or mystical, experience?

2. What, consequently, are some of the implications for critical appreciation of cinema?


St. Petersburg 19th Century Orientalist Collection of materials on the Babi and Bahá'i Faiths, The: Primary and other Sources

by Youli Ioannesyan

Click here to read this paper online.

Translation of al-Kitab al-Aqdas into Hebrew: Some notes on contents and style

by Moshe Sharon

This paper deals with the issue of choosing the linguistic style for the translation of the Aqdas. It analyzes the contents of the Aqdas, both the mystical and the legal, and show that it must serve as the decisive factor for the choice of the language. The mystical parts move us in the direction of the Cabalistic world of esoteric language, whereas the legal enable us to use the Biblical and Micmac terminology. However this is not a paper about Hebrew Style with which the listeners are not very familiar, but with the inner world of the Aqdas.