Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #58 (English)

Louhelen Bahá'í School: Davison, Michigan USA

October 8–11, 2004.

Theme: "Seminar on the Writings of the Báb and `Abdu'l-Bahá: Section III"


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 earlier presented at Session #53.
Click here to read this paper online.

Autobibliography in the Writings of the Báb: An Analysis of the Sources and their Theological Significance

by J. Vahid Brown

This paper will discuss four of the Báb's autobibliographical works; the Kitáb al-Fihrist, al-Kitáb al-`Ulamá, al-Khutba al-Dhikriyya, and al-Khutba fí'l-Jidda. I will relate my analysis of these texts to antecedents in Islamic - and especially Shi`i - literatures, with regard to the theological significance of bibliography, and ultimately to the Báb's hyper-textual messianic self-conception.
Click here to read this paper online.

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

Báb's Tablets to Muhammad Shah, The

by Sholeh A. Quinn

The purpose of this paper is to examine one or more Tablets of the Báb to Muhammad Shah Qajar (r. 1834-1848), whose reign covered the earlier years of Sayyid `Alí-Muhammad the Báb's ministry (1844-1850). The Báb addressed at least four epistles to Muhammad Shah, most of which are in Arabic and one of which is largely in Persian and partly translated in Selections from the Writings of the Báb. No fully critical editions of these writings have yet been published, though the texts of most of them are available in manuscript collections.

In his first major composition, the Qayyúm al-Asmá' (written mid-1844), there is an address in the opening Súrat al-Mulk to this ruler. Here, the Báb invites the monarch to assist him in his cause, and makes comments about kingship in light of the forthcoming appearance of the Qa'im:
"O king of Islám! (Muhammad Shah r.1834-1848) (lit. "king of the Muslims", malik al-muslimun) Aid thou, with the truth, after having aided the Book, Him Who is Our Most Great remembrance, (dhikriná al-akbar) for God hath, in very truth, destined for thee, and for such as circle round thee, on the Day of Judgment [Resurrection], a responsible position in His Path." (SWB: 41)

This paper will attempt to place the Báb's writings to this monarch in historical context, paying attention to how notions of kingship and its legitimacy in an eschatological age and day of resurrection are articulated. Comparisons with earlier notions of kingship under the Safavids will also be made.

Chinese Tea and Spiritual Wayfaring in the Early Writings of the Bab

by William McCants

Iranians knew of Chinese tea as early as the eleventh century AD and had started drinking it by the thirteenth century, after the Mongol invasion. However, coffee, not tea, was the beverage of choice for most Iranians until the nineteenth century, when there was a sudden, large-scale conversion to tea drinking. It is still unclear why this shift occurred. In this paper I will argue that the Báb served as one of the catalysts for this change by encouraging his followers to drink Chinese tea as part of their spiritual practice.

Dynamic shift in theological and social aspects of religious systems: Reflections on the contributions of Persian Bayán and Kitáb-i-Iqán

by Habib Riazati

Aside from having very prominent positions among the writings of the Primal Point and the Blessed Beauty, both Persian Bayán and Iqán have revolutionized both abstract thinking and practical implications of almost every major theological doctrine, as well as the social aspects mentioned in the religious and philosophical systems of the past. In doing so, both the Báb and His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh construct a very logical, cohesive and necessary Order that intrinsically upholds the integrity and the consistency of all the religious truths, while extrinsically challenges their superficial reading and contradictory aspects paving the way for a more advance and unified field of human understanding about the true nature and objectives of religious systems aiming at creating a new race of man.

God of the Bible and the God of Qur'án, The

by Hushidar Motlagh

Christian theologians are writing many books against Islám. The objections they raise against Islám can be compared to a gigantic tree rooted in this concept: Alláh, as described in the Qur'án, does not resemble the true God. He is someone else, perhaps a fictitious being, who masquerades himself as God. Christian theologians show intense interest in proving that "the two Gods" are not the same. They know that without root, the tree cannot stand.

If God is the root of the tree, then its trunk is the one who arises to speak for Him. If Jesus and Muhammad do not draw nourishment from the same source, they too, like their Gods, have nothing in common. To prove their point, theologians present verses from the Bible to show that Jesus is God in the flesh, and verses from the Qur'án to show that Jesus is merely a Prophet.

They also look for differences in the branches and leaves of the tree. They use these differences as further evidence that the two faiths are not rooted in the same God. What evidence do they use? The following are quite popular:
  • The character of Muhammad
  • The laws of the Qur'án
  • Conflicts between the contents of the Bible and the Qur'án
  • The behavior of Muslims as a true image of Islám.
Now that we have taken a look at the whole tree, let us start with the root of all questions: God. Let us see if the lines Christian theologians draw between Alláh of the Qur'án and the Lord of the Bible are real, or they are simply shadows of ignorance, intolerance, and flawed thinking.

As an example of books written by Christian theologians to introduce Islám to Christians, let us choose the work of a highly respected author and scholar, Dr. Robert Morey, the Executive Director of a Foundation for the promotion of Christianity. In his introduction to Islám-The Islámic Invasion-Dr. Morey tries to show nine critical differences between the God of the Qur'án and the God of the Bible. We should note that Dr. Morey's book is not unique; it typifies the works of other Christian theologians about Islám.

Let us put to the test each of his nine objections.

Ismailis, Yesterday and Today

by Mozhan Khadem

Yesterday
The talk explores the following subjects: the history of the Ismaili Movement/sect, their theology (Alamout-some of the key events, Hasan 'Ala zekrihi salam- and Post Alamout, sufi disguise,) the Fatemis, the role of Nasir Khosrow and Hassan Sabbah, the Ismailies of Pamir, the Mogul conquest, Ismailies during the Qajar period, the significance of the title of The Aga Khan. The sojourn of the Aga Khans from Iran to India and later to Europe, the doctrine of taghia (dissimulation) in Ismailism. Were some of the great literary figures of Persian History Ismailies? Avecina, Attar, Rumi, Shams-i-Tabrizi Shabastari and others? What was the influence of Ismailies on the Safavid dynasty and the Twelver Shi'is? What are the similarities between Bahá'í theology/'irfán and the Ismaili theology/'irfán?

Today
Where are the Ismailies today? Who is Karim Aga Khan? The face of God on earth or a very rich European aristocrat? What are the Ismailies doing today? What does the Aga Khan do for the Ismailies? What does he do for other Muslims? What does he do for others? What are their socio-economic programs? What does Jama'at Khane (Congregation House) mean? What is Deedar (Visit)? Who are the scholars who write about Ismailies? What are the available sources for Ismaili studies? This whole topic is fascinating and is essential for understanding Persian Islamic 'irfán and culture from the beginning of the Ismaili movement through the Safavid era.

Louhelen Schoolís Plan and Programs

by Rick Johnson and Barbara Johnson


Love: Why Creation Exists?

by Mehrzad Rouhani

The main gist of this presentation is about Love, Divine love, the purpose for creation and Love in the Writings. Basically God creates out of love. In the unapproachable station of His unknowable Oneness, The main gist of this presentation is about Love, Divine love, the purpose for creation and Love in the Writings. Basically God creates out of love. In the unapproachable station of His unknowable Oneness, wherein He alone is, He knows His love for that which comes into existence because He is Creator and because it is created by Him, is His reflection. We will look at the Hadith of "Thou wert a Hidden treasure" (kuntu-Kanzan-Makhfiyan). Now among His creatures He chooses one, the human being, for a special love: in us He reflects His whole `image', to us He says: "Know thou, that I ... have perfected through thee My bounty and have desired for thee that which I have desired for My Self." This image of God engraved within the individual, this divine trust entrusted to us, is the blessing and the challenge of our lives: it is our spiritual reality, our soul. This is the power, which drives us, is it also the power which drives the universe, does it make the "world go round" so to speak? Is it the love we know or is it something else? These are some of the questions we shall be pondering upon.

Spiritualizing Pedagogy: Mystical and Ontological Aspects of Bahá'í-inspired Education

by Roger Prentice

Can we create a spiritualizing pedagogy in a world that is culturally and religiously very diverse? Does the post-modern assertion that there can no longer be a (satisfying) grand narrative render such a project futile? In this presentation I will give an outline of my doctoral dissertation, which provides a Bahá'í-inspired model of education.

This autobiographically-derived, and narratively-voiced, thesis is one teacher's story. From that story a spiritualizing model of education is argued, toward making a paradigm shift. The suggested shift involves placing 'technical' learning within the context of being and becoming fully, and positively, human. Teaching then becomes a matter of enabling development of the individual's Caring, Creative and Critical abilities, developed within the Community (the 4Cs), inspired by the light of higher-order values -- the remainder being processes and content. The thesis makes an original contribution to educational knowledge through the educational life-story, and through making explicit a model out of that life-experience. The suggested model of spiritualizing pedagogy, called SunWALK, therefore is grounded in accounts of the writer's major educational life-events. In particular it presents epiphanous encounters undergone in meeting three 'discourse-communities': the Bahá'í Faith, the teaching of English, and Philosophy for Children. These are seen as providing the three intrapersonal 'voices' of human engagement, Caring, Creativity and Criticality, which correspondingly have three ways of knowing: the 'social-others-centred', the 'subjective-creative-mystical' and the 'objective-reasoning-scientific'. A fourth discourse-community, that of holistic education, is the educational sub-domain to situate the thesis.

A conceptual framework for the model is outlined, using concepts gleaned from the four discourse-communities. A view of 'the Whole', and of heart-knowing, is presented, to counter-balance the conceptual. Heart-knowing, the 'subjective-creative-mystical', is seen as an innate, intuitive way of knowing, c.f. the methods of the 'objective-reasoning-scientific'. The third form, i.e. 'social knowing', is seen as deriving from the cultural, interpersonal, matrix of family and community relationships - internalized as Caring.

The conceptual and heart-knowing are brought together, via a 'conceptual-contemplative-conceptual' cyclical approach, using a 'Mandala Diagram'. The idea of 'Dialectical Spiritualization' is developed, as that which the four 'Cs' have in common.
Click here to read this paper online.

Survey of the Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá in the National Bahá'í Archives, Wilmette, A

by Robert Stockman

`Abdu'l-Bahá addressed thousands of tablets to Bahá'ís in the United States, many of which ended up in the National Bahá'í Archives in Wilmette, either as originals, facsimiles, or copies of translations. While the originals have been collected, microfilmed, and copies sent to Haifa, relatively little work has been done on the translations, which have been assembled into a single master collection of paper originals. Often the translation's date is the most reliable piece of information about when a tablet was revealed, since `Abdu'l-Bahá did not date His tablets until after 1912. The translation sometimes provides clues as to the meaning of the original Persian or Arabic text, since sometimes the translators were aware of context now lost or obscure. No effort has yet been made to match up the translations with the originals. The translations have not even been sent to Haifa for study there.

This presentation will provide a preliminary assessment of quantities of tablets and translations available, their accessibility, and their value. Dated copies of translations, in particular, are useful in studying the chronological development of themes in `Abdu'l-Bahá's writings, the way `Abdu'l-Bahá dealt with problems in the American Bahá'í community, how He assessed certain changes and developments in the community, and getting a sense of His general modus operandi. The translations provide a quick and relatively easily opened window into aspects of American Bahá'í history that otherwise are hard to assess.