|Hidden Words: Dawn of the Revelation of Laws and Ordinances|
Presented by Iraj Ayman
The Hidden Words were revealed by Bahá’u’lláh around 1858. It was about five years prior to openly making known His mission and His station to the friends during the days that He stayed at Ridvan Garden. It was also about fourteen years before the revelation of Kitáb–i–Aqdas. Studies and commentaries on the Hidden Words are usually dealing with its mystical themes and moral exhortations. However this book also contains a number of statements that could be considered as the laws and ordinances that we find in more detailed and expanded form in the Book of Aqdas and the Tablets revealed after the Kitáb–i–Aqdas. The English translation of the Hidden Words by Shoghi Effendi uses certain terminologies that more clearly present this point that a number of the Bahá’i laws were actually revealed during the very early years of the advent of this new dispensation. The laws that we can extract from the content of this book are mainly related to personal ethics and are rather similar to the spiritual teachings attributed to Buddha and Christ but in a more imperative way. This point could also be sensed in some of the Writings of `Abdu’l–Bahá calling on the friends to read the Hidden Words daily and put them in action. It seems that such an indirect revelation of laws was a gradual approach to the introduction of the laws and preparing the believers to practice them. The main purpose of this preliminary review is to attract attention to further research and study of this aspect of the early Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
Beginning a Conversation: Scriptural Reasoning and the Bahá’í Faith
Presented by Amin Egea
(ed. note: this article was listed in the program as "A Review of Some Aspects of the Tablet of Wisdom" but the abstract provided was for "Beginning a Conversation: Scriptural Reasoning and the Bahá’í Faith." I've used the latter. -J.W., 2010)
Scriptural reasoning (SR) is a recent and increasingly important interfaith movement, influencing both the academic study of and interreligious relationships between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, although members of other faiths are beginning to participate as well. The purpose of this paper is to present the aims, methodology, and underlying principles of SR and to evaluate if and to what extent the Bahá’í scholarly community can be involved in the practice. SR is a practice of group study centered on Abrahamic scripture, i.e. the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur’án, by a diverse community of scholars, theologians, and religious leaders from all three faiths. The format of SR is centered on the principle of unity in diversity, seeking to create a community of rigorous scriptural interpreters unified not in a specific interpretation of scripture, but rather in the collective practice of interpretation. With roots in traditional exegetical practices and contemporary hermeneutics, SR seeks to reinvigorate current religious thinking and to provide a meeting ground in which religious thinkers can form strong and meaningful relationships with other religious thinkers beyond their immediate religious community. SR is not designed to replace the communal practices, beliefs, and modes of discourse of any of the involved faiths. As one of the founders of SR states, “Participants in SR practice come to it as both representatives of academic institutions and particular ‘houses’ (churches, mosques, synagogues) of worship. SR meets, however, outside of these institutions and houses in special times and in separate spaces that are likened to Biblical ‘tents of meeting’. Practitioners come together in these tents of meeting to read and reason with scriptures. They then return to their academic and religious institutions and to the world with renewed energy and wisdom for these institutions and the world.” From this perspective, though the principles, methodology, and aims of SR are not distinctly Bahá’í, SR’s conscious self–limitation allows for Bahá’ís to safely be involved in the practice. Furthermore, SR provides a number of timely and important opportunities for the Bahá’í scholarly community: it provides entry points for the Bahá’í scholarly community to deepen and unify its collective discourse, to engage and develop relationships with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars and leaders, to promote increased dialogue and improved relationships between the four communities, and to introduce the Bahá’í Writings to the participants involved in the practice.
Early Ishmaelite Philosophy and the Bábí–Bahá'í Religions
Presented by Farshid Kazemi
From the earliest days of the advent of the Bábí–Bahá’í religions both polemical and scholarly sources have noted similarities between Ismai’ili thought and that of the Bábí–Bahá’í religions. In light of the apparent similarities and correspondences between these so called heterodoxies, however, very little has been done in a sustained look at these instances. Indeed the hermeneutic lexicon of early Ismai'ili Shi'ite philosophy seems to have certain correspondences in the Bábí–Bahá’í Writings and are used as transcending the literal interpretation of Islamic textual universe and even Islam as such via a process of divine hermeneutics or the hermeneutics of the divine (ta’wil illahi). This hermeneutics is related to the idea commonly known in Shiite thought as or the exoteric and bátin or esoteric level of the text of revelation, namely the Qur'an. It is not záhir possible, however, to discuss in depth all the areas in which similarities have been noted by scholars, but by way of introduction we will look at some of the more obvious points of comparison. There is broadly speaking perhaps three areas in which similarities may be said to properly exist: apophatic theology, cosmogony, and eschatology or matters pertaining to the drama of the “end of time” (eschaton), such as the rising of the messianic figure – the Qa’im – and the Resurrection. Both traditions also share similar conceptions of Cycles of theophanic history and time, which as well will be briefly outlined. In this paper, our investigation of the above three lines of correspondence will largely revolve around the second phase of Ismai’ili thought, which is less informed with mytho–Gnostic motifs of the first phase (here we have in mind the phase of Ismai’ilism as found in the Crypto–gnostic–Manichean work called the Mother of the Book (Umm al-Kitáb), and is more characterized by Hermetic and Neoplatonic motifs, namely the works of the philosophers of the so called Persian school, such as Abu Hatim al-Rázi (d. 933–5) Muhmmad al–Nesafi (d. 945), Abu Yaqub al–Sijistani (d. 971), and perhaps the last proponent of this school, Násir Khosrow (d. 1072).
Land of Za'farán (ard–i–za’farán) in the Bábí–Bahá’í Scriptures, The
Presented by Farshid Kazemin
One of the more obscure visionary landscapes in the spiritual topography of Islamic gnosis and mysticism, which has also found mention in the Bábí–Bahá’í scriptures, is a perfumed and redolent earth, called the land of Saffron/Za’farán, or ard-i-za’farán. This term in its current linguistic form (ard-i-zafarán), seems to first appear in the work of the great 13th century Sufi mystic Ibn al–`Arabi’s magnum opus, the Futuhát al-Makiyya, in which it figures as one of the lands or earths in the ard al–haqiqa, or the Land of the Reality, which according to him belongs to the Imaginal World or the 'âlam al–khayâl. Since the publication of Vahid Rafati’s paper (which we shall translate here as an appendix to this paper (see appendix 1), on this mysterious ‘earth’ and its significance in the Bábí–Bahá’í scriptures, there has been but only a few passing references to this paradisiacal land by other scholars. In this paper by way of an introduction we will do an assessment of the background of this term with the hope of adding other possible insights into the significance and genealogy of this visionary geography, particularly its messianico–eschatological significance, within the Bábí–Bahá’í scriptural cosmos.
Reality Concealed Behind the Veil
Presented by Nadia Khazraee
Tree of life in Kabala of Judaism is a mystical symbol to describe the path to God as well as the manner in which God created the world and can be identified with the tree of life – mentioned in the Book of Genesis – which granted everlasting life to Adam and Eve. The tree consists of ten holy Sephiroths. The seven lower Sephiroths mentioned in revelation 5:6 are known as seven eyes of God or seven spirits of God sent to earth. Just above the seventh Sephiroth or the seventh spirit, exists a horizon barrier, beyond which lies the perfect first knowledge which marks the boundary of human knowledge and can be associated with Sidrat-al-Montaha, a mystical symbol for outmost knowledge beyond which neither man nor Angles can pass. In Kabalistic tradition this barrier to human knowledge is called veil and is considered as the heavenly counterpart of the temple veil that the High Priest entered past into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for our souls on Judgment Day, the same veil torn in two upon the death of Yeshua as mentioned in the "New Testament" accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Parallel to this stage of passing the veil by the High Priest on Judgment Day, on the kabalistic tree of life too, when the veil is passed, the union of supernal mother and supernal father (first and second Sephiroths) takes place in Da’at (knowledge) by which the concealed face of God behind the veil is manifested. The full knowledge of God comes in effect from that face (Binah) which distinctly reveals the essence beyond the veil.
This paper tries to parallel the seven lower Sephiroths known as seven eyes of God or spirits of God sent to Earth with the seven manifestations, from Adam to the Báb and correspond this moment of passing the barrier just above the seventh Sephiroth known as veil, and its earthly counterpart of passing the veil by the high priest to the holiest on Resurrection Day to the historical events of Badasht, Tahiri’s symbolic unveiling and manifestation of all–knowing name of God. The paper further tries to look at the concepts of veil and the reality concealed behind it mentioned in kabala of Judaism, bible and Islamic literature from another perspective by guidance of Bahá'í literature and history.
Names and Attributes of God
Presented by Stephen Lambden
God has numerous personal and associated names and attributes within Abrahamic (Jewish, Christian, Islamic) religious scripture and related exegetical texts. The third word in the Hebrew Bible is the personal Name of God Elohim (Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created...), a designation of the Deity which subsequently occurs around 2,569 times in the Hebrew Bible. The tetragrammaton (YHWH) first occurs in the book of Genesis, linked with Elohim, in Genesis 2:4 (“And the Lord God...”) and subsequently about 6822 times. Other personal Names of God are also found in the Hebrew Bible including Eloah (sing. cf. pl. Elohim) “God” which occurs most frequently in the book of Job (41 times e.g. Job 3:4). This latter Hebrew personal Name of God loosely corresponds with the most important Arabic, Islamic, personal Name of God, Allah, which is found very frequently in the Qur’an, e.g. “Allah (God) is the Light of the heavens and of the earth” (Q. 24:35). According to some Islamic traditions it is Allah which is the al–ism al–a`zam, the Supreme or Greatest Name of God, though there are other Islamic traditions which offer different identifications. This paper will explore aspects of these different theories of the Mightiest or Greatest Name of God.
An important Islamic tradition allegedly relayed from Muhammad by one of the companions, Abu Hurayra (d. c. 58/678) identifies the ninety–nine al–asma’ al–husna (“Most Beautiful Names”) of God mentioned in the Qur’an (Q. 7:179). These 99 Names begin with the aforementioned name Allah and end with al-Sabur (“The Patient”, No.99). There are variant lists of these al–asma al–husna and supplementary lists of Names of God derived from the Qur’an and elsewhere. One Shi`i Islamic list of 99 Names traced them back to Imam `Ali (d. 40/661) beginning with Allah (God, No. 1) and ends with al-Sha`fi (‘The Healer”, No. 99).
Many sometimes weighty expositions of these ninety–nine al–asma’ al–husna have been written by Muslims in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other languages. The Ottoman historian and bibliographer Khatib Chelebi (or Hajji Khalifa) (d. 1067/1657) in his massive Kashf al–zunun lists thirty–one of them (see ed. 2008, Vol. 2: 314-7; nos. 7907-7938). Many of the Names of God central to Bábí–Bahá’í theology such as al–Quddus (“The Most Holy”, No. 5), al–Qayyum (“The Self–Subsisting”, No. 64), al–Wahid (“The Unique”, No. 67), and al–Badi` (the Regenerative Cause”, No. 95), receive detailed, often illuminating exposition in many of these learned works composed over a span of a thousand years or more of Islamic history. The Arabic noun and Persian loanword Bahá’, itself meaning (among other things), ”Beauty”, is neither found in the Qur’an nor counted among the ninety–nine `Most Beautiful Names’ of God in mainstream Islamic traditions. This paper will provide some historical background and context for the Bahá’í theology identifying the eschatological Name of God as the word Bahá’ (= Splendor, Glory, Beauty, etc).
Books listing and commenting upon the Names of God and theories about what might constitute God’s Mightiest, Greatest or Supreme Name are important aspects of the Islamic literary heritage. Some among the pious, however, considered theorizing and acting relative to the secreted mystery of God’s supreme Name to be illicit. Though there are quite a few books and treatises on the al–ism al–a`zam (the Mightiest Name of God) in Islamic languages, the various theories about what might constitute God’s Mightiest eschatological Name have been very little studied. There are very few academic papers on this subject.
In this paper attention will be focused upon a section of the Misbáḥ (“Luminary”) of the Shi`i writer Taqi al–Din Kaf`ami (d. 900/1494–5) which spells out around sixty Islamic and other theories as to the nature and identity of the al–ism al–a`zam or the Supreme Name of God. It will be demonstrated that many of the traditions registered by al–Kaf`ami have a bearing upon Bábí–Bahá’í theologies of the eschatological Name of God. Both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh were influenced by such theories and, in some cases, commented upon certain of them in some detail.
Soul, Spirit and Mind from Antiquity to Bahá’í Perspective: An intertextual trajectory from Biblical times and Hellenistic antiquity to the Islamic and Bábí–Bahá'í psychology
Presented by Stephen Lambden
Also presented at Session #88, Bosch 2009.
“The soul is the cause or source of the living body. The terms cause and source have many senses. But the soul is the cause of its body alike in all three senses which we explicitly recognize. It is (a) the source or origin of movement, it is (b) the end, it is (c) the essence of the whole living body” (Aristotle, De Anima).
“O Kumayl [spirits] (anfus) are four  the augmentative vegetative [plant spirit] (al–namiyya al–nabatiyya)  the sensate animal [spirit] (al–hissiyya al–hayawaniyya)  the sacred rational (al–natiqa al–qudsiyya) [human spirit] and  the universal Divine [Spirit] (al–kulliyya al–ilahiyya)” (Attributed to Imam `Ali (d. 40/661) as cited in Majlisi, Bihar al–anwar, vol. 58:85)
“Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind ... The soul of man is the sun by which his body is illumined, and from which it draweth its sustenance, and should be so regarded” (Bahá’u’lláh, GWB: LXXX).
“... spirit is universally divided into five categories:  the vegetable spirit,  the animal spirit,  the human spirit,  the spirit of faith, and  the Holy Spirit ... The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names—the human spirit and the rational soul—designate one thing ... But the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp ... (`Abdu’l-Bahá’, SAQ, LV).
What, if anything, constitutes the human “soul” is by no means universally agreed upon today. Some materialistic and other philosophers and scientists deem it illegitimate to ask such questions. Many deny it as a supra–bodily spiritual or metaphysical phenomenon. What is the ‘essence’ of the human being, however, has for several thousand years been a subject of deep and constant religious and philosophical debate. For many centuries varieties of resolutions to this and related questions have occupied some of the greatest religious and scientific minds. For many today, when the quest for the nature and purpose of human life and the possibility of human immortality remain fundamental, such questions are of paramount importance. This paper will be a meditation upon select past ideas about the human mind–soul–intellect–spirit–essence along with a summary presentation of aspects of the Bahá’í position and its Graeco-Islamic background.
It will be demonstrated in this paper that the roots of much religious thought on the question of the “soul” can be found in select Biblical texts and ancient in numerous Graeco–Islamic philosophical treatises. The massively influential Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) authored a well–known and foundational Greek treatise Περὶ Ψυχῆς (= Peri Psyches, Latin = De Anima), “On the Soul” in which he gave an elaborate description of the functions of the soul. Many Jewish (e.g. Moses Maimonides), Christian (e.g. Tertullian of Carthage and Thomas Aquinas) and Muslim thinkers (see below) have been influenced by versions or translations of the De Anima and related works of Aristotle and other Hellenistic thinkers of antiquity.
Along with a large quantity of Greek philosophical writings, the De Anima of Aristotle was several times paraphrased and translated into Arabic. In `Abbasid times, the Christian Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 260/873) accomplished this as did Muslims and others associated with the circle of his erudite contemporary Ya`qub ibn Ishaq al–Kindi (d. c. 260/873). Matters were again taken up and developed by Abu Nasr Muhammad al–Farabi (d. 339/950) and by Abu `Ali al–Husayn ibn `Abd–Allah ibn Sina, better known in the west as Avicenna (d. 428/1037), an important philosopher, physician and mathematician whose massive, multi–volume Kitab al–shifa’ (Book of the Cure) includes a Kitab al–nafs or `Treatise on the Soul’. Therein Islamic and Neoplatonic thought are integrated and developed. Among many others who contributed to the evolution of ideas about the soul was Fakhr al–Din al–Razi (d. 606/1209), who penned an important treatise entitled Kitab al–nafs wa’l–ruh wa sharh quwahuma (`The Book of the Soul and the Spirit and an exposition of their Faculties’) and Ibn Rushd or Averroes (d. 595/1198), who wrote several important Arabic commentaries upon Aristotle’s De anima. These Islamic philosophers respected and utilized but went way beyond Aristotle’s foundational speculations in setting down their sophisticated ideas about the human soul–spirit–mind–intellect. Their thoughts contributed to the Bahá’í spiritual psychology mentioned in various scriptural writings or alwah (“Tablets”) of Bahá’u’lláh and found, for example, in chapters of `Abdu’l–Bahá’s Mufavaddat (“Some Answered Questions”).
In the Arabic and Persian languages a spectrum of terms has sometimes interchangeably been used to pinpoint and define aspects of the human soul–spirit–mind–essence, etc; including, for example, rúh (“soul”-”spirit”) , `aql (intellect) and nafs (“soul”). The last of these terms has a very rich Abrahamic (Semitic) religious semantic history being linked with the biblical Hebrew term nephesh “soul”. When, according to Genesis 2:7, God created and breathed into the human (Adam), he became a nephesh hayya or “living soul”. The Arabic–Persian word nafs, when linked with other words, has a very wide range of senses ranging from the lower, possibly satanic human “self” to that Logos–like Divine Reality, sometimes designated the nafs kulliyya or “Universal Soul”.
In his commentary on the hadith “He who hath known his nafs (“Self”) hath known his Lord” (man arafa nafsahu fa–qad ‘arafa rabbahu) and elsewhere, the great Shi`i philosopher theologian and mystic, Shaykh Ahmad al–Ahsa’i (d. 1246/1826) makes wide–ranging and detailed comments upon the meaning of the word nafs (“soul”, etc), as does his successor Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d. 1259/1843) in a number of his books and treatises.
Despite the massive legacy of the past 2,500 years of thought about the human ‘soul’ many still wonder whether and in what senses, if at all, one can legitimately speak of an individualized human “soul” (nafs), “spirit” (ruh), “mind” or “intellect” (aql). Bahá’í sacred writings have a good deal to say about these matters, making it perfectly clear, for example, that every individual, no matter of what religious or non–religious background, has had, from the moment of conception, an individualized eternal reality designated as the “soul”. Exactly what this “soul” is remains something deeply mysterious, though deeply real by virtue of its potentialities and spiritual–intellectual capacities. For Bahá’ís the human “mind” with its spiritually related intellectual powers expresses aspects of the many perfections of the multi–faceted human soul. In this paper such questions will be considered and tentative conclusions drawn.
Báb’s Commentary on the Hadith of Kumail, The: What is Reality?
Presented by Moojan Momen
According to this Tradition, Kumayl asked the Imam `Ali: “What is Reality?” `Ali at first demurred from answering and gave what appeared to be evasive responses. But after two or three such exchanges, he eventually gave a series of replies with a series of five replies to the question. These five replies have puzzled commentators down the ages although many have referred to this Tradition including Shaykh Ahmad al–Ahsa'i and Sayyid Kazim Rashti. In this paper the commentary of the Báb on this Tradition is discussed. The fifth response of Imam `Ali was “A Light shining forth from the Morning of Eternity (Subh–i Azal) and irradiating the temples of the Unity.” Followers of Azal have asserted that, in view of the fact that in the Báb's Seven Questions, this Tradition was linked to the first five years of the Báb's ministry, then the phrase “Subh–i Azal” is a reference to Azal becoming the assigned successor of the Báb in the fifth year. In this paper, however, we demonstrate that the Báb refers to himself as Subh–i Azal and the reference to this occurring in the fifth year is in fact a reference to the Báb's declaration of his own true station in that year.
Beyond Athens and Jerusalem: Re–Visioning the Science–Religion Conflict
Presented by Steven Phelps
The clash between science and religion has been highlighted in recent years by the prominent attacks of a generation of "new atheists" on the coherence of belief in God and the viability of religion as a social institution. However, both sides are arguing from a shared, if implicit, definition of God and religion. The Bahá'í claim to the unity of science and religion entails radical redefinitions of the conceptual framework of the debate and suggests a “third way”, one which finds support in some of the deep mathematical symmetries in the laws of physics.
Dashavatara and Progressive Revelation: A Comparative Study of Hinduism and the Bahá’í Faith
Presented by Anupam Premanand [click here to read this paper online]
In this thesis, the phenomenon of the Divine Revelation from Hindu and from the Bahá'í points of view is studied in the background of the Religion as an eternal process. The Hindu concept of Ten Mahavatars, called Dashavataras, is mentioned and their mythological, spiritual, and evidently logical import is taken into consideration. Sri Krishna represents Hindu Faith of Dashavatara as a representative Avatara and Bahá'u'lláh, the Bahá'í revelation. The interpreted substance and the logical reasoning of the concept of God, the nature of man and his abilities and limits of knowing God through the recognition of Avatara are analyzed based on Bhagavad–Gita and the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh.
All through the thesis, naturally informed personal metaphysical comments through the Words of Sri Krishna and Bahá'u'lláh are added thereby giving a meaningful outcome at successive stage of the thesis. Concept of Progressive Revelation according to the Bahá'í Faith is also clarified and a synthesis of succeeding revelations of Dashavatara in Hinduism and Progressive Revelation of the Bahá'í Faith is made. All through, the Writings from Hindu scriptures like Bhagavad–Gita, Patanjali Sutra and Upanishads and similarly from Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab–e–Iqán and other Bahá'í scriptures are also quoted extensively in order to provide an authentic comparative base to the ideas presented.
Dashavatara is linked to the Bahá'í conception of immemorial process of Revelations of ‘from the beginning that hath no beginning’ and the logical and scientific idea of human evolution through the role of divine revelation at each succeeding stage of human evolution represented by each of the Ten Avataras in Dashavatara.
The nature of Avataras and the Manifestations of God are comparatively analyzed. The nature of soul is found to resemble, to a great degree, both in the Bahá'í and Hindu points of views.
Perhaps, Bahá'í Faith and Hinduism are two most common Faiths who have spoken in the loudest terms of the eternal nature of Religion. In the words of Bahá'u'lláh “… the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future” and the Hindu term “Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Law”, inspiring to study and compare the Hindu and the Bahá'í conception of Revelation, which are found to be strikingly similar.
Initial introduction to Hinduism and the Bahá'í faith is also provided, culminating the thesis with their influence on the world society from ancient times to today. Emphasis is made on the unity and commonality of the phenomena of Hindu and the Bahá'í Revelations rather than the differences thereof. This harmonious unity of divine revelations which, to the author, is the concluding reality of all divine revelations viewed in human benefit from their teachings of spiritual and personal nature rather than from their social teachings. Because humanity can survive only in unity and cooperation, and it is the emphasis on the commonalities and not on the subordinate differences which gives rise to the feeling of oneness and harmony among diverse people, so to preserve and protect the future of mankind.
Introductory Review of Bahá’u’lláh’s Lawh–i–Qina’, An
Presented by Sholeh A. Quinn [click here to read this paper online]
In 1867–68, Bahá’u’lláh addressed Karim Khan Kirmání in his Lawh-i Qiná` (Tablet of the Veil) in response to Kirmání’s Risálah dar Javáb–i Su’alát–i Mulla Jamal–i Bábí (A Treatise in Response to Mulla Jamal–i–Bábí’s Questions). The Lawh–i Qiná` is a wide–ranging Tablet covering themes such as grammatical points in the Writings of the Báb, references to Kirmání in the Qur’an, and rejections of the Qur’an in the early periods of Islam. The purpose of this paper is to place the Lawh–i Qiná` in historical context, and demonstrate how that context explains certain elements in the Tablet, including those listed above. Indeed, a number of similar themes run through Kirmíní’s Irshád al-`avám (Guidance of Common People), Bahá’u’lláh’s Kitáb–i Iqán, and the Lawh–i Qiná`. The paper will include provisional translations of sample passages from the Lawh–i Qiná`.
Revised version of paper first presented at Session #51, 2003, and also presented at Session #88, 2009
Mathematical Model to Investigate Non–Material Realities, A
Presented by Mahyad Rahnamaie
The Bahá’í Faith is the first major religion that encourages its followers to seriously and deliberately make a good use of the human rational and intellectual powers to get a more profound understanding of the multi–layered language of the sacred texts. It supports the idea that there has always been an essential and reciprocal relationship between the divine revelation with its hidden meanings on one hand and the fruits of human social/intellectual/scientific endeavors on the other. This mutual bond between the divine and the profane constitutes the backbone of what the Faith offers as a new paradigm for an “ever–advancing civilization”.
The symbolic and multi–layered nature of the divine scriptures is, by design, a renewable and ever–lasting source of inspirations. It is up to us to delve into this fathomless ocean to grasp new meanings for and relevance to human condition. As humanity progresses in intellectual/scientific/technological fields, unprecedented opportunities arise to re–examine our historical and gradual understandings of the holy writings. One area of the Bahá’í Teachings that has a unique potential for further explorations is the vast field of non–material realities and, especially, the age–old question of “life after death”. Such an abstract concept may be examined more closely when applying some of the insights offered in mathematics.
In our constant struggle for finding deeper meanings, relevance, and immediacy in abstract spiritual concepts, we have an, as yet little explored, ally of new developments in abstract mathematics. From the very beginning, starting from Pythagoras, Thales, and Euclid, many basic mathematical axioms, starting from the very notion of numbers, embodied many strong mystical/invisible/otherworldly components, setting them apart from other domains of human intellectual activities. In the writings of the Báb also we see continuous references to the mystical symbolism of numbers. The ancient association between the letters of Alphabets and their numerical values has always played an important role to add yet a new layer to the complexity of symbolic messages.
Does our cumulative knowledge assist us in better understanding of the Holy Words? Can mathematics act as a viable source of inspiration in seeking spiritual truths? Do some of the mathematical concepts have any counterparts in the realm of the spirit? To further explore these notions, the present talk will focus on the following four questions:
- What are some of the basic mystical components in the history of the development of mathematics?
- What are some of the features of n–dimensional spaces?
- What are some of basic teachings of the Faith about the survival of the soul beyond this material world and the conditions of its progress?
- What are some of the applications of n–dimensional spaces in offering a model to further explore the concepts of “Other Worlds of God” and the “Progress of the Soul” in the Bahá’í Writings?
Evolution of Epitaphs: from Islamic Inscriptions to Bahá’í Scripts
Presented by Ami Schrager
The idea behind this paper is to bring together my two major interests of studying: Arabic Epigraphy and the Bahá’í Faith. These two fascinating subjects come across at Epitaphs.
Epitaphs in any religion has there owns unique language. In the sphere of Islam, epitaphs usually consist of three major parts: the invocation to God (Basmalah) then a very carefully chosen Quránic verse and in the end a prayer for mercy and forgiveness. While in the Bahá’í Faith the invocation is changed and a new and esoteric lingo is introduced replacing the Quránic verses.
The subject of this paper is to track these changes made in Epitaphs while trying to explain their meaning. For that purpose it starts with a short introduction about Arabic Epigraphy and its special language while using photos of specific Inscriptions for demonstration. Then it will concentrate on Islamic epitaphs and presents their unique features. After showing that a few epitaphs from the Bahá’í cemetery in Akka will be displayed and the changes and their meanings will be pointed out.
Early Writings of Bahá'u'lláh: Where was God before Creation? The Origins of Some Terms
Presented by Moshe Sharon
Two early Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, probably the earliest, Rashh-i-’Amá and Lawh Kull at-Ta’ám, one in Persian the other in Arabic, were translated into English and studied by Stephen Lambden and extensively researched by Wahid Ra’fati (in Persian) a decade ago, but they are still the topic of further investigation. In several places in his writings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá relates to, comments on, and interprets several themes in these early writings.
The importance of these tablets, as well as the third one, the Qṣídatu ‘izz warqá’iyyah, is that they outline the future development of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings about the Divine and the divine manifestations, and their relation to the two levels of reality: that which is attainable by the temporal senses and that which is attainable by the prophets’ super–awareness (SAQ, 151).
Highly mystical, the language which Bahá’u’lláh uses in these tablets is cryptic in many places and allusions are constantly made to diverse sources which, on the whole, may be identified. Naturally, coming from the Muslim world, Bahá’u’lláh’s prime source of reference is Islam: the Qur’án, its interpretations and the hadíth; references are also made to súfí ideas and language. All these aspects have been studied in depth by Ra’fati in his 1999 article in Persian in Safíniy–i–‘Irfán (Book 2, pp. 50ff), and although he dealt only with one Tablet, Rashh-i-’Amá, his observations are also valid to other early works of Bahá’u’lláh.
However, let us not forget that Islam was not born in a void. It was born in that part of the world which had been the cradle of human civilizations, and the residues of all these civilizations were there when Muhammad and his successors created the Islamic religion and its literature. This ancient legacy was memorized and constantly developed by storytellers, poets, scholars, generation after generation, and found its way into the Qur’án and the traditions as it had found its way into the writings of the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans and the Christians. It is therefore interesting to examine some of the terms Bahá’u’lláh uses in these early Tablets and compare them to the rich sources that represent the ancient homiletic material which found its way indirectly into Islamic hadíth literature and eventually also into the writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. I mean the extensive midrashic and mystical Jewish literature. I do not mean that the creators of the hadíth borrowed from the midrash, but that both the midrash and the hadíth, in the larger meaning of the word, tapped the same early sources which were available in the territory where they were born and developed.
In this lecture I shall examine a very few ideas used by Bahá’u’lláh such as the idea of the cloud as the hiding place of the Divine Being or His dwelling place before creation and after creation. I shall move through the Bible and the midrash and show that Bahá’u’lláh’s world of thought and imagination is well–rooted in the same ancient ground that gave rise to various types of thinkers before him: Prophets and priests, poets and storytellers, philosophers and theologians.
Consensus Decision–Making: Bahá'í Perspective
Presented by Vargha Taefi
This paper reviews the historical development of multilateral diplomacy and highlights the main systems of group decision–making employed by major international players among organizations and corporations. It then analyses different parameters, advantages and disadvantages of each of these prominent decision–making methods from voting systems such as unanimity, simple and absolute majority, weighted voting, etc. to consensus decision–making as an alternative to voting.
Voting techniques are divisive by nature and work toward polarizing and marginalizing the dissent, whereas consensus decision–making is a process which replaces the traditional win–lose competition caused by voting with unity through compromise and negotiation. While consensus decision–making enhances the process of decision–making by encouraging collaboration and unifying differing opinions, puts an end to coalition-building and tyranny of majority, and increases the commitment of the individuals to the adopted decision, it has serious limitations at times stalling the process of decision–making.
Bahá’í mode of consensus–based decision–making, known as the Bahá’í consultation, is introduced and explored as the next generation of multilateral decision–making systems, which is distinct from consensus decision–making in both purpose and process. Striving to achieve the correct decision besides the unity of the participants in the decision–making, Bahá’í consultation adds a strong element of spiritual training and sincere desire to serve to the process of decision–making, and abolishes the ownership of suggested opinions, compromise and trade–off, and formation of subgroups, oppositions and minority groups, with the help of spiritual virtues as well as the actual decision–making processes.
The Unity of Man and God in Gems of Divine Mysteries, the Kitáb–i–Iqán and the Seven Valleys
Presented by Iscander Tinto
There is a connection between the concept of unity [tawhíd] of man with God and the path that the manifestation of God suggests to him in order to develop this process which will ultimately lead to his purification.
A careful study of Gems of Divine Mysteries, the Kitáb–i–Iqán and the Seven Valleys shows that there is an evolution in the concept of unity which in sufi literature is related to the unity of existence, while Bahá’u’lláh is pointing out that the proper way should be to put man’s personal process of purification in his personal life. This can be achieved when we comprehend the concept of progressive revelation as the key to connect the process of purification in man in order to achieve an awareness of the deity.
Faith and Reason in “Some Answered Questions”
Presented by Ramin Vasli
The relation of faith and reason has been and still is one of the most complex problems in theology and philosophy. Generally the problem has centered about religious faith and knowledge, but because all knowledge falls short of apodictic certainty there is a kind of faith inherent in all knowledge. In what is to follow, my main attention is regarding religious faith.
In the history of Christian thought the relation of faith and reason has been marked by such fluctuating patterns as equivalency, supplementation, independence, and opposition, the latter sometimes carried to the point of contradiction. With some reservation it can be said that the relation for Justin Martyr was that of equivalency. He came upon the Christian faith by the way of philosophy and his high regard for the philosophic discipline was never abandoned. After his conversion to Christianity he wrote: “Philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession and most honorable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy.”
The final authority for Justin was the Divine Logos fully realized in Christ, but prior to this manifestation all men were partakers of the logos. Socrates, Heraclitus, and others thought to be atheists would more correctly be designated as Christians. Christianity for Justin was the supreme and the one true philosophy. A greater degree of the equivalence of faith and reason is to be found in the thought of John Scotus Erigena and Hegel, for the latter religion in its highest stage becomes one with philosophy.
Tertullian and Kierkegaard are representatives of those who hold that faith and reason are independent of each other or in opposition or conflict, the degree of conflict varying from contraries to contradictories. Tertullian in his assault upon philosophy asked, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? For Kierkegaard philosophy or reason is scandalized in the event of the Incarnation where the “crucifixion of reason” takes place. Reason can never give an account of the eternal, time– transcendent and space–transcendent Being coming into history at a certain place and time. The Incarnation is the paradox of paradoxes, the clearest expression of the contradiction of faith and reason.
Another main view of the relation of faith and reason has been that of supplementation. For St. Thomas there was no contradiction between faith and reason; faith transcends reason without contradicting it; reason needs to be supplemented by faith.
During the Enlightenment the opposite was true. Faith was subordinated to reason and needed to be supplemented by reason thus making reason the supreme arbiter of truth. For this reason, Kant says, “I had to remove knowledge [from any claim to deal with God, freedom, and immortality], in order to make room for faith.”
This paper intends to deals with reason and faith by focusing on Abrahamic religions in which faith and reason are often posited as opposites, as if they had nothing to do with each other and every person had to choose between them. By focusing on “Some Answered Questions,” I will attempt to discuss and argue that there is no conflict between reason and faith, and both should agree and not to be opposed to each other.
Indeed, the truth of reason and faith can be attained in the light of unification of them.
This paper is divided into three sections. First and second sections deal with reason and faith before and after renaissance respectively. Third section will present the Bahá’í perspective in general and “Some Answered Questions” in particular.
New Concept of God in “Some Answered Questions”, The
Presented by Ramin Vasli
Undoubtedly, God is a fundamental conception for religions in general and Abrahamic religions in particular. Prior to Renaissance, this conception was clear and acceptable for religious people, but after Renaissance God of Abrahamic religions was no longer a plausible and viable notion for Modern philosophy the main purpose of which was to establish a philosophy which can be compatible with new science.
Descartes, as the “Founder of modern philosophy” has a significant and prominent role in modern philosophy. He was interested in science, which can be useful for this world and for this reason he shifted his perspective to the nature. In this new paradigm, that is, modern philosophy, Man is posited to be the centre of the world, as in classical philosophy, Logos was, and in the Middle age, God was. In other words, “Cosmo centric”, “God centric” and “Man centric” respectively, are specification of Classical philosophy, Middle age and modern philosophy. Descartes is viewed as boundary between past and new age. Consequently, humanistic approach constructed a new paradigm, making a break between itself and religious thought. Accordingly, the source of knowledge is no longer Divine wisdom, revealed theology or Logos, but human reason. For, Descartes believes in the light of “the natural light of reason” everything can be attained; his famous statement is plainly clear in this case, “I think therefore I am” or “cogito ergo sum”.
Regarding such critics and attitudes, natural theology was replaced to be based on reason; as a result this theology regards no longer Holy Scripture and revealed theology. Deism presented a dissimilar conception of God compared to conception of God of Abrahamic religions. Cartesian philosophy had suggested God as “watch maker”.
Accordingly, with emergence of the Enlightenment, particularly the French Enlightenment seriously attacked to religion to be identified as major obstacle for progress of humanity; however some believe that the main aim was, to struggle with superstition. For instance, Voltaire as a well–known figure in this Battle, in his writing and letter, frequently declares that his great struggle is not with Faith but with superstition, not with religion but with church and clerics; yet next generation, which saw in him its spiritual leader did not distinguish. Consequently Extreme thought of next generation created pessimistic effects on religion. For instance, Hume, gravely attacked to revealed religion and suggested Atheism, and even regarded polytheism superior than monotheism, accordingly he was charged with heresy.
Indeed, the spirit of our time is seemingly incompatible with religion in general and God of Abrahamic religion in particular, so that they are not able to present a satisfactory theology for God which can be compatible with modern thought.
This article is divided into three sections. First, it deals with the conception of God for Greek philosophy and Abrahamic religions, by focusing on Theism. After that, it will be presented a general picture of modern philosophy in relation to the conception of God and Deism, in order to explore why the God of Abrahamic religions is incompatible with the God of modern philosophers, namely, Theism and Deism. Finally, I will try to argue, according to Bahá’í Theology, the conception of God is a new and creative notion which can reconcile Theism, Deism and Atheism.
Beyond the Concept of Evil: A Methodology for Multidisciplinary and Multicultural Ethical Decision–Making
Presented by Farhan Yazdani
Ethical decisions have been historically based on considerations of “good” and “evil”, but this dualistic outlook is no longer valid facing the complex issues in today’s modern medicine. The dualistic outlook has been rejected by `Abdu’l–Bahá in Some Answered Questions and is verified in a practical clinical study in ethical decision–making in Lyon between 1985 and 1990. A simplified tool–box procedure combines all available assets which converge towards a decision which in a given situation and at a given time is in the best interests of individuals and of the society from which we all derive sustenance.
Minimalism and the Bahá’í Faith
Presented by Mahyad Zaerpoor Rahnamaie [click here to read this paper online]
Following the last year introduction to the basic tenets of the Bahá’í epistemology at Irfán colloquium, we continue our discussion of minimalism and its relevance to the Bahá’í Faith.
In its restricted domain, minimalism stands for an epistemological system in which, on one side, it is in agreement with many of the principles of scientific objectivism. Minimalism accepts the objective reality outside human perception. It values the instrumentality of the human intellect as the principal tool of discovering such realities. Like science, minimalism is firmly based on modern logic, linear procession, clarity of statements, precision, probability, and other commonly utilized scientific methodology. However, it tends to go beyond the reductionism of scientific objectivity to favorably adopt some of the subjectivist views in epistemology. For example, it distinguishes between irrational and trans-rational. Minimalism accepts the objective existence of non-observables that are absolutely necessary to explain the observables.
Traditionally, the application of rigorous logical methods had been considered appropriate only in the domain of theoretical and applied mathematics, experimental sciences, and artificial intelligence. Minimalism makes a heroic effort to argue the feasibility of applying the principles of such formal methods when studying religious, metaphysical, and ethical issues as well. At the same time, minimalism tries to avoid being entrapped in the limits of total objectification. It acknowledges the validity of other modes of investigation such as trans-rational intuition, meditation, and revelation not only in the ontological domains but as acceptable methods in mathematical and scientific endeavors.
Since the Bahá’í Faith argues in favor of the validity of adopting a perspective in which reality is a unified whole rather than a fragmented entity, utilizing the basic tenets of minimalism is of particular interest in giving the Bahá’í epistemological system a more formal appearance. An effort will be made to explore such possibilities when discussing the parallel views between the two systems.