Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #102 (English)

Bosch Baha'i School: Santa Cruz, California USA

May 18–22, 2011.

Authoritative Interpretations in the Bahá'í Faith: `Abdu'l-Bahá's Initiative     edit

by Iraj Ayman

There are two categories of interpretations of the Writings and Teachings in the Bahá'í Faith, authoritative and individual. The former is confined to the interpretations by the Founders and then Centers of the Covenant of the Bahá'í Faith, while the later is the interpretation and understanding of that each individual arrives at through personal study and contemplation in the Writings and teachings of the Faith. A closely related area is the translation of the Writings from the original texts into other languages. This due to the fact that translating a text is actually a kind of understanding and interpreting that text. Thus, again we have two categories, authoritative or formal translations issued by the Center of the Faith and informal or individual translations by various institutions or individuals.

Throughout the history of religions interpretation of the texts has been, and even nowadays is, the cause of dissension, division, sectarianism, conflicts, persecution, and a host of harmful actions. Bahá'u'lláh has revealed basic principles which save the community from sectarianism and protect and preserves its unity. However it was the initiative taken by `Abdu'l-Bahá' that changed the direction of interpretation of the texts and teachings and opened a new path that makes interpretation a source of unity and accord in the community. This fundamental reorientation of the direction of interpretation (and translation) has been further elucidated and consolidated by the guidance given by Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. In this respect what needs to be clarified are the attempts of certain individuals that have tried to use their own interpretation for forming their own versions of Bahá'í religion and have tried to form various splintered groups.

Bábí-Bahá'í Transformation and Interpretation of the Islamic Basmala, The     edit

by Stephen Lambden

"The Basmala is closer to the Greatest Name (al-ism al-a`zam) than the black of the eye is to its white."
(A well-known Islamic tradition)
The Arabic Islamic term Basmala indicates the frequently repeated Qur'anic phrase or verse, "bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim," which is usually translated, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate." This theologically important phrase has a very long history within the Islamic religion with its over, 1,000 years of Qur'an commentary, commentary upon a book communicated through the Prophet Muhammad over a 22-year or so period (c. 610-632 CE). The Basmala is the first verse of the first Sura (chapter) of the over 6,000 verse Qur'an. It prefixes most of its 114 chapters and is a central topic of discussion within numerous Sunni and Shi`i hadith or traditions (such as that cited above) about the Basmala and the Greatest or Mightiest Name of God (al-ism al-a`zam). The Basmala prefixes most of the surahs of the Qur'an and is recited in many Islamic ritual, devotional, and other circumstances. It has been interpreted in thousands of fascinating ways. Some commentators have explained each of its 5 or six words while others have allotted various deep, esoteric meanings to each of the 19 letters which make up its successive words. Marvellous calligraphic representations of the Basmala are found throughout Islamic history (see above, below the title).

The first letter of the Basmala is the Arabic letter "B" which Jesus himself whilst a schoolboy, (according to a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad), stated that it indicated Baha'-Allah, the Splendor or Glory of God. In Islamic sources this hadith has an interesting history and literary background a few aspects of which will be communicated in this presentation.

Within the writings of the Bab, the Islamic Basmala is frequently found and many times exponded. It prefixes many of his early writings and occurs thousands of times subsequently in newly created versions. In fact the Bab came to alter the Islamic Basmala to the theologically apophatic ("negative") phrase Bism Allah al-amna' al-aqdas, or, "In the name of God, the Most Abstruse, the Most Holy." The early Shaykhi leaders, Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsai (d. 1826 CE) and Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d.1843 CE), wrote a number of commentaries upon the Islamic Basmala as did the central figures of the Babi and Baha'i religions, the Bab (1819-1850), Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) and his eldest son Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921). The purpose of this paper will be to explain some aspects of the history and theology of the Basmala concept, its Babi transformation, and some of the interpretations given to it in the Baha'i sacred writings.

Baha'i View on the "New Atheism" and its "Moral Landscape," A     edit

by Mahyad Zaerpoor-Rahnamaie

The new century has witnessed an unprecedented surge of technological advances leading to new neurological studies that have opened uncharted frontiers in the study of the brain and its functions. Armed with such findings, Neurologists/biologists/philosophers/social commentators such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others have intensified new debates on the evolutionary origin, role, necessity, and ramifications of religious beliefs. The onslaught of what is now called the "New Atheism" on religion has dominated the public discourse through the media, best selling books, and lecture halls. Attack on religious faith and its validity is by no means a recent phenomenon. However, there are at least six distinct differences between this new surge and its more traditional version:
  • The new arguments are no longer confined to the academic/philosophical domains but are based on valid biological/neurological research.
  • The intellectual ability and honesty of the main stream believers are seriously questioned.
  • The possibility of any overlapping ground for compromise between belief and rationality is entirely denied.
  • The questions of ethics, morality, and values, traditionally discussed in the realms of philosophy and religion, are offered to be legitimate domains of scientific studies and logical scrutiny, the final arbiters between good and evil.
  • The global social impact of the new religious revivalism and zealotry has added a crusading/evangelical tone to the discourse initiated by the new atheists.
  • The concept of a religious faith as a private domain of scores of people is seriously questioned.
This article is a two-fold attempt to first discuss the major common stances of new atheism and, second, to explore how a Baha'i response to such stances could be formulated. In the wake of the rise of the religious right in the U.S. and their influence in public policy making on one hand and the ascendency of radical Islam and its threat for the West, on the other, new atheists feel an imminent lethal threat from the "true believers". Therefore, they have taken an attitude of the defiance and combativeness. Oddly enough, and despite a real ontological divide between the teachings of the Baha'i faith and an atheistic view, there are a substantial amount of commonalities between the two. It is the final aim of this article to emphasize more on these common points as a ground for further dialogue:
  • Religion must agree with science and rationality otherwise it is vain imaginings
  • Science and Rationality are valid tools of discovery of reality
  • There is an urgent need for a global ethical system above and beyond Multiculturalism and relativistic view
  • Literalistic interpretation of the Holy Scriptures of the past is a major source of enmity and conflict between adherents of different religions.
  • The past scriptures will not be an adequate base for the present day human condition
  • There is a basic/biological human need for transcendence and spirituality.

Buddhist Doctrine of Nothingness     edit

by Ian Kluge

`Emptiness' is one of the key concepts of Buddhism and especially of Mahayana Buddhism where we find numerous sutras and schools of interpretation dedicated to this subject. The differences among these schools notwithstanding, they all agree that `emptiness' refers to the fact that nothing has intrinsic or inherent existence, that nothing exists independently by virtue of an ultimate ""built-in-power-to-be." (Newland, Introduction to Emptiness, p. 34). This position has consequences both for ontology or theory of reality and ethics. In the Madhyamaka school of Nagarjuna and his successors this means reality has two aspects. The first aspect is `conventional' in which things function as they appear to us and which provides the context of our daily lives. Within this viewpoint all things are completely `real.' The second aspect is `ultimate' and from this point of view all things exist as a result of `dependent arising,' i.e. all "things come into being in dependence upon causes and conditions" (Newland, p. 38). Nothing has inherent, completely self-dependent existence.

This paper shows how there may be a rapprochement between the Buddhist concept of "emptiness" and its correlate `dependent origination' and the Bahá'í teachings. After all, the Writings posit the radical contingency of all created beings and the never-ceasing interaction which are "the causes of the existence, development and growth of created beings" (`Abdu'l-Bahá, i>Some Answered Questions, p. 178 — 179). This latter teaching reflects the concept of `dependent origination.' Additional grounds for comparison between `emptiness' and the Writings are also provided by the Bahá'í teaching that phenomenal creation is only a "shadow stretching out" (i>Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 178) and that "the world is even as a mirage rising over the sands, that the thirsty mistaketh for water" (i>Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 186). This paper explores not only the similarity of these statements to the Buddhist concept of conventional reality but also how these correlated ontological concepts lead to similar ethical conclusions.

Inevitably with the subject of `emptiness' and its correlate `dependent origination' we come to the question of whether anything is not empty, i.e. free of `dependent origination.' In short, do at least some Buddhist and especially Mahayana schools have a concept that corresponds to the Bahá'í concept of God as absolutely independent? Our answer will be affirmative. This paper will provide additional evidence for the Bahá'í teaching of the essential unity of all religions.

Exploring the Theme of Mystical Love     edit

by Muin Afnani

The theme of Love is one of the fundamental concepts in Sufism. From the fifth/eleventh century onward, when the focus of Sufism turns gradually from asceticism to speculative mysticism, the concept of love assumes a central role in the Sufi texts. For example, Ahmad Ghazzali (d. 528/1126) devotes his Savanih, a treatise in Persian, to the theme of love. After him, several other Sufi authors follow his lead. His student, Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani (d. 533/1131) spends chapter six of his Tamhidat, consisting of about fifty pages, on the concept of love. Attar (d. 623/1221) writes about love as one of the seven valleys of search in the Mantiq al-Tayr. The theme of love finds its highest expression in the writings of Ibn al-Arabi and Rumi, the two most famous masters of Sufism. However, in spite of the fact that countless pages of Sufi literature have been devoted to this topic the mystics have generally professed their inability fully to describe true love and its relations. Ibn al-Arabi provides the following statement about love in al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya (The Meccan Openings):
Whosoever defines love has not realized true love, and whosoever has not drunk a sip from the chalice of love has not recognized it, and whosoever claims that he has fully drunk from that chalice has not known true love, because love is a type of wine that does not satiate any one.1
On the one hand, love is a reality that is manifest everywhere. Without love, and the force of attraction emanating from it, existence would not be conceivable. On the other hand, the true meaning of love is infinitely hidden. In this sense, much like the concept of existence (wujud), love cannot be defined or described.

The theme of love is expressed extensively in two schools of Sufi thought, viz., the school represented by Ibn al-Arabi and his students, and the one represented by Rumi and his followers. A few words on the etymology of love might be useful. The English word "love" has been used to translate several Arabic words that although their meanings overlap could also imply different concepts to the reader in the original language. Chapter 178 of al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya is on the recognition (marifa) of the station of love. At the beginning of this long chapter, Ibn al-Arabi mentions that the station (maqam) of love could be referred to by four different names or titles. 2 The first word mentioned is hubb, which is the root and original word for love, and also means affection and attachment. The second title for love is wadd, which means affection and amity. One of its derivatives is a divine name, al-wadud, the friendly and always loving. The third word is ishq, which implies the extreme of love and union between lover and beloved. The word ishq is said to have been derived from the name of a plant called ashaqah, which apparently grows on a tree and draws water and food from it, thereby weakening the tree, and at times destroying it. The fourth title is hawa, which means a sudden affection or surge of passion. It also implies the exertion of the will to reach the beloved.

Two of these four names, viz., hubb and ishq, and their derivatives have been used more often in the Arabic and Persian Sufi texts dealing with the theme of love. While the word hubb and its various derivatives occur in many verses in the Quran, the same is not true of ishq. In fact some Muslim scholars have written that the use of the word ishq in reference to God is inappropriate. For example, Shaykh Ahmad Ahsai in his Sharh al-Ziyara says that it is the practice of the "people of error" to use the word ishq in relation to God. 3 Yet, the Sufi literature has made abundant use of the word ishq, and its derivatives, and the distinction between the two is not always clear.

Many Sufis have expressed the idea that the cause or motive for creation was the love of God. According to this notion, the basis of creation is love and beauty.

In the Baha'i Writings love has been expressed as the underlying theme for Baha'i theology and Baha'i teachings. Baha'u'llah quotes the Islamic tradition which states that the motive for creation of man and the cosmos was the love of God. We shall explore some of the concepts related to the theme of mystical love in the works of a few of the masters of Sufi thought, and in the Baha'i Writings.

    1 Ibn al-Arabi, al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, Dar Sadir, Beirut, Vol. II, p. 12.

    2 Ibn al-Arabi, al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, Dar Sadir, Beirut, Vol. II, p. 323.

    3 Shaykh Ahmad Ahsai, Sharh al-Ziyara al-Jamia al-Kabira, Vol. I, Beirut, 1999, p. 207.

Fragility of Goodness, The: Hexis and Praxis in the Historical Figure of `Abdu'l-Bahá     edit

by Shahbaz Fatheazam

This paper seeks to understand how internal goodness of character or soul may be preserved from interference from the world and how character (hexis) and activity (práxis) may survive the sobering perspective of immense moral failure on the part of a considerable portion of humankind and of its leadership. Such apparent betrayal or dismissal of poetic action as of any practical value is examined through literature and the lessons of `Abdu'l-Bahá' in His travels to the West. The conclusion drawn from these sources will attempt to show that good character engaged in social action is of sufficient serious practical importance so as to be able to withstand the stikes made at the root of goodness itself despite the fact that character and activity are intimately connected and therefore vulnerable.    
Click here to read this paper online.

From Nabi (Prophet) and Rasul (Messenger) to Mazhar-i Ilahi (`Manifestation of God'): A Babí-Bahá'í Trajectory through the Biblical-Islamic Prophets and Messengers     edit

by Stephen Lambden

"God... created 124,000 nabí (prophets) and I [Muhammad] am the most noble of them... and God created 124,000 wasi (successors) and `Alí is the most noble of them..."
(Muhammad through Imam Rida' cited Bihar 2 11:30-31).
"God raised up a black prophet (nabi an aswad) whose story he did not relate unto us. The traditions (al-akhbar) differ as to the number of the prophets (al-anbiya'). Some have related that their number is 124,000 while others have it that the number of the prophets is 8,000; 4,000 coming from the children of Israel and 4,000 from elsewhere with a "sign" (bi-ayah)... with a miracle and a proof (Imam `Ali cited Majlisi in Tabarsi's Majma` al-bayan; Bihar 2 11: 21).

The Qur'an and other Islamic sources contain specific record of around twenty-eight major prophet figures between Adam and the Prophet Muhammad. Their names, dates, biographies and special messages as well as those of other worthies, sages and revolutionaries supplementary to them, are spelled out in numerous Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources including the Bible and the Qur'an. Islamic literatures include a large number of volumes of Qisas al-anbiya' (Stories of the Prophets) compilations of legendary accounts of prophets and related sacred writings. Such texts have been written in Arabic, Persian and Turkish.

The narrative portions of the Qur'an are mostly concerned with the pious example of twenty four or so all male prophet figures directly named therein (Q. 6:84-9; 21:48-91.). As noted this number has traditionally been slightly extended to twenty-seven or eight by the addition of a few persons not directly named in the Qur'an such as Seth and Ezra. Very loosely chronologically arranged one form of the traditional Islamic list of prophets is as follows: (01) Adam. (02) Seth. (03) Enoch. (04) Noah. (05) Hud. (06) Salih. (07) Shuayb. (08) Abraham. (09) Isaac. (10) Ismail. (11) Lot. (12) Job. (13) Jacob. (14) Joseph. (15) Moses. (16) Aaron. (17) David. (18) Solomon. (19) Elijah. (20) Elisha. (21) Dhu'l-Kifl. (22) Jonah. (23) Ezra. (24) Luqman. (25) Dhu'l-Qarnayn. (26) John the Baptist. (27) Jesus and (28) Muhammad. Baha'i sources respect and draw upon this list although the traditional number of around twenty-eight prophet figures was vastly expanded in both Islamic and Babi-Baha'i sources. The Qur'an itself holds that God sent a nabi, rasul and / or a nadhir ("warner") to every people (Q.10:48) to deliver a clear message (al-balagh al-mubin, Q. 29:18b; 35:24; 10:47; 40:28) Various Sunni and Shi`i traditions speak of 124,000 bearers of the divine message, a number of whom, often 313 or so, were reckoned rasul (loosely, "sent Messengers").

Though some have viewed all the prophets and messengers of God as essentially equal some figures, such as Jesus of Nazareth (d. c. 33 CE) or Jesus Christ the Messiah, have been regarded as especially important because they have been allocated subordinate divinity, regenerative powers or are numbered among such as are "constant in faith", the ulu al-`azm or "possessors of steadfastness". Certain great Messengers were the special conveyors of a binding law or legal code. Others were viewed as anbiya' (prophets) under the guiding protection of greater Messengers or Manifestations of God (mazahir-i ilahi). A few in the Qur'an are described as both nabi (prophet) and rasul (Messenger) and five or more are regarded by Baha'is as divine Manifestations of God (mazahir-i ilahi). Baha'is believe that all these past figures were sent by the one God to all humanity for a particular purpose. Their messages diverge since they were line with the human capacity of the ages in which they lived.

Baha'is very frequently use the phrase (Per.) "mazhar-i ilahi," or "Manifestation of God," alternatively, "divine theophany." This Persian phrase was not invented by the Bab or Baha'u'llah. It has an interesting pre-history in Islamic prophetology and theology. In this paper the history of this phrase will be examined as will something of the lives of those reckoned prophets or Manifestations of God in Babi-Baha'i and other sacred writings. Something of the history of such figures will be presented and legendry elements identified. The terms nabi and rasul as well as "mazhar-i ilahi," or "Manifestation of God," will be succinctly expounded as will the Baha'i transcendence of the Qur'anic-Islamic phrase "seal" ( for many = "last") of the prophets (khatam al-nabbiyyin)".

Fundamental Verities in the Writings of the Báb: 1. Unsealing the Sealed Wine -- Slaying the Dragon of Dogmatism in the Writings of the Báb     edit

by Habib Riazati

One of the challenges and obstacles in the path of progress of mankind has been dealing with the Myths and Symbols used by the past generations and religions that have been carried over to the present time. These myths and symbols are pointers to some hidden meanings. In other words, they are alluding to certain set of realities. These meanings change over times and the changes are very much impacted by the level of maturity of humankind. Yesterday's truths (meanings) may be today's myths or even superstitions. One of the prominent aspects of the Writings of the Báb, a feature that is also echoed in the Baha'i writings, has to do with providing a new set of meanings to the archetypical symbols of the past revelations and cultures. Symbols such as Life, Death, Rebirth, Creation, Evolution, Resurrection, First, Last, Return, God( s), Manifestation(s)s and other cross-generational symbols have changed their meanings over time. When one generation tries to uphold the literal significance of a given myth or a symbol and ignore the new meanings that are assigned by the subsequent generations; they become the victims of their own vain imaginations. This process leads to dogmas, fundamentalism and fanaticism.

One of the most important contributions of the Báb to humankind was to slew the dragon of dogmatism in metaphysics. The Báb in His later Writings especially in the Persian Bayan and Panj Shan (Five Modes) looks at some of these ancient symbolic archetypes and assigns to them new sets of meanings that match the psychological and spiritual dynamics of humankind at the present stage of its evolution.

Fundamental Verities in the Writings of the Báb: 2. The Principle of Individual Investigation of Truth in the Writings of the Báb     edit

by Habib Riazati

The principle of individual investigation of truth is one of the fundamental verities mentioned in the Writings of the Báb. According to the writings of the Báb, everyone should on his/her own, investigate the truth and make his/her own choice. Moreover, this is considered the main principle around which all other beliefs revolve. According to the Báb's later Writings such as Seven Proofs, Persian Bayan and Panj Sha'n; no one should accept or reject anything based on the affirmation or rejection of others, regardless of who the other person(s) may be or what position or authority they may hold in society. According to the Bab, such individual investigation of truth will impact one's own individuation, differentiation and helps him/her to discover his/her hidden noble gems, as well as his/her attitudes and interpersonal relationships with others. According to Persian Bayan everyone has been given the gifts of thinking and reflecting that can be used to understand the truth according to his/her own capacity. Moreover, no one should Judge another person's faith or intention. The diversity of opinions should be allowed and encouraged. According to Báb's Rasala Suluk, there are manifold alternative paths for discovering and knowing the truth. Hence, according to Persian Bayan, no one should feel that his/her way of approaching the truth is the most fitted or the only way for others. Everyone according to his/her capacity understands the truth. Upholding this principle will uphold the unity in diversity of humankind.

One of the most important qualities of a true seeker is to uphold "Purity" in all things. According to Bayan. By purity is meant true detachment from everything but the Truth. The True seeker should not see anything but the truth, not hear anything but the truth. The true seeker needs to concern itself, at all times, with the ultimate objective of all things and never be content with blind obedience to the laws and ordinances. He/she should follow the light and not to feel in love with the lamps or get attached to the mirrors that they are reflecting in them. He should see the reflections and the manifestations of the Sun of Reality (Primal Will) in every created being according to their own capacities and stations. Among other important attributes of a true seeker is to pray to God to enable him/her to become insightful so that he/she can recognize the realities of all things and to judge the truth based on its own evidences and nothing else.

Harmony of Science and Religion in 10 Best Parenting Skills     edit

by Keyvan Geula

This presentation will consider two sources to find out "What Makes a Good Parent": The Baha'i Faith's approach to parenting and some scientific findings regarding this most important educational issue.

A recent article in Scientific American Mind claims that, decades of research reveals a set of 10 essential parenting skills. This information is the result of a new study done on 2,000 parents to determine which skills are most important for bringing up healthy, happy and successful children. Showing love and affection tops the list. Then comes managing stress and establishing good relationship between the parents , that to the surprise of the researchers, are shown more helpful than some child-focused behaviors.

The research has compared three sources: What experts advise, what really seems to work, and what parents actually do. Among the top 10 criteria, contrary to Baha'i perspective, religion was listed as number 9 under parents supporting spiritual or religious development of children and participating in spiritual or religious activities of their child! The list includes:
  1. Love & Affection: Expressing love and affection towards one's child. Praising the child regularly. Being generally supportive and accepting of the child. Listening actively when the child speaks. Spending quality one-on-one time with the child.
  2. Stress Management: Reducing sources of stress for oneself and for the child. Practicing relaxation techniques. Positively interpreting life's events. Prioritizing and planning appropriately. Teaching stress-management skills to the child.
  3. Relationship Skills: Maintaining a positive relationship with the spouse/partner. Coordinating parenting techniques with the other parent. Planning quality family time. Couple spending some time away from the child. Settling arguments out of the child's sight. Teaching basic relationship skills to the child.
  4. Autonomy & Independence: Treating the child (or children) with respect and trying to build his or her self-esteem. Encouraging the child to become self-reliant and self-sufficient.
  5. Education & Learning: Promoting and modeling learning. Supporting the completion of homework. Supporting and modeling reading. Supporting school curriculum goals within the home. Participating in school functions.
  6. Life Skills: Managing your money responsibly. Having a steady income. Providing all household necessities consistently. Planning for shortages and emergencies. Planning for the future. Striving for improvement.
  7. Behavior Management: Using positive reinforcement and reward systems extensively. Using minimal but effective forms of discipline. Providing a proper balance of affection and discipline. Teaching the child positive and effective techniques for interacting with other people.
  8. Healthy Lifestyle: Supporting and modeling healthy eating habits, daily exercise, good sleeping habits, and good hygiene.
  9. Religion & Spirituality: Supporting the child's spiritual or religious development and activity. Participate in religious, spiritual, or communal activities with your child. Supporting friendships with religious or spiritual peers.
  10. Safety. Taking necessary precautions to protect the child. Maintaining awareness of the child's activities and friends appropriate to his or her abilities and level of maturity. Making the child feel safe about disclosing secrets. Establishing rules appropriate to his or her abilities and level of maturity.
The examination of the above top 10 parenting skills in the light of the Baha'i teachings, will demonstrate the harmony of science and religion and how the parents can translate what they learn into action in daily life.

The presentation will utilize a Power Point presentation, discussion, interactions, stories, clinical examples, etc.

Health and Healing: A Bahá'í Perspective     edit

by Arsalan Geula

There are two ways of healing sickness, material means and spiritual means. The first is by the treatment of physicians; the second consisteth in prayers offered by the spiritual ones to God and in turning to Him. Both means should be used and practiced.
The most important teachings of the major religions of the world of the past were in regard to one's relationship with God. Their social teachings were limited to time, place and level of the development of the society where the revelation took place. Most of the teachings about health consisted of dietary and sanitary instructions. For example Jewish and Islamic dietary laws, laws of burial and marriage, relationship between a man and a woman, just to mention a few.

Healing as we know it today was unknown. It was believed that diseases were caused by demons or were consequences of one's sin. Healing could only occur if one could restore his relationship with God through repenting and prayers or bring sacrifices (material or animal) to please God.

The Bahá'í Faith, being the latest revelation from God, teaches the unity of human spirit and body. They are two complementary aspects of human live. The illness and disturbance of one can cause disease of the other. Therefore the Bahá'í Faith not only teaches prayers for the sick, but also asks the Bahá'ís to seek the help of a physician and modern medicine.

The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith about the role of the modern medicine in health and healing is unique in the history of religion.

Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet founder of the Bahá'í Faith advises His followers in the Most Holy Book (the Kitáb-i-Aqdas):
Resort ye, in times of sickness, to competent physicians; We have not set aside the use of material means, rather have We confirmed it through this Pen, which God hath made to be the Dawning-place of His shining and glorious Cause.
'Abdu'l-Bahá in His many writings and talks further describes the relationship of the physician to his patients, and the spiritual character that a physician must have in order to be an effective physician. He recommended the study of medicine and send many of the Bahá'í student to Medical School at His own expense. During His time, 'Abdu'l-Bahá oversaw the running of a clinic at Abú-Sínán, a Druse village near Akká. This clinic was manned by Bahá'í physicians and nurses and was open to everyone, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliation, and would treat many free of charge.

In this session the following topics will be reviewed:
  • Definition of health.
  • Life expectancy then and now.
  • Scientific advances in health and healing.
    • Dietary.
    • Hygienic.
    • Medical therapy.
      • Preventive. Vaccination.
      • Treatment of infection and other diseases.
  • Spiritual means of healing.
    • Prayer.
    • Physician.
      • Character.
      • Relationship with the patient.
"This science (of the healing arts) is the noblest of all sciences. It is indeed the most potent instrument for the protection of the bodies of men provided by Him who breatheth life into bones. He hath given it the foremost rank among all sciences and the pursuits of the learned. However, this is the day for thee to arise to help My Cause, while fully detached from all the worlds." (Provisional translation of the Tablet of Tib [Tablet to a physician] by Bahá'u'lláh.) Thy Name is my healing, O my God, and remembrance of Thee is my remedy. Nearness to Thee is my hope, and love for Thee is my companion. Thy mercy to me is my healing and my succor in both this world and the world to come. Thou, verily, art the All-bountiful, the All-knowing, the All-wise. Bahá'u'lláh

I know Not How to Sing Thy Praise: Reflections on a Prayer of Bahá'u'lláh     edit

by Wolfgang Klebel

This prayer of Bahá'u'lláh (PM 122) gives access to the basic question of theology about "God" for this day and age, where practical and theoretical atheism and irreligion has captured at least halve of mankind, not only in the East but also in the West. It presents an answer to the question how to believe in God today and how to understand words like the following from another prayer of Bahá'u'lláh: "O Thou Who art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!" (PM 248)

In this commentary the four modes of Revelation described by the Báb are used to understand the theological locus of the many prayers of the Bahá'í Manifestations, who are used by the faithful as private prayers. It appears to be the first time in the history of Religion, that the prayers of the Manifestation are used by the faithful in this personal way. According to the Báb, prayer is the second mode of Revelation after the Verses of God. Here the language of revelation is uttered in the voice of the Prophet, but now speaking in the station of the creation, addressing the Creator with an attitude of servitude and effacement (an affirmation of `Thou art God') See Nader Saiedi, Logos and Civilization, page 295.

The other two modes are commentaries and scientific educational discourse. Theological inquiry can benefit from this distinction and the prayers of Bahá'u'lláh are a valid source of theological information, giving the Bahá'í theology a special advantage in the sense of Hans Urs von Balthazar's distinction between "kneeling" and "sitting" theology. To distinguish between a theology, which is connected to contemplative prayer, on the one hand and theology as scientific and educational understanding of the Revelation, on the other, can benefit the student of theology and clarify issues that were confusing in the past.

The commentary on this prayer of Bahá'u'lláh brings a number of important question to light. What is the difference between not knowing how to praise and describe God in the Bahá'í Faith, and the denial of the existence of God in atheism? What is the relation of the Manifestation with God? Consequently, how does that affect the religion in today's world? What is the meaning of modern atheism, agnosticism and in what way has the understanding of God changed during the last centuries? Does theology today have to be a "post-atheistic" theology and has any previous theology become inadequate? What is the theological position of the praying person and what is prayer and what is it not? What should we pray for and what is the effect of prayer?

Every revelation responds to the needs of the time; every revelation abolishes, conserves, and expands the previous revelations. Trying to find new theological insights from Bahá'í prayers is a legitimate scholarly task and this paper attempts to serve as an example of this process. Bahá'í theology, therefore, can legitimately be called progressive theology as it documents the progress of understanding the Bahá'í Revelation throughout the time given to this Revelation.

This commentary has a personal aspect, it is helping the writer and hopefully the reader to improve their devotional life and to understand what is expressed when reciting or chanting the Bahá'í prayers. Any theological inquiry needs to be applicable in the life of the faithful; otherwise, "such academic pursuits as begin and end in words alone have never been and will never be of any worth." (TB 169)

In the following paper, the prayer is first printed in its entirety, after that the individual sentences are repeated and commented upon. The prayer is divided into four paragraphs.

The first describes the Not-knowing of how to sing God's praise, how to describe God's glory and how to call God's name. In this paragraph, it is emphasized that no creature of God can do this. This impotence is extended to the issue of praising God's essential oneness, which is included in this declaration of impotence, of Not-Knowing; in fact this attempt is described as vain imagination.

In second paragraph the impossibility of knowing God is again pointed out, but then the mercy of God is depicted, which allows the servant to praise God and a colorful picture of this praise is painted. Further, it is noted that this praise will result in the believer attaining what God has destined for them through God's will and purpose.

In the third paragraph, the total impotence of the creature to praise God is again declared. Following this, it is explained that it is God, Who draws the believer towards Him; God being the all Powerful and Supreme Ruler .

In the last paragraph this relationship between God and the human person is again the topic and it is emphasized what the characteristics of the person have to be to appeal to God's mercy and grace. Moreover, it is again pointed out that God is the cause of the prayer, which allows the servant to reach the heights to which he aspires. The Closure of the prayer again lauds God's forgiving mercy and bountiful gift

It needs to be noted here that this paper was written originally for a class in the Wilmette Institute, five years after this writer had become a Bahá'í. It has been edited and expanded to include new thoughts and a better understanding over time, but the original message did not have to be changed.
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Kant's Universal Peace and the Bahá'í Vision of a Future World Order     edit

by Ian Kluge

In 1795, Immanuel Kant published Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch in which he outlined the practical steps necessary to end war among nation-states. Though focused on Europe, its intent was global and included, among other things, the establishment of a "league of peace" and a federal union of all nations. Because Baha'u'llah's proposals for the establishment of world unity and peace were not made until the late 1860's, the question arises: To what extent does Kant's essay directly anticipate and/or indirectly foreshadow the Bahá'í teachings about the elimination of war and the establishment of a workable peace? Answering this question requires a careful examination of their similarities and differences not only in what is or is not said explicitly but also in what is also left implicit or in the background. Our conclusion is that while there are some superstructural similarities between "Perpetual Peace" and the Writings, there are a considerable number of significant foundational differences as well as differences in the completeness and sufficiency of the proposals.
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New Atheism and the Bahá'í Writings, The     edit

by Ian Kluge

In this paper we shall examine four of the foundational works of the new atheism movement which has become a strong presence in current debates about the role of God and religion in human existence both past and present, and the role of religion in regards to society, education, science and in public discourse in general. After an examination of the specific attributes of the new atheism and its relationship to the `old atheism,' the paper examines issues raised by the four central new atheists — Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett — and examines them in light of the Bahá'í Writings on such subjects as ontological and methodological materialism, the principle of sufficient reason, the origin of reality, causality and final causes, the problems of auto-creation or self-generation, God as a "scientific hypothesis," and the difficulties undermining the new atheists' own theories of for explaining the enormous power that religious belief holds over people.

We shall also examine the new atheists' handling of philosophical arguments about God's existence, faith versus reason, secular-humanist ethics, as well as their claim that morality and religion are not only distinct but antithetical to each other. The problems inherent in the new atheists' scriptural literalist and non-evolutionary readings of religion will be examined.

This paper explores some of the areas in which the Bahá'í teachings and the new atheism agree, although these are fewer than the points of disagreement. New atheists and Bahá'ís can agree that enormous crimes have been perpetrated in the name of religion; they can also agree that religion and science have had a rocky relationship, especially in the last two centuries, and that religion has not always fostered the independent investigation of reality. Surprisingly, the Bahá'í Writings and the new atheism also agree on the subject of realism in ethics, epistemology and ontology.

The paper concludes that despite significant foundational differences between the Bahá'í Writings and the new atheism, there are still five important areas where fruitful dialogue and cooperation can take place.
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Orientals Meeting in the West: Foes Become Friends     edit

by Mina Yazdani

When `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás travelled to Europe and North America in 1911-1913, many of his father's followers, from both `East' and `West' showered him with devotion befitting the current head of their religion. At the same time, several other prominent Iranian travelers who had a history ranging from negative attitudes towards Bahá'ís to all-out opposition also sought audiences with him. The accounts of these visits describe mutually respectful interactions. His famous Iranian visitors included scholars and Qájár princes. Among them were Muhammad Qazvíní, a well-know scholar who had collaborated with British Orientalist, Edward Browne, to publish materials that undermined the claims of Baha'u'llah and supported those of his rival brother Mírzá Yahyá; Mírzá Mahdí Khán Za`ím'd-Dawlih Tabrízí, the author of a major anti-Bahá'í polemical work who visited `Abdu'l-Bahá on his return from Europe in 1913; and Mas`úd Mírzá Zill's-Sultán, the son of Násir'd-Dín Shah, and his own son Jalál'd-Dawlih, both of whom had persecuted and ordered the execution of Bahá'ís back in Iran.

This paper posits explanations for the noticeable change in attitude evinced by these formerly antagonistic visitors toward `Abdu'l-Bahá. Investigating primary sources, including memoirs, chronicles and newspaper clippings, we will study the transformations that occurred in the interactions that `Abdu'l-Bahá had with other Iranian travelers.

Overture to Universal Peace: An exposition based on the talk by `Abdu'l-Bahá, New York City, December 4, 1912     edit

by James Thomas

A century ago the Bahá'í Faith "lit up the western sky" with a fresh new way of presenting spiritual proofs as articulated by `Abdu'l-Bahá that began when He set forth upon the shores of the North American Continent. At the conclusion of His epic journey to America in 1912, He presented an address that touched on a series of subjects which clarified the challenges facing the new western believers in their efforts to acquire a deeper understanding of the verities set forth by the Founder of the Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. At the same time He coupled certain truths that would enable them to express more effectively the concepts and principles when teaching the new faith to an energetic, self willed, materialistic society. This would set the stage for the Tablets of the Divine Plan that would follow in a few short years which, in turn, would embrace completely, the American Bahá'ís under the tutelage of Shoghi Effendi as they fulfilled their destiny to help bring about universal peace on earth. Such a peace has perhaps been the most elusive among the great challenges facing the march of civilization since the dawn of human history. But, critical to this process would be the western believer's immersion in the study of Bahá'í tenants. Thus, the essential need of `Abdu'l-Bahá's visit becomes apparent. What's more, the study of His talks given at that time provides us with a primary step toward that peace with all of its ramifications.

This paper will focus on elements of the talk given on the day before His return to Europe that seems to summarize the essence of the nine golden months that `Abdu'l-Bahá was with us crossing the face of America. It deals with [1] the uninformed; [2] purpose versus chance; [3] the fallacy of accidental divinity; [4] inner and outer reality; [5] the dependence of human divine aspects upon the Son of Truth and; [6] a conclusion that confirms the inevitability of universal peace.
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Spirit of `Abdu'l-Bahá's Journey to the West and its Multidimensional Significance, The     edit

by Farhad Sabetan

For the first time in the history of religion, the Leader of a religion, appointed by the Founder of the religion to be His Successor, traveled to a different continent to personally bring its message to a new society. The significance of `Abdu'l-Bahá's travel to the Western hemisphere and his approach are examined here. Specifically, the following questions are explored? What were the general themes of `Abdu'l-Bahá's message to the West and what could have been the motives for what He shared? What form or approach did `Abdu'l-Bahá utilize to convey his message? What were the impacts of His travel to the West? Finally, what lessons could be learnt from `Abdu'l-Bahá's manner and the content of His message that could be applicable for today?

`Abdu'l-Bahá — The Mystery of God     edit

by Faris Badii

Even though "Abdu'l-Baha" was the title preferred by the Center of the Covenant of Baha'u'llah Himself, His titles and appellations are many. Among them "the Trust of God," "this sacred and glorious being," "this Branch of Holiness," "the Limb of the Law of God," "this sublime, this blessed, this mighty, this exalted Handiwork," "the most great Favor," "the most perfect bounty," and "the Master," are noteworthy. However, "The Mystery of God," conferred upon Him by Baha'u'llah is perhaps the most intriguing. We would like to explore some aspects of this title and its historical evidentiary aspects. From His birth, to His knowledge of that which was hidden to the commoners, to conditions surrounding His marriage, His selection and appointment of His successor, His astonishing predictions including the end of "Pax Britannica" and even conditions surrounding His ascension all point to unique and enigmatic historical events that mystify the mind.