About the Irfán Colloquium session #4 (English)
DePoort, NetherlandsNovember 4–6, 1994.
The Fourth Conference on the study of sacred texts supported by the Haj Mehdi Arjmand Fellowship Trust Fund and organized by the Research Office of the Bahá'í National Center was held at the DePoort Conference Center in the Netherlands, 4-6 November 1994. As recommended by the Continental Board of Counsellors for Europe, the conference focused on the theme of "The Kitab-i- Aqdas." It drew over seventy participants from ten countries and heard eleven presentations. The conference had a two-fold purpose: 1) addressing the greatness of the Aqdas and its place in the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, and 2) discussing some of the more controversial aspects of the laws and principles of the Aqdas, for the purpose of finding ways to present them to skeptics and the general public.
The conference opened Friday night with Dr. Moojan Momen's presentation "The History of Writing and Transmission of the Kitab-i-Aqdas." He summarized the Bahá'ís' need and request for a body of laws and Bahá'u'lláh's revealing of laws over a period of time of as much as five years. He described efforts to put the laws into practice as well as the circulation of manuscript copies of the Aqdas in Iran and the first printings of the book in Arabic and other languages. His presentation was followed by Dr. Robert H. Stockman, who spoke on "The Terms Revelation, Interpretation, and Elucidation in the Bahá'í Writings." The presentation examined paradoxical aspects of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, of the interpretations of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and of the Universal House of Justice's power of elucidation and considered the relevance of these processes to study of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.
Saturday morning the conference opened with a presentation by Dr. Iraj Ayman on "The General Nature of Divine Laws," a talk that outlined the meaning and purpose of divine laws and the need to interpret each law in its context in the revelation, and underlined the evolutionary process envisaged for the implementation of the Bahá'í laws. Dr. Ayman also noted that the meaning of many laws may not always be clear in the context of current trends in society, but will be fully understood in a mature Bahá'í community and in a society that will be influenced by the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. The rest of the morning was devoted to a panel discussion led by Payam Akhavan and Sama Payman about Bahá'í penal laws. Much of the presentation focused on a document about capital punishment by the Bahá'í International Community and comments on the principles the document set out.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to the Kitab-i-Aqdas and gender issues. Dr. Seena Fazel's "The Inheritance Laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas" discussed the gender inequality established by the rules of inheritance for wives, sons, daughters, and non-Bahá'í relations. He noted that because Shoghi Effendi said "it is only fair" for Bahá'ís to provide for non-Bahá'í relations in one's will, even though the Aqdas provides nothing for them, the inheritance laws are not meant to be "normative." Ms. Lil Abdo's "An Examination of Androgyny and Sex Specification in the Kitab- i-Aqdas" considered whether the Aqdas contains the nucleus of a non-sexist law code and how that code has been developed, especially through application of the *mutatis mutandis* principle. Finally, Dr. Wendi Momen's "Service of Women on the Universal House of Justice" discussed the exclusion of women from service on the Bahá'í Faith's supreme governing body and reviewed some of the relevant passages from the Bahá'í writings according precedence and superiority to women with regard to certain functions in society. She concluded that perhaps it is better to ask "What is the Universal House of Justice?" rather than "Why cannot women serve on it?"
Saturday evening opened with Kamran Ekbal's presentation on Bahá'í marriage laws in a historical perspective, especially regarding bigamy. The rest of the evening was devoted to Joseph Housseal's "Cultivating a Bahá'í Response to Homosexuality." The paper delineated the position in the Bahá'í writings, including an appreciation of their language and tone; and explored the history of incidents of homosexuality, which in most cultures has existed in the context of heterosexual marriages and procreation.
Sunday morning Mr. Roman Bohaek presented a paper on "European Themes in the Kitab-i-Aqdas," which examined statements by Bahá'u'lláh in the Tablets to the Kings and in the Aqdas that relate to Europe and to Christendom. Mr. Sen McGlinn's "Church and State in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh" presented research on statements in the Bahá'í writings about the future relationship between the Houses of Justice and governments, and argued that there would never be a time when the Bahá'í administrative order would replace governments. Sunday morning concluded with a review of the conference and discussion of future plans, including publication of the proceedings of the conference.
Several additional papers had been intended for the conference but the authors were not able to attend to present them. Dr. Vadim Nomokonov had prepared a presentation titled "On the Experience of Taking the Most Holy Book to the Masses Using Structured Educational Material" which detailed efforts in Russia to prepare educational materials on the Aqdas for the Bahá'í community. The presentation tentatively concluded that materials presenting the Aqdas thematically based on the subjects in the Synopsis and Codification were more successful than materials that presented the Aqdas paragraph by paragraph. Dr. Vahid Behmardi assembled a presentation on "Huququ'llah, Zakat, and Khums," comparing Bahá'í and Shi'i Islamic laws of tithing. Mr. Iscander Tinto outlined a presentation on parallels between the Kitab-i-Iqan and the Kitab-i-Aqdas. And Mr. Habib Riazati prepared a presentation titled "The Distinguishing Features of the Kitab-i-Aqdas as Compared to the Bayan."
The DePoort Conference built on the success of the first and second Haj Mehdi Arjmand Conferences, in Newcastle, U.K. and Wilmette, Ill., on the general theme of scripture from a Bahá'í perspective; and on the third Arjmand Conference, held at Green Acre Bahá'í school in the Persian language, also on scripture. The fifth H. J. Arjmand Conference will also focus on the Kitab- i-Aqdas and will be held in Wilmette, Illinois, March 31-April 2, 1995. Another Arjmand Conference in the Persian language will be held in North America in the early fall of 1995, while another Arjmand conference for Europe is scheduled for later in the fall 1995. The European Arjmand Conference tentatively will focus on the theme of "Controversial Issues in Bahá'í scholarship," with the goal of clarifying some of the scholarly issues that often generate criticism of the Faith. A compilation of abstracts for this and previous Arjmand Conferences are available for $3 each by writing to the Research Office, Bahá'í National Center, Wilmette, IL 60091, firstname.lastname@example.org (Internet), 708-733-3563 (FAX) or calling 708-733-3425.