An Examination of Androgyny and Sex Specification in the Kitab- i-Aqdas

By Lil Abdo

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #4
DePoort, Netherlands
November 4–6, 1994
(see list of papers from #4)

    The purpose of this paper is to consider the use of male definitions and standpoints in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in relation to the Bahá'í principle of equality of the sexes, to evaluate the concept of mutatis mutandis and the laws to which it does not apply within the context of a rejection of androgyny and androcentric language, and the development of a feminist hermeneutic.

    To develop a feminist perspective it is necessary to consider the Kitáb-i-Aqdas with particular reference to the use of androcentric language. A fundamental consideration of the development of feminist theology and of the wider feminist hermenetitic has been the rejection of the assumption that humanity is male.
    For where the male has been thought to represent the whole of humanity, the half has been mistaken for the whole, so that what has been described has been distorted in such a way that we cannot see it correctly. As long as men believe that their experiences, viewpoint, and ideas represent all of human experience and all of human thought, abstract definition and description of the real will alike be inaccurate.1

    The absurdity of the androcentric use of "man" is challenged by Mary Daly by the use of linguistic contradictions such as the "sisterhood of man."2

    A number of the laws contained in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas at first sight present difficulties for the development of a feminist perspective. The laws are in general from a male standpoint, especially in regard to marriage and divorce. The money back guarantee on a bride's virginity, the exemption from obligatory prayer and fasting for menstruating women, and the laws of intestacy which give a larger share to male heirs, are not obvious starting points for sex equality.

    The situation is compounded by the principle of mutatis mutandis which means laws are equally applicable to men and women-where biology permits. This could be argued to reinforce the assumption that woman is the biologically determined "other," whilst the male is the norm.

    However, some laws it would seem are more mutatis mutandis than others. For example, the instruction that hair should not be worn below the ear is accompanied by the following note:
    Shoghi Effendi has made clear, that unlike the prohibition on shaving the head, this law forbidding the growing of the hair beyond the ear pertains only to men. The application of this law will require clarification from the Universal House of Justice.3

    Meanwhile, pederasty, biologically impossible for women, has been interpreted to include all forms of homosexuality, including lesbianism.

    It is hoped that this paper will answer some of the above points and demonstrate that the Aqdas contains the nucleus of a non-sexist law code. On the other hand, it may raise as many questions as it answers.
    1. Loades, Ann (ed), Feminist Theology, A Reader, p. i SPCK (London)1990.

    2. Daly, Mary, Beyond God the Father, p. 9, The Women's Press (London) 1991.

    3. Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 198.

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