From Secret of Divine Civilization to Treatise on Politics

By Muin Afnani

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #46
Bosch Bahá'í School: California, USA
May 1–4, 2003
(see list of papers from #46)

    The book of Madaníyyah, "The Secret of Divine Civilization", was written by the Master in Akka in 1875 at the instruction of Bahá'u'lláh. In a Tablet, written in the voice of Bahá'u'lláh's secretary, it is stated that one day the Blessed Beauty asked The Most Great Branch to write an epistle on the causes of the rise and decline of civilization. When Bahá'u'lláh saw the book of Madaníyyah He expressed His exceeding gladness for what `Abdu'l-Bahá had written.

    To the casual reader it may appear that this book is addressed to the King and the people of Iran in the 19th century. However, the true audiences are political leaders and people of the world. Hence, this is a treatise on the causes of rise and decline of civilization. The significance of this book becomes more apparent when we consider the reform movements taking place in Iran, as well as the oppositions to reform, in the latter decades of that century. Using the particular context of Iran in the 19th century 'Abdu'l-Bahá addresses the objections levied against reform. However, in addressing each particular objection He explains the factors causing decline of civilization in general, and the conditions necessary for its progress.

    Roles and responsibilities of political leaders, duties and responsibilities of citizens, the role of religion in civilization, religion vs. state, and qualifications necessary for true leaders are among the topics addressed extensively in this magnificent book. Aside from these topics, this book could be studied from linguistic point of view. To cite one example, throughout this work 'Abdu'l-Bahá has quoted from Persian and Arabic sayings and poetry, many of which had become forgotten or archaic by then.

    The book of Síyyásíyyah, "The Political Treatise," was written about the year 1893, a year after Bahá'u'lláh's ascension. This book has not been translated, however, its content is very much similar to "The Secret of Divine Civilization," and it is much shorter. In this book the Master in a very clear language talks about the ruinous results of interference of the clergy in politics, and gives historical examples. The significance of this book becomes more evident when one considers the following sets of events in the last decade of the 19th century:

    1. The sociopolitical environment of Iran (and the Middle East) leading to significant changes in the next few decades.

    2. The activities of Azali Covenant breakers (followers of Mírzá Yahyá Azal) who were active in politics.

    The large growth of the Bahá'í community of Iran in this period and the need for its protection.

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