Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #48 (English)

Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy

July 10–13, 2003.

Theme: "Philosophy, Science and the Baha'i Faith"

Approach of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to the Problem of Tolerance, The     edit

by Erfan Sabeti

Many times during our lives, we have faced the following question: "Is it necessarily a sign of intolerance to think that certain things are intolerable?" Or else in a different manner:" Does being tolerant mean tolerating everything?" A philosophical essay is as good as the arguments it offers.

In this essay, we explore the difference between these concepts: forbearance, indifference, acceptance, turning away, freedom and tolerance. Then we distinguish matters of opinion and belief from scientific and aesthetic ones. The problem of tolerance arises only in matters of opinion (and behaviors according to them), which is why it arises so often, indeed almost constantly. We know far less than we don't know, and everything we know depends, directly or indirectly, on something we don't know.

Here comes the necessity of an omniscient source of knowledge, surely not human. Metaphysics is the core of philosophy and true metaphysics is found in religion. Hence, we examine the teachings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in order to find some criteria relevant to tolerance. Drawing on these teachings, we put forward the notion of 'Paradox of Tolerance'.

The pure tolerance would be self-negating in practical terms and thus not just morally but practically doomed. An unlimited tolerance would end up negating itself since it would give free rein to those who seek to destroy it. Tolerance, therefore, can only apply within certain limits, which maintain and preserve the conditions that make it possible. We will try to set up the boundaries for tolerance according to Bahá'í thought: theoretically, the search after truth, and practically, the love for justice.

And to conclude, we ask ourselves if the word 'tolerance' is appropriate; we can only tolerate something that we would have the power to prevent, distaste or forbid. Some things are intolerable and must be disrespected, e.g., murder, torture-and some things are tolerable if not loveable.

Tolerance is a minor, in comparison to love, but a necessary virtue. While awaiting the day when tolerance will become love, we will say that tolerance is the best we can do.

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Bab's Commentary on the Ultimate Reality, The     edit

by Stephen Lambden

The Hadíth al-haqíqa ("Tradition concerning Ultimate Reality") or Hadíth Kumayl is the record of an alleged (Arabic) conversation between the first Shí`í Imam, `Alí b. Abí Tílib (d.40/661) and his Shí`í associate, the one-time governor of Hít (Iraq, 130 miles from Baghdad), Kumayl ibn Ziyíd ibn Nahíd ibn Haytham ibn Sa'd ibn Malik ibn al-Nakhí'í. (d. c.81 / 701) whose shine is located at wadí al-salím near Najaf (Iraq) (al-Mufíd, K. al-Irshíd). It has to do with the nature and definition of of al-h*aqíqa which is often (loosely) translated "Reality" or "Ultimate Reality". The hadíth al-haqíqa is a well-known tradition much discussed and highly influential in Shí`í Islamic philosophy and mysticism as well as many times registered in Babi-Baha'i scripture. It has been commented upon by the early Shaykhi leaders as well as many gnostic (irfani) or esoterically minded thinkers among them Hajji Mullí Hídí Sabziwírí (d. c.1295/ 1878). He had occasion to comment upon the Hadíth al-haqiqa in various of his works including the recently republished (new edition) of his `Commentary on the Most Beautiful Names of God'. The hadíth al-haqíqa has several times been (partially) translated into English, once by the Cambridge orientalist Edward G. Browne (d.1926) and again by the American Presbyterian missionary Dwight M Donaldson (d.1976) whose article has been published in the periodical Muslim World . In his commentary on the hadíth al-haqíqa the Bab introduces it as follows: In commentary upon the `Tradition about Reality' (hadith al-haqiqa) which has it that Kumayl ibn ZiyAd al-Nakha`i was riding one day behind [imam] `Ali (upon Him be peace) on his she-camel (naqa). And Kumayl said `O my Master, what is al-haqiqa ("Reality")?' [Imam] `Ali upon Him be peace replied, `What have you to do with Reality?' He [Kumayl] responded, `Am I not a custodian of thy secret (sahib al-sirrika)? He [`Ali] said, `Yes! but what merely sprinkles down upon thee overfloweth abundantly through me.' Subsequently `Ali gives several somewhat cryptic definitions of al-haqiaq (Reality). The final definition refers to the subh al-azal ("Morn of Eternity") and is the ultimate source of the title of Mirza Yahya (c. 1834-1912) (Per.) Subh-i Azal Among the imamological and other senses given the Hadith Kumayl by the Bab is that it revolves around the high station of Imam `Ali, whose Logos-Self is represented as the creative genesis of Being and a divine effulgence which mediates divine realities in the world of creation. The Bab from very early in his mission cited and gave importance to the Hadíth Kumayl. He cited it in his early Risíla 'l-suluk ("Trestise on the Path") as he did later in his Sahifa bayn al-haramayn (Epistle between the two shrines) and his (Persian) Dala'il-i sab`ih (Seven Proofs) where it is also given an interesting imamological exegesis.

In this presentation an attempt will be made to sum up the Bab's interpretations of al-haqiqa (Ultimate Reality") in the light of their Shi'i-Shaykhi background. A few of Baha'u'llah's interpretations of passages in the Hadith al-haqiqa will also be briefly summed up.

Confucianism and Modern Chinese Morality     edit

by Serene Freemantle

Divine Philosophy     edit

by Iscander Micael Tinto

The purpose of this paper is to present the concept of the Manifestation of God as it is developed through the Sacred Writings of the main religions of the world.

The powerful impact on civilization of Christ, Moses, the Buddha, or Muhammad can be seen both in the collective development of humanity and in the life of every individual.

This concept it is analysed by introducing the proofs and the purpose of their mission, their sufferings and denial, which are the central themes of the paper. The lives of the Manifestations of God is always questioned before they are fully accepted by humanity in general. Another important aspect that is developed in the paper regards the threefold reality of these Luminous Beings: material, human and divine. In the Bahá'í Writings it is explained that the beginning of all things is the knowledge of God and this can be obtainedthrough the manifestation of God. To try to comprehend this is very important in one spiritual search. The last section of this paper is about the relationship of the Manifestations with the Essence of God, and the relations between themselves.

Early References to the Bábi and Bahá'í Religions in Spain     edit

by Amin Egea

(See also Part 2, Part 3, and Part 3, corrected.)

This presentation will examine the sources for Bábí and Bahá'í history available in Span covering the years 1844 to 1947 (when the Bahá'í faith was established in Spain) discovered by the author over a number of years.There have been found more than 160 references to the Bábí and Bahá'í religions in the Spanish daily press, together with some 50 books, plus some 20 periodicals and a few manuscripts.

The earliest press articles found were published in 1850 and announce the news of the Zanjan upheaval (Madrid October 24th) and the martyrdom of the Báb (Barcelona and Madrid on different days of November). The latest news found were published in 1903 and refer to the Bahá'í persecutions in Yazd. News articles from 1852, 1853, 1873, 1880, 1889 and 1896 have also been found.

The earliest reference found in a book is from an encyclopedia published in 1854. Most of the books found are translations of foreign authors or reference works like dictionaries, encyclopedias or manuals. There are, however, some interesting contributions made by Spanish authors.

Some very interesting periodical articles have also been found. These include authors such as a monk living in Haifa, a missionary in North Africa, a Prime Minister, a famous woman-writer and many others totaling almost twenty.

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Globalization and the New World Order: Rethinking Social and Economic Development and the environment     edit

by Augusto Lopez

Much of the debate on the policy and institutional requirements of successful social and economic development in recent years is taking place against the background of the forces of globalization. Few issues in recent years have come to capture the public imagination as much as the debate on the ends and the means of globalization. From the riots in the streets of Prague during the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the autumn of 2000, when thousands of anti-globalization activists did their best to disrupt the proceedings, to the editorial pages of the world's major newspapers, where politicians, academics and entrepreneurs tell us about its multiple challenges, no issue has polarized more visibly public opinion and awakened a more volatile combination of hope and anxiety, expectation and despair. Increasingly, people see the process of globalization itself as shaping (and sometimes limiting) in fundamental ways the nature of the responses to the challenges posed by development. Globalization--to use a helpful definition proposed by Friedman--seems largely to involve "the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed beforein a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before, and in a way that is also producing a powerful backlash from those brutalized or left behind by this new system." To the extent that it is leading to the elimination of barriers among peoples, facilitating communication and interaction in ways that would not have seemed possible at the outset of the last century, it is a benign process which, as noted by Nobel-laureate Joseph Stiglitz, can be a force for good with the potential "to improve the lives of everyone in the world, particularly the poor." The rapid appearance of an anti-globalization movement, however, increasingly seen in full force on the streets at the annual meetings of the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF, G8 summits, and similar gatherings has highlighted the anxieties of the masses of people who feel a growing sense of disaffection with the emergence of a "system" that shapes their lives in ways that are beyond their control. This, in turn, has led thinkers like James Wolfensohn and George Soros to say that the challenge faced by development practitioners is "to make globalization an instrument of opportunity and inclusion, not fear and insecurity." The interactions between the processes of globalization and economic development are multidimensional and will be only hinted at in this short paper. However, we will comment on three central and interrelated aspects: the management of the globalization process; the absence of supporting institutions to better guide it; and the need for a new conception of human solidarity, to provide it with spiritual underpinnings.

Health and Nutrition in the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha     edit

by Minou Foadi

This paper will survey 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings on medicine and health.

It will discuss the teachings on a number of interesting and diverse areas including:

  • the importance of health for spiritual development
  • the material and spiritual significance of life and death
  • the role of food in health, and the prevention and treatment of disease
  • the effect of prayer in health and disease
  • the use of animals for scientific research
  • the different types of treatment modalities
  • the responsibility of both doctors and patients
It will then explore the context of these concepts in relation to the medical thinking of the time and in particular to the practice of medicine in Iran.

Kaleidoscope: Angelology and Colour Mysticism in Babi-Baha'i Scripture     edit

by Stephen Lambden

"Say: O my God! O my God! I supplicate Thee by the blood of Thy chosen Ones through whom the Countenances of the Supreme Concourse (mala' al-a`la) and the companions of the Crimson Ark (ashab al-safinat alhamra') hath been dyed crimson (ahmarrat) to make me one that crieth out in Thy Name and is steadfast in Thy Cause. Thou, verily art the Powerful, the Mighty, the All-Gracious." (Baha'u'llah)

"[7] Praise be to God Who hath caused the Light to circle round the twin Mounts of His Light and made the Light to revolve around the twin Spheres of His Light. [8] He hath caused the Light to beam forth in the Loci of His Light and made the Light to be retained in the Repositories of His Light. [9] [Again] hath He caused the Light to scintillate through the impulses of His Light and made the Light to shine resplendent in the Countenances of His Light.[10] Praise God! Praised be God! Worthy of praise is He Who establisheth His Own worth, for besides Him there is none other."
(Baha'u'llah, Lawh-i kull al-ta'am)

A kaleidoscope (Gk. kalos = beautiful + eidos = form) is an optical 'toy', a device in which beautiful colours and forms can be visually experienced. This brief paper will exhibit kaleidoscopic features in being something of a kind of kashkul ("begging bowl") to mix my metaphors of miscellaneous notes relating to aspects of cosmology, angelology and colour symbolism in Babi-Baha'i and other religious and mystical texts.

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Legal terms in the translations of Shoghi Effendi and in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas     edit

by Moojan Momen

This presentation is in two halves. In the first half, the words which Shoghi Effendi renders as "law" or "laws" in his translations of the Baha'i scriptures are examined. The following terms are found: Sharí'ah or Sharí'at (plural shará'i') or Shar'; Hukm (plural ahkám); Námús (plural nawámís); Qánún (plural qawánín); Asl (plural usúl); Amr (plural awámir); Hadd (plural hudúd); Sunnah (plural sunan); and Fard (plural furúd).

In the second half, these nine Arabic terms are taken and the use of them in the Aqdas is examined, in particular, the way that they are translated in the official translation.

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Logic Chopping or Mystical Union: In what direction might Bahá'í-inspired philosophy of education go?     edit

by Roger Prentice

".the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites man with God.." LofG p.544

Logic-chopping = to bandy words; to altercate. "Chop-logic" is dialectic banter in which confinement to particular meanings of words leads to ludicrousness."

Over recent years I have been developing, for a PhD, a Baha'i model of education called SunWALK. The question behind this presentation is this: "If we start to shape some possible characteristics of a Baha'i Philosophy of Education what part might the non-conceptual play."
NB in the actual presentation I will deal mainly with Part II.

PART I — Introductory context for model presented in Part II
1 What might Baha'is want to include, or exclude, in a philosophy of education c.f. the wider community? Is philosophy only a matter of reason? Do Baha'i writings suggest a concept of heart & mind different to that which prevails in the West? If it is also a matter of that which is beyond reason, how & in what way might that be?

2 The conceptual & the non-conceptual in a philosophy of education. Ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, language, logic, mind, political, ethics versus the ineffable? OR the same 8, viewed in the light of Spiritual/mystical relationship? Philosophy as it has been is necessary but not sufficient. Also necessary from a Baha'i point of view are a) that it relate to the perennial concerns of religion and philosophy, as opposed to being only ' knowing more & more about less and less', b) that it be situated in a theistic context, that includes the station of the Manifestation & His Revelation & His Writings. But how should we relate the conceptual & that which transcends the conceptual?

3 The non-conceptual as 'being in relationship', as in Shoghi Effendi's 'mystic feeling which unites man with God'. What kind of unity is this? What is precluded? I suggest that we use the view of the mystical given by Hick, that mysticism is no more, and no less, than direct religious experience of, so I would say, the Whole or Mystery but excluding of course the pantheistic, and the idea of direct union with the Godhead. Ought the subjective be hallowed? (As well as the caring, the critical the creative and 'being in community?')

4 The non-conceptual as non-dualistic experience being 'at-one-with' experience c.f. Christian 'at-one-ment.' Instead of the Christian notion of at-one-ment an alternative is suggested in 'the state of being at-one-with'. As an exercise in demystifying and de-rarefying the nature of the mystical it is suggested that experience of 'being at-one-with' is part of human nature, and therefore close to universal, as in the everyday, "It took me out of my self, or 'being lost in a good book' " It is the context in which life is lived that counts. Being at-one-with concerns intense experience involving loss of ego boundaries AND more importantly, it is suggested, it is one 'wing' in the central psycho-spiritual dynamic in being human we pay attention to parts, or live in experience of the Whole. The mystical and the philosophical are mutually validating, through shifts in consciousness & focus.

PART II will consist of a model of 'relationship to the ineffable' as the necessary accompaniment of reason as a suggested basis for Baha'i educational philosophising & educational practice

Long Obligatory Prayer, The: A linguistic and theological exploration     edit

by Ismael Velasco

This paper will look at the Baha'i concept of obligatory prayer, introduce the history and significance of the Long Obligatory Prayer, and carry out a detailed commentary on some of the allusions and implications of the text of this important Baha'i prayer. Drawing on both, the text in the original language, and the interpretive translations of Shoghi Effendi, as well as on the scriptural and theological background of key concepts, it will seek to discover possible allusions and significances that branch out from the root meaning of the text. Themes that emerge from this analysis include obligatory prayer as a developmental process; the significance of spiritual intent in the practice of obligatory prayer, the three realms of being (God, Manifestation, Creation) as the theological context for obligatory prayer; themotif of the Twin Manifestations and the Cycle of Fulfillment; the significance of Bábi and Islamic motifs in the text of the prayer, and more.

This exercise will permit some tentative reflections on what Professor Bausani designated Bahá'u'lláh's "expressive style", and its particular ties to the "realized eschatology" which underpins the logic of Bahá'u'lláh's allusions.

Of Camels, Sheep and the Prophet Muhammad: A Dream Interpretation by `Abdu'l-Baha     edit

by Necati Alkan

Dream interpretation is an ancient and universal practice. Countless books have been written on the subject since the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greeks called it egkoimesis and the Romans incubatio. During the period of classical Islam dream interpration among ancient sciences was passed on to Islam and became sophisticated.

Dreams (sing. ru'yá) and their interpration (ta`bír) had and still have a central place among Muslims, including the practice of istikhára for invoking dreams in order to arrive at a solution of a problem. It is moreover noteworthy that ta`bír was utilised for political claims and legitimation of rulers.

Messengers and Prophets of God have received their revelations, good news and divine commands by way of dreams and visions. This is mentioned the Qur'án and ahádíth. In addition, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh had their first revelations through dreams. Also, the Báb's first followers, the Letters of the Living, became aware of Him via dreams.

The theme of this paper is a short Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Ottoman Turkish to discuss the importance of dreams in the Bahá'í religion. There are Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá classifying dreams into several categories. He endorses some of those categories as kinds of inspirations or foreseeing what will happen in future. There are other Tablets that he has given interpretation to the dreams as the request of Bahá'ís that had such experiences.

The dream under consideration is as follows: the addressee of the Tablet saw himself in the holy Ka`ba, the centre of Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca. He also dreamed of the Prophet Muhammad, riding a camel. And Muhammad was casting shadow with his blessed hand on a flock of sheep. However, only ten chosen sheep were particularly under His shadow or protection.

'Abdu'l-Bahá explains various images in this dream according to Islamic ta`bír and His own interpretation.

On grading religions: A Baha'i perspective on developing interreligious dialogue     edit

by S Fazel and Khazeh Fananapazir

though Baha'i texts explicitly affirm the validity of the major world religions, the idea of grading religious movements and theological developments is not alien to them. For example, aspects of Shiite and

Sufi thought, some of Luther's reforms of the Catholic church, and certain secular changes in the late nineteenth century Middle East are endorsed. In this paper, the question we propose to answer is what central religious ideas and themes are graded in Baha'i texts. We will present two key concepts - progressive revelation and a balanced hermeneutic - that cut across the major world religions that could potentially contribute to improving interreligious dialogue, and consider how these concepts have emerged in these religions.

Pantheism: A Crossroads of Science and Religion     edit

by Enoch N. Tanyi

There are two belief systems of pantheism. One school of thought, that of the ancient philosophers and Súfís, and their followers, believes that 'God is not a separate being, but is either the entire natural order or an aspect of the entire natural order.'1 In other words, the universe is a manifestation of God.2 The second school of thought, that of the Prophets, maintains that God is single and alone, and that the creation of God emanates from, and does not manifest God.3

Even though God is not a part of His creation, and every human being has not a spark of the reality of God within him,4 'Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, '5
In explaining the concept of the Prophets, 'Abdu'l-Bahá employs the concept of biogeochemistry6, also termed nutrient recycling7. This concept of the movement of atoms throughout the forms and organisms in the universe8, which 'Abdu'l-Bahá terms 'the true explanation of pantheism'9 implies the conservation of matter and energy.10 Thus, a link is established between pantheism, a religious concept, and the science of ecology, chemistry, and physics.

In brief, therefore, the universe emanates from God, Who is single and separate from His creation, but throughout His material kingdoms, there is a continuous movement of atoms and this movement of atoms explains the epigram: All things are involved in all things.11 The phrase 'All things', of course, precludes the Pre-existent Being.
The singleness of God has a number of implications: [1] Because the world of humanity emanates from one God, it can be said that this world of humanity is one.12

[2] The singleness of God refutes one of the erroneous meanings of the expression 'joining partners with God.'13

[3] The singleness of God implies that His Will and that of His Manifestations are identical14 even though there are cases when the Manifestation of God has been unaware of the Will of God (e.g. Bahá'u'lláh's decision to flee to the mountains of Kurdistan and never to return to Baghdád ).15

[4] The oneness of God also means that, in essence, God has only one attribute.16

[5] The singleness of God is an attribute found in each of His creatures.17 The singleness and uniqueness of God, which is reflected in each of His creatures18, ensures that His worlds and creatures are infinite in range and number.19 & 20 This is the theological basis for the concept of diversity and biodiversity.

The fact that atoms are transferred through all the forms and organisms of the universe implies inter-planetary transfer of atoms. This leads to the formulation and suggestion of the theory of inter-planetary transfer of atoms.


1. Popkin, Richard H., and Avrum Stroll. 1969. Philosohpy Made Simple, p. 163.

2. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 294-5.

3. Ibid.

4. Mahmúd's Diary, p. 199.

5. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 65, section xxvii.

6. Odum, Eugene P. Ecology. Modern Biology Series, 2nd edn., p. 90.

7. Kumar, H. D. 1990. Modern Concepts of Ecology, 2nd edn., p. 9.

8. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 284-6.

9. Ibid., p. 286.

10. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 52.

11. An ancient Arab saying cited by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Ibid.

12. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 286.

13. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 166, section lxxxiv.

14. Ibid., p. 167. Cf. The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an, Sura 4: 150 (Marmaduke Pickthall's translation).

15. Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet to Salman. Untranslated. Referred to in p.6 of a memorandum dated 01 April 2001 from the Research Department to this writer.

16. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 187, section xciii.

17. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 283.

18. Ibid, & 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 285.

19. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, pp. 151-2, section lxxix

20. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 152.

References to Karim Khan Kirmani and the Irshád al-'Avám in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i Íqán     edit

by S. Quinn

This paper will provide an introduction to Karim Khan Kirmani, his life, and his works, in order to contextualize his complex relationship to the Bábá and Bahá'í religions and their founders. The topic will be narrowed down by a closer examination of two particular works: the Irshád al-'Avám and the Kitáb-i Íqán. Particular emphasis will be placed on the mi'ráj and its role in Islamic and Bábí/Bahá'í texts. The paper will end with a discussion of normative lists of "prerequisites" in the same literatures.
Click here to read this paper online.

`Abdu'l-Baha and the Daughters of Ibn-i-Asdaq     edit

by Dominic Parviz Brookshaw

This paper is a study of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's tablets to the daughters of Hand of the Causen of God, Ibn-i Asdaq: Laqá'iyya, Huviyya, Rúhá and Talí`a. A number of these tablets will be discussed in detail and translations of them provided in English. In this paper I will aim to answer two important questions:
  1. What is the substance of the advice and instruction given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá to these young women who each played an important role in the Tehran Bahá'í community at the beginning of the last century?
  2. Does 'Abdu'l-Bahá make any reference in these tablets to the Qajar lineage of Ibn-i Asdaq's wife, Diyá al-Hajiyya?
A brief account of the life of Mullá Sádiq Muqaddas Khurásaní, Ism'u'lláh al-Asdaq and of Ibn-i Asdaq, Shahíd ibn-i Shahíd, will also be given. A more detailed biography of Diyá al-Hajiyya's grandmother, Shah Baygum Diyá al-Saltana (Fath-'Alí Shah's seventh daughter) will also be given. Time will also be devoted to a discussion of the tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá in honour of Diyá al-Hajiyya, her mother, Shahansháh Baygum, and her sister, Aghá Sháhzáda
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