Role-models and anti-models:
Islam and `the West'; in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Treatise on Civilisation

By Oliver Scharbrodt

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #54
Institute of Commonwealth Studies: London, England
July 2–4, 2004
(see list of papers from #54)

    'Abdu'l-Bahá's Treatise on Civilisation, known among the Bahá'ís as The Secret of Divine Civilisation, is one of the most interesting pieces of Bahá'í literature, Although Bahá'ís consider it to belong to the corpus of sacred scripture of their religion, the author conceives the text as a contribution to the reformist discourse in the late 19th century Middle East. Responding to reform attempts in Iran in the mid 1870s, 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the author remains anonymous and pretends to be a patriotic Iranian Muslim who supports the modernisation of his country. The paper will not focus so much on the actual contents of the treatise but rather discuss the strategies and argumentation employed in the text. The picture of Islam and Islamic history will be presented as well as the perception of 'the West' as both a role-model and WI anti-model for the Middle East. Finally, the treatise will be put in context with other contemporary reformist literature and related to Bahá'u'lláh at about the world reform programme which emerged at about the same time when the treatise was written.

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