Possible Criticisms of the Baha'i Faith from a Feminist Perspective

By Lil Abdo

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #8
Newcastle, England
December 8–10, 1995
(see list of papers from #8)

    The claim of the Baha'i Faith to uphold the equality of men and women as a principle attracts attention from others who would also claim to be advancing the cause of sex equality, albeit from different perspectives. The purpose of this paper is to look at criticisms of the Faith and the prospect of future attacks which may be made because of its teachings on sex equality and to consider appropriate responses.

    There would appear to be a number of likely sources of criticism. Secular feminists may consider the Baha'i Faith yet another patriarchal religion and dismiss it as such. The emergence of feminist theologies within other faith communities means that the Faith may be attacked from a theological standpoint on this issue. While some religious traditions may accuse Baha'is of undermining the "God-given" superiority of the male.

    The following points have been identified as possible sources of criticism: the ineligibility of women to serve on the Universal House of Justice--this is of particular interest to supporters of women priests within the Christian tradition; the intestacy laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas; the dowry laws with particular reference to the virginity refund clause; the exemption of menstruating women from obligatory prayers and the implication of menstrual taboo; the exemption of women from pilgrimage; the use of androcentric language and male pronouns in texts; the emphasis on traditional morality and family values; the restriction of sexual orientation to heterosexuality; the claim that 'Abdu'l-Baha added nothing new to thinking on this issue, but plagiarized contemporary feminists; and the failure of Baha'is to implement the teachings on equality within their own community.

    There has been a tendency on the part of Baha'is to make extravagant claims concerning this matter with very little evidence to substantiate them. There has been lack of acknowledgement that the Baha'i understanding of sexual equality is different from that of secular feminists. At this time there have been few formal attacks on the Faith from feminists but they cannot be long in coming. What seems to already be occurring is that individual women are rejecting the Faith on these issues. In this paper I will address the above points and consider possible responses.

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