Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #8 (English)

Newcastle, England

December 8–10, 1995.

Theme: "Responding to Attacks on and Criticisms of the Faith"

Biography of Haj Mehdi Arjmand and a General Review of his Works     edit

by Iraj Ayman

E.G. Browne's Misconceptions     edit

by Nicola Towfigh

When thinking of the well-known British orientalist Edward Granville Browne (1862-1926), Baha'is in the West usually remember the wonderful description of his impressions when he had an audience with Baha'u'llah in Bahji. Thus many Western Baha'is believe that Browne was an admirer and supporter of the Baha'i Faith, which is not at all the case: Browne did not remain an objective spectator and scholar but took more and more the Azalis's side. He adopted Azali views and statements, and developed theories in their support.

One main theory concerns Mirza Yahya Azal's character and station. It is true that Mirza Yahya was the Bab's nominee and recognized chief of the Babi community, but he was not His successor or vicegerent. Browne saw in him a peace-loving, contemplative and gentle person designated by the Bab to be His vali and successor. Browne not only misjudged Mirza Yahya's character and personal integrity, but also his function. Other misconceptions are related to this central misunderstanding. Browne tried to prove Azal's unrestricted leadership by saying it was he who first came to Baghdad whereas Baha'u'llah followed him, or it was he who ordered Baha'u'llah's return to Baghdad after His retirement to Kurdistan. Of course, both are not the case. He also adopted the Azali theory of the numerical significance of the words Ghiyath and Mustaghath, assuming that the Promised One of the Bab would not appear before a lapse of 1511 to 2001 years.

Browne's publication of Kitab-i-Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, which he himself regarded as a strong Azali weapon of attack, once more showed his tendency to support the Azalis. Attributing its authorship to an early Babi believer called Haji Mirza Jani Kashani, he described the book as most interesting and regarded it as a valuable and authentic work. As the book speaks highly of Mirza Yahya Azal and his station, Browne even accused the Baha'is of having intentionally tried to supersede and suppress it by spreading Tarikh-i-Jadid.

Another misunderstanding concerns the date of Baha'u'llah's declaration as a Manifestation of God. Browne mentioned different dates and finally drew the conclusion that the declaration must have happened in 1866-67 rather than in 1863.

This paper will deal with all these misconceptions, with their origins traced out and refuted.

Experiences with Anti-Baha'i Polemic in German-speaking Countries     edit

by Udo Schaefer

From the beginning of this century, criticism against the Baha'i Faith has been voiced in German-speaking Europe almost exclusively by Protestant theologians, their Catholic counterparts preferring a policy of simply ignoring the Faith. Two monographs, based mainly on material published by the Comte Gobineau and E. G. Browne, were published in 1911 and 1949. These were highly critical, but not polemical. Anti-Baha'i polemics started with the publication of manuals on "sects" by ecclesiastical publishers, notably in a book by Paul Scheurlen brought out in 1921. After this early attack it was not until the 1960s that polemical writings appeared, primarily in publications brought out by a Protestant agency, the Evangelische Zentralstelle fuer Weltanschauungsfragen (founded in 1960). This agency and its head, Dr. Kurt Hutten, adopted a very polemical tone, especially focusing on Baha'i Administration, in which Dr. Hutten saw the "Fall from Grace of Baha'ism." He regarded the very small group of German Covenant-breakers, adherents of Ruth White who called themselves "free Baha'is," as the true community. In a chapter of his manual on "Sects" Dr. Hutten harshly attacked the Baha'i community, its structures and institutions.

A new chapter in the history of opposition opened with the publication in 1981 of a malevolent monograph on the Baha'i Faith written by a Swiss Covenant-breaker, Francesco Ficicchia. The fact that this work was published by the above-mentioned Evangelische Zentralstelle indicates the adoption by the ecclesiastical opposition of a new strategy, namely the instrumentalization of dissidents (Covenant-breakers) for apologetic purposes.

Ficicchia's highly polemical work and his entries on "Baha'ism" in two renowned Catholic encyclopedias, which present the Faith in a distorted and cynical manner, have had a disastrous impact on the public reputation of the Faith. In order to avoid the arena of religious controversy, the German-speaking Baha'i communities remained silent for fourteen years, a silence that was interpreted as an endorsement of Ficicchia's erroneous statements and absurd conclusions.

At the instigation of the Universal House of Justice, a rebuttal of Ficicchia's publications has been written, and was published at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair. Desinformation als Methode: Die Baha'ismus-Monographie des F. Ficicchia, by Udo Schaefer, Nicola Towfigh, and Ulrich Gollmer, carefully analyzes and refutes Ficicchia's perfidious, cleverly thought-out attack on the religion of Baha'u'llah.

Legal Basis of Islamic Opposition to the Baha'i Faith, The     edit

by Moojan Momen

From its inception as the Babi movement in 1844, the Baha'i Faith has been the subject of attacks from Muslim religious leaders in different parts of the Islamic world. This paper is an attempt to look at the basis for these attacks in Islamic law. In Islamic jurisprudence, people are divided into those who believe (mu'minun, and who are therefore Muslims) and unbelievers (kafirun). The unbelievers may then be divided into a number of categories: Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book); Mushrikun (polytheists); Murtadd (apostates); and Mulhid or Zindiq (heretics).

This paper looks at a number of legal opinions (fatwas) and court verdicts which have been issued in the context of Islamic law over the years in a geographical spread from Burma to Egypt in order to determine what has been the basis in Islamic law on which Baha'is have been condemned.

Limits of Discourse in the Baha'i community and their Consequences, The     edit

by Robert Stockman

All human communities must set limits on their internal discourse in order to maintain cohesion and some degree of internal order. The Baha'i Faith is no exception. The limits to discourse in the Baha'i community are determined by the overriding principle of unity: 'Abdu'l-Baha has stressed that unity is more important than being right, and thus disagreement and arguments are greater evils than being united in error. Baha'i institutions have to be obeyed, in theological terms, because the Universal House of Justice is infallible; or put in sociological terms, institutional decisions can be appealed to the Universal House of Justice and its decisions must be obeyed, just as the decisions of a nation's Supreme Court about the meaning of national laws must be obeyed.

Two mechanisms exist in the Baha'i community to enforce obedience to institutions: National Spiritual Assemblies may level administrative sanctions and the Universal House of Justice may declare someone a Covenant-breaker. The latter is a far more serious sanction, for it expels the individual from the community. Covenant-breakers often devote considerable energy to writing books describing the injustices they feel Baha'i communities have perpetrated against them. Their literature has formed a major part of modern anti-Baha'i literature or literature critical of the Baha'i community. Generally, the best solution to this problem appears to be serious scholarly research, for such research often reveals the self-centeredness of the Covenant-breaker, his misrepresentation of information, and his unwillingness to subordinate personal goals and desires, or personal hurts, for the greater good of the Baha'i Faith. Ibrahim Kheiralla is a good case study in this regard.

Two principles define boundaries to discourse within the Baha'i community: prepublication review of manuscripts and sanctioning of Baha'is for stirring up disunity. Both have generated various degrees of external criticism of the Faith. Prepublication review is necessary while the Baha'i community is in its "infancy," a stage the Universal House of Justice says the Baha'i community is still in, and which is likely to continue for at least a decade or two. Since no system of review can be perfect, there will always be some reviewing problems, though they can be reduced if the Baha'is demonstrate more trust of their

institutions and appeal unfavorable review decisions to their National Spiritual Assembly or to the Universal House of Justice. Generally, if review is conducted as a consultative process involving close interaction and cooperation between the author and the reviewing body--a process involving trust and mutual

respect--the review process functions reasonably well. Preventing Baha'is from stirring up disunity over administrative decisions can be difficult, for Baha'i institutions must make delicate decisions about when to maintain a sin-covering eye and refuse to disclose an individual's actions to the entire Baha'i community, and when to risk humiliation of the individual in order to make the individual's disunifying actions clear to all.

As the Baha'i community grows in size and in international prominence, outsiders will inevitably focus greater attention on its internal workings, and their comments will not always be positive. Continuous efforts to explain the Baha'i principles to others in more creative and clear ways will be necessary, as will be a higher standard of institutional maturity and personal holiness in the Baha'i community.

Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl's Contribution to Baha'i Polemic and Replies to Anti-Baha'i Polemic     edit

by Khazeh Fananapazir

Paradoxes and Facts of the Anti-Baha'i Polemic on the Territory of the European Part of the Former U.S.S.R.     edit

by Marina Pavlova

I. Preamble

1) A brief survey of the history of the beginning of the Baha'i Faith in Russia.
2) The role of Kiev, Ukraine (as the former Kiev, Russia), in the general context of teaching the Faith among the Slav population of the C.I.S.

II. Main Sources of Resistance to the Faith
1) Mentality and historically-determined reality in the context of culture.
2) Resistance of individuals and official structures on the subjective and objective levels.

III. Methods and Forms of Resistance to the Faith
1) Authorities
a) Bureaucratic approach
b) Non-competence
c) Self-arbitrarily approach
2) Attitude of other Confessions and religious trends from a viewpoint of the degree of religious tolerance in terms of the possibilities of starting interreligious dialogue.
a) Positive attitudes of Hinduists, Berikh followers and others
b) Tolerant attitudes of Judaists, Buddhists
c) Elements of aggression in the attitudes of Christians and Muslims

IV. Ways of Finding Optimum Forms of Interaction With Non-Baha'i World
1) Investigation and evaluation of all possible sources and reasons for resistance to the Baha'i Faith.
2) Baha'i approach towards solving the problem, taking into account the specific features of the history, culture, and the mentality of the society.

Position of Mírzá Yahyá Núrí Subh-i-Azal, The: Some aspects of Azalí Anti-Baha'i Polemic and Baha'i Apologetics     edit

by Stephen Lambden

The exact nature of the position of Mirza Yahya Nuri, Subh-i-Azal ("The Morn of Eternity," 1830-1912) following the martyrdom of the Bab (1850) has long been a subject of Baha'i-Azali debate. The Bab wrote a number of Tablets to Mirza Yahya and Baha'u'llah as well as an Arabic Wasiyyat namih ("Will and Testament") in which (among other things) Yahya's position and future role were indicated. From 1849-50 Yahya was given elevated titles and a key future role in the religion of the Bab. The nature of this role has been variously understood and widely misrepresented so as to discredit the purpose and claims of Baha'u'llah.

No academically informed biography of Yahya has to date been written. His numerous Persian and Arabic writings have hardly been studied at all. The quasi-Babi musings and anti-Baha'i sentiments of Yahya and his Azali supporters are expressed in a multitude of Persian and Arabic writings and a few texts in western languages. Directly or indirectly they continue to exert a distortive influence upon the understanding of the Babi and Baha'i religions. Towards the end of his mission the Bab wrote to Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) through Mirza Yahya, referring to him by means of the abjad value of his name (Husayn-'Ali = 238), instructing him to protect and take care of his half-brother. This is exactly what Baha'u'llah did for more than a decade; according to his Lawh-i-Sarraj for no less than twenty years (1846 to 1866?). Prior to his semi-secret Ridvan declaration (April 22-May 3, 1863) and complete break with Yahya during the mid-Adrianople period ("The Most Great Separation" 1866) Baha'u'llah basically acted as a leading Babi; to quote Shoghi Effendi he "appeared in the guise of, and continued to labor as, one of the foremost disciples of the Bab" (God Passes By, 128). This initial support of Yahya is reflected in such early Tablets as the pre-Kurdistan Lawh-i-kull al-Ta'am ("Tablet of All Food" c. 1270 = late 1853-54) and the (fragmentary) Surat al-kifaya ("The Sura of the Sufficiency" 1854-57?). It is somewhat more explicitly stated in later Tablets, including the Surat al-haykal ("The Sura of the Temple" c. 1873?) where we read of one upon whom was sprinkled a "dewdrop" from the "Fathomless Deep of the Ocean of Knowledge" and who was elevated to such an extent that "all [Babis] rose up in praise of him [Yahya]." Baha'u'llah protected Yahya and even revealed Tablets which were dispatched under his name.

Despite the educative and loving care extended by Baha'u'llah to Yahya, his younger half-brother ultimately attempted to kill him, and had earlier pronounced the death sentence upon the prominent Babi Mirza Asadu'llah Khu'i, entitled Dayyan ("the Judge") by the Bab.

In view of his half-brother's politically subversive activities and murderous attempts to repress Babi challenges to his inadequate leadership role--reflected in such writings as his possibly early Kitab al-wahid (185?) and al-Mustayqiz ("Sleeper Awakened," c.1854-55)--it is astonishing that Baha'u'llah maintained a 'noble silence,' a 'messianic secret' for so long (from 1850 to 1863-66).

According to Baha'i sources it was the corruption of Yahya by Sayyid Muhammmad Isfahani (d. 1872)--the Antichrist of the Babi dispensation--which led him to hubristic self-deification and ungodly ways.

It was ultimately during the mid-1860s that Baha'u'llah made a complete break with Yahya and began to proclaim his own divine mission more openly to the Babis and to all mankind. This break was expressed scripturally with the revelation of one of the several Tablets entitled Surat al-Amr ("The Sura of the Command"). Hundreds, if not thousands of the Tablets of Baha'u'llah of the Adrianople period (1863-68) counter the contentions of the supporters of Mirza Yahya, Subh-i-Azal (= early Azali Babism) e.g. the Lawh-i-Sarraj (c.1867) and Kitab-i-Badi' ("The Wondrous Book" 1867).

Anti-Baha'i Azali polemic has long directly or indirectly informed modern orientalist scholarship, including the writings of E. G. Browne (d. 1926) and of A. L. M. Nicholas (d. 1939), who, in 1933, wrote his brief quasi-Azali Qui est le successeur du Bab? This influence is also marked in the anti-Baha'i writings of Christian opponents of the Baha'i Faith. Without adequate consultation of primary sources Christian missionary and other anti-Baha'i writers have repeated Azali contentions and misrepresented the relationship between Baha'u'llah and his younger half-brother. An example of this is to be found in the Presbyterian missionary William M. Miller's The Baha'i Faith: Its History and Teachings (South Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1974) which makes much use of materials supplied by Jelal Azal (d. 1971), an anti-Baha'i grandson of Mirza Yahya.

In this paper these and related doctrinal issues will be examined with a view to clarifying the Baha'i viewpoint and exposing the inadequacy of aspects of neo-Azali anti-Baha'i polemic.

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

by Lil Abdo

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.

Religious Definitions and Religious Polemics: Baha'i in Popular Handbooks of Religion     edit

by Margit Warburg

For the general public popular handbooks are important sources of information on the various religious groups in contemporary Western society, including Baha'i. These books reach a wide circle of readers, and it is of interest to study how Baha'i is presented in such literature. I have systematically surveyed about fifty such handbooks; most of them are intended to be neutral and fact-oriented while some are distinctly polemic against Baha'i and other new religions, new religious movements, sects, cults, or whatever terms are used.

Baha'i authors--both scholars and non-scholars--always call Baha'i a religion or a faith, and the official Baha'i position is against the use of the word "sect." A comparison of handbooks written by Baha'i scholars with anti-Baha'i polemic handbooks shows, however, no convincing pattern of whether Baha'i is called a religion or a sect, neither among scholars nor among non-Baha'i antagonists. The use of the word "sect" is therefore not necessarily a token of anti-Baha'i polemics.

The presentations of Baha'i in the polemic handbooks are, with few exceptions, characterized by diffuse and general anti-cult attitudes, such as accusations of "youth-napping," rather than by specific anti-Baha'i statements. A few polemic statements directed against Baha'i are, however, interesting to analyze in greater depth

Taqiyyih and Kitman: Reflections on the Practice of Dissimulation in the Babi and Baha'i Religions     edit

by Kamran Ekbal

Enemies of the Baha'i Faith, sometimes even scholarly critics writing not necessarily in polemical terms in opposition to the Faith, often mingle true and correct information with false and incorrect information about the Cause. Out of a sense of duty and devotion to their Faith, Baha'i authors who wish to refute such accusations often tend to denounce all accusations, without taking enough care about the details of particular issues. Even Baha'i scholars well acquainted with methods of scientific research respond sometimes in such an apologetical manner, which, beside easily proving to be a boomerang, may be very well regarded as a symptom of a superficial knowledge that exists among Baha'is in regard to diverse aspects of the history and theology of their own religion.

One such example that will be discussed in this paper is taqiyyih, or dissimulation, brought as an accusation against the Baha'i Faith and its adherents from the earliest times in both Western and Eastern polemics. Although Babi and Baha'i sources provide sufficient evidence that taqiyyih was practiced abundantly by the early believers and that this practice remained in use at least until the ministry of the Guardian, and in spite of references to the fact that the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and 'Abdu'l-Baha ordained and in one way or another even practiced taqiyyih themselves, Baha'i authors generally try to rebut this en masse. The aim of this paper is to provide examples of the practice of taqiyyih among Babis and early Baha'i in order to discuss the proper means and attitude for handling such and similar issues in the future.