Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #81 (English)

Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California USA

May 29 – June 1, 2008.

And It Came to Pass: the Báb and the Fulfillment of Shí'í Islamic Messianism (Part 1)     edit

by Stephen Lambden

The Báb fixed very, very precisely, to the exact minute, the time of the onset of the New age and non-literally understood "Day of Resurrection" (yawm al-qiyáma). According to Persian Bayán the "Day of God" commenced on the evening of May 22nd 1844 CE, two hours and eleven minutes after sunset on the evening of that day when the Báb announced his mission before Mullá Husayn Bushrú'í. This took place 1,000 years after the disappearance of the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi and alleged son of Hasan al-Askarí, the 11th Imam of the Twelver Shí`ís. The year was 1,260 AH or during the Gregorian year 1844. In this paper the nature and interpretation of certain traditions attributed to the Prophet and the Imams which the Báb and his followers cited in proof of the truth of their claims will be examined. It will be shown that, among other things, traditions were cited in proof of the name, age, appearance, habits, nationality, travels, revelations and martyrdom of the Báb. The Arabic texts will be shared and given their exact textual source as well as fully translated into English.

The following text is an example of such a prediction contained in the Kitáb al-Ghayba (Book of the Occultation") of Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ja`far al-Nu`mání (d. 360/970) and from the Bihár al-anwár (Oceans of Lights) of Muhamad Báqir Majlisí (d. 1111/1699-1700), centering on Mecca and the future role of the messianic Qá'im. It is a hadíth (tradition) relayed from the fifth Imam Muhammad al-Báqir (d. c.126/743):
... until a Herald from heaven (munád min al-samá') cries out. So when he cries out then quickly hasten along [to join him]. By God! It is as if I perceive him (al-Qá'im) [in Mecca] between the pillar [corner of the Ka`ba] (al-rukn) and the [nearby] locale ["station" of Abraham] (al-maqám). He will spread out his arms in initiating a new Cause (amr jadíd), [offering] a new book (kitáb jadíd), and [instituting] a new sovereign rule from heaven (sultán jadíd min al-samá'). His eternal banner (ráyat abadá an) will be not be layed down until [the time of] his death" (Nu`mání, K-Ghayba, 2003: 363; Majlisi, Bihar, 2nd ed. vol. 52: 235, 293).

And It Came to Pass: the Báb and the Fulfillment of Shí'í Islamic Messianism (Part 2)     edit

by Stephen Lambden

See full abstract under Part One, above.

Comparison of Western Democracies with the Concept of Governance in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Writings, A     edit

by Muin Afnani

The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of many forms of governments, some of which subsequently collapsed or changed. The origin of democratic governments in the modern times goes back to about 300 years ago. By the end of the twentieth century the western democracy was proclaimed as the best form of government in the history of the world. While various aspects and processes of western societies have been scrutinized and commented on extensively, the western democratic form of government, in comparison, has been viewed quite positively and has seen little criticism, even in the academic circles. Though there is no comparison between democratic societies and dictatorial regimes, whether secular or religious, in terms of human rights, freedom of speech and belief, progress of science and technology, relative economic well-being, and so forth, the legitimate question is whether western democracy is the best form of governance that we can hope for. The Bahá'í Faith claims that human beings are capable of creating a much better form of governance. The major features of the Bahá'í concept of governance are explained in works of `Abdu'l-Bahá, such as The Secret of Divine Civilization and A Political Treatise. `Abdu'l-Bahá's writings on the topic of governance are elaborations of the themes mentioned in Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets on this topic, including Tablet of the World. The fundamental difference between the Bahá'í concept of governance and western democracy lies in the underlying theories and concepts about the nature of human beings and groups. While the former views the human being as essentially a spiritual creation capable of cooperation and altruism, the latter relies heavily on the social theories of conflict and competition. The existing problems of western democratic societies are primarily manifestations of subscription to such theories.

Holy Spirit in Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith     edit

by Satey Bayat

`Abdu'l-Bahá frequently prayed for the friends that the Holy Spirit would assist them in all their endeavors.
"At present, thou hast a lofty aspiration, and hast the desire to engage in every service. My hope is, that through a heavenly power, and a Lordly influence, and by the assistance of the Holy Spirit thou mayst be confirmed in distinguished services a service which thou dost think advisable and its success assured." SW v. 10, p. 330
So who is this "Holy Spirit" and how it functions? How it relates to the Most Great Spirit and the person of God's manifestations and the revelations?

In this article the concept of the Holy Spirit from the Christian and Islamic perspectives will be reviewed and our understanding of this concept from the Bahá'í Writings will be presented.

In the Heart of All that is: Part 1     edit

by Wolfgang Klebel

The "Heart," and the "City of the Heart," are central concepts in the Bahá'í Writings; and this presentation attempts to review a certain aspect of it. The title of the paper is taken from a prayer of `Abdu'l-Bahá; and another text from the Master about the Sympathetic Nervous System will induce us into the idea of the heart being the site where the spiritual and the physical meet:
The powers of the sympathetic nerve are neither entirely physical nor spiritual, but are between the two (systems). The nerve is connected with both. Its phenomena shall be perfect when its spiritual and physical relations are normal. ... When the material world and the divine world are well co-related, when the hearts become heavenly and the aspirations grow pure and divine, perfect connection shall take place. 1
It has to be noted that there are two distinct meanings for the concept "heart" in common use. One is the physical heart, studied by medicine, and the other is a metaphorical concept of heart, traditionally used in poesy and common discourse. This use seems to be common to most cultures and is expressed in the Holy Scriptures as well.

Until now the centrality of the heart in the body is used as a metaphor, a figure of speech, using the term heart for the center of spirituality and meaning in life. When the full function of the heart is known, the metaphor becomes richer and indicative of a spiritual reality central to the understanding of the human condition.

First the distinction between the physical heart and the metaphorical heart will be explored and then some verses of Bahá'u'lláh about the functions of this heart will be presented. Bahá'u'lláh speaks of a "wise and understanding heart" (ESW 65). Bahá'u'lláh places the function of memory into the heart as well, when He lets us pray: "to make my heart to be a receptacle of Thy love and of remembrance" (PM 56). He further instructs us to think, meditate or ponder in our heart, saying "Ponder this in thine heart" (ESW 74). A most intriguing word of Bahá'u'lláh is the following statement:
Say: Spirit, mind, soul, and the powers of sight and hearing are but one single reality which hath manifold expressions owing to the diversity of its instruments. (SLH 154)
Bahá'u'lláh in this statement explains that the spiritual powers animating the human body are one single reality that is known through its expression in the diversity of its instruments. The brain, the senses and the organic heart are the instruments in their physical diversity that allow the spirit, mind or soul (i.e., the one, single, and central spiritual reality of the human person) to express itself in the physical world. According to modern neurocardiology there are newly discovered aspects of the physical heart that make the metaphorical use of this concept much more appropriate, it can be compared with the concept of brain versus mind. A very important question is the understanding of the physiology of the heart and of its nervous system, "the little brain of the heart."

These new findings of neurocardiology can extend the metaphor heart and bring it closer to the understanding of heart in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Additionally, some of the functions of the biological heart, which have come to light only recently, such as the intuition of future events and the recognition of distant events, can only be explained with findings of Quantum Mechanics and the theories that have been developed around this branch of physics. These findings of Quantum Mechanics will round up the picture and help us to understand aspects of the heart that have been ambiguous, when seen in the light of a materialistic and mechanistic medical science.

The following scientific findings are attributing to the heart that "heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated information encoding and processing center."... "Its circuitry enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the cranial brain" (Rollin McCray, Ph.D. and Doc Childre). It is obvious that the use of heart in a metaphorical sense can be much better explained after these functions of the physical heart are known, creating a new basis for our understanding.

These functional decisions of the heart come to our awareness only in the mind, and cannot be directly understood in our consciousness; therefore they often remain unchecked and not clarified by reason, often overriding reasonable concerns. Nevertheless, they are frequently followed and executed by the conscious mind in the life of people, demonstrating their good or evil intentions; therefore, ethical decisions seem to be based in the heart as well, demonstrating the pure or evil quality of the heart, as described in the Writings.

From these considerations the conclusion follows that the heart is the organ, or better the instrument for spiritual experiences and therefore can be called the seat of the Revelation not only in a metaphorical but also, and much more appropriately, in a spiritual understanding of reality.

The Divine Physician, who has been sent to cure the problems of mankind, is the initiator, the originator, and the sustainer of this creative process. The universality of this new message, the catholicity of this new religion, and the spirituality of the human reality, as promoted by this Faith of Divine origin — and nothing else — is the future of humanity.
1 This e-text is based on "Ocean": "Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá `Abbás" Translated by Edward G. Browne, Bahá'í Publishing Committee, New York, Copyright (c) 1980 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, All Rights Reserved, p. 308
Click here to read this paper online.

In the Heart of All that is: Part 2     edit

by Wolfgang Klebel

See full abstract under Part One, above.
Click here to read this paper online.

Khutbas or literary "Sermons" of the Báb, The     edit

by Stephen Lambden

The Arabic word khutba has a range of senses in Islamic literatures. It is only loosely and inadequately defined by the western Christian terms "sermon", "homily" or "oration", etc. Within Islamic literary history khutba can indicate a much favored oral discourse or related literary form and contain weighty cosmological, theological, prophetological and other materials. Within Imámí Shí`ísm the seminal Nahj al-Balágha ("The Path of Eloquence"), ascribed to the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, the first Shí`í Imam `Alí ibn Abí Tálib (d. 40/661), is a major compendium including over 230 khutbas ("sermons") compiled in the 10th-11th century CE by Abu'l-Hasan Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Músáwí, Sharíf al-Radí (d. 406/1015).

The scores of khutbas of the Báb are not exactly like the sermons delivered on Sundays by countless Christian clerics in their respective churches. Like the first Imam, `Alí (d. 40/661), who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad, the Báb as the latter-day messianic `Alí of the new age of fulfillment, found himself inspired to set forth a considerable number of Arabic khutbas ("sermons"). Many of these khutbas of the Báb also deal with deep theological issues like the first sermon of the Nahj al-Balágha (Path of Eloquence).

Numerous Khutbas were set down by the Báb throughout his six year ministry (1844-1850). They were often evoked in response to diverse historical circumstances such as persons or places encountered. When travelling on his almost ten (Gregorian) month extended pilgrimage journey (1844-1845) to and from Shiraz-Bushehr travelling to Mecca and Medina via the ancient port city Jeddah (now in Saudi Arabia) he often dictated khutbas. Many were originally written down by his companion and major disciple Quddús.

In this presentation some of the contents of the Khutba al-Jidda (Sermon at Jeddah) and the Khutba `ilm al-Hurúf ("Sermon on the Science of Letters") and other khutbas will be commented upon and contrasted with sermons ascribed to Imam `Alí. Reference will also be made to some of the later sermons of the Báb contained, for example, in the very late (1850 CE) Kitáb-i Panj Sha'n (Book of the Five Grades). It will be illustrated that khutbas form a major, though somewhat neglected, aspect of the universe of the writings of the Báb.

Labor Strikes and Disputes from the Perspective of Some Answered Questions     edit

by Farhad Sabetan

In this paper the general question of labor-management dichotomy will be discussed from an economic perspective, based on the lesson number 78 in Some Answered Questions. Specifically, there are at least fifteen fundamental economic issues brought up in `Abdu'l-Bahá's discussion on labor strikes including, but not limited to: extremes in distribution of wealth, profit maximization, utility maximization, the question of exploitation and the rise of labor movement, the question of equity and justice vis-à-vis equality, normative judgment for policy considerations, laws and morals, on Marxian inequality, profit sharing as an end to exploitation, risks and rewards, welfare issues (social security and workers compensation), guidelines for justice, government intervention in economic issues, intermediation and conflict resolution, and economic inter-relationship. The paper discusses some of these issues in depth and touches on other issues as necessary.

News and Reviews from India     edit

by Farideh Vahedi

No abstract was provided.

On Science and Religion: Technology — Ethical Issues and the Bahá'í Faith     edit

by Ramin Neshati

The essential harmony of science and religion is an underpinning principle of the Bahá'í Faith. For Bahá'ís, the absence of this vital principle reduces religion to a mere set of superstitions, bankrupt beliefs and ruinous rituals. Religion must at all times conform to science and reason. Bahá'í teachings laud science as an indispensable complement to spirituality.

Intelligence and erudition gained through scientific pursuits, therefore, cannot be discordant with mystical proclivity. This principle gives rise to a plethora of thought-provoking and troubling uncertainties for many scientists who find themselves on opposing ends of the faith-reason divide.

The scientific understanding of human reproduction was largely worked out during the course of the twentieth century through the morphological explorations of the DNA molecule. The sequences in the double helix structure of DNA were believed to hold the key to human life and reproduction. In 2000, researchers published the preliminary map of the chemical sequences in the DNA of the human genome. By 2003, these scientists were finally successful in decoding the entire human genome. This phenomenal accomplishment—the comprehension of the genetic instructions embedded in human DNA molecules—facilitates a number of useful medical breakthroughs. It also portends of a serious moral and ethical concern for most religious people: human cloning. The ethical dilemma posed by such an eventuality is enormously troubling. Human manipulation of nature, indeed the creation of life itself, is problematic given the potential for the misuse of this technology. Darwinian evolutionary theorists posit that species adapt to environments with the passage of time. But neither Darwin nor any of his contemporary evolutionary scientists ever thought that humans would one day come up with the capability to design and alter their environment at will rather than adapt to it.

At the 2007 `Irfán Colloquium at Bosch we explored the origin of mankind under the rubric of the Bahá'í principle of the essential harmony of science and religion. We concluded that the disentanglement of the mystery surrounding the origin of human life could be fathomed from both scientific and religious perspectives, neither trumping the other. At the 2008 `Irfán Colloquium we will extend this discussion with the aim of an enhanced understanding of the ethics of technological advances in genetics using `Abdu'l-Bahá's edifications in Some Answered Questions as our conduit and compass to Bahá'í beliefs. Don't come looking for answers, only questions!

Review of a Number of the Scientific Concepts Presented in Some Answered Questions, A     edit

by Muhammad-Ghasem Bayat

The Bahá'í Faith acknowledges that although the Manifestations of God are the repositories of all truth, including scientific facts, their principal roles have been the education of mankind and the establishment of ethics for the creation of a spiritual and material civilization. Nevertheless, in every age according to the capacity and the needs of that age, in addition to ethical principles they have made certain scientific pronouncements. The book of Genesis of the Torah serves as an example of this.

The Bahá'í Writings too, and in particular due to the much higher capacity of mankind in this age and the more rigorous questions from the friends, contain many more statements with scientific components. In this article we will review some of the scientific concepts that appear in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Some Answered Questions, and present a list of these topics. These topics are from a wide range of themes such as philosophy, education, sociology, economics, physics, chemistry, medicine, astronomy and biology.

Use of Metaphors in the Kitáb-i-Iqán and Some Answered Questions, The     edit

by Muhammad-Ghasem Bayat

`Abdu'l-Bahá states that one must use sensible metaphors in describing abstract intellectual and spiritual concepts. This method has been used amply in most of the Bahá'í Writings, and especially in the Kitáb-i-Iqán and Some Answered Questions.

The understanding of concepts such as life, birth and death, return, reunion, creation, the afterlife, the Lord's bounty, the manifestation of God's names and attributes, Hell, Heaven, the spirit, heart, water and fire, manifestations of God, the Holy Spirit, the eternal life of the spirit, spiritual stations, free will in relation to God's will, etc., in these books are enhanced by the use of ample metaphors.

In this article a wide selection of such concepts from these two books are reviewed and the role of metaphors in obtaining a clearer understanding is demonstrated.

World Peace and Promise of World Peace     edit

by James Thomas

This paper is advanced in four steps: (1) A statement of the problem regarding world peace is presented in the form of a challenge facing mankind that must be clearly identified as the most critical before any strategy for achieving peace can be defined, (2) needs are described and remedies put forth for possible solutions in vanquishing the barriers to peace, (3) Parameters for human endeavors are spelled out that will be essential for achieving a unified approach to world peace and (4) a conclusion is derived which embraces both secular and religious underpinnings that support a universal solution for peace in a diverse, complicated world.
Click here to read this paper online.

`Abdu'l-Bahá and Professor T. K. Cheyne     edit

by Sholeh Quinn

Some time after October 23, 1913, `Abdu'l-Bahá sent a Tablet to a certain Professor T. K. Cheyne (1841-1915) in Oxford, England. The early American Bahá'í magazine Star of the West published the complete Tablet in its Persian section and included a partial translation in its English section.

In this letter, `Abdu'l-Bahá acknowledges having received the professor's letter, describing its contents as "eloquent," as a "sign" of his "literary fairness" and of his "investigation of reality." This was neither the first nor the last exchange of letters between the Master and the Professor, however. As this study will show, `Abdu'l-Bahá and Cheyne corresponded several times.

The purpose of this paper is to place this correspondence in historical context, taking into account Cheyne's relationship with Bahá'ís before `Abdu'l-Bahá visited Oxford, England, on December 31, 1912, and historical narratives that detail `Abdu'l-Bahá's day in Oxford with Professor Cheyne.