Comments and responses to this article follow below.
Originally published in Faith and Freedom, Spring 1989, Vol. 2, Pt. 1, No. 24, pp. 40-44
|Baha'is frequently claim that the Babis were peaceful and persecuted. The Bab superseded Jesus and Mohammed and Baha'u'llah superseded him. The Baha'is envisage a world of unity coming in the Most Great Peace, the reign of one thousand years of Baha'u'llah as the Manifestation of God, following on some time after the Lesser Peace.|
|The Baha'i religion has consciously developed an image that is a faith of peace and unity, and even quite liberal with its appreciation of other faiths (and Unitarianism). Its members never fail to be warm and friendly, and yet there is a need to go below the surface to its history and structures to analyse its potential should it ever become influential.|
|In Persia around the 1840's some Shaykhi-Shi'ite Muslims expected the return of the hidden twelfth Imam. In 1844 Sayyid Ali Muhammed Shrirazi claimed to be the Bab, the perfect channel of grace to the hidden Imam. He collected eighteen disciples and they were sent out not to say who the Bab was but to tell people that the Imam was returning. He would appear at Karbala for a Holy War against all unbelief from the 10th January 1845 onwards, resulting in a victory for Islam. Crowds gathered but nothing happened.|
|The Bab's writings instructed that non-Babis would be removed from Babi states (or even killed) with their property confiscated. After the failure of Karbala he downgraded the place of the Holy War but his leaders (known as the fourteen letters of the living) remained radicalized. Qurratu'l'Ayn, for example, set off disturbances in Karbala in 1846-7.|
|The Qajar regime put him in prison at Maku from where in July 1848, after the failure of the Imam to return, he raised his own status to Imam and then, in effect, to 'supersede' Jesus and Mohammed.|
|Some Babs practised martyrdom, a 'proclamatory proof', for example at Barfarush where the Babis watched and counted seven of their men killed before they fought back ruthlessly. The Qajar authorities executed the Bab and then they smashed the Babi community (some of whom were peaceful) into near ruins.|
|Before all this, a disciple called Mullah Husayn had approached the Shah to convert him and the State for the return of the Imam. He did not see him, but one of the elite converted was Mirza Husayn Ali, later known as Baha'u'llah. He was imprisoned during the crack-down but was not executed because he was known to the Russian Ambassador who pleaded his case|
|Before his death, the Bab appointed Sub-i-Azal (otherwise known as Mirza Yahya) as his successor. He was the younger half brother of Baha'u'llah and much rivalry took place between them. Baha'u'llah carried out administrative work and was a focus of communications with travellers. He successfully organised the remains of the movement and from 1854 it began to grow again.|
|In one part of the Bayan it states that the next manifestation of God after the Bab would be in two to seven thousand years. But others pointed to the text which states that no one could falsely claim to be 'He whom God shall manifest'. Many did but it was Baha'u'llah and his position which allowed his claim to be the one which ultimately succeeded. Suh-i-Azal's anonymity did not help his claim to the same station.|
|In 1852 Baha'u'llah probably went to Kurdistan to escape attention and conflict with his half-brother and others. Here Sufi and New Testament elements were mixed with Shaykhi-Babi elements to develop his belief pattern. When the Babi leadership found out where he had gone they called him back and the rivalry grew some more.|
|Their groups were moved about by the authorities. It was at Baghdad in 1863 that Baha'u'llah declared himself as 'He whom God shall manifest' to a few followers, and in Adrianople he made this claim in public. The result was violence with some murders on both sides. The authorities split the Babis: the Baha'is were exiled to Akka and the Azalis were exiled to Famagusta in Cyprus. The authorities made some Baha'is go to Famagusta and some Azalis to Akka as spies. In Akka the three spies were murdered by the Baha'is.|
|E. G. Browne, often quoted by Baha'is for his impression of meeting Baha'u'llah in Bahji (in a house where after imprisonment Baha'u'llah was allowed to live), had this to say about Baha'u'llah's reaction to the murders: 'Baha'u'llah regarded this event with some complaisance'.|
|Browne was commenting on the passage where it says in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, 'God has taken the one who seduced thee.'|
|Baha'u'llah wrote the Kitab-i-Iqan and later the broader Kitabi-Aqdas. These, and his other writings, demilitarised the Babi-Baha'i movement. Instead it was to obey governments and become more spiritual.|
|Persia was isolated from the West but from Turkey onward Baha'u'llah came into the orbit of its ideas. In 1868, after his public declaration of his own station, Baha'u'llah wrote to the world's leaders demanding recognition of his status and that the world would in time be unified.|
|When Baha'u'llah died in 1892, Abdul-Baha, the eldest son, became the leader. He was not a manifestation of God but could interpret Baha'u'llah's infallible writings in his way. Muhammed Ali led a group known as the 'Unitarians' who considered he was bending their meaning. George Khayrullah, an Arab Christian convert to Baha'ism and its first missionary in the United States preached in America that Baha'u'llah was God (because he called himself the father) and Abdul-Baha was Jesus Christ (the Son). Khayrullah wrote to Abdul-Baha about these teachings but received no reply. In 1898 Khayrullah went to Akka to ask Abdul Baha for a volume of Baha'u'llah's teachings. He did not get this except by other means and the two fell out. There Abdul-Baha told Khayrullah that his teachings had the correct meaning, except that Abdul-Baha said that his essence did not limit God's essence whereas Khayrullah thought it did. Given the friction, Khayrullah joined the 'Unitarians' and took a proportion of his converts with him. This group fizzled out over time.|
|Abdul-Baha travelled to the West where he was well received. His charisma held together what might have been further dissension (it broke out in Chicago in 1917 after he left America). This is why his writings earned the status of infallibility as recognised later by Shoghi Effendi. His talks and writings show the Western and Christian development of the religion. He gave it inter-faith and tolerant aspects although within the family and hierarchy he had his opponents.|
|This was the liberal period. A member of another religion could at the same time be Baha'i. Abdul-Baha himself visited mainstream Christian and Unitarian (the other sort!) churches, Jewish synagogues and regularly went to Muslim Friday prayers despite the instructions against public worship made in the writings of Baha'u'llah.|
|In 1921 at Haifa Abdul-Baha died and many Jews, Christians and Muslims as well as Baha'is attended his funeral.|
|The line of succession given by (the infallible) Baha'u'llah was Abdul-Baha and then Muhammad Ali. Obviously he had become ineligible. The Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha declared that the grandson of Baha'u'llah, Shoghi Effendi, should be the Guardian. But it was considered fraudulent by Ruth White and those who became known as the 'Free Baha'is' and later the 'World Union' (centred around Stuttgart). They were devoted to Abdul-Baha hut equally rejected Shoghi Effendi. The World Union claimed that his movements and others' sayings showed that he forged the document. The British Museum's tests supported Ruth White's conclusion that the handwriting of the Will and Testament was not that of Abdul-Baha. But the handwriting comparisons only gave initial results so that probably Abdul-Baha did write the Will and Testament.|
|The Will and Testament contains basic instructions on the bureaucratisation of the faith. This the Oxford graduate Shoghi Effendi developed to great effect. Its open character converted to a tight bureaucratic religion. But the origins of this were seen before his headship in the Chicago Reading Rooms controversy of 1917 when Baha'is who engaged in mysticism and cultic activity were found by the American leadership to be covenant breakers. (1)|
|Under Shoghi Effendi, Baha'is had to remove themselves from the membership and participation of other religions. He built up an embryonic system for world government with the Administrative Order, including national assemblies (thus the religion was completely banned in the Soviet Union). However, although the Will and Testament called for his rule to be combined with the activated Universal House of Justice, he left it dormant with only the International Baha'i Council (its forerunner) staying in place. The main language became English and the headquarters moved to the United States thus westernising and rationalising the religion even further.|
|The Administrative Order upset many. The New York History Society was originally accepted by Shoghi Effendi as a legitimate independent Baha'i body. However, local leaders saw it as conflicting with the main body. Shoghi Effendi changed his mind and Julie Chandler and Ahmed Sohrab (who had been close to Abdul-Baha and validated the Will and Testament) were ostracised as covenant breakers. But the bureaucratisation and rationalisation allowed for specific planning to take place and despite the loss of many liberals the faith grew around the world showing the value of planned expansion. (2)|
|Abdul-Baha in his Will and Testament had written:|
|It is incumbent upon the guardian of the Cause of God to appoint in his own lifetime him that shall become his successor, that differences may not arise after his passing.|
|Yet when Shoghi Effendi died in 1957 he left no will. So many in the family had been excommunicated that there was no one left to be the Guardian.|
|The Guardian was the head of the Universal House of Justice. However, Shoghi Effendi had appointed a 'Hand of the Cause' Mason Remey as the head of the forerunner to the International Baha'i Council. Thus Mason Remey believed that he was to be the new Guardian.|
|The 'Hands of the Cause' did not and they ended the Guardianship. Mason Remey rightly protested that they had no authority to do this. But something had to be done. Both sides used the concept of Bada. Mason Remey's view was that the Guardian would no longer be a member of the family. The Hands' view was that the Guardianship was to end and the Universal House of Justice would come into being on its own. But some took another view: a majority of the French National Spiritual Assembly (set up by Shoghi Effendi as in the Will and Testament) wanted the Guardianship to continue.|
|Elections were held and the Universal House of Justice was created. The pattern of the present Administrative Order is that each layer elects the next one up (the members, the Local Spiritual Assembly, the National Spiritual Assembly, the Universal House of Justice) by secret plurality voting, and the decisions made at each level by secret ballot and a majority vote must be obeyed by all underneath. There are no declared candidates and no campaigns and whilst this may create harmony it is also conservative.|
|Remey, declared a covenant breaker, established the Orthodox Baha'is (mainly found in the United States and the Indian subcontinent). After his retirement he was succeeded by the third Guardian Joel Maranguella, but because Remey changed his mind they became competitors.|
|Baha'u'llah had stipulated that when formed the U.H.J. should be male only, and Abdul-Baha said that the reason for this would in time become clear. This directly conflicts with the Baha'i stress on sexual equality. The Hands of the Cause are not replaced as the Guardian no longer exists. The system now has to deal with its expansion, policy changes and what to do when, for example, wars continue in the next century when the Lesser Peace begins.|
|The Baha'i faith has certain liberal elements. It slowly moved from its militant Babi inheritance to a more spiritual framework under Baha'u'llah. Abdul-Baha gave the faith its greatest liberal boost. But much of this is effectively nineteenth and twentieth century written fundamentalism which is bound to create problems in the future as knowledge changes (particularly with its Lesser and Most Great Peace 'progress adventism'). It was the Will and Testament and Shoghi Effendi that brought out the later non-liberal tendencies: the faith became rationalised, bureaucratic and exclusivist.|
|From the time of splitting from the Azalis, Baha'ism has suffered schism and the majority has continued the main stream of the religion. This is a very significant inheritance: unity maintained at a great price, and now through a form of democratic centralism. Furthermore, whilst tolerating the existence of other religious paths, Baha'ism believes that it is the latest and greatest of the religions for this time period (one thousand years). This faith, with its Muslim origins and its experience of conflict, seems yet to learn that the (thankfully unlikely) Baha'idom of the 'Most Great Peace' would not be the Kingdom of God but at least as bad as Christendom.|
(1) This point was made by Smith (1982) as a correction to the Johnson view (1974) that new leaders directly created new periods for the faith.
(2) This is the interest of the Hampson (1980) thesis.
Johnson, V. E. (1974), An Historical Analysis of Critical transformations in the Evolution of the Bahai World Faith, Ph.D. thesis, Waco, Texas.
Hampson, A. (1980). The Growth and Spread of the Bahai Faith, Ph.D. thesis, Honolulu.
Smith, P.R.P. (1982), A Sociological Study of the Babi and Baha'i Religions, Ph.D. thesis. Lancaster.
MacEoin. D.. Bahaism in Hinnels. J (1984), A Handbook of Living Religions, Pelican, 475-498.
The following is a response on the alt.religion.bahai news service from firstname.lastname@example.org who is obviously a Bahai and whose opinions are worth reproducing and for challenging some of my factual reproductions. I then go on to make small responses where I think they are useful.
I am not aware that Baha'is "claim that the Babis were peaceful". A reading of "the Dawnbreakers" would dispel that misconception.
My original point: In 1844 Sayyid Ali Muhammed Shrirazi claimed to be the Bab, the perfect channel of grace to the hidden Imam.
Though the title "Bab" had been used to refer to the Gate to the Hidden Imam, the Bab denied being the Gate to the Hidden Imam. The Letters of the Living were 18 in number, with the Bab as the nineteenth, to my recollection. I'm curious how you got 14.
My original point: Before all this, a disciple called Mullah Husayn had approached the Shah to convert him and the State for the return of the Imam. He did not see him, but one of the elite converted was Mirza Husayn Ali, later known as Baha'u'llah.
You might want to look into Vahid in "The Dawnbreakers".
My original point: He was imprisoned during the crack-down but was not executed because he was known to the Russian Ambassador who pleaded his case.
His lack of involvement in the crime for which Baha'u'llah was charged may have been a factor as well.
Response: Fair enough but justice was political and rough. It helps to have friends in the right places, that's all. The point is that Mirza Husayn Ali was someone who had influential friends.
My original point: Before his death, the Bab appointed Sub-i-Azal (otherwise known as Mirza Yahya) as his successor.
There may have been specific functions that Subhi Azal had been assigned; rather than succeding the Bab as the Gate to God. You may wish to read "The Dawnbreakers".
Response: Just to say that The Dawnbreakers is not the only source here (or above points).
My original point: In one part of the Bayan it states that the next manifestation of God after the Bab would be in two to seven thousand years.
You might want to cite a chapter and verse on that. The Bab also asked for 19 years between His dispensation and the one of 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'.
Response: And I suggest (a little) all sorts of conflicting possibilities.
My original point: Here Sufi and New Testament elements were mixed with Shaykhi-Babi elements to develop his belief pattern.
Though the "Hidden Words" and the Kitab-i-Iqan" may seem
different, they were written about the same time.Response: I'm offering what I think is a simpler explanation for Baha'u'llah's insights - increasing contact with Western thought and broader and more appealing/ relevant religious influences for a message of unity.
My original point: Their groups were moved about by the authorities. It was at Baghdad in 1863 that Baha'u'llah declared himself as 'He whom God shall manifest' to a few followers, and in Adrianople he made this claim in public.
Some might see some relevance that Baha'u'llah was banished from Iran by government decree, while Subhi Azal was not banished; Subhi Azal followed Baha'u'llah to Baghdad and when Baha'u'llah was ordered to Istanbul, Subhi Azal followed Baha'u'llah again of his own volition.
Khayrullah had suggested to 'Abdu'l Baha that the Master be the Center of the Covenant in the eastern continents while Khayrullah occupy the same role in the Americas. That there was a falling out and that Khayrullah was recruited by Muhammad Ali, becomes understandable.
Though Baha'is recognize 'Abdu'l Baha as a perfect man, His infallibility is in matters pertaining to the teachings of Baha'u'llah, and should not be understood to be blanket, though there are some Baha'is who will assume that everything 'Abdu'l Baha says is right. Baha'u'llah, though, taught that there is no partner in the Most Great Infallibility.
My original point: The Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha declared that the grandson of Baha'u'llah, Shoghi Effendi, should be the Guardian.
Shoghi Effendi was a descendent of one of the Bab's uncles, as well as a grandson of 'Abdu'l Baha (Shoghi Effendi was a great grandson of Baha'u'llah).
Response: I knew this! This is of course the particular Islamic inheritance of authority by family - one additional reason why there was a power vacuum when that lineage halted after Shogghi Effendi's death.
I did not know that Ruth White contested the "Will and Testament" of 'Abdu'l Baha.
My original point: But the origins of this were seen before his headship in the Chicago Reading Rooms controversy of 1917 when Baha'is who engaged in mysticism and cultic activity were found by the American leadership to be covenant breakers.
The community in 1917 may still have been concerned about such issues in the aftermath of Kheirella's influence, but the local community had no authority to declare someone a covenant breaker. I had thought the situation was resolved after communication was restored between the US and Palestine.
How would you expect a Baptist preacher to feel if a bunch of Muslims wanted to remain members of his church? I'd be concerned that they had an agenda.
Response: The point is that, apparently, under Abdul Baha and previously, the plurality of the faith was such that people could be members of more than one religion. Today, for example, there are people who straddle faiths in ever more interesting ways, and it is a pity that this is not still a Bahai activity made manifest.
My original point: He built up an embryonic system for world government with the Administrative Order, including national assemblies (thus the religion was completely banned in the Soviet Union).
A structure of governing bodies, called Houses of Justice, was described in the writings of Baha'u'llah, such as the Kitab-i-Aqdas, you describe above.
Response: I knew this but the point is that he did it, and it was the building of this phase of the faith.
My original point: However, although the Will and Testament called for his rule to be combined with the activated Universal House of Justice, he left it dormant with only the International Baha'i Council (its forerunner) staying in place.
'Abdu'l Baha didn't form the Universal House of Justice either.
Response: Abdul Baha did and did not do all sorts of things he perhaps should and should not have done according to various writings. I'm simply making a contrast between a charismatic figure of some missionary zeal - learning and preaching let's say - and his successor who was more of a consolidator and a builder by structure. It's the sociology of charisma to bureaucracy.
My original point: The main language became English and the headquarters moved to the United States thus westernising and rationalising the religion even further.
The world headquarters remained in Palestine. The authoritative canon of scripture is in Arabic and Farsi; many works have been translated into English.
Response: Ok but the point is the increasing westernisation, the centre of gravity. The "bureaucratisation" is a western observation too. Some write of an Eastern and Western Bahaism but I do't think it is convincing or it has not happened. The main faith (exclude the splinters) is unified.
My original point: But the bureaucratisation and rationalisation allowed for specific planning to take place and despite the loss of many liberals the faith grew around the world showing the value of planned expansion.
Generally, those who were covenant breakers insisted on their own opinions over those of the adminstrative institutions. If "liberal" were to mean 'closed-minded preference for one's preconceptions', you would be correct.
Response: Sorry, I'm a pluralist. The sign of maturity in a religion is to keep its dissidents.
My original point: The Guardian was the head of the Universal House of Justice.
Though the "Will and Testament" designated the Guardian as president for life of the Universal House of Justice, the House of Justice had not been elected by the Baha'i community of the world, as you had previously mentioned.
My original point: However, Shoghi Effendi had appointed a 'Hand of the Cause' Mason Remey as the head of the forerunner to the International Baha'i Council. Thus Mason Remey believed that he was to be the new Guardian.
The "Will and Testament" also required that the designation of a successor to the Guardianship would be witnessed by a body of the Hands of the Cause. In fact, they, to include Mason Remey himself, had witnessed that _no_ successor was designated.
My original point: Mason Remey rightly protested that they had no authority to do this.
Had Mason Remey not claimed that which he was not his, there would have been no need to tell him that he was simply wrong. Since he had previously agreed that no successor had been designated in accordance with the "Will and Testament", the eposide might be understood as symptomatic of Mason Remey's advanced age and failing mental faculties.
My original point: Both sides used the concept of Bada.
Perhaps an abuse of the concept of bada. Some say that certain portions of the "Will and Testament" were not applicable, but then they assert that those who disagree have dismissed the document as bada.
My original point: Remey, declared a covenant breaker, established the Orthodox Baha'is (mainly found in the United States and the Indian subcontinent). After his retirement he was succeeded by the third Guardian Joel Maranguella, but because Remey changed his mind they became competitors.
This is a rather strong suggestion of a reliance on covenant breaker sources. Though some other Baha'is did ally themselves with Mason Remey splitting off of the main body, this group subsequently fragmented, with some splinters already disappeared and some splinters still in existence.
Response: Yes, these Covenant Breakers... The undeniable point is that the Bahais at this point were in a power vacuum. Whichever way it went, they had to innovate from the intended continuity. Bahai history as told or retold is a history of victors in terms of who the main body is and what the religion is. It has been all the way down the line.
My original point: Baha'u'llah had stipulated that when formed the U.H.J. should be male only, and Abdul-Baha said that the reason for this would in time become clear. This directly conflicts with the Baha'i stress on sexual equality.
The Universal House of Justice is not structured so that everyone could serve on it. No one campaigns for the office, as you mentioned. No one may serve on it unless they are elected. I am not discriminated against by not being elected. Its members are Baha'is, not bishops; the significance of the House is as a collective body, rather than a group of men.
Response: Wow, what a wriggle! No, in this day and age the exclusion of women is unacceptable (as indeed the faith's attitude to gays and lesbians) and it flies in the face of all the talk about equality. All faiths are struggling with this one, kicking and screaming some of them, but Bahais try and have it both ways.
My original point: It was the Will and Testament and Shoghi Effendi that brought out the later non-liberal tendencies: the faith became rationalised, bureaucratic and exclusivist.
In what way is the faith exclusivist? I can agree that there is an organizational heirarchy. In what way is it bureaucratic?
Response: The point simply is that rather than think Shogghi Effendi is some sort of bogey-man (as say the Free Bahais believed) in closing off the faith, the tendency towards a narrower bureaucratic organisation was in earlier writings and structural tendencies. They were not enacted because either it was too early or weren't needed (e.g. by Abdul baha).
My original point: This faith, with its Muslim origins and its experience of conflict, seems yet to learn that the (thankfully unlikely) Baha'idom of the 'Most Great Peace' would not be the Kingdom of God but at least as bad as Christendom.
Are we bad because the Central Figures were Muslims, or from Muslim families (or is our tie to the Muslims mentioned to make the Muslims look bad)?
When we learn that our 'Kingdom of God' is as bad as Christendom, do you think we will improve it, or all convert to UU?
Response: Phew, please, I don't want the world don't convert to UUs. What I would like to see is different peoples tolerate and incorporate that they are as we, whether they have cultural or sexual lifestyles different from our own where they are based themselves on tolerance and inclusivity. UU principles maybe, though UUs also have a tendency to separate so that say UU Humanists stick with UU Humanists, UU Paganists with UU Paganists and so on. The argument of my MA was that UUism is nothing unless it is pluralism within as a gospel of plurality to the world.
It is nice to see you were thinking of us.
Here are some URLs, if you are interested in revising the article, or just reading up on the subject.
Writings Writings Writings
Covenant Breakers Covenant Breakers
Response: By all means anyone can look at these so I've hyperlinked them.
Blessings! - Pat
Response: alt.religion.bahai has a number of contributions including, I was interested to discover, supporters of Mason Remey and Joel Maranguella. I'm reminded of when the SDP split from the SDP Liberal Alliance in the UK. The SDP and the Alliance were consumed with the split until the SDP fragment died. Split-offs never make any headway unless it's on some greater philosophical principle. My general point is simply that the Bahai founders and Bahais have put into literalist and bureaucratic stone what is early nineteenth and twentieth century transcient religious, philosophical and theological thought. Religion now has to grapple with late modernity and postmodernity, and not saying "bingo" and what we have inherited and have now is the be-all-and-end-all for either all eternity or some incredible period of time. It'll would be interesting to see if Bahaism in a hundred years time is making the kind of theological adjustments that Christian theology has made and is making! How will they explain, for example, the rather simple one of continuing war when there has to be war no more?
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Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful