Commentary on the Bahai faith

Commentary on the Bahai Faith (Paul Kelly) [Mr. Kelly is not a member of the Bahai faith but an open-minded student of all religions. In this article he reviews the growth and teachings of the faith.—Editor] The forerunner of the B ahai faith was Mirza Ali Muhammad who was born in Shiraz, Persia on the 20th October, 1819. He was a Sayyed i. e., a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and he was also a Shi’ih Muslim of the Shaykhi sect. He married at the age of twenty-two and at the age of twenty-five he declared on the 2nd May, 1844, that God the Exalted had elected him to the station of B abhood. The majority of the Shaykhi sect accepted him as the B ab (Gate) or forerunner of the ultimate expected Imam known as the Qaim. The Mullas (Muslim priests) opposed him and hostility redoubled against him when he declared himself to be the Mahdi (expected one) whose advent had been foretold by the Prophet Muhammad. Later he adopted the title ‘Nuqta-yi-ullah’ or ‘Primal Point’ which was a title applied to Muhammad himself by his followers. Since the time of Adam, Muhammad is regarded as the ‘Seal of Prophets’ whereas, according to the Bahais, the title ‘Primal Point’ (Pivot) indicates a new cycle of religion. This was elevating him to the rank of the great founders of religions for which the Shiates denounced him. His son died while still an infant within the first year of his declaration and he himself was executed six years later without trial by the State for following the classical pattern of Jihad against the legally established regime. I do not feel that previous articles which have appeared in this magazine written by Mr. A. R. Mughal and Mr. Fazal Dean have done justice in the cause of furthering good inter-faith relations because they have suggested that the execution of the Bab terminated the Bahai faith and that Bahaism was to be judged from certain quotations in the Bayan which is the law book written by the Bab when he was in prison. The quotations are: “When you hear the name of the Bab mentioned stand up and show respect. God also enjoins upon you that if anyone displeases and troubles the Bab then you should kill such a person and put an end to his existence.” (Ch. 15. V. 6). COMMENTARY ON THE BAHAI FAITH 23 This injunction was acted upon by his devout followers. It is recorded that a certain Mirza Salih, a Babi of Shiraz, thrust a spear into the mouth of Haji Mulle Taqi for a similar “offence”. “If Babism had the power they (non-Babis) would all be put to death.” (By order of Kings) (Ch. 15. V. 8). It should be remembered that Islam clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion. (Quran 2:257). Again it is written in the Bayan: “All books should be destroyed except those written of our religion.” (Ch. 6. V. 6). These quotations from the Bayan are clearly not of God and suggest that the excess of power had corrupted the mind of the Bab which led to his followers perpetrating barbarities which in turn led to their own death and finally to the execution of the Bab. It needs to be said again that these quotations are no longer held in authority. Baha’ullah has consistently demonstrated throughout his life that he is of a different character than the Bab. The harsh judgement of Mr. A. R. Mughal and Mr. Fazal Dean may have seemed appropriate in 1850. However, there is an evolutionary character to the Bahai faith and in 1986 another perspective is called for in the context of good inter-faith relations. The Jihad which the Bab waged could not rid itself of the shackles of the corrupted form of Jihad which they inherited from their Shi’ih tradition. It is clear that more than persuasion was used by the Babi believers, some resorting to the sword and spear. It seems likely that the Bab recognised the great spiritual qualities of Bahu’aullah from a young age and was conscious that his own declaration coincided with the birth of Bahu’ullah’s first son who was born on the same day. Assuming the role of a forerunner the Bab let the impulsive side of his nature run away with him so that the initial God-given inspiration deserted him. The Bayan no longer has scriptural authority within the Bahai Community. After the execution of the Bab greater devotion was given to a certain Mirza Hussain Ali, born in Teheran on 12th November, 1817 and who later assumed the title Baha’ullah (Glory of God). After witnessing the Bab’s execution a certain Babi acting independently attempted to assassinate the Shah. Though the court tribunals proved that Baha’ullah was innocent of collusion, still he was exiled and imprisoned in Baghdad. Many Babis were also massacred. Political considerations led to a more remote exile in Constantinople which 24 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS was ordered by the Turkish Government at the request of the Persian Government. During the preparation for the journey (April 22nd-May 3rd 1863) Baha’ullah declared to several of his followers that he was the promised one whose coming had been foretold by the Bab and that he was: “The long expected educator and teacher of all peoples, the channel of a wonderous grace that would transcend all previous outpourings, in which all previous forms of religion would become merged as rivers in the ocean.” (Baha’ullah and the New Era, p. 5. — J. E. Esslemont). Many notables, including the Governor of the city, are said to have honoured the departing prisoner. After four months in Constantinople the party was moved to Adrianople where Baha’ullah publicly announced his mission and where he was enthusiastically accepted by the majority of Babis who were thereafter known as B ahais. B aha’ullah’s half brother Mirza Yayha became violently opposed to him with the result that the Turkish Government exiled him and his followers to Cyprus and the Bahais to Akka in Palestine where they arrived on 31st August 1868. He lived in this vicinity for the rest of his twenty-four years of life. As time passed by he gradually assumed greater freedom from his two years commencement in a prison cell to a comfortable position at Bahji where he wrote voluminously and lived in a majestic dignity though nominally under the order of the Sultan of Turkey. He died peacefully in 1892. Baha’ullah abrogated numerous laws of the Bab contained in the Bayan and now Baha-ullah’s book Kitab-i-Aqdas has, according to the Bahais, assumed authority over all other books including the Holy Quran. The Aqdas is now published in Arabic and an English edition is scheduled within the next few years which will give the Western world access to the core of Bahai teachings so that genuine independent research of truth may take place. During his life time B aha’ullah appointed tried and trusted friends to promote the cause of the faith. He gave them the title “Hands of the cause of God.” His respected and devoted son Abdul Baha (Born 23rd May 1844. Died 1921) was appointed by his father to the position of exempler and sole interpreter of Bahai teachings. Baha’ullah referred to him as the “most great branch” and “the branch from the ancient root”. He was succeeded by his eldest grandson Shoghi Effendi at the age of twenty-five while still studying at Baliol College, Oxford. Many were dismayed when he died leaving no heir. However, after November 1957, the work of the faith was co-ordinated by the twenty-seven “Hands of the Cause”. Today the supreme institution of the faith is the “Universal House of Justice” invested with authority to legislate on all matters not covered in the Bahai writings. Abdul Baha asserts that this institution is under the direct guidance of the Bab and Baha’ullah. Although analogies are made with John the Baptist and Jesus, the Bahais COMMENTARY ON THE BAHAI FAITH 25 regard the Bab and Baha’ullah as co-founders of the faith. Bahullah has said: “That so brief a span should have separated this most mighty and wonderous revelation from mine own previous manifestation is a secret that no man can unravel and a mystery such as no man can fathom. Its duration had been fore-ordained, and no man shall ever discover its reason unless and until he be informed of the contents of my hidden book.” It is often said by Muslims that since the Bab was executed in 1850 six years after declaring his mission he was, therefore, a false prophet since he died an accursed death. Never-the-less although John the Baptist was chosen by God to be a Prophet he was beheaded. In some way he failed in his mission because he did not become a follower of Jesus. Instead he doubted Jesus’s Messiahship and did not bring his own disciples to Jesus. He chose to involve himself in chastising Herod. According to Bahai writings this was not the failure of the Bab as he sent Baha’ullah his pen and papers before he was executed, though it is written that the Bab did not meet Baha’ullah in his lifetime. The Quranic Mahdi and the Judeo—Christian Messiah are regarded by Ahmadi Muslims and Christians to be one and the same individual. The Bahais categorically declare that the Mahdi and the Messiah are separate and distinct individuals. The Bab proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi whereas Baha’ullah proclaimed himself to be the Messiah. Abdul Baha has made interesting commentaries on the eleventh and twelfth chapters of the Book of Revelations — the last Book in the New Testament in his book Questions and Answers. The Bahais highlight the following passage: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” (Revelations 12:1, 2). Christians who reject the theory of Jesus literally descending from the clouds generally consider these verses to be referring to the Messiah. Abdul Baha explains that the woman is the law of God enshrined in Islam; the sun and moon under her feet as the two Islamic kingdoms—Persian and Ottoman — under the shadow of that law; the sun is the emblem of Persian and the crescent moon is the Ottoman empire. The twelve stars are the twelve Imams expected from time to time by Shi’ih Muslims from the time of Prophet Muhammad. He explains that the child is the Bab — the Primal Point. If the verses quoted from Revelations concern the Mahdi then the following passage from the same Book concerns the Messiah who is depicted as a tree of life bearing twelve manner of fruits (Children). 26 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was a tree of life, which bear twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Ch. 22. V. 2). My view is that scripture alone is not enough to ascertain the truth of the claimants of these titles. A comparative study is likely to generate more questions than answers. Genuine dialogue under the guidance of those invested with spiritual authority is necessary. Genuine religious leaders will surely agree. Was Baha’ullah what he claimed to be? Was he the Qaim, Messiah, the ultimate Imam? Or did he inherit the mission of the Mahdi from the Bab? Or was he a religious leader whom God inspired among the Shi’ih Muslims synthesising traditional Islam with ‘modernism’? Whatever or whoever he was,, he was a man of God, a force for good in this world. Bahaism is an independent world religion and I now give an outline of the faith as presented to-day by Bahais. HAS: As its aim — WORLD UNITY As its Founder —Baha’ullah (1817-1892). 105,500 centres in 333 countries and territories. Its own scripture — translated into 739 languages. Its world council in the Holy Land. No ritual, clergy or denominations. ORIGINATED: 1884 in Persia. OFFERS: A blueprint for WORLD PEACE. A practical solution for the world’s ills. Each individual moral and spiritual principles. TEACHES: The fundamental purpose of religion is to promote concord and harmony. All religions have the same divine source. The Unity of God, of religion and of mankind. Everyone must seek truth for themselves. All prejudices must be abandoned. The harmony of science and religion. Service to humanity is worship. Religious truth is continuous and. relative. COMMENTARY ON THE BAHAI FAITH 27 BELIEVES: That the earth is one country and mankind its citizens. In the adoption of a universal auxiliary language. In the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty. In the quality of men and women. In compulsory education for all. That conduct here and now affects our mortal life. That God reveals His word periodically through a Messenger. That Baha’ullah is the Messenger for this age in Mfilrnent of God’s promises including those of the Bible. I am not a Bahai. My concern is in the context of good inter-faith relations. The fact that Bahais are unjustly treated by Khomeni’s Iran as are Ahmadis under Zia’s Pakistan, is surely one good reason why Bahais and Ahmadis should be friends. People of true faith should not fear genuine dialogue with people of another faith but it should be welcomed as a blessing. Importance of Friday Prayer Of all the obligations of a Muslim, the most important is prayer, and of ail the prayers, none is so essential to be recited in congregation as the Juma (Friday) service prayer. The Juma is in fact the greatest Muslim festival. The Holy Quran regards “it as a holiday. A whole chapter of the holy book entitled the Juma has been devoted to it. In that chapter Almighty God commands Muslims to quit all their worldly affairs when they are summoned to prayer of Friday, to assemble in mosques and to say the Juma prayers with due observance of all the requirements of the Law. The person who does not act in obedience to these injunctions is regarded by the Holy Quran as guilty of a deadly sin and almost outside the circle of Islam. Far more stress has been laid upon attendance at the Juma sermon and prayers than upon Id. It is on account of this importance of the Juma in the Muslim faith that Friday has universally been observed as a holiday among the Muslims from the very earliest time that Islam took its rise. (The Promised Messiah)

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