December 15, 2013

Absence of women from the pages of the early history of the Bábi-Bahá’í Faith – by Baharieh Rouhani Ma’ani

Women are generally absent from the pages of the early history of the Bábi-Bahá'í Faith and there are reasons for it. Their absence is better understood by older believers from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, for they are familiar with the dynamics at work. These believers rarely saw a woman's name and particulars appear in a history book and this seemed acceptable. They were raised in the cradle of gender inequality and witnessed biases against women all their lives. Almost all women were victims of prejudices that pushed them into oblivion. The older believers were well familiar with the social and religious background giving rise to the marginalization of women in history. They knew that the causes had deep roots and could not be eliminated without education and concerted effort. Some had more important things to do, such as struggling to stay alive and saving their souls. Others did not know any better. To them things looked all right as they were. However, it became increasingly difficult for them to convince the younger generation - the beneficiaries of the principle of gender equality brought by Baha'u'llah - not to challenge the status quo. The slow pace of progress acceptable to older Bahá'ís is insufficient for those who crave tangible and meaningful change.

One area where change is desperately needed is in the way women are treated in history. Lack of information about most of the early women believers, including the women closely related to the Central Figures of the Faith, raises questions about who they were, how they lived their lives, what contribution they made to the progress of the Faith and so on. Bridging the gap between the exercise of unlimited patience towards the unequal treatment of women in history advocated by older believers and the eagerness of the younger generation to ensure that they are not deprived of an important part of their heritage requires conscientious and systematic effort. A significant part of that effort lies in delving into and studying the lives of the early women believers who played an important role, through suffering and working behind the scenes, in shaping historical events. The effort also includes an analysis and assessment of the factors that prompted historians to discuss historical events without disclosing in full the names and particulars of female participants.

November 20, 2013

Does Soul Survive Body? – by Louis G. Gregory

Does soul survive body? This question has at times puzzled sages as well as peoples of lesser rank. What we know as death is so common that man, even in early life, is impressed with the certainty that mortal existence must sooner or later end. He soon discovers that his body is subject to the changes, decay and ultimate dissolution which attend all other earthly objects. But does his inner being, variously called soul, mind or spirit, really perish with the body as seems to be true? Assurance of life beyond the grave will in this day bring solace to millions who are concerned not only with their own fate, but that of loved ones of all ages who often prematurely cross the great divide. It was an eminent Greek who observed that it is usual during peace for sons to bury their fathers; but in war time fathers bury their sons. In such an unprecedented time as this, not only fathers and sons, but entire families, fellow citizens of great cities and nationals of vast areas, are forced to take their last journey in such numbers and under such tragic conditions as inspire awe. And so the eternal question presses as never before for an answer. And the answer, by divine favor, is now made complete.

The fact that religious devotees in all ages, whether in primitive stages of culture or highly developed, have believed in immortality is in itself impressive. Such people, whether their religious connections be formal or not, doubtless constitute an overwhelming majority of mortals. The probative value of this would not be impressive to the logician, falling into the category of the fallacy of argumentum ad hominem. It is however one often used by lawyers in court and sways both judges and jurors. Some of our greatest statesmen who have moulded the people’s will, have yet in times of great emergency, been led to make wise decisions by that selfsame will, indeed they have but voiced that will -- acted that will. This however is not a proof in itself of immortality, because people believe it and because to most mortals, life would be meaningless without it. Mass beliefs often err.

The belief in immortality has its foundation in the lives and teachings of the most eminent Beings that have ever appeared among mankind. These are the founders of the great Religions of the world, the Prophets of God. These not only proclaimed the truth but embodied the truth. Their tremendous influence throughout the ages is not only venerated by their followers but admitted by students of history and sociology who are not of their faith. They are the supreme authorities appearing among mortals and although living at times remote from each other and in different parts of the earth, they have without exception given their followers assurance of the joys of a heavenly home, this a reward for virtue and fidelity upon earth. They were the mouth-pieces of God upon earth. If we acknowledge the greatness of their stations, sustained as they can readily be by both logic and science as well as spiritual proofs, we must also acknowledge that theirs was a clear and perfect vision of life both upon this plane and those of the worlds beyond. The sunshine establishes its reality without the need of formal proof. Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster, etc., each and all taught immortality. Their sacrifices and endurance in the path of God are also among the most wonderful signs of it.

October 15, 2013

Baha’u’llah’s 'Epistle to the Son of the Wolf': explanation of its background circumstances and certain words and phrases, and elucidation concerning its uniqueness – by Marzieh Gail, 1953

"I was walking in the Land of Tá (Tihrán)—the dayspring of the signs of thy Lord—when lo, I heard the lamentation of the pulpits and the voice of their supplication unto God, blessed and glorified be He. They cried out and said: 'O God of the world and Lord of the nations! Thou beholdest our state and the things which have befallen us....'" (Baha’u’llah, ‘Epistle to the Son of Wolf’)

We, the two billion people currently on the planet, are living at a time when not only the pulpits of all the religions, but all things must be condemning us, each in that voice which, according to the Qur'án, God has given to all things: "God, Who giveth a voice to all things, hath given us a voice...." (41:20). We who have killed some forty-five million human beings in the past thirty-five years, strangers whom we did not even know by name. We who have denied our qualitative difference from the animals and have tried to live in their world, an attempt which has proved as successful as would be the animal's to turn into a tree or the tree's to be a stone. We who spend our time devising elaborate excuses to justify our ways; who always blame someone else, who always want someone else to save us.

It is not surprising that Bahá’u’lláh, the Persian nobleman Who declared His spiritual mission in 1863, should also say: "... ye walk on My earth complacent and self-satisfied, heedless that My earth is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you."

Meanwhile we long for happiness, and then reject it when it is brought to us. Because happiness for human beings means being raised out of the blind physical world into the conscious life of the spirit, and this can only be done by the Prophet of God. At His advent we fight Him and resist Him, whether He is Moses or Buddha, Jesus or Muhammad, or Bahá’u’lláh.

September 18, 2013

A Sacred History -- a talk by Matthew Weinberg, given at the formal opening of the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, on 22 May 2001

Today we commemorate a sacred history of unexampled love, supreme sacrifice, and divine vision. It is a narrative prefigured in the pronouncements of the great seers of the past. As we stand awestruck at the majestic structures and the "tapestry of beauty” now defining the face of God's Holy Mountain, and ponder the mysterious processes responsible for the remarkable transformation of this once barren domain, the words of Isaiah echo on all sides: "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.. . the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God."[1]

In an enterprise revealing a tenacity of purpose, a sustained selflessness, and the power of unified action, the followers of the Greatest Name in all corners of the planet seized a unique moment in time. The raising up of this directing center of the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh evokes astonishment at His eternal might and gratitude for His generous dispensations of grace. For we are nothing more than His humble instruments striving to achieve His just and compassionate purpose. The completion of this grand undertaking at once provides evidence of the tangible greatness of the Cause of the 'Abhá Beauty and is a testimony to the existence of an objective spiritual reality - for such an accomplishment could not be brought about by human effort and insight alone. Certainly, the spiritual forces involved lie beyond our comprehension. As Bahá’u’lláh Himself testifies, "This, truly, is a Revelation which revealeth itself only once every five hundred thousand years. Thus have We removed the barrier and lifted the veils." [2]

This occasion offers us the opportunity to look back at a fate-laden and triumphant spiritual journey.

More than 150 years ago, a youthful Prisoner, banished to a desolate mountain fortress, boldly addressed the ruler of Persia in these words: "I am the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things. I am the Countenance of God Whose splendor can never be obscured, the Light of God Whose radiance can never fade."[3] Speaking with an astounding power reminiscent of the Prophets of old, the Báb proclaimed the arrival of a new Day, that long anticipated moment in human history when the Promised One would "fill the earth with equity and justice"[4] and "with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord"[5]

His "trumpet-blast of knowledge" awakened the darkened land of Persia and endowed all who responded with "a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind."[6] His message, though, was not directed to that land alone, for He was the Bearer of a Revelation destined to transform the spiritual life of the human race. "O ye peoples of the earth," the Báb declared, "Enter ye, one and all, through this Gate…”[7] To pass through this Door was to step out of the darkness into the light of God's love and compassion; it led to the "Path of Truth" and to the "ways of peace."[8]

August 27, 2013

My Visits with ‘Abdu’l-Baha in 1901 & 1912 – transcript of a recording by William Copeland Dodge, February 6th, 1959

This is William Copeland Dodge. Before relating the account of my visits with 'Abdu'l-Baha in 1901 & 1912 may I offer the following prayer written by 'Abdu'l-Baha: 

'O my God! Refresh and gladden my spirit, purify my heart, illuminate my mind. I lay all my affairs in Thy hands. Thou art my Guide and Refuge. I'll no longer be sorrowful or grieved, I’ll be happy and joyful. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety nor will I let troubles harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God! Thou art kinder to me than I am to myself. I dedicate my life to Thee, O God!'

At 4:15 in the afternoon of November 16th, 1901, ‘Abdu’l-Baha entered our room and greeted us. We had just arrived at His Holy household in the prison city of Acca, Syria having traveled in a carriage driven by two horses along the shore of the Mediterranean from Haifa. ‘Abdu’l-Baha said: 'Welcome, my boys', and chanted a prayer for my brother Wendell and me. Wendell was 18 and I was 21 September 6, 1901. My father Arthur Pillsbury Dodge had arranged the trip for us. At that time, ‘Abdu’l-Baha was a prisoner of the Turkish government. But He was allowed the freedom of the city. His home was in the original section of the city enclosed by a high wall. As Acca increased in population a second high wall was build around the city. Finally a third high wall enclosed the entire area.

Before we could enter Acca, it was necessary to obtain a recommendation from the United States government. This requirement was in addition to the usual passport. ‘Abdu’l-Baha was such a living example of love and humility that the government officials, became friendly with Him. General Badri Beg of the Turkish army was the frequent guest at dinner with ‘Abdu’l-Baha, while we were there.

We stayed with ‘Abdu’l-Baha in His household 19 days: November 16th, 1901 to December 4th, 1901. Every day breakfast was served to us in our room. The noon day meal and the evening dinner we had with ‘Abdu’l-Baha at His table. Generally about 16 Persian believers attended each meal, making 19 present. In the Holy Land at that time women did not eat with men when others than the family were present. Each morning after breakfast ‘Abdu’l-Baha came to our room and greeted us. He was gracious, considerate and always concerned with our comfort. At every meal ‘Abdu’l-Baha gave us lessons and allowed us plenty of time to record His remarks in our notebooks.

August 3, 2013

The Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah -- a talk by Hand of the Cause Abu'l-Qasim Faizi, December 9, 1967, Wilmette, Illinois

First of all, a general description of The Hidden Words:

When you study The Hidden Words, and compare it with other Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Writings revealed in Adrianople and later on in the Most Great Prison, you will come to realize that The Hidden Words is the embryonic stage of our Faith. Whatever exists in our Faith exists in The Hidden Words in an embryonic form. By that I mean the general shape of things is given, but not very clear, distinct, explicit and detailed. There are those references to many different aspects of our Faith. It is like a seed which is sown in the city of Baghdád, grew in Adrianople, and reached its fruition in the Most Great Prison. I will give you two examples and the rest you will find by yourselves.

In The Hidden Words Bahá'u'lláh says, "How can you ever turn from this clear, sweet water to that which is wine?"[1] This is not a prohibition sentence. It's just a statement: How can you turn from this to that? But when it grew, the tree grew in Adrianople, and then in the city of 'Akká the Book of Aqdas was revealed, it was utterly forbidden. It is no more ambiguous. It's explicit and is absolutely forbidden for any Bahá'í under any form.

In another place, He says:

"Do you remember that Covenant I made with you in that early morning?"[2] But what is the Covenant? Nobody knew at that time. I said that nobody knew; there were many who knew even then that 'Abdu'l-Bahá was the Center of the Covenant when He was a boy of twelve years. There were many who knew that, but the others did not know. It was ambiguous. But in the city of 'Akká, it was revealed in the Book of Aqdas [The Kitáb-i-Aqdas] that all that is known to you in the books and the writings regarding this Covenant that this refers to the Most Great Branch. He then made it explicit and 'Abdu'l-Bahá was introduced. That's why I call it the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh in its embryonic stage. This is one way to study this book.

The Hidden Words to me is a very glorious sunrise in a beautiful forest. When you study this glorious sunrise and this glorious forest, you must not go and think about one sentence. You will never realize the glory of it, the immensity and majesty of it. You will lose sight of the whole glorious sunrise. Therefore you stay far away from it so you can see the whole view in front of you, very clearly, full of color, full of beautiful references. When you go away from it, you will find it is a world , a plan of life for man. The lines are beautifully drawn; the roads are perfectly paved, on condition that we will not pay attention to little words here and there at the beginning. This is a mistake that many of us do with all the Writings; we stick to one sentence, and we stick to it accompanied by doubt.

July 1, 2013

The Supreme Affliction: A Study in Baha’i Economics and Socialization – by Alfred E. Lunt

[This article which was passed by the Reviewing Committee was originally printed in Star of the West, vol. 23, no. 3, June 1932 at the request of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada. It was noted that it presents a very complete treatment of the economic plight in which the world finds itself as of 1932, and describes the perfect solution as found in The Order of Baha'u'llah.] [For a brief biography about Alfred Lunt please visit Baha'i Heroes and Heroines]

The Primal Necessities
God has created hunger and thirst, the need of warmth and shelter as essentials of the very existence of the human race, and deposited within man an ever present consciousness of these needs. Throughout the countless ages of man's occupation of the earth, these necessities have, to an over- whelming degree, been his taskmasters, the seat of his ambitions, the source of his joys and sorrows. Since food, drink and housing are vital needs of his physical existence, and have never been attainable except through individual effort -- these primitive needs have wielded an enormous influence in the history, progress and destiny of our race. In the hope of gold, men have yielded life. For the power of money to purchase necessities, men have frequently laid aside honor, and have not fallen short of commission of detestable crimes. The dethronement of God, in the human consciousness and the enthronement of gold as a idol, is not a mere play upon words in the past and present history of the race.

The Unbalanced Distribution of Necessities
As the individuals of society, because this primitive urge, identified happiness with the possession of the goods of this world, and tasted of the power that comes the attainment of property in excess of their actual needs, the distribution of means gradually becomes unbalanced. This unbalanced distribution, however, is by no means a modern phenomenon. The emergence of humanity from the patriarchal state marked the taking on of individual responsibility for livelihood, and was the signal for a steady encroachment upon property by the more capable, more ambitious, or more unscrupulous members of society. We must remember that up to comparatively recent times, huge masses of humanity were either slaves, possessing no right to property of any kind; serfs, with an inchoate right at best to a meager ownership; or feudatories, holding their fiefs, lands or properties conditioned strictly upon an oath of unrestricted service to their lord or baron. As a consequence, the favored classes held all property in their sway, and vied with each other, often by private war or foray, to attain larger and larger possessions. Many of the medieval wars had their rise in these inordinate contentions of barons and princes, in which the hapless serf or feudatory bore the brunt of the fighting.