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The puzzle of the Aqdas: joining a few pieces

Posted by Sen on March 29, 2008

I first wrote this as an email posting on 1 Jan 2008. I’ve reworked it as a blog entry. It concerns one of the things that puzzles Bahais from a Christian or non-religious background: what is ‘religious law’ and how do we treat the Kitab-e Aqdas?

Usually this comes up not as a broad theoretical question, but in terms of particulars. Why do women seem to be disadvantaged in the inheritance law, why are they treated differently in regard to some religious duties, and what is that verse about having no more than two wives?

I want to show first that the text of the Aqdas is no more than the tip of the iceberg, a sort of hand-list of the laws, whose actual contents are often found elsewhere. So we need to engage with ‘the Law’ and not with the Aqdas alone. And second, that when we do, we will find that religious law is something quite different to the law of the land, or the codified regulations of a professional association, and that what it says and what it is trying to do may be more radical than appears at first glance. I’ll skip over some particular questions about some laws quickly, and then get onto the broader issues that tell us more about the form and approach of the Aqdas, about what kind of thing Bahai religious law is.

Women in the laws of the Aqdas

The first question asked was:

Women are given less inheritance, (and if that’s of no importance given our requirement to make a will, why does this sexually unequal inheritance subject get so much space in our Most Holy Book?), women are “exempt” from the pilgrimage, and from the requirement to do the obligatory prayers when they are enfeebled due to their courses (no wonder we can’t trust them to be on the UHJ, since they are so enfeebled when menstruating).

To understand the position of women in Bahai inheritance, we have to look at Question 37 in the ‘Questions and Answers’ to the Aqdas:

37. QUESTION: In the holy ordinances governing inheritance,
the residence and personal clothing of the deceased
have been allotted to the male offspring. Doth this provision
refer only to the father’s property, or doth it apply
to the mother’s as well?

ANSWER: The used clothing of the mother should
be divided in equal shares among the daughters,
but the remainder of her estate, including property,
jewellery, and unused clothing, is to be
distributed, in the manner revealed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas,
to all her heirs. If, however, the deceased
hath left no daughters, her estate in its entirety
must be divided in the manner designated for men
in the holy Text.

This shows that if a woman does have daughters, her estate is divided differently than ‘the manner designated for men.’ Apart from the clothing, it is does not tell us what the manner for women is, where the woman has female heirs. It is however open to the reading that, when the deceased is a woman, her share of the family home goes to the eldest daughter, and the sisters get priority over the brothers, and so forth.

According to the notes to the Aqdas, though the law is formulated with the presumption that the deceased is a man, its provisions apply, mutatis mutandis [note 38], when the deceased is a woman. The mutatis mutandis principle: “changing what has to be changed”, indicates a direction for interpretation but is hardly explicit: what has to be changed, and how?

There is one direct example of its application given in Question 55, where the question is “If the deceased be a woman, to whom is the ‘wife’s’ share of the inheritance allotted?” and the answer is “The ‘wife’s’ share of the inheritance is allotted to the husband.” This ought already to warn us that Bahá’u’lláh has stepped outside the mould of His Islamic background. Under Islamic law, for each class of inheritors, the males of the class inherit twice as much as the females, thus a son gets twice as much as a daughter, a brother twice as much as a sister, the father twice as much as the mother. In Surah 4 verse 12 of the Quran, this is applied to the wife or husband of the deceased: “In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, ye get a fourth… Their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth.” Thus where the Quran has a general rule about male and female shares which applies whether the deceased is a man or woman, Bahá’u’lláh stipulates a share which is due to the wife when the deceased is a man, or to the husband when the deceased is a woman. This suggests a pattern of symmetrical equality between the sexes. Hence my suggestion that if the deceased is a woman, her share of the family home goes to the eldest daughter. I assume of course that the husband and wife are full partners and therefore co-owners of the family home, so that the husband’s estate normally contains half of the ownership of the home, and the wife’s estate the other half.

Another example: Bahá’u’lláh explicitly says that the residence and personal clothing of the deceased [go] to the male, not female, offspring [Aqdas paragraph 25]. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá interpreted this as meaning that the residence and personal clothing of a deceased man remain in the male line [see note 44]. Shoghi Effendi says in the Synopsis that the residence and clothing of the deceased father pass to the male not to the female offspring. (Synopsis, p 55). So despite the apparent explicit advantages given to male heirs, the interpretation shows that this is only so where the deceased is male.

In light of this pattern, turn to Q37 and ask what happens when the deceased is a woman, and she owns a half share in the family home (which is, after all, only fair), and perhaps other property. That the clothing goes to the daughters is clear. What is “the manner revealed in the Aqdas” for the other property? In the light of the examples above, could it not be that, when the deceased is a woman, the female heirs take the place of the male heirs, and vice versa?

I gave a longer explanation of the implications of the inheritance, including the question of how it relates to the duty to write a will, in a paper in the Bahai Studies Review, Volume 5.1, 1995, which is online here.

To turn to the question of the exemption of women from pilgrimage: both the law and the exemption for women are contained in the Bab’s book of laws, the Persian Bayan (4:16 and 4:18, 6:16). As so often, the brief mention in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-e Aqdas is hardly more than a pointer: to understand the law we have to go to the Bayan text that is being pointed to. In the Bayan, the exemption there is stated as an exemption for (all) women, except for those who would face no difficulty on the route (4:18). But in fact, the same exemption is given for men: the pilgrimage is obligatory for everyone, but the duty has been lifted for the one who is not sufficiently wealthy to suffer no hardship on the route (4:18). The brief mention in the Aqdas endorses both the duty, and the exemption, contained in the Bayan. The Bayan emphasises that the hardships of travel should be avoided (in contrast to the practice of making pilgrimage travel deliberately hard, for instance on foot or barefoot, in the belief that this brings extra merit). It offers the same exemption twice: once for all people, and once for women particularly: neither should go on pilgrimage where it would entail hardship.

The Bayan also gives a long explanation of why one bit of dust should be singled out (as a place of pilgrimage) above another, given that God is not in any particular place. In fact the Bayan frequently gives a reasoning and understanding of the law which, in my opinion, is more valuable than simply knowing the details of what applies to whom.

Similarly the obligatory prayer, fasting and other religious practices. The purpose is not that these duties should be a great burden. All who are weak from illness or age are exempted from the obligation, in fact the are told not to perform obligatory prayer or fast when ill (Aqdas, Question 93), and this specifies “men or women.” Aqdas paragraph 13 specifies an alternative verse that women in their courses may use: the implication is that this may be said standing, sitting or lying. At any rate, there is no bending, kneeling and bowing specified, as for the usual obligatory prayer. Presumably a woman having a very heavy period, bad cramps etc would be “weak from illness” and thus should not fast or perform obligatory prayer. But normal pregnancy and menstruation are not illnesses, they are natural processes. Paragraph 13 gives an intermediate solution: an alternative to obligatory prayer for the woman whose mind and spirit are ready for prayer, but whose stomach muscles are protesting. The purpose again is that the duties of religion should be light: God is not more pleased by greater hardships endured, rather God is pleased by the happiness and willingness of the creatures.

So far as I know (not from personal experience), service on the UHJ does not involve any exertion for the stomach muscles, so I doubt that this law is relevant to the membership of the UHJ.

The next question asked concerned polgyamy:

Baha’u’llah specifically allows two wives (not two husbands!) but then this gets immediately abrogated in the notes. If it’s immediately abrogated, why in the world did it get such prominent mention in our Most Holy Book for the next thousand years?

Once again, to understand this we have to turn to the Bayan – the Aqdas simply endorses a law whose details and justification is given by the Bab.

In the Persian Bayan, wahid 8 section 15, the Bab says (my translation from the French):

“If a man or woman proves incapable of having a child, it is legitimate for the spouse who is not infertile (whichever it may be) to marry again after having obtained the permission of the other party, but not without her permission [the French has ‘her’ here, but the Persian pronoun u applies to men or women] and the purpose is that a child be born of this spouse, male or female. … In this world, the most exalted of the fruits that God has given humanity, after Faith in Himself, the Letters of Unity and in what has been revealed in the Bayan, is to gather the fruits of his (bodily) existence so after his death, the man leaves a fruit which will mention him with praise. This (having children) has been ordained in the Bayan, in the most proper and most precise way. (What has been ordained) on this point, is that if any incapacity (to produce) is found in one of the two spouses, the other spouse should marry in another ceremony with the permission of his spouse, so that a fruit of his existence may be manifest …”

So, in the event of infertility, the couple has permission to take a second husband or wife for the purpose of conceiving a child. This exception in itself implies that the general rule is monogamy. The exception proves the rule. This explains why Shoghi Effendi can say that the Kitab-e Aqdas “prescribes monogamy” (God Passes By, p. 214): he does not say that Abdu’l-Baha changed the law, but rather that the text itself prescribed monogamy — which it does, by implication, by endorsing a law which allows for a second wife or husband only under special circumstances (and also by then adding that it is better to be content with one (wife or husband)).

Many laws that are stated briefly in the Aqdas are detailed in the Bayan, and in many cases one has to have the Bayan on hand to understand what the Aqdas is saying, because the Aqdas is so telegraphic. The general principle is that “The Bayan hath been superseded by the Kitab-i-Aqdas, except in respect of such laws as have been confirmed and mentioned in the Kitab-i-Aqdas.” (Aqdas, note 108) but that a brief mention is taken as implying the whole of the previous law — as in the case of the Aqdas‘ very brief mention of the forbidden degrees of marriage.

The Aqdas says:

“God hath prescribed matrimony unto you. Beware that ye take not unto yourselves more wives than two. Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.” [Aqdas, paragraph 63]

If this is a compact endorsement of the law that is set out in detail in the Bayan, then it is only an exception for infertile couples. And this fits with what Abdu’l-Baha wrote: on the one hand he endorses the legitimacy of the Aqdas text:

“You asked about polygamy. According to the text (nass) of the Divine Book, having two wives is permitted ja’iz). This was never (abadan) prohibited, but it is legitimate and allowed (halal wa mubah). You should therefore not be unhappy, but take justice into your consideration so that you may be as just as possible. What has been said was that since justice is very difficult, therefore tranquility is in one wife. But in your case, you should not be unhappy.” [‘Abdu’l-Baha, cited in Amr wa Khalq 4: 174][Theabove translation needs to be checked, which I will do as soon as possible ~ Sen, April 23, 2019]

And the confirmation of bigamy seems to be still more clearly formulated in yet another passage:

“Concerning bigamy, this has been promulgated, and no one must abrogate it (mansusast nasikhi nadarad). ‘Abdu’l Baha has not abrogated this law. These are false accusations and lies (spread by) the friends. What I have said is that He [God?] has made bigamy bound on a precondition. As long as someone does not attain certitude regarding the capability to practice justice and his heart is not at rest that he can practice justice, he should not be intent upon a second marriage. But if he should be sure and attain certitude that he would practice justice on all levels (and conditions) (dar jami’ i maratib), then a second marriage is lawful. Just as has been the case in the Holy Land : the Baha’i friends wished to marry a second wife, accepting this precondition, and this servant (i.e., ‘Abdu’l Baha) never abstained (from giving permission), but insisted that justice should be considered, and justice actually means here self restraint (daraji i imtina’); but they said, that they will practice justice and wished to marry a second wife. Such false accusations (concerning ‘Abdu’l Baha’s prohibition of bigamy) are the slanderous whisperings (zamzamih) of those who wish to spread doubts (in people’s hearts) and to what degree they already succeed in making matters ambiguous! (Our) purpose was to state that bigamy without justice is not lawful and that justice is very difficult (to achieve).” [Amr wa Khalq 4: 174f]

So the exception (for infertile couples) still stands: it was practiced amongst the Bahais in Iran at least until the turn of the century (see the note in the first comment to this page), and could be adapted to deal with more modern phenomena such as artificial insemination etc. As an exception, it still points to the general rule of monogamy. And Abdu’l-Baha apparently says that it was also the rule in Islam. The law that made having up to four wives dependent on justice was in the Quran, 4:3:

“And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) …”

To which `Abdu’l-Baha says

“In the Quran the word has been revealed “and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only)…”, indicating that in the presence of God the acceptable judgement is monogamy.” [Amr wa Khalq 174- 5].

Abdu’l-Baha treats the Quranic verse as defining an exception (in a situation where there were many orphans and widows), which proves that the general rule has always been monogamy — also in Islam, if it were correctly understood.

The nature of the Aqdas

Now for the more general questions about the Aqdas. Yes, the Aqdas is largely addressed to a time and place, so is the Quran, so is the New Testament, so are the various layers of the Old Testament. We always have to read scripture with two eyes – one for what it meant for those people then, and one for what it means for us now. It is not like the road code, which is intended to be read in its plain meaning and applied directly. With the religious law, it is precisely the other way round: it has no purpose until it is made internal, until it becomes meaningful for us now. A mere outward and literal observance would be pointless, it would be a “mere code of laws.” We read religious history in the same way: one significance is that Mulla Husayn or Tahireh, or the Master, did this or that, another is the connection we make to what we are doing today. For example:

No lesser tribute can be paid the memory of the glorious Báb, the immortal Quddus, the lion-hearted Mulla Husayn, the erudite Vahid, the audacious Hujjat, the illustrious seven martyrs of Tihran and a host of unnumbered heroes … than a parallel outpouring of their substance by the builders of the most holy House of Worship laboring in the corresponding decade of the succeeding century. (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 66)

Heroism is for all time, but the forms in which it is expressed have to change with the times.

So yes, the Aqdas is for a time and place — until we make it meaningful for ourselves, today, by translating one set of symbols and meanings into contemporary meaningfulness. Slavery is literally slavery, but it has a contemporary correspondence in indentured labour and wage slavery: conditions which leave the worker just enough to stay alive, but no dignity, no choice and no future.

You can probably think yourself of a contemporary “type” corresponding to the pollution of public baths (whose use is forbidden in the Aqdas), public baths to which everyone would bring their dirt to share, and there was seldom fresh clean input. In those days of course there was no such thing as a filtration system and disinfactants, so you can imagine what the water of a Persian public bath was like. How do you think Abdu’l-Baha would feel about people, and class cultures, even whole nations, that are daily immersed in the gutter press, Undercover Lover and Temptation Island? Isn’t this immersing yourself in a not-too-clean public bath?

Having said that: the audience for Baha’u’llah and the Bab and Abdu’l- Baha was actually quite varied. The 7 Valleys and the 4 Valleys and the Hidden Words are written for particular people of the time, but they are coming from a very different “place” than the experts in religious law. The Tablet of medicine is for a different person again, the Tablet to the Shah and A Traveller’s Narrative and The Secret of Divine Civilization … In short, the Aqdas is not typical of the kind of concerns and the type of audience that the Bahai Writings address. Its “time and place,” and type, are quite particular to the Aqdas.

Baha’u’llah also wrote poetry — to understand what type of thing it is, you need to understand that there is such a thing as poetry, that the short lines and allusiveness and elusiveness and rhyme and rhythm are all part of the genre of “poetry.” In the same way, there is a genre of “religious law,” and to understand what kind of thing the Aqdas is, it will help to look at other religious laws and see what form is typical there.

One of the typical things is that the original text of the religious law is disjointed, skipping from subject to subject, and from grand themes to apparently minor details. It is the same with the Quran, and with the Old Testament. Another typical thing is that the text is made up out of units which are later assembled together — I think this is also true of the Aqdas. Some laws and passages to rulers were being revealed in Edirne or even earlier, some in Arabic and some in Persian, and there was later an ordering, a translation where necessary, and literary polishing. What is unique is that this was done by Baha’u’llah himself, whereas the Quran or Old Testament were gathered and ordered by followers, after the death of the founding figures.

Another thing that is typical of the genre of religious laws is that they consist of core text, commentary and super-commentary, and then the actual applicable law is then derived from this whole. In 19th century Shiah Islam, the commentary was increasingly being given in Persian, and the Bab adopted this form: we have the Arabic Bayan and the Persian Bayan, and each section of the Persian Bayan consists of an Arabic preamble and a Persian discourse on it. The latter often explain the symbolic meaning or the values that underly the law. In this genre, the original core text is not expected to be sufficient or self-explanatory. It may sometimes be so, but the expectation is that there will be a multi-layered meaning, and an interplay between the various layers. There is often a sort of historic dialogue going on as well — between the successive layers of the Old Testament for example, where the later layer assumes a knowledge of the earlier, and modifies it, or gives it a new twist. This is especially so of the Aqdas, which is in dialogue with the Bayan and with Islamic religious law.

Such literary features of religious law are not just arbitrary, they are related to the function of religious law as such. Sound patterns are part of poetry because poetry is to be “read aloud” (even if only in our heads), and savoured. The multi-layered nature of religious law and the jumble of its source texts are there because its purpose is to be the object of “study” as a religious practice, analogous to prayer and meditation and reciting the dhikr (a
Sufi practice, incorporated in the Bahai Faith in the form of reciting the Greatest Name). The detail and discussion of Jewish or Islamic law grow out of the study of the law as a devotional practice. The minutiae of the law are studied as an intellectual, but not necessarily an empty, exercise. In diving into the sea of the Law, its complexity so engages the rational mind that the soul may perhaps feel that it brushes the Word that underlies the words. A law that was structured like a road code would not fulfill the purpose of a religious law, just as the road code doesn’t have any general use as poetry.

A practical, applicable law has to be structured by themes, written in the vernacular and accessible to the mass of the people, and has to also embody the institutions for monitoring, enforcement, and punishment. The road code without the traffic police and the driver’s licence authority and the safety testing station and the magistrate, would be nothing. Societies need codified law with these attributes, but this is not to be found in the Aqdas. Governments and Houses of Justice (in different spheres) produce codified law which is workable in social practice, while scriptures provide a law which can be followed (eg, the law on obligatory prayer) and which can be studied for its own sake.

The next question passed from the particularity of Bahai religious law, to the supposed superiority of the Bahai religion:

The Aqdas is fine, but I just don’t see it as a “proof’ of Divine origin or anything like that. After ten years of intense study, I find myself loving the Baha’i Faith, choosing it over all the world’s religious traditions, but I find no overriding “proof’ of its inherent and inevitable Divine superiority over all religions for all people. I see it as the best choice, but not a proven, inevitable necessity that all people must choose. I still see other religions as valid choices for some people. Does that make me a bad Baha’i?

First, I don’t think that the Writings are the “proof” of the Bahai Faith, in the way that the Quran is the “proof” for Islam, the rapid revelation of verses is a proof for Babism, and the Bible is used as a proof in some forms of Protestant Christianity. Baha’u’llah writes

“The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed … ” (Gleanings p. 105)


“”Write: ‘Hast thou not heard that My proof is My Essence, My evidence My person, and My argument My Manifestation? While that which hath proceeded from My pen is a path leading unto My recognition, … My proof hath been the manifestations of My power, which have encompassed all who are in heaven and on earth. I have appointed Divine Verses as a path leading unto My recognition, as a bounty from Our presence unto both worlds.” (Ma’idah al Ismani vol 4 p 93, trans. Ahang Rabbani).

Thus the text of scripture is a 3rd-order revelation, which can lead us to the Revelation and Self of the Manifestation. Bahai theology generally needs a course correction here I think: it has been too much influenced by the Muslim, Protestant and Babi models.

So it would be wrong to think that the Writings are a proof of the Faith, or its superiority. I also do not think that everyone should, or will eventually, choose to become Bahais. The Bahai Faith does have a fuller measure of revelation, but that does not mean other religions are simply switched off from the ‘voltage’ of the Holy Spirit. God’s way has been to work through successive revelations at long intervals, but also to keep inspiring previous religions for thousands of years. Shoghi Effendi writes:

Such institutions as have strayed far from the spirit and teachingsof Jesus Christ must of necessity, as the embryonic World Order of Bahá’u’lláh takes shape and unfolds, recede into the background, and make way for the progress of the divinely-ordained institutions that stand inextricably interwoven with His teachings. The indwelling Spirit of God which, in the Apostolic Age of the Church, animated its members, the pristine purity of its teachings, the primitive brilliancy of its light, will, no doubt, be reborn and revived as the inevitable consequence of this redefinition of its fundamental verities, and the clarification of its original purpose.

For the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh — if we would faithfully appraise it — can never, and in no aspect of its teachings, be at variance, much less conflict, with the purpose animating, or the authority invested in, the Faith of Jesus Christ.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 185)

In The Secret of Divine Civilization, Abdu’l-Baha proposes not just ways to revive the fortunes of Iran and bringing peace, but also ways to revive the Faith of God there (Shi’ah Islam) and he argues that religions (plural) are the basis of human progress. There, and in A Traveller’s Narrative, he argues for religious tolerance, so that people of all religions can live side by side.

I think that Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi look forward to a revival of Christianity, Islam and other religions, which, because they rediscover the universal in their own teachings, will learn to work together. I do not know anywhere where they look forward to the extinction of other religions.

What the world needs is not simply a new religion, that Bahai and only Bahai can provide. I think the need is for a new kind of religious order, and I think that the new religion of Bahai will help the older religions to create it, together. What is needed is a new kind of religious order which will foster global unity, rather than creating a lot of separate religious identities that compete with one another or fight.

I think it is important to acknowledge that we leave childhood behind, but we take the things of childhood with us. Much of the past comes with us into postmodernity, but transformed or placed in a wider context. National and cultural identities for example. And Christianity “reborn and revived” as in the quote from Shoghi Effendi above.

This opens the possibility for an explanation of progressive revelation that is not supercessionist. There are revelations throughout history, and their communities and positive effects continue for some thousands of years (but not indefinitely). Humanity passes through climactic changes, such as the end of the classical age, and the current transition to the postmodern, and then *all* of the religious communities have to reinvent themselves in a new world, which is painful and difficult. The religion that is born at the time of such a change also has to transform, but it has an easier task, less baggage, so their example of transformation can show the way.

This reading preserves the special role of the new revelation in shaping the new age, but does not treat all previous revelations and the wisdom in their traditions as simply superseded.

In the Bahai writings, especially those of Shoghi Effendi, the World Order is more than religion alone, and is not created by religion alone. In the postmodern world order (as it will be, with global justice, pluralism, protection of human rights, rule of law etc), there is no place for the old religious order of religions claiming exclusive truth, or exclusive validity for one people. Given the shape of the World Order, the required religious order has to be tolerant, it cannot give priority to one religion over others, it has to work together for common goals (the well-being of humanity), and so on. For most religions, this will involve quite a large re- think, but for Bahais this is basic scripture. So in some sense Bahai is “best suited” — it has a relative advantage on the ideas front, but is at a really big disadvantage so far as numbers and depth of culture go.

~~Sen McGlinn~~
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34 Responses to “The puzzle of the Aqdas: joining a few pieces”

  1. Sen said

    Evidence that the Aqdas law was understood and practiced as allowing a second wife in the event of infertility:

    “The Behais are far superior in morality to the
    mass of the Moslems of Persia. Except when the
    first wife has no children, a man is not allowed a
    second wife during her lifetime. Even under these
    circumstances, he is not thought of highly should
    he take a second wife.”

    Rev. W. St.Clair Tisdall,
    ‘Islam in Persia’
    published in
    S. M. Zwemer, E. M. Wherry, and James L Barton, Eds,
    The Mohammedan World of To-day 2nd edn 1906, page 117

  2. Dear Sen,

    I believe that this is yet another attempt to explain away contradictions and unnecessary complications in the Baha’i writings.

    Why Abdul Baha felt a need to say that he had not changed Baha’ullah’s law regarding marriage we can only guess. But if we do then one can imagine Baha’i men becoming upset when told they could not have two wives (only two!).

    The fact is today Baha’is believe in monogamy. Abdul Baha changed the law because he knew a law allowing two wives would not help advance the cause in the west. It must be as simple as that.

    Sen when you say the Aqdas is incomplete without the Bayan you create a barrier to understanding the “Most Holy Book.” This is the kind of clarification that is not helpful does not simplify anything nor does it ring true.

    Your position implies that in order to really understand the Baha’i writings one needs knowledge of the depth and breath that you have. It puts you in a position similar to that of clergy. While it may be the case that the writings are so convoluted that they require deep scholarship to understand — at any level — your position may be precisely what caused the UHJ to react to your claim that you are a ‘Baha’i theologian.”

    Finally — and simply — If the Aqdas is incomplete without the Bayan why on earth would the Bayan not be translated at this time? Please don’t tell me to go read it in French. I understand what you are saying regarding context and the need to see beyond a ‘mere book of laws’ but your point re the Bayan simply doesn’t add up.

    Many Thanks,

  3. Sen McGlinn said

    Hi Frank,
    if you prefer your Aqdas with the contradictions, just ignore the explanations. They are entirely optional.

    I don’t think I can do anything about the complications of the Aqdas: quite the opposite. The more it is studied the more complex is the picture that emerges.

    For the record, I did *not* claim to be a Baha’i theologian. What I really wrote, on pages 1 and 2 of my book “Church and State” (available from Amazon and Kalamat and all good booksellers) was this:

    “This book presents my own understanding of the Bahai teachings … I should declare at the outset that my stance is not that of a historian or academic scholar of the science of religion, but of a Bahai theologian, writing from and for a religious community, and I speak as if the reader shares the concerns of that community. … The reader who is used to academic studies of religion that avoid such value judgements will have to make the necessary adjustments here and there. … It is to be hoped that my intellectual and spiritual debts, and my leaning towards theological rather than historical analysis, have been the source of selective enrichment, rather than bias. The reader is, at any rate, forewarned.
    The views offered here are not an authoritative view of the Bahai teachings, nor a definitive statement of my own views on these topics. …”

    The full text of these pages is on my website at

    As you can see, I was not claiming a special status within the Bahai community, but warning the academic reader (and replying to my thesis supervisor’s critique), by saying that I would take a theological, not an objective, approach. I write as believer, sharing the Faith whose implications I am exploring (theology = ‘faith seeking understanding’) and hoping to support it. An objective academic study of religion would not seek to assist or harm the object of the study. It is rather like the difference between a biological study of an ecology, which might record the fact of species extinction and its mechanism, versus an environmental activist’s study of the same ecology, which would have to meet the same standards of evidence but would be devoted to an aim: to assist the ecology, to prevent the extinction, and so forth. Theology is the word used in the academy for the committed study of religion from within (an emic approach) in contrast to the objective or etic approach which should, ideally, not aim to alter the experience of the participants at all.

  4. Hi Sen,

    Don’t be so sensitive. You said you wrote as a Baha’i theologian. Or to be precise you took the stance of a Baha’i theologian. The brain trust in Haifa took that to heart. That is they assumed that you claim to be a Baha’i theologian who tries to explain Bahia matters in ways others cannot. I can understand why. But I don’t understand why they were threatened.

    You explain Baha’i writings — some would prefer that you not do that (not me). While its a difficult job someone has to do it.

    But you didn’t answer my statement re the Bayan (I should have actually phrased it as a question):

    “Finally — and simply — If the Aqdas is incomplete without the Bayan why on earth would the Bayan not be translated at this time? Please don’t tell me to go read it in French. I understand what you are saying regarding context and the need to see beyond a ‘mere book of laws’ but your point re the Bayan simply doesn’t add up.”

    Now I’ll add — how do you explain this? If the Aqdas is the mother book and its incomplete without the Bayan why hasn’t the Bayan been made available to a wider group?

    I’ll take my answer off the air.

    Many Thanks,

  5. Sen McGlinn said

    I can only say why I have not attempted a translation. It is an enormous job, I doubt my ability to carry it through to the end, and to do a technical legal translation would require not just a grasp of Persian, but also of the cryptic Arabic of the Arabic Bayan, which I do not have, and of Shiah family law (which I do have but other translators may not).

    Scholarship does not fall out of the sky: there is a process of “institutional capacity building” that involves schools teaching the basic languages, higher institutes, libraries, publishing houses, journals and so forth. It may be several generations before the institutions of learning in the Bahai community reach the point at which there is a small group of people with the right skills able to work together over several years to do a fitting translation.

    There’s also a matter of community priorities. The pilgrim’s notes from Abdu’l-Baha, in books such as Promulgation of Universal Peace, Paris Talks and Divine Philosophy, cause a tremendous amount of misunderstanding and the importation of strange ideas into the “Bahai teachings”, and the bad translation of Some Answered Questions deprives people of explanations that they were meant to have. These materials are easier to translate, seem more pressing in terms of community needs, and can be done one piece at a time. That is my priority. I do have it in mind to write a commentary on some of the Aqdas laws, with translations of the relevant Bayanic laws: that is a much more manageable project than translating the whole Bayan.

  6. Dear Sen,

    You wrote: “I can only say why I have not attempted a translation. It is an enormous job, I doubt my ability to carry it through to the end, and to do a technical legal translation would require not just a grasp of Persian, but also of the cryptic Arabic of the Arabic Bayan, which I do not have, and of Shiah family law (which I do have but other translators may not).”

    I find it fascinating that you would answer my question re: the Bayan with a reference to yourself. Do you feel the weight if the Bahai world on your shoulders? Surely a translation project like this would be a team effort taking several years, not a one person effort.

    I’ll repeat myself: If the Bayan is the Mother Book and if the Most Holy book is incomplete it, why would the present Bahai administration and those that preceded it not have made translating it a project of the highest priority?

    Yes its a difficult task that would take much effort and many years. But the Aqdas makes much less sense without it according to your analysis.

    When the Aqdas translation was released many Bahais read it and lost heart because it seemed so disjointed, poorly organized and inconsistent with the Bahai writings they knew of. Critics and enemies of the faith attacked it saying things like a book of laws needs to be coherent at the very least.

    I think the Aqdas presents a serious problem for the faith and its expansionary goals. Our discussions about picking and choosing come to mind: I think many who pick and choose among the Bahai writings choose to ignore the Aqdas. Of course I’m guessing here, but I do know people who left the faith after starting to doubt upon reading the Aqdas.

    Of course its all a test but the Bahai faith presents many tests for a religion that has such grand ambitions.

    I agree that sorting out erroneous pilgrim’s notes would be time well spent. I would hope that a retranslation of Some Answered Questions would remove references to Buddhism and native peoples that are objectionable to many people. But at this stage these and other questionable ideas are part of the Bahai belief system, just as the dubious ideas promulgated by Saint Paul are part of the Christian faith.

    I think faiths are not made up of just the pristine ideas of their founders. They include the wrong headed ideas of the followers. Like a caravan heading for a destination they pick up vagabonds and dust along the way. But any faith that has a Mother book that is critical to its most holy book can’t withhold it from its followers, unless there is something to hide. This withholding is more serious and damaging than any pilgrim’s note imo.

    I suspect that in reality that the Bayan is full of misguided and out dated concepts that were foolish to start with. I think that if the true nature of the Bab’s thinking and writing were well known that knowledge would be damaging to the Bahai faith. I don’t read you saying that the Bayan is for future generations — that’s an almost comical thought in fact.

    And I don’t question what you say about the difficulty of translation. But the faith is 164 years old, surely its Mother Book which is critical to its Most Holy Book should be available by now — by hook or by crook — do you agree?


  7. Sen McGlinn said

    I can only explain why I will not be attempting to translate the Bayan in English: I cannot speak for others. There are some partial English translations, as well as the French translation (which is so-so in quality).

    The French translation is at
    and the Arabic Bayan is at the same site. The original texts are also on line, and Browne has given a summary of contents. So the text is by no means unavailable. It is not available in the wide range of languages that one would like, but that is no easy matter.

    The translation of the Aqdas gives a sample of the difficulties involved. What has been done has not been sufficient to give most readers a sense of its coherence, and probably no ‘translation’ would do that — that would need a codification or commentary on the legal sections, that would bring together the Aqdas and other source texts on each issue. As for the codification part, that is the work of the Universal House of Justice, whose function indicated in the Will and Testament includes compiling qanuun, or law codes, for the Bahai community. I do not think the House of Justice intends to issue any law codes in the near future. An individual or a group of individuals could produce a collation and commentary, for particular laws, and I may do so: naturally it would not be a qanuun because it would be just my interpretation. The UHJ is also unlikely to produce commentaries, or initiate a project for a commentary, because of the element of interpretation involved. It is not the job of the UHJ to provide or endorse interpretations of scripture. So it will be up to individuals.

    The difficulty is multiplied several times if one contemplates a translation of the Bayan, or a commentary on just some of its laws.

    However the primary barrier to appreciating either book, in my opinion, is formed by certain preconceptions about what “law” should be. Religious law is a distinct genre, it is not like secular law: it serves a different purpose and works on the reader in different ways. The structure of religious laws, consisting of core text, commentary and supercommentary, leading to the actual applicable law, is essential to what we are supposed to DO with religious law — study it, and learn from it, not use it to tell other people what they should do. And we can share insights from our study with one another, using whatever sources and language skills are available. There is no end to this: it is not something that can or should be done definitively.

    I have shared some insights: it seems to me that you are both objecting that I have tried to explain one apparent contradiction, and objecting that not all the contradictions have been explained for you. In short, you want to be at the beginning or the end, but I think we are intended to be on the path

  8. Hi Sen,

    Thanks for keeping up this discussion.

    I don’t particularly want to be anywhere other than where I am and that is most decidedly on the path. I don’t expect Baha’i to be anything I want — it is Baha’i and that is that.

    But my unanswered question is a simple one. I guess you don’t have an answer and that is not surprising: why should you or anyone else know why the Mother Book of the Baha’i faith has no complete and official translation.

    One obvious answer is that the Bayan is no longer needed. It was in the days before Baha’ullah declared himself but no longer is. That is what I have always assumed. You indicate that it is needed to complete the Aqdas and — here we are back where we started!

    So I pick and choose. I love the Hidden Words and Seven Valleys and don’t love the Aqdas and am intrigued by the Tablets of Baha’ullah revealed after the Aqdas — there is lots to meditate on therein but much of it seems to show that Baha’ullah didn’t know human nature very well. (Or maybe that’s me?)

    Any way, many thanks for your patience.


  9. Farhan Yazdani said

    Frank wrote:
    ““Finally — and simply — If the Aqdas is incomplete without the Bayan why on earth would the Bayan not be translated at this time?”

    Frank, I do not believe that the Aqdas is incomplete without the Bayan, since many of it’s elements have been incorporated by Baha’u’llah in his numerous writing, including the spiritual concepts and the Baha’i callendar.

    For example, the submission of marriage to consent of parties involved (which was revolutionnary at that time) was confirmed by Baha’u’llah, but further submitted by Him to the consent of parents.

    The Bayan was specifically addressing and abrogating the Muslim society contemporary to the Bab in the East, pending the expounding and reform by Baha’u’llah. It has a huge historical value, but not a practical value for us at this time, which accounts for the translator’s choice of only translating parts of it relevant to our time.

  10. Larry Roofener said


    Thank you for providing content and thought that stirs the mind and the imagination. It was interesting to read the selection from the Bayan (above) where the Bab describes the circumstances when polgyamy can be practiced and it seems likely that the Kitab-i-Aqdas (allowing two wives) may have been refering to that option the Bab provided. It is my understanding (correct or not) that the Bab had one wife and no surviving children. One might consider that ‘Abdu’l-Baha and his (one) wife had no surviving sons and that Shoghi Effendi and his (one) wife had no children at all. It seems that if there were valid reasons to implement the Bab’s option, any of these Central Figures of the Faith would have been justified in doing so. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the “Center of the Covenant” and the “Perfect Exampler” did not choose to do so. It seems that if anyone were capable of taking a second wife and practicing justice He could have. Nor did Shoghi Effendi, “Guardian of the Cause of God”, choose to implement this option. A second wife may have provided Shoghi Effendi with a son who may have succeeded him as Guardian. Considering the Bab’s option and Baha-u-llah’s allowance of a second wife, one might ask why ‘Abdu’l-Baha (with no sons) and Shoghi Effendi (with no children) did not do so. Perhaps time and more study and research will confirm current “authorized” teachings (monogamy only), or lead to an expanded apprehension of this subject.


  11. desir said

    Hi Mr.sen,
    We have exchanged a few messages on Baquai’s blog, about Bahaullah polygamous act, when They said that Quran preached monogamy and HE has thee wives.

    I quote from,The Aqdas was supposed to be revealed direct from God,why to edit a law received direct from God and to after modified it..

    Is it that God must think twice…?? Oh sory I made a mistake I will amend it..
    In your opinion is it the Bahai Faith the universal religion claim to be divine revelation for the unification of the entire planet.???


  12. Sen said

    Baha’ullah married his second wife in 1849. The Bab’s book of laws was begun in 1848, but was probably not completed and distributed by 1849.
    So while the Bayan does allow a second wife in cases of infertility (which was not the case for Baha’u’llah), it is Islamic law that was relevant to Baha’u’llah and the other Babis in 1849. Babis used Islamic laws until the laws of the Bayan were known.

    However the marriage to Gawthar, circa 1862, was not covered by this particular law of the Bayan, since Baha’u’llah already had a child. Nor was it purely a matter of giving a home to a woman in need (as seems to be the case with most of Muhammad’s marriages, which remained childless). Perhaps it began as simply a marriage pro forma, if she was primarily serving Navvab (then 42 years old), and the social context required a live-in maid to be married to someone in the household. But it was not an a-sexual marriage. Gawthar’s daughter Furughiyyih was born in Akka, and there is nothing I know of to indicate that Baha’u’llah was not Furughiyyih’s father. All I can say about this is “was the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath” – Christ’s answer when he was accused of breaking the Law. The law may be clear in the abstract, but in real situations, a law may have to be weighed against other principles and needs. Perhaps the position of childless wife was simply too hard on Gawthar, and compassion required her to be assisted to “normalcy.”

    The Aqdas was created through a process of editing and ordering existing texts, adding to them, and then “brainstorming” on the implications (in the Questions and Answers). A number of Baha’u’llah’s other texts were edited by him (the Iqan for example), and he often quoted his earlier works in later works, but with differences. This is all public knowledge, so I don’t understand your question about editing. In Bahai theology, it is the person of the Manifestation that is central, and the text is a pointer to that person, so the idea of the Manifestation changing his own texts is quite unremarkable. Muhammad did the same: Surah 103 for example exists in significantly different forms in the versions of ‘Ali and Ibn Mas’ud, and the difference is most easily explained as an amendment of the originally Meccan text, by Muhammad, in the late Meccan or Medinan period.

    I do not believe that Baha’u’llah, or Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, expected everyone to become a Bahai. I do think that they expected that the impact of the Bahai teachings would assist in achieving the political unification of the globe, and in transforming disparate world religions into a world religious system (compare this to the way national economies are now aspects of the global economic system; ditto for science where both national science projects and the various scientific disciplines are increasingly integrated). Each individual’s consciousness of the oneness of humanity has a profound effect on his or her behaviour in all spheres of life.

    On this blog see
    All Bahai?
    One morning in Shiraz
    The future of religions
    Foundations for inter-faith sharing

  13. Also, I still find it weird that I can go to any bookstore (or Amazon), and find scriptures of any religion on sale in English. That is with the aterisk fact that the Bayaniism and Bahai Faith scriptures haven’t been fully translated into English despite how much time has gone by. I can get copies of the Bible, Quran, Hadith, Talmud, Zohar, Bahagavad Gita, Upanishad, Vedas, Dharmapada, Lotus Sutra, Dao De Jing, etc. but I can’t mostly buy selections aside from the miniscule amount of Baha’i literature that one can buy.

    How can anyone know what the laws of the Bayan are if there are no copies of it or another writing of the Bab in full available?

    I don’t know French, so I can’t read the fully translated Bayan. Anyone Francophones hear who can translate into English? (Ignore the fact that it will be the translation of a translation.)

  14. Sen said

    Peter Terry was working on translations from the French, and he is a capable translator.

  15. John said

    I have read parts of this essay as it is too long to read the whole of it. What striked me was that Abdul-Baha allows bigamy. I always thought bigamy was prohibited in the Bahai Faith. If Abdul-Baha allowed it then why did Shoghi Effendi not allow it during his Guardianship? Also why does the UHJ not allow it today?

  16. Sen said

    It’s explained in the posting. In brief “…to understand this we have to turn to the Bayan – the Aqdas simply endorses a law whose details and justification is given by the Bab.” The Bayan allows a second wife or husband specifically for an infertile couple. To implement this law in a regular way today, the UHJ would have to formulate conditions and procedures: it might for example use it to give religious sanction to sperm and egg donation, where the donor was not anonymous but entered into a personal contract with the couple (a contract, and approval of both partners is required by the Bab). In the time of Abdu’l-Baha, he was sometimes asked for permission to take a second wife, and he says in one of the tablets quoted that he has never denied permission. This was a cse by case application of the teaching, by the Head of the Bahai community and authorised interpreter of the Bahai teachings. The UHJ has not chosen to legislate on the conditions and procedure thus far, so while the teaching of the Aqdas is a valid part of the Bahai teachings, Bahai couples today cannot use sperm and egg donation from others, although the UHJ has said they may use in vitro fertilization with their own sperm and eggs.

  17. John said

    The issue is bigamy and not sperm and egg donation from known or unknown people. What I understand from the Tablet of Abdul Baha is that he allowed bigamy provided justice can be practised. The condition for bigamy is justice and not infertility. Do you know if Shoghi Effendi allowed Bahais to practice bigamy if they could satisfy the condition of justice during his Guardianship? I don’t. Also the notes section of the Aqdas says that Abdul-Baha interpreted this law to mean monogamy as it is impossible to practise justice. So it seems there is a conflict between the UHJ position and the Tablet of Abdul-Baha that you quote wherein he allows bigamy. So I am really confused on this issue.

  18. Sen said

    The issue addressed in the Bayan is infertile couples who wish to have a child. It is a specific form of bigamy, for a particular situation. There is no general provision for bigamy in the Bayan, or in Bahai law. For example, neither the Bayan nor the Aqdas say anything about inheritance of multiple wives (or husbands) – they assume that there can be only one valid wife or husband at a time.

    In the Quran, up to four wives were allowed, subject to justice. In the Bayan, a second husband or wife was allowed to childless couples, subject to the agreement of the first partner, under a separate contract, and Abdu’l-Baha adds, subject to justice, which is very difficult. He writes:

    Concerning bigamy, this has been promulgated, and no one must abrogate it (mansusast nasikhi nadarad). ‘Abdu’l Baha has not abrogated this law. These are false accusations and lies (spread by) the friends. What I have said is that He [God?] has made bigamy bound on a precondition. As long as someone does not attain certitude regarding the capability to practice justice and his heart is not at rest that he can practice justice, he should not be intent upon a second marriage.

  19. John said

    Note 89 in the NOTES section of the Aqdas says:

    While the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas appears to permit bigamy, Bahá’u’lláh counsels that tranquillity and contentment derive from monogamy. In another Tablet, He underlines the importance of the individual’s acting in such a way as to “bring comfort to himself and to his partner”. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the authorized Interpreter of the Bahá’í Writings, states that in the text of the Aqdas monogamy is in effect enjoined. He elaborates this theme in a number of Tablets, including the following:

    Know thou that polygamy is not permitted under the law of God, for contentment with one wife hath been clearly stipulated. Taking a second wife is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two wives, under all conditions. However, observance of justice and equity towards two wives is utterly impossible. The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition. Therefore it is not permissible for a man to have more than one wife.

  20. Sen said

    Yet Abdu’l-Baha also writes:

    You asked about polygamy. According to the text (nass) of the Divine Book, having two wives is lawful and legal (ja’iz). This was never (abadan) prohibited, but it is legitimate and allowed (halal wa mubah). You should therefore not be unhappy, but take justice into your consideration so that you may be as just as possible. What has been said was that since justice is very difficult, therefore tranquility is in one wife. But in your case, you should not be unhappy. [‘Abdu’l-Baha, cited in Amr wa Khalq 4: 174]

    When he writes, “Know thou that polygamy is not permitted under the law of God, for contentment with one wife hath been clearly stipulated …” he must be referring to permanently having a second wife, as is practiced in Islamic societies and other cultures from time to time. When he writes “having two wives is lawful and legal (ja’iz). This was never (abadan) prohibited, but it is legitimate and allowed (halal wa mubah).” and “Concerning bigamy, this has been promulgated, and no one must abrogate it (mansusast nasikhi nadarad)” he must be referring to the specific provision of the Bayan which allows taking a second husband or wife, with the consent of the first, for the purpose of conceiving a child. The fact that the latter sort of marriage is contracted for a purpose makes me think that it would be automatically dissolved once the purpose was achieved (compare to mut`ah marriage in Islam).

  21. I thought temporary marriage was forbidden by the Bab?

    Also, is he referring to the Bayanic original forumation of it being discouraged or the Baha’i formulation of it being forbidden ie having more than two wives?

    Given the fact that Mirza Yahya had way more than two wives, means that Babis/Bayanis didn’t intepret it that way.

  22. Sen said

    So far as I know temporary marriage is not explicitly forbidden by the Bab, but is not mentioned. On the principle that anything in the previous religious law not endorsed by the following Manifestation, lapses, there is no temporary marriage in Babi/Bahai law. However there is the provision in the Bayan for a second wife/husband for infertile couples, which is for a specific purpose (conceiving a child), rather than for a specific period.

    I don’t know what “he” you are referring to.

    Mirza Yahya did things that were explicitly forbidden by the Bab, such as marrying the Bab’s widow. The only lesson you can take from Yahya’s actions is one about his own character.

  23. Hasan said

    Hi Sen, about bigamy,

    It seems `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote this sometime after the Aqdas:

    “Concerning bigamy, this has been promulgated, and no one must abrogate it. ‘Abdu’l Baha has not abrogated this law. These are false accusations and lies (spread by) the friends. What I have said is that He has made bigamy bound on a precondition. As long as someone does not attain certitude regarding the capability to practice justice and his heart is not at rest that he can practice justice, he should not be intent upon a second marriage. But if he should be sure and attain certitude that he would practice justice on all levels, then a second marriage is lawful. Just as has been the case in the Holy Land the Baha’i friends wished to marry a second wife, accepting this precondition, and this servant never abstained, but insisted that justice should be considered, and justice actually means here self restraint; but they said, that they will practice justice and wished to marry a second wife. Such false accusations are the slanderous whisperings of those who wish to spread doubts and to what degree they already succeed in making matters ambiguous! Purpose was to state that bigamy without justice is not lawful and that justice is very difficult.” [Amr wa Khalq 4: 174f]

    Then, it seems after that Tablet, He wrote:

    “Know thou that polygamy is not permitted under the law of God, for contentment with one wife hath been clearly stipulated. Taking a second wife is made dependent upon equity and justice being upheld between the two wives, under all conditions. However, observance of justice and equity towards two wives is utterly impossible. The fact that bigamy has been made dependent upon an impossible condition is clear proof of its absolute prohibition. Therefore it is not permissible for a man to have more than one wife”.

    Then the Guardian’s secretary wrote:

    “Regarding Bahá’í marriage: in the light of the Master’s Tablet interpreting the provision in the ‘Aqdas’ on the subject of the plurality of wives, it becomes evident that monogamy alone is permissible, and monogamy alone should be practised”.

    Well, don’t you think `Abdu’l-Bahá changed His policy at a given point? Tablets here:

  24. Sen said

    I have no information about the dates of these two tablets from Abdu’l-baha, but your reconstruction is inherently unlikely, and involves uncharacteristic behaviour on the part of Abdu’l-Baha. The first tablet you quote appears to be a commentary on the second one, so you must have them in the wrong order. First he says that polygamy is dependent upon equity and justice being upheld, then someone objects that Abdu’l-Baha is annulling the laws of the Aqdas, then he replies that bigamy has been promulgated and no one must abrogate it, and he has not abrogated it. “If he should be sure and attain certitude that he would practice justice on all levels, then a second marriage is lawful.”

    If the order of the tablets was as you suppose, we would have to imagine Abdu’l-Baha endorsing the Aqdas law that allows for polygamy and denouncing those who say otherwise, and then changing his mind and adopting the position he has previously denounced in such strong terms. Can you think of any case in which Abdu’l-Baha behaves like that?

    As for the secretary’s words, you will be aware that these are not the same as Shoghi Effendi’s, but there is no necessary contradiction. The statement of an exception necessarily endorses the general rule: “ambulances may exceed 30 mph in a built-up zone” implies “vehicles may not exceed 30 mph in a built-up zone.” The Bayan allows a second wife or husband in the case of childlessness, subject to certain exception. That implies that the Bayanic law allows only monogamy, which is reflected in Abdu’l-Baha’s reading of the Quranic text that allows up to four wives subject to treating them with equity and justice. If Abdu’l-Baha is assuming that the endorsement of part of a Bayanic law by Baha’u’llah implies his endorsement of the remainder of that law, and if Abdu’l-Baha’s tablets are in the reverse order to that which you suppose, then he has not changed his view at all. First he says that monagamy is the law of God, because polygamy is conditional on justice (in the Quran) and because monogamy is implied as a general rule, by the exception allowed in the Bayan. Then in response to a question, he clarifies that this does NOT mean that he has annulled the exception allowed in the Bayan and endorsed by Baha’u’llah in the Aqdas. God forbid! “Such false accusations are the slanderous whisperings of those who wish to spread doubts…”

  25. Hasan said

    Sen, these are two different Tablets, what are the dates of each one? Thanks

  26. Sen said

    As I said above, I have no information about the dates

  27. Stella Herbert said

    Regarding inheritance and division of the wife’s property if she dies first, I do not agree that we can assume she would own half the property. In the context of the Middle East, the husband then the sons have responsibility for providing the family home and looking after unmarried female relatives eg widowed mother, hence they would inherit the home, however, if the wife had property of her own apart from the family home then it could presumably be divided in a similar manner to the property of the husband.

  28. Stella Herbert said

    Regarding the exemption of women from obligatory prayer, I would like to add that this law was made before the current options of the short and medium prayers were given, so with respect to having to undertake prostrations, in spite of what the tampon adverts may imply, for many women not only stomach cramps but also the lack of adequate sanitary protection (which even today may keep a girl off school) combined with lack of privacy, could make the long obligatory prayer difficult and potentially embarrassing.

  29. Sen said

    This is a Bahai religious law, applying where the deceased is a Bahai and has not made other provisions in a Will. In traditional societies, including the European societies, women were not independent economic agents but rather under the wing of a male relative, but that does not apply to Bahais, and is changing throughout the world. The three key elements behind this change, in the Bahai community and in the world, have been the education of women, women entering the workforce and getting their own cash incomes, and individualisation, which is to say, the concept that individuals have rights and duties because they are human, not because of their family connections or according to whether they are black or white, male or female.

  30. Sen said

    Excellent point Stella. Thank you. When the Aqdas was revealed, the obligatory prayer was one with nine rak’ahs, to be repeated three times per day. It would be physically impractical for a menstruating woman, in many cases.

  31. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Religious law (specifically sharia) was in the news recently thanks to the Sultan of Brunei proposing to strengthen sharia, but then backing down after boycotts of his hotels. This prompted an article about harsh punishments under sharia on The Conversation (where it was originally published) and Religion News Service (where I read it first).

    Religious laws enforced by a state was historical realities in the Kingdom of Israel. The State of Israel, not so much, but there are Haredi Jews who want the West Bank to become the Halachic State of Judea/Samaria. Pre-French Revolution Europe is another historical example. This applies to their colonies as well. Eventually, Europe and its colonies drifted away from this to the current separation of church and state we have now. Currently, Wikipedia has an map and article on application of Islamic law by country.

    Governments makes laws, specifically codified law which is socially workable. How religious law influence this can be seen in the above examples. Religious law is mostly associated with Abrahamic religions (Baha’i Faith, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), but the Wikipedia article also has sections for Dharmic religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism) as well as other religions (Wicca). Buddhist law is limited to regulations for monks and nuns, not lay people. Hindu law is a classical law system from before the secular Republic of India, and isn’t relevant to current Hinduism. Jain law is limited to things like Jain marriage, adoption, succession, and death. Wiccan law is a vague ethical slogan.

    Theft, murder, arson, assault, defamation/calumny/slander/traducement, and slavery are crimes in all societies currently. Some others vary like cruelty to animals, begging/panhandling/mendicancy, homoesxual acts, and carrying of arms. Shoghi Effendi stated that certain laws, such as criminal laws, are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá’í society would be applicable in a possible future Bahá’í society. None of this is clarified as which laws are criminal laws are which aren’t as any law can be made into a criminal law. Neither is it clarified as how many Baha’is a society needs before it can be considered predominantly Baha’i. This brings up lots more questions, but they’re too many to list.

  32. Sen said

    I haven’t found the specific passage from Shoghi Effendi you refer to, but something like it is implied in this letter on his behalf :

    “If you study the Bahai teachings deeply you will see that the laws of the Aqdas, as they will be applied in future, are really the protective framework of the New World Order, and have nothing to do with the ecclesiastical practices of the past.
    He will pray that you may become an able and gifted teacher and promoter of our beloved Faith.
    With warm greetings,
    R. Rabbani”
    (In Messages to Canada 1999 edition)

    A great deal may appear to be unspecified, such as who enforces which laws in a predominatly Bahai society, but in fact the principles are so clear, that in most cases the specification is self-evident. The exceptions that come to mind are education and the choice of an auxiliary language, which are responsibilities of both the House of Justice and the government, and things such as marriage and divorce (the law of personal status) where a parallel system seems to be envisioned, as now: a Bahai marriage is not valid unless also endorsed by the state.


    “The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. >From the beginning that hath no beginning the ensign proclaiming the words “He doeth whatsoever He willeth” hath been unfurled in all its splendor before His  207  Manifestation. What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority, and a faithful adherence to the cord of wisdom. The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His decree…. We cherish the hope that one of the kings of the earth will, for the sake of God, arise for the triumph of this wronged, this oppressed people.

    (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 206)

    “… the surest of all means for the protection of humanity. The sovereigns of the world should, with one accord, hold fast thereunto, for this is the supreme instrument that can ensure the security and welfare of all peoples and nations. They, verily, are the manifestations of the power of God and the daysprings of His authority. We beseech the Almighty that He may graciously assist them in that which is conducive to the well-being of their subjects.”
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 126)

    And from Abdu’l-Baha:

    “Now, in this most great cycle, when the world has reached the age of discretion and maturity, this matter has been made indisputable in the book of God: it is like a firm foundation. According to this incontrovertible text and this brilliant proof, all must be humble and submit to the commands of the government, all should be compliant and obedient before the throne of sovereignty. That is, in their obedience and servitude to rulers, they should be sincere subjects and willing servants. This is what the Beauty of God, whose decree is decisive, whose dawn is clear, and whose morn is true and shining, has explicitly commanded in the book of the covenant and the pledge, the eternal pact. The unambiguous command is this:

    The same is found in an explicit treatise that he addressed to one of the religious leaders. One choice citation from that blessed treatise is this:

    ” (from Abdu’l-Baha’s “The Art of Governance”, my translation )

  33. Stephen Kent Gray said

    I couldn’t find a direct source for the quote, but the reference for the quote is Smith, Peter (2000). “law”. A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 223–225. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. as well as Smith 2008, pp. 160 specifically Smith, Peter (2008-04-07). An Introduction to the Baha’i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 257. ISBN 0-521-86251-5.

  34. Sen said

    Thanks, although unfortunately I’m on the road and can’t access either of those at the moment.

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