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Archive for August, 2017

Sermons in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar

Posted by Sen on August 15, 2017

August 15: comments made by Rex and Brent put the conclusions of this posting in doubt. I have not removed it for now, precisely because that would remove their valuable comments. I will have to re-do the research and try again another day. ~Sen

This posting is dedicated to Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, who set a splendid example of evidence-based scholarship. It presents a short section for my next book: the chapter is on the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, which is both the Bahai House of Worship and a Bahai devotional meeting, wherever it may be held. The topic here is sermons, and pulpits and chairs and music will get passing mentions. Because I’m writing for an academic book, there are [footnotes] at the end of the posting.

Numerous Bahai sources in English have asserted that sermons are forbidden in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, referring generally to the building rather than the meeting for devotions, but I found none who give a source for this. Adib Taherzadeh says “since there are no clergy in the Faith, there are to be no sermons,”[note 1] which assumes a great deal about clergy and sermons: does one have to be a cleric to deliver a sermon? Did Abdu’l-Baha become a cleric when he delivered sermons in churches? If a person who is a Bahai ‘alim (scholar, divine) delivers a talk in a devotional meeting, is that a sermon? Does this mean that the recognized ‘ulama of Baha (the Counsellors and teachers) must be silent in devotional meetings? … In any case, Taherzadeh’s loose reasoning would have been unnecessary if he had known of a text which in fact prohibited sermons. He would have quoted it, rather than trying to reason towards the ban on sermons. That made me think there might not be any text, because Adib Taherzadeh had a good knowledge of the Writings.

An alternative basis for the supposed ban on sermons is from Udo Schaeffer, who writes (circa 2001): Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Bahai Writings, Devotions, Theology, Translations | 9 Comments »

Scam version of ‘Church and State’ advertised

Posted by Sen on August 12, 2017

I have a google alert for references to my book Church and State, which is self-published as my Master’s dissertation. This morning the alert tells me that “Virgin Virtual Group” is offering a download version.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Meetings as Mashriqu’l-Adhkars

Posted by Sen on August 7, 2017

The Tablet below has been available in English only in a partial translation. It makes some interesting points about the centrality of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar in Abdu’l-Baha’s thinking, and is historically interesting for its restriction of meetings, presumably those in Iran, to nine persons, so as to avoid inciting opposition.

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar or Bahai House of Worship, has a prominent place in Baha’u’llah’s ‘Most Great Book’, the Kitab-e Aqdas, which commands the people of the world to build houses of worship “throughout the lands.” It has a central place in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings, particularly his correspondence, where it is called “the greatest divine institute,” and it is named by Shoghi Effendi as one of the “two primary agencies” of the Bahai Faith and “the crowning institution in every Bahai community.” Baha’u’llah has given a rather direct indication of the kind of community he envisioned by naming his house of worship the Mashriqu’lAdhkar, meaning ‘the place where the adhkar (plural of dhekr) rise.’ Dhekr, which takes the form of repeating and concentrating on a ritual formula analogous to the mantras of Hindu and Buddhist practice, is a central individual and collective practice in Sufi Islam, but not in Islam of the mosque, which focuses rather on the obligatory and other prayers, and the recitation and study of the Qu’ran. The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, as the central institution in his ideal of community, is the site for both the recitation of dhekr and the performance of obligatory and other prayers: it reunites the two branches of religion that were largely sundered in Islamic history.

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is often thought of as a building, but Abdu’l-Baha uses the term to cover the human heart where God is remembered, and the meeting and building as well, and he treats the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar as an institution of the Bahai community. Th tablet translated below is an example. In another of his tablets (i.e., letters) on this topic he writes:

In reality, the radiant, pure hearts are the Mashrak-el-Azcar and from them the voice of supplication and invocation continually reacheth the Supreme Concourse. I ask God to make the heart of every one of you a temple of the Divine Temples and to let the lamp of the great guidance be lighted therein; and when the hearts find such an attainment, they will certainly exert the utmost endeavor and energy in the building of the Mashrak-el-Azcar; thus may the outward express the inward, and the form (or letter) indicate the meaning (or reality). (Tablets of `Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, 678)

A few detailed comments on this tablet will follow the translation.

He is God ! O Lovers of God,

The friends should hold a gathering, a meeting, where they will acquire the habits of reciting dhekr and fixing their hearts on God, and reciting and chanting the verses and writings of the Blessed Beauty — may my soul be the ransom of His lovers! The lights of the Kingdom of Abha and rays from the supreme horizon will illuminate such radiant assemblies. These meetings are the Mashriqu’l-Adhkars that, according to the decree of the most exalted Pen, must be established in every city and village.

When they are established, the private meetings will be abrogated. But for now, when public gatherings have not been established in the land, because it would cause the wicked and ungodly to raise a storm of opposition, it would do no harm if private gatherings were to be established, in which no more than nine souls are present. The point is that no large group – which could readily give rise to alarm and confusion among the ignorant – should be present in these gatherings.

These spiritual gatherings must be convened with the utmost purity and consecration, so that sweet and holy savours are felt in the site and its earth and air. BH instructed us to observe wisdom. In the lands today, no more than nine of the friends should gather in one place, which is in accordance with wisdom.

The point is, in the revealed laws of religion, the place for worship and the public reading of scripture is the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, alone, which supplants all gatherings and meetings for worship. But philanthropic gatherings, deepenings (محافل معارف), meetings for consultation and profitable discussions are also permitted, indeed they are necessary and incumbent. But today, acting in accordance with wisdom, none of these are possible. Therefore for now, meetings devoted to spirituality must suffice, and at present the first fruits of all meetings must be service to others. You must support one another and be the beloved of the Lord. So far as possible, the meeting should improve the conditions of humanity until, God willing, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is established in all its majesty and glory. Then this restriction will be abolished.

O friends of God, may the glory of God rest upon you.

My translation, from Amr wa Khalq Vol. 3 143-4 and Vol. 4 148-9. There is a partial translation in Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 93-94.

“Reciting dhekr and fixing their hearts on God” (ذکر و فکر هقّ) appears to point to two different practices: the one the repetition of Allah’u’Abha or a similar phrase, the other silent meditation, both are distinguished from two forms of reading scriptures aloud.

The reference to “the decree of the most exalted Pen” is to the Kitab-e Aqdas, paragraph 31.

I do not know when this tablet was written, or to which community. The response implies that there was unease among the Bahais in a community that Baha’u’llah’s command to build houses of worship was not being implemented — in the sense of a building. He says that devotional meetings are Mashriqu’l-Adhkars, and provides a temporary ruling, that no more than nine people should be present in a meeting, and then only in a meeting devoted purely to spirituality and service. In other tablets, Abdu’l-Baha writes of performing the obligatory prayers in a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar building or meeting, but this is absent in this tablet. Such a distinctive Bahai practice, in an Islamic country, might incite opposition.

Related content:
Two letters of Abdu’l-Baha in praise of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar
The Pilgrims’ Hostel & the Mashriq
It’s Friday: thank God
Worship as Paradise, in Gate of the Heart
House of Justice, House of Worship
Off site:
Baha’i Obligatory Prayer and the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (a letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice)

Short link for this page:

Posted in Bahai Writings, Community, Devotions, Translations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Abdu’l-Baha’s tablet of civil obedience

Posted by Sen on August 2, 2017

Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Civil Obedience was translated by Shoghi Effendi, and is posted here because it is not otherwise available online. It refers to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 13:1-2:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment.

The letter appears to have been written to a Persian Bahai, and was translated by Shoghi Effendi for publication in Star of the West, Vol. 14, no. 8, (November 1923) p. 245. The original is available online in the compilation Amr wa khalq, vol. 4 p. 441.

In the first line, the Persian contains no word for ‘every,’ and the reader would naturally think that it was speaking in the first place of the Qajar Shah. Shoghi Effendi has universalized this, which is an interpretive translation but perfectly correct, since the principle of obedience to civil governments does apply to any government. Because of Shoghi Effendi’s translation choice, the reference to “the Chief and Ruler of Persia” in the last paragraph comes as a surprise to a reader of the English, whereas a reader of the Persian text would understand that the Shah was implied all along.

Abdu’l-Baha’s argument is that Paul’s brief dictum “the authorities that exist have been instituted by God” has given legitimacy to the thrones of Christendom for centuries. Baha’u’llah has urged “allegiance and loyalty to Kings” many times and explicitly, so the effect of his words in centuries to come will give even greater legitimacy to the government of Iran.

It is not clear to me why Shoghi Effendi would have chosen it for translation and publication in 1923: were there English-speaking Bahais at the time who questioned the Qajar legitimacy, or the legitimacy of civil government in general, or were the Bahais being accused at that time of intending that their institutions should one day replace civil governments? Shoghi Effendi could not have been responding to Iranian politics: in 1923, Iran had no Shah, effectively, since Ahmad Shah was powerless after the coup of February, 1921, and went into exile in 1923, while Reza Khan — who led the coup — did not become the first Pahlavi Shah until October 1925.

O thou servant of the Sacred Threshold!

The stability of every throne and the security of the seat of every sovereign are dependent upon the grace of God and are based upon the power of Divine assistance. All the Chiefs and Rulers of the West, Emperors and Kings, that they may establish firmly their rule and dominion over their peoples, proclaim and hold fast unto this saying of Peter, the Apostle: “In truth, all authority is of God,” that is to say every sovereignty is established and exercised in accordance with the Divine Purpose. By this means, they assure the sanctity of their throne and proclaim the sacredness of their sovereignty.

And now, consider and reflect! How often are rulers and governments praised and extolled in the Holy Writ of Baha’u’llah and how frequently allegiance and loyalty to Kings and Monarchs are enjoined upon every one! Ponder in your hearts and realize what the result will be in [the] future!

Gracious God! They that are in authority are as yet unaware of this most great bounty bestowed upon them and know not what a rich blessing the Lord hath vouchsafed unto the rulers and governors of the world.

At this hour, in the uttermost parts of the earth, even in the continent of America, peoples are praying on behalf of the Chief and Ruler of Persia and praise and glorify his name. Ere long, ye shall see how the government of Baha’u’llah’s native land will have become the most advanced country in all the regions of the world.

This indeed is supreme bounty and a warning unto every beholder!

(Signed) ‘Abdu’l-Baha ‘Abbas.
Translated by Shoghi Effendi.

Related content:
Pray for good government
Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London
Defending Shoghi Effendi
Church and State in Scripture
The practicalities of monarchy

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Posted in Church and State, Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

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