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What about: “the laws of society”?

Posted by Sen on November 27, 2021

Following my 2005 Master’s dissertation on Church and State and my disenrollment from the Bahai community a few weeks later, I was widely accused of ‘selective use of sources,’ without specifying what I had selected out. A Reddit user called Any-Part4466 has now put together a compilation of the quotes he or she thinks I should have dealt with. This is most welcome, for while many of the quotes have been covered in one of my publications, this compilation enables me to target my discussion effectively at those Bahai Writings that some readers think contradict my thesis that “Render unto Caesar” is a basic Bahai teaching, entailing that church and state should be separate and should work together. The evidence that supports my thesis is massive: there’s a compilation on this blog. All that will be assumed: the talk about ‘selective use of sources’ indicates that various people thought of (probably diverse) Bahai scriptures that I should have examined – and I would have, had I been able to read their minds.

The first quote that Any-Part4466 presented was the opening words of the 13th Bisharat, the 13th of the numbered sections in ‘The Glad Tidings” which give the House of Justice authority over “the affairs of the people” (i.e, the Bahai community). The next quote he or she brought up is part of a long tablet on the wisdom of having some laws determined not by scripture but by the House of Justice. Part of this is available in “Wellspring of Guidance” pp. 84-6. In that citation, paragraph 35.7d says, “Briefly, this is the wisdom of referring the laws of society to the House of Justice,” which apparently led Any-Part4466 to think that the House of Justice would make laws for the whole society, Bahai and non-Bahai.

I have translated the whole tablet on this blog, with numbered paragraphs.

Paragraph 3 begins “You have asked concerning the wisdom of referring some important laws to the House of Justice.” What was the question then: what important laws were raised? Because that is the key to knowing what “referring the laws of society to the House of Justice” means. From the answer, it seems Abdu’l-Baha must have been asked why the Bahai scriptures do not specify the forbidden relationships of marriage (discussed here). Abdu’l-Baha’s answer expands from that issue to explain not only the wisdom of leaving some matters undefined in scripture, but also (second theme) the virtue of having these gaps filled in not by scholars, but by the House of Justice, and (third aspect, in paragraph 11) the separate role of the rulers of society.

The Islamic background is important for both the question and the answer. Shoghi Effendi says that the Bahais:

…must strive to obtain …. a sound knowledge of the history and tenets of Islam … They must devote special attention to the investigation of those institutions and circumstances that are directly connected with the origin and birth of their Faith, with the station claimed by its Forerunner, and with the laws revealed by its Author. (The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 49)

In Islamic societies (the specifics vary), the forbidden degrees of marriage, the rules of divorce and of inheritance, the age of marriage and so forth were determined by each religious community according to its own laws. They were not determined by the state. Islam and Christianity and Judaism have religious laws on the forbidden degrees of marriage, for example. The Aqdas says only that one may not marry one’s stepmother, which is an extraordinary silence. A knowledge of Islam for a Bahai is not just about finding similarities – often it is about detecting the change, the revolution. This is one of those cases. Abdu’l-Baha writes in the 9th paragraph:Itchingfield Church - geograph.org.uk

As for the matter of marriage, this falls entirely within the ‘cultural laws.’ Nevertheless, its preconditions are found in the Law of God, and its fundamentals are evident. However those unions between relatives that are not explicitly treated, are referred to the House of Justice, which will give a ruling based on the culture, medical requirements, wisdom, and the capacity of human nature. Culture, medical science, and human nature leave no doubt that in marriage, “distance is nearer than nearness.” In this light, consider the religious law of Christianity. Although marriage to relatives was in reality permitted, since no ban on it had been explicitly revealed, the early Christian councils entirely forbade marriages between relatives, to the seventh degree, and even today this is the practice in all Christian communions, since this question is purely a matter of culture.

I have used “cultural laws” here: the translation in Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1963 to 1986 refers to the “laws of society.” In Paragraph 9, to say that the canon law provisions are “purely a matter of society” would not be correct – they are purely a matter for the religious community in its social setting, they are not set in scripture (in either the Bahai or Christian cases).

These then are the kind of laws that must be referred to the House of Justice. It follows from this that the Bahai Courts which Shoghi Effendi at one time intended to establish in Islamic countries would have jurisdiction over laws of personal status among Bahais, so far as the relevant state would permit this. The courts were a name for one of the tasks of the National and Regional Spiritual Assemblies, or in some cases the Local Assembly of the capital city. I’ve discussed this in Bahai Courts – a short guide. So when Abdu’l-Baha wrote about the wisdom of referring some important laws to the House of Justice, he would have been thinking both of shaping the religious laws to the needs of the Bahai community in its social setting, and to making judicial decisions on Bahai laws as regards marriage, divorce and inheritance. Far from justifying the supposition that the Houses of Justice are intended to become governments, legislatures and courts for society, the tablets – with the specific marital examples it contains – show that the House of Justice (also in their role as Bahai courts), are for the internal governance of the Bahai community. This is in accordance with the doctrine of the separation of church and state, and with the first paragraph of the Aqdas which states that Bahai laws are applicable only to believers. Abdu’l-Baha changed the name “House of Justice” to “Spiritual Assembly” to make this clear:

The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.

Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia.
(Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha pp. 5-6)

and Shoghi Effendi said that the Assemblies must never be permitted to replace the government organs. From Baha’u’llah’s first works to Shoghi Effendi’s last, the Bahai teachings are consistent. If a contradiction appears, it will be due to a bad text, a bad translation, or – most often – imposing preconceptions onto the scriptures rather than reading them in context.

15 Responses to “What about: “the laws of society”?”

  1. Sam said

    Shoghi Effendi state “a stage which must later be followed by the emergence of the Baha’i state itself, functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas”

    If we accept the the notion of ” Baha’i state itself, functioning, in all religious and civil matters in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas”, We have to agree that entertain laws (which you choose to translate as cultural laws to serve your purpose), enacted by the House of Justice will be be for the society as whole.

    No civic authority, no government, no legislature (whatever their nature be) elected by the society as a whole, will be permitted to legislate on certain matters against the explicit ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas and by extension legislations of the House of Justice. Those matters, may include euthanasia, capital punishment, abortion, rights of the minorities, equitable distribution of world resource. In a future Baha’i State, those certain legislations by the House of Justice are binding universally across the whole society. On those certain matters, the rulings of the House of Justice are expansive and may not be usurped by the state power. Of course it is also obvious that certain laws enacted by the House of Justice only apply to Baha’is like laws in relation to Ḥuqúqu’lláh.

    In such a future Baha’i state it is of course within the powers of House of Justice to decide which of its legislations are just for Baha’is and which ones are universally applicable for the whole society.

  2. Sen said

    Hi Sam, as you can see, Shoghi Effendi treats “religious matters” and “civil matters” as two separate categories. Both are found in the Aqdas, where the House of Justice is in charge of religious matters and the kings are in charge of civil matters. Shoghi Effendi has described the Bahai State elsewhere, as a partnership of State and Church:

    “Another express provision in the teachings of the Movement is the institution of the House of Justice …. Its duties are religious, educational, economic and political. Its different spheres of activity will be departmental, national and international. It is broadly speaking the nucleus of the Bahai State. Church and State thus far from being divorced from one another are harmonized, their interests are reconciled, are brought to co-operate for the same end, yet for each is reserved its special and definite sphere of activity.”

    The Aqdas speaks robustly about the legitimacy of human, secular governance: of monarchies, republics and democracies that treat all people with justice. The Presidents of the Republics, for example, are not deprived of their dominion, but enjoined to “adorn .. the temple of dominion with the ornament of justice and of the fear of God, and its head with the crown of the remembrance of your Lord.” (Paragraph 88) Here we see the origins of Shoghi Effendi’s idea of Church and State reconciled, each with “its special and definite sphere of activity.” The provisions of the Aqdas, according to Shoghi Effendi, “remain inviolate for no less than a thousand years,” effectively closing the door to any change in the principle of church-state relations that it teaches, during the Bahai dispensation.

    Effendi was later to write that in the Aqdas, Baha’u’llah “announces to the kings of the earth the promulgation of the ‘Most Great Law;’ pronounces them to be His vassals; proclaims Himself the ‘King of Kings;’ disclaims any intention of laying hands on their kingdoms; reserves for Himself the right to ‘seize and possess the hearts of men…’” In a similar description of the Ketab-e Ahd, Shoghi Effendi writes that Baha’u’llah:

    directs the faithful to pray for the welfare of the kings of the earth, “the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God”; invests them with the rulership of the earth; singles out as His special domain the hearts of men… (God Passes By, pp. 214 and 239)

    We can see that Shoghi Effendi recognises the significance of the political idiom in which Baha’u’llah speaks (King of Kings) and sees that this does not imply any claim to a kingdom outside of “the hearts of men.”

    Paragraphs 78 to 83, and 91 to 96 of the Ketab-e Aqdas, should also be consulted. Baha’u’llah’s summary of the Aqdas and related tablets cannot be omitted. In the Tablet of the World he writes:

    According to the fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and other Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care of just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the House of Justice. … The system of government which the British people have adopted in London appeareth to be good, for it is adorned with the light of both kingship and of the consultation of the people. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 93)

    The Aqdas and its related texts fully support Shoghi Effendi’s idea of two separate spheres for church and state. In my Church and State, look up “Aqdas” in the index of scriptural sources (p. 430) to get the quotes in a row.

  3. Sam said

    Sen, we must agree to disagree! We read the exactly the same texts but yet draw very different understanding of them. At the end of the abstract words like “heat of mean”, “betterment of the human race”, etc have to manifest themselves through the instrument of the institutions of the faith with the House of Justice as its head, which are harmonized with the instruments of state.

    As Shoghi Effendi states “. . . the teachings of the Faith do not merely advocate certain universal principles, or propound a particular philosophy, or even inculcate a new and revitalizing spirit in its adherents. They provide, in addition, a set of laws, establish specific institutions, and lay down basic social principles for the
    guidance of society in future.”

    And re-quoting from Shoghi Effendi,

    “Another express provision in the teachings of the Movement is the institution of the House of Justice …. Its duties are religious, educational, economic and political. Its different spheres of activity will be departmental, national and international. It is broadly speaking the nucleus of the Baha’i State. Church and State thus far from being divorced from one another are harmonized, their interests are reconciled, are brought to co-operate for the same end, yet for each is reserved its special and definite sphere of activity.”

    To say that “social principles for the guidance of society in future.” just refers to the Baha’is makes no sense! And to draw the conclusion from the above statement from the Shoghi Effendi that the role of House Justice in the future Baha’i State in a hormonized Church and State relation is merely administration of the affairs of Baha’is alone defies logic. As I said before, no civic society in a future Baha’i state will be allowed to intact laws against the explicit text of the laws of the Faith. To think otherwise, is abomination. In the future Baha’is state, the enactments of the House of justice except in the matters of personal worship and certain other matters, are universally applicable to all and not just Baha’is. There can be no two ways about it.

  4. lapistuner said

    Shoghi Effendi was a master at NOT disabusing people of their “preconceptions.” Now why would he be like that? I can think of two reasons, the first is rather simple, namely that he had a unique position and insight into the writings and teachings that almost no one else could have and thus his explanations are not readily apparent to many. The second I think is due to what some would call “wisdom,” namely the need to attract many different kinds of people to the Baha’i Faith and get them to work together in a common cause. Does it help that the “cause” itself, or its objectives, are a bit vague and inexact? Yes, obviously so. I would suspect that the House will wait a long, long time before they act to disabuse people of their preconceptions on the motives or goals of the Faith.

  5. Sen said

    Hi Lapistuner;
    Ambiguity can help a range of people to see relevance — see Osborne, Religion and Relevance, for more on this. BUT as soon as one begins to build a team to achieve a plan, ambiguity is a liability. Then you get, for example, the Prime Minister who is every week putting out fires because Ministers have different concepts of what the plan is. Or an activist movement whose cause is tarnished because some of the people they recruited turn out to be embarrassments.
    The Ministry of Abdu’l-Baha was a time for survival in the first place, and getting the word out as widely as possible. Ambiguity was useful. But Shoghi Effendi soon turned to tighter definitions of the teachings, stronger discipline to keep the most visible members on-message, and community boundaries to reduce the embarrassments. He could not be too rigorous in disabusing the Bahais with their various hobby horses, because he could lose adherents for no purpose; he could not name names or be too pointed because he was a gentle soul, and he had pastoral responsibility also for the happiness even of the nut cases.

    The House of Justice is in another bind: under the Covenant they do not have authority to make authoritative interpretations of the teachings. So they need to avoid actions that would imply that they have defined an orthodox understanding. For example: in 1980, a letter on behalf of the UHJ referred to the husband as the head of the family. It’s long, but you can find the whole text by searching on “it can be inferred from a number of the responsibilities placed upon him, that the father can be regarded as the “head” of the family.” (The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 413). In 1984 another letter on behalf of the House clarifies:

    “Authoritative interpretation of the Writings was the exclusive domain of ‘Abdu’l- Baha and Shoghi Effendi. When the House of Justice stated that the “father can be regarded as the ‘head’ of the family,” it was giving expression to its own inference as you indicate. This inference, as the letter to New Zealand points out, is based on the clear and primary responsibility of the husband to provide for the financial support of the wife and family, and on the provisions of the law of intestacy, which assigns special functions and rights to the eldest son. (Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1963 to 1986, p. 633)

    The House might wish to disabuse Bahais of various strange ideas, but with no Guardian and no mandate to interpret the Writings, their tools are limited. I doubt that they are preserving ambiguity because it is useful – rather they have to learn to live with ambiguity when more coherence would be useful.
    There is also the question of whether the nine have a shared understanding of what the teachings are. These are not like the Cabinet Ministers from a single party who have been elected on a party programme. They are nine Bahais from diverse backgrounds with differing levels of knowledge of Bahai writings. There is no training required before election, no syllabus for new members. I would expect them to have nine different ideas of the Bahai teachings.

  6. Sam said

    Sen, I am not sure where you are going by all these. What the members of the House of Justice coming from diverse background has anything to do with anything?

    let me point out one thing in your response. “I doubt that they are preserving ambiguity because it is useful – rather they have to learn to live with ambiguity when more coherence would be useful”

    When the House of Justice enacts a law is part is like removing ambiguity on a matter, when it makes an inference on a subject it removing ambiguity. It is the role of the House of Justices to legislate and elucidate difficult matters.

    In the the Kitab-Agdas we have laws about capital punishment and adultery. To say that in a future Baha’is State these laws only apply to Baha’is makes no sense. How can in a future Baha’is, where presumably an overwhelming majority of population is Baha’i, have sets of laws one for Baha’is drawn upon from Baha’is laws of and one for non-Baha’is drawn from civic authority. Such a thing is unheard of in the annals of human history.

    In any case we Baha’is, like other non Baha’is, being the citizen of the future Baha’is State are bound by the laws enacted by that state. To have those laws not in enacted not in accordance laws enshrined in the Kitab Aqdas and legislated by the House of Justice creates a crisis of contradiction that cannot stand.

    When it comes to the future Baha’i State, you seems to create a picture that secular civic institutions by the virtue of having wider authority over the whole population has the superior authority, and the House of Justice whose only function is to manage the affairs of Baha’is should ultimately yield to the civic authority. Nothing can be further from the truth.

    You have to understand that in the matter of “Church and State when Shoghi Effendi states “yet for each is reserved its special and definite sphere of activity.” the final arbitrator is the House of Justice. The House of Justice is the ultimate authority to rule in delineating the boundary for the those spheres of activities. In a future Baha’is State the House of justice is on the apex and not co-equal!

  7. Sen said

    Hi Sam, agreeing to disagree is one form of unity, but if you put words in my mouth and disagree with them, only one person is involved.

    You use a quote “social principles for the guidance of society in future” without a source, and I do not recognise the quote. If the intent is that the Bahai revelation gives “social principles for the guidance of society in future,” then I have nothing to disagree with, whoever said it.

    Again you say, “And to draw the conclusion from the above statement from the Shoghi Effendi that the role of House Justice in the future Baha’i State in a hormonized Church and State relation is merely administration of the affairs of Baha’is alone defies logic.” I agree, it would be a logic fail, if anyone said such a thing. While various messages on behalf of Shoghi Effendi specify that the administrative role of the House of Justice applies to the Bahai community alone:

    “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Bahá’í community; (Messages to Canada, 276)

    “… the Assembly is a nascent House of Justice and is supposed to administer, according to the Teachings, the affairs of the Community.” (Directives from the Guardian, p. 41)

    And the model bylaws for national and local Spiritual Assemblies, approved by Shoghi Effendi, say:

    “It [the local Spiritual Assembly] shall rigorously abstain from any action or influence, direct or indirect, that savours of intervention on the part of a Baha’i body in matters of public politics and civil jurisdiction.” (most recently published in Bahai World, Volume 18, p. 564, also in a 1972 booklet format, Declaration of Trust: Bylaws…)

    And the first paragraph of the Aqdas specifies that its laws apply to Bahai alone, … it does not follow that role of the HoJ in society is limited to Bahais alone. On the contrary, the charity and education a HoJ could not be limited to Bahais alone. The HoJ according to the Will and Testament is to be the supporter and partner of the government:

    The legislative body (HoJ) must reinforce the executive (government), the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.”

  8. Sen said

    Hi Sam
    Lapistuner is picking up on a different question, regarding deliberate ambiguity as a strategy. The diversity of backgrounds of the UHJ members is relevant to that, along with the constraint that the UHJ may not give authoritative interpretations of the Writings. It would just confuse things to explain here the point that Lapistuner is raising. I don’t think it’s applicable to Shoghi Effendi’s day or today.

    In all the writings about the Houses of Justice, I have found nothing to indicate any involvement in criminal law, punishment, or security matters. These are expressly the preserve and responsibility of the kings and rulers:

    God, …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. … 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…. .” (Gleanings, CII 206-7)

    For is it not your clear duty to restrain the tyranny of the oppressor, and to deal equitably with your subjects, that your high sense of justice may be fully demonstrated to all mankind? God hath committed into your hands the reins of the government of the people, that ye may rule with justice over them, safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, and punish the wrong-doers. (Suriy-ye Muluk, in Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, CXVI 247)

    The House of Justice is never to be a court :

    The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs. Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Abbas vol. 1, page 5).

    During the conference no hint must be entertained regarding political affairs. All conferences must be regarding the matters of benefit, … If any person wishes to speak of government affairs, or to interfere with the order of Governors, the others must not combine with him because the Cause of God is withdrawn entirely from political affairs; the political realm pertains only to the Rulers of those matters: it has nothing to do with the souls who are exerting their utmost energy to harmonizing affairs, helping character and inciting (the people) to strive for perfections. Therefore no soul is allowed to interfere with (political) matters, but only in that which is commanded.
    (National Bahai Archives (US), unpublished Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, printed in Baha’i World Faith, 407)

    You find the idea of two distinct systems of laws and courts “unheard of.” It has been very common through human history, and was the norm in Medieval Europe and in the Ottoman Empire, and it is what is envisioned by the Bahai founders for a Bahai society. In the Ottoman Empire, criminal law was the domain of the ruler, while matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance were settled by religious courts according to the law of each community. Bahais were counted as Muslims and so subject to Islamic courts. This situation continued into Shoghi Effendi’s time, so he made it a priority to establish Bahai courts in six Islamic countries. That is, he wanted the NSA or the LSA of the capital city to be recognized by the state as the religious court for the Bahai community. This would not mean that the Bahai internal institution would replace the criminal courts of the state. That would be preposterous in that time, and contrary to Shoghi Effendi’s dictum that :

    Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.”
    (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 66.)

    The necessity of having two sets of laws follows from the fact that Bahai law is a law that cannot be compelled. We do not even seek to have non-Bahais voluntarily applying the Bahai law to themselves, as the House of Justice has written “the Baha’i community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards.” (January 3, 2011, to NSA of the USA). Paragraph 1 of the Aqdas says that obedience to Baha’u’llah’s law is only acceptable if it is based on belief in Baha’u’llah.

    The priority of civil law over religious law is implicit in the first two quotes from Baha’u’llah above, and is explicit in these words of Shoghi Effendi:

    Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments. Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries. ( https://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/WOB/wob-34.html#pg66 )

    In Shoghi Effendi’s Oxford presentation (or more precisely, in the ?edited? version he later allowed to be published), he does not say that as regards the distinct spheres of Church and State, the House of Justice must be the final arbitrator, as you suppose. There’s no “you have understand” about this: an assertion is not an argument. I’ve never encountered such an idea (of the priority of the HoJ over government) anywhere in the Writings, and in the Oxford Presentation itself, these two spheres are derived from the Bahai Writings. The Writings (including Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi) say a great deal about the roles of Church and State and the intended relationship between them. The principle of the priority of civil law means that each national government must decide, and this must be voluntary, not under constraints from a higher power. The state that forms a partnership with the Bahai Administrative Order is described as “independent and Sovereign.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 6).

    This is not to say that the HoJ is inferior to the State. The superiority of spiritual sovereignty to the sovereignty of kings and rulers is explained by Baha’u’llah in the Ketab-e Iqan. For example

    Were the verse “And verily Our host shall conquer” to be literally interpreted, it is evident that it would in no wise be applicable to the chosen Ones of God and His hosts, inasmuch as Husayn, whose heroism was manifest as the sun, crushed and subjugated, quaffed at last the cup of martyrdom in Karbila …

    … the purpose of these verses is not what they have imagined. Nay, the terms “ascendancy,” “power,” and “authority” imply a totally different station and meaning. For instance, consider the pervading power of those drops of the blood of Husayn which besprinkled the earth. What ascendancy and influence hath the dust itself, through the sacredness and potency of that blood, exercised over the bodies and souls of men! So much so, that he who sought deliverance from his ills, was healed by touching the dust of that holy ground, and whosoever, wishing to protect his property, treasured with absolute faith and understanding, a little of that holy earth within his house, safeguarded all his possessions. These are the outward manifestations of its potency. … Furthermore, call to mind the shameful circumstances that have attended the martyrdom of Husayn. … And yet, behold how numerous, in this day, are those who from the uttermost corners of the earth don the garb of pilgrimage, seeking the site of his martyrdom, that there they may lay their heads upon the threshold of his shrine! Such is the ascendancy and power of God! Such is the glory of His dominion and majesty! (Kitab-e Iqan 126-9)

    In the era that called itself “modern,” the state was the central institution of society, in part because of the decline of orthodox religious institutions and the chaotic nature of new forms of religious community. The state is not the central institution of civilization in the periods before or after the modern era. Religion therefore does not need to conquer the pinnacle of the state to become the apex and centre of the civilization. It is that, by being itself.

  9. Sam said

    Sen,

    First, I was very careful in choosing my words. I was referring, (and gave specific examples), to the criminal laws such as capital punishment or similar criminals laws in Kitab-i-Aqdas. Of course certain laws are and will for ever remain only applicable to Baha’is with laws of inheritance and marriage, Hoquq being among them. I was precise in stating that we cannot have two sets of criminal laws one for Baha’is and one for non Baha’is. No state in the world has two sets criminal laws for different groups of its citizens. In a future Baha’i state such criminal laws cannot, must not, and will not be in deviations from the Baha’i laws. This is the very definition of the in “strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas”. This not imposition of our moral values on others; that is the law of the land according to Kitab-i-Aqdas on matters of universal applicability.

    In the future Baha’is state the constitution of the state will have to be organized in accordance with the Baha’is laws, and not through some secular instrument.

    I will go even further, to say that many other laws relating to universality of education, fair distribution of earth resource, environment, etc, will have to be in accordance with the legislation by the House of Justice. The detailed laws may vary from place to place left to civic and governmental bodies, but they cannot deviate from the over-arching laws enacted by the House of Justice.

    Second, I think you’re conflating various stages of the in the development of the Faith; the current state of the Baha’i community where we are not even able to impose the laws of Kitab-i-Aqdas on the Baha’i community itself, and future Baha’i state hallmarked by “strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas” . Most of the quotes that you mention about non involvement in the government affairs refers to the current and foreseeable future stages in the development of the Faith. They in no means refer to the future Baha’is state “a stage which must later be followed by the emergence of the Baha’i state itself, functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas”.

    The quote that you mentioned from Abdul Baha makes that clear with regards to the future Baha’is state and the role of the House of Justice as legislator aided by an executive.; “The legislative body [The House of Justice] must reinforce the executive [government], the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.”

    And the last thing, in a future Baha’i state however we think of its organization, the delineation of of the boundaries of church and state is ultimately subject to the authority of the House of Justice. The House of Justice is at the apex of authority and civic and governmental authorities have yield to it.

    That is what I mean by agreeing to disagree. We read the exact the same text but draw different meanings from it.

  10. Sen said

    Hi Sam,
    There’s no possibility of criminal law coming under the House of Justice, and I did not suggest that. Criminal law, taxation, defence — all the social areas that require compulsion, are in the hands of the kings and rulers: “this is the wish of God and His decree…. .” (Gleanings, CII 206-7). Nor is there any possibility of the Houses of Justice assuming responsibility for government matters: that is specified in numerous scriptural passages, and there is simply NO passage that says the House of Justice will become the government. It’s fantasy. Even if there were some ambiguous passage, the correct procedure would be not to take that passage and ignore the rest of scripture, but rather to seek a broad overall understanding beginning with first principles found in the Writings of Baha’u’llah – I’ve already quoted some of these. The idea that at some stage in the future the principles will be abandoned is anathema. The Bahai state would be one ” functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas“, and the Aqdas says no word about the HoJ becoming a government, but says a great deal about the high station and duties of the kings and rulers. The Bahai state you envision would not be “Bahai” for it would be counter to the Aqdas.

    In the Will and Testament, the terms Executive (government) and Legislative (house of justice) show that the House of Justice is not the government. Further, in the Will and Testament Abdu’l-Baha specifies that the House of Justice should be elected “by the believers” and its members should be “steadfast in God’s faith,” that the Universal House of Justice should be elected by the members of the secondary houses of Justice, and that the Guardian is its Head. So we have a fairly clear idea of what is meant by ‘House of Justice.’

    He does not say immediately what he means by ‘government,’ but if we look further in the Will and Testament we find a mention of the “Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.” We can look further, to the Tablet to the Hague, and find there the method of election and the membership of the Supreme Tribunal, and we can see these bear no resemblance to the membership and method of election for the House of Justice, specified in the Will and Testament. So the Supreme Tribunal and the Universal House of Justice are two distinct bodies, and the secondary houses of justice that elect the Universal House of Justice are distinct from the national governments which elect the members of the Supreme Tribunal. They are also different terms in the original: the Supreme Tribunal is the mahakame-ye umuumii, and it will “include members from all the governments and peoples” (duval wa milal, which could also be translated ‘nations and religious communities.’)

    The Will and Testament refers to the House of Justice as the legislative, the tashrii` (from the word shari`ah), and to the government as the executive power, the tanfiidh, and to the pair of them as do qovveh, two forces.

    There’s something odd going on here, because the House of Justice, in the Will and Testament, does have executive and judicial power, for Bahais: “Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God…” Executive and judicial powers – over Bahais, in relation to the Bahai teachings and community – are part of what the House of Justice is. It would not be the Head of the Faith if it was shorn of these powers.

    And what about the parliaments, which are to approve the election of the members of the Supreme Tribunal: if a parliament is not to legislate, what exactly is it for?

    We need a framework broad enough to reconcile the apparent contradiction. Could there be two legislatures in a country, one making shariah (religious law) and the other the civil legislature? Could there be two ‘executives,’ one governing the religious community, the other executive being one of the three arms of civil government? And two judiciaries, one the courts we are familiar with today, and at the international level the International Tribunal, the other the Universal House of Justice and the Bahai elected institutions under it, ruling on matters of Bahai religious law, for Bahais?

    Fortunately there are at least four other places where Abdu’l-Baha writes about the legislature/tashrii` and the executive/tanfiidh, and calls them ‘two forces’, and says they must act together. I’ve discussed these four instances on my blog here.

    In total I’ve found five texts, which consistently talk about the two forces that guide and train society, embodied in the religious order and the political order, using the terms tashrii` and tanfiidh for them, and saying that these two must support one another. In The Secret of Divine Civilization this is said in reference to Iran in particular (and the terms are explained again in A Traveller’s Narrative); in The Art of Governance it is said in general terms, using proof texts from the Quran, the New Testament and Baha’u’llah’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (ie, Render unto Caesar); while in the ‘two calls’ tablet (Selections 282) the principles are again general in application, and in the Will and Testament this principle is applied specifically to the relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the Government. What could be clearer?

    This sense of “legislative” — the religious order in society that promotes the Word of God — is of course quite different to the legislative-executive-judicial separation within a modern government. That separation of powers is also endorsed in the Bahai Writings, but not required (the state and its constitution being in the political sphere). We can see Shoghi Effendi’s thinking on this in the two passages in World Order of Baha’u’llah pp 40 and 203. The latter says:

    “The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system.

    The Houses of Justice are not even mentioned. Doesn’t that make you think you may have got the wrong end of the stick?

  11. Sam said

    Sen,

    Of course any law including the criminal laws come under the jurisdiction of House of Justice. Aqdas contains codification of some criminal laws; on murder, arson, theft, adultery, etc. If they are codified in Aqdas, then by deduction, it is and only is for the the House of Justice to enact further legislations relating to those matters. That is the very definition of the House of Justice to legislate on matters that are not explicitly codified in Aqdas. There is not place we read that legislation on criminal matters is out bound for the House of Justice in a future Baha’i state.

    In note 86 in Kitab-Aqdas we read:

    “The details of the Bahá’í law of punishment for murder and arson, a law designed for a future state of society, were not specified by Bahá’u’lláh. The various details of the law, such as degrees of offence, whether extenuating circumstances are to be taken into account, and which of the two prescribed punishments is to be the norm are left to the Universal House of Justice to decide in light of prevailing conditions when the law is to be in operation. The manner in which the punishment is to be carried out is also left to the Universal House of Justice to decide.”

    Now, in a future Baha’i state the application of criminal laws as codified in Aqdas are either inspirational and can be set aside by legislation in a Baha’is state which is supposed to function “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas“, or mandatory and cannot be set aside. You seem to think that they are inspirational and can be set aside if the government of the Baha’i state decides not to follow them. I believe they are constitutional in nature and cannot be set aside. Similarly by extension any legislation on such matters enacted by the House of Justice are constitutional in nature.

    Next, we should not pretend that we know the exact nature the relation between Church and State in a future Baha’i state. This is again for the House of Justice to elucidate on complex issues. The elucidation of House of Justice is deemed constitutional in nature.

    Next to your point conflating “Tashrih” with “Sharia”; legal definition of the word “Tashrih” during the time of Abdul Baha and even today refers to “legislation”, and does not come from the word “Sharia” which means the Islamic laws, as you seems to think.

    The fact that the House of Justice is elected by the Baha’is, which of course constitute the overwhelming majority of the population in a Baha’i State, should not be construed as limitation on the kind of legislations The House of Justice can enact. Under the the current secular systems the non citizen have no right to vote, but they are subject to the same laws enacted by the legislations in the country they reside but have no right to vote.

    We must recognize that Baha’i state does not come about from some external force imposed on the population of a country. It comes about from the free will of the overwhelming majority of of the population of a country to accept “strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas”, and by extension submission to the enactments of the House of Justice, to be enshrined in their constitution. Once those provisions are enshrined in the constitution of a Baha’i state, with the overwhelming support of its citizen, all other civic powers have to yield to the enactments of the House of Justice.

    We have a limited understanding of the nature of future Baha’i world order and the nature of Baha’i word commonwealth, that functions “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas“. It may have some similarity with the current secular and no secular orders existing in the world but is unique in nature whose details we should not to pretend to grasp. Trying to extrapolate our limited understanding of the Writings, where in many instances relate to our conduct in a non-Baha’i state, into the future Baha’i state as definitive is futile. Such complex matters are for the House of Justice to rule on as they see fit.

    Baha’i Administrative Order, a system which, as the Shoghi Effendi explains in Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh, is is divinely conceived to “incorporates within its structure certain elements which are to be found in each of the three recognized forms of secular government, without being in any sense a mere replica of any one of them, and without introducing within its machinery any of the objectionable features which they inherently possess. It blends and harmonizes, as no government fashioned by mortal hands has as yet accomplished, the salutary truths which each of these systems undoubtedly contains without vitiating the integrity of those God-given verities on which it is ultimately founded.”

  12. Sen said

    You say, “Of course any law including the criminal laws come under the jurisdiction of House of Justice …” but that’s simply an assumption, easily countered. The Aqdas contains laws that are for the sphere of the state, the sphere of the house of justice, and the individual and family sphere. For example, it contains laws about prayer and fasting, of which Baha’u’llah writes :

    The men of God’s House of Justice have been charged with the affairs of the people in every State. They in truth are the trustees of God amongst His servants, and the manifestation of His authority in His realms. O people of God! The educator of mankind is Justice, for it rests upon the twin pillars of Reward and Punishment – pillar that are the very source of life to the world. Inasmuch as for every day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution, such affairs should be referred to the house of Justice, that the members thereof may act according to the needs and requirements of the time. They that for the sake of God arise to serve His Cause are recipients of Divine Inspiration. It is incumbent upon all to be obedient unto them. Administrative affairs should be referred to the House of Justice, but acts of worship must be observed according as they are revealed by God in His Book.

    This cannot mean that the legislation of the HoJ has no effect on acts of worship, since a calendar reform affects the Holy Days, and so forth — but it does mean that the judicial power (the House has all three powers, in its constitution) does not apply to acts of worship. There is no punishment for not praying or not praying in the right way. Acts of worship are defined here as distinct from the general rule of reward and punishment, they are left to the individual.

    Baha’u’llah also tells the Kings of Christendom: “God hath committed into your hands the reins of the government of the people, that ye may rule with justice over them, safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, and punish the wrong-doers.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 247)

    And there are many dozens of similar passages that say that the kings and rulers have a mandate from God to be the governors of human society. They also have this duty internationally, through collective security which involves destroying a recalcitrant government, and through guaranteeing the civil and human rights of individuals from the state. (“a world commonwealth …in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.” Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)

    I do not claim to know the future – speculation about the future is a distraction. What we can form is a clear picture of the laws and principles of the Aqdas, of the Bahai principles. We need that now, for our teaching work, and also for our Assemblies and communities. The idea that the Assembly is a sort of government-in-waiting must distort the development of the Assembly and the communities’ expectations of their Assemblies. We cannot possibly discover the Bahai teachings by forming an imaginative picture of a future, and supposing the principles are whatever is required to get to that picture. We have to learn Bahai principles from Bahai scripture, approached without presuppositions. The separation of church and state is a key theme in Baha’u’llah’s thinking; Abdu’l-Baha wrote a book about it and refers to it often, sometimes including it in his lists of Bahai teachings; and Shoghi Effendi devotes time to it, from his early Presentation in Oxford through to his later general letters.

    Yes, Shoghi Effendi compares and contrasts the Administrative Order to “forms of secular government.” He does not say that it is itself a secular government! He says : “Theirs is not the purpose, … to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 66.)

    The reason he has to make all these anti-theocratic statements in his English writings is the tenacity of certain of the American believers in their belief that the House of Justice is eventually to supersede the government.

    “I can do no better than quote some of Baha’u’llah’s Own testimonies, leaving the reader to shape his own judgment as to the falsity of such a deduction. In His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf He indicates the true source of kingship: “Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit [Jesus] — may peace be upon Him — was asked: ‘O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ And He made reply: ‘Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.‘ (The Promised Day is Come, p. 72)

    You can get a brief look at the meaning of tashri` in this English-language Encyclopaedia article. To look it up in an Arabic dictionary, you search under sh-r-` — but for that you need an Arabic keyboard, which I do not have on this computer. It does refer specifically to the religious law, pictured as a path that one may walk. This is the “legislative” role of the House of Justice and the leaders of religion in general, according to the Bahai writings. It is quite distinct from government, which has its own legislative, judicial and executive roles in its own sphere. Abdu’l-Baha says (in authenticated notes):

    My intention, with these words, is not that religion has any business in politics. Religion has no jurisdiction or involvement in political matters, for religion is related to spirits and to ecstasy, while politics relates to the body. Therefore the leaders of religions should not be involved in political matters, but should busy themselves with rectifying the morals of the community. They admonish, and excite the desire and appetite for piety. They sustain the morals of the community. They give spiritual understanding to the souls. They teach the [religious] sciences, but they have no involvement with political matters, for all time. Baha’u’llah has commanded this. In the Gospels it is said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Khatabat-e Abdu’l-Baha 182. My translation)

  13. Sam said

    Sen,

    I think we are at the point that we are talking past each other. So this will be my last post on the matter.

    Now, I have two choices before me. I have to accept your argument that there is no possibility of criminal law coming under the jurisdiction of House of Justice, Alternatively, I can take the take the words of Baha’u’llah in Answer and Questions that follows the Kitab-Aqdas about the authority of the House of Justice to enact penalties for adultery, sodomy, and theft (Q&A 49), and the very own words of the House of Justice in the notes of Kitab-Aqda about its authority to enact legislation on matters relating to murder and arson (note 86).

    I know which alternative I am going to choose! and the “rest is rust and stardust”.

    BTW: For your information three branches of secular government in Arabic are called:Ghazeihi (Judicatory), Tanfizieh (executive) and Tashrriyeh (legislative)(التشريعية والتنفيذية والقضائية). This has been the common usage of these words in Middle Eastern countries for over hundred fifty years including the debates around the Persian constitutional revolution of late 19th and early 20th century, and Young Turk revolution in Turkey around the same time. As Encylopadia article that you refereed to rightly point out “Tas̲h̲rīʿ , in the modern context, signifies statutory legislation incorporating elements from the s̲h̲arīa” Of course unlike in the West common terminologies for three separate branches were relatively new in the Islamic middle East, but certainly were in common use in centers such as Istanbul, Cairo and Tehran when Abdul Baha wrote about them.

  14. Sen said

    Q&A 49 is interesting – I’ve never seen that raised before. In the dual law system that prevailed in Islamic countries generally, and certainly in the Ottoman empire, “criminal” matters were the domain of the ruler, using two sources: customary law and the Sultan’s edicts and precedents, while religious matters were the domain of religious courts in each religious community, BUT there was crossover for specific crimes. While the Sultan and his officers were in charge of dealing with cases of apostasy, revolt against the ruler, theft, highway robbery, adultery, slander, and drinking alcohol, they were expected to apply punishments set by the religious law. The civil law decided on guilt or not, it provided the courts and police and executioners and so forth, but the judges’ discretion in the kind of punishment was limited. Hence the word hadd (limit, plural “hudud” ) which is used for both the category of crimes and the punishments. . This is the word used in the Answer to Q&A 49:
    سؤال : از حدّ زنا و لواط و سارق و مقادير آن.
    جواب : تعيين مقادير حد به بيت العدل راجع است.
    In the historical context, the question is whether there are more categories of crime for which there is a prescribed punishment, and the answer is that is up to the House of Justice. Not the religious scholars.

    This does not alter the fact that the administration of law, to “punish the wrong-doers,” is the sphere of the kings and not the House of Justice. A section from the Resaleh-ye Siyasiyyeh may clarify this for you:

    “If you refer to history, you would find countless [negative] examples of this sort, all
    based on the involvement of religious leaders in political matters. These
    souls are the fountainhead of the promulgation of God’s commandments, (tashri`)
    not of implementation (tanfidh). That is, when the government enquires as to the
    requirements of the Law of God and the realities of the divine ordinances,
    in principle or in a specific case, they must explain what they have deduced
    from the commands of God and what is in accordance with the law of God.
    Apart from this, what awareness do they have of questions of leadership
    and social development, the administration and control of weighty matters,
    worldly well-being and happiness, the improvement of procedures and codes
    of temporal law, or foreign affairs and domestic policy? (Principles for Progress 367)

  15. hasanelias said

    I have seen theocratic minded people quoting the same quotes again and again (and a accusing Sen again and again with ad hominem “arguments”), and I have seen Sen McGlinn explaining all quotes, even the less authoritative (letters on behalf of the Guardian) again and again. But I have not seen one single theocratic minded person to explain the quotes shared by Sen, or the principles stated in those quotes and writings, or the amazing facts that confirm those principles such as Bahá’u’lláh saying to the Pope “abandon thy kingdom unto the kings”, or the fact that Bahá’u’lláh is writing this in His very last works (from Kitáb-i-Aqdas to Tablets, ESW, and Kitab-i-Ahd), or the fact He is quoting Jesus and Apostle Paul, or the fact that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote a whole Treatise about the topic (and He quotes there those fundamental quotes supporting His points, the whole ESW is a refutation to theocratic minds), or the fact that Shoghi Effendi quotes also those quotes from Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, or the fact that people have always thirst of blood, violence, and political dominion,‌ and hopes the Prophet or His religion to control everything and punish the “infidels”, but when the Prophet comes He destroys all these corrupted ambitions and reaffirms this old and fundamental principle of Church and State working separately but in harmony and in organic unity, and explains the two sovereignties (see the Iqan), and so forth. Also people forget that the writings state that it is better to live without counter-productive religion (and its institutions) but the writings never say it is better to live without a government and in anarchy!!!

    In resume, theocratic minded people discard all those because they have veils the don’t permit them to see the truth. One requisite to search truth and to apply justice is to see with your own eyes not through the eyes of others. For an average Bahá’í like me, it was enough reading and realizing one or two of those facts, and after few years when I read the Treatise on Governance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, it was clear as the Sun.

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