Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Archive for the ‘Aqdas and Law’ Category

What about “the representatives of the people”?

Posted by Sen on December 22, 2021

In verse 147 of the Ketab-e Aqdas, Baha’u’llah says (in Arabic) that begging is forbidden and giving to one who begs is haram. He says “All have been enjoined to earn a living, and as for those who are incapable of doing so, it is incumbent on the Deputies of God and on the wealthy ( وکلآء و الاغنيآء ) to make adequate provision for them.”

That’s in the Bahai World Centre’s translation. Where the translation says “Deputies of God,” the Arabic just says vukalaa`, meaning Deputies, or Trustees, or Guardians (as in the guardian of an orphan). It’s an honourable term: if they had been vukalaa` of the Ottoman Sultan that would translate as Ministers of the Crown. I suppose the translators added “of God” to clarify that these are not government officials.

Apparently some Persian Bahais of the time of Abdu’l-Baha wondered who these Trustees might be, because he wrote a tablet in Persian that translates and explains this verse, including the meaning of the Arabic word vukalaa`. Part of this tablet is translated in Note 162 of the Aqdas: the relevant sentence reading:

“By ‘Deputies’ is meant the representatives of the people, that is to say the members of the House of Justice.”

There is an older and more complete translation of this tablet in a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, August 13, 1974, where the relevant sentence says:

“By ‘trustees’ is meant the representatives of the people, that is to say the members of the House of Justice.” (Lights of Guidance, p. 120)

The Persian Tablet is published in the compilation Ganjineh-ye Hudud o Ahkam p 351 and this sentence is on the following page, which reads (in my translation):

By “Deputies/Ministers” is meant the Deputies/Ministers of the House, that is, the members of the House of Justice.

There is no word for “the people” in the Persian text. That’s the product of a bad translation in 1974, that was not critically checked when revised for the Aqdas notes. Or just possibly, there is a variant of this tablet where “the people” are mentioned, but I have searched and not found, and Ganjineh-ye Hudud o Ahkam is a generally reliable compilation.

The problem with changing “of the House” to “of the people” is that it alters the meaning of a sacred text, and a reader might think that Abdu’l-Baha was saying that the members of the House of Justice would be representatives of ALL the people, not just the Bahais. That would require them to be elected by all the people, but Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian have said that the members of the houses of justice are elected by the Bahais. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

And now, concerning the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error, it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers. (The Will and Testament, p. 14)

Update: Thanks to Abir Majid, I now know that the Arabic notes to the Ketab-e Aqdas have translated that Persian tablet correctly:

والمقصود بالوكلاء هم “وكلاء البيت” أي أعضاء بيت العدل
The meaning of the Deputies is “the Deputies of the House,” that is, the Members of the House of Justice.

That site is an individual initiative, but the correct translation there suggests that the mistake in the English publication of the Aqdas will already have been noticed at the Bahai World Centre.

Posted in Aqdas and Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Church and State | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Blessed is the spot …

Posted by Sen on August 23, 2018

“Blessed is the spot” is one of the most widely used devotional works from Baha’u’llah, in both the original Arabic and in translation. It is used as a prayer and as a hymn. It has often been set to music and recorded. It reads, in English:

Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.

This extract was translated by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice, as part of a compilation of scriptural verses from diverse sources, encouraging teaching activities. He quoted the Arabic text in his Naw Ruz message in Persian, in BE 100 / 1943.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Community, Mashriqu'l-Adhkar | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Bahai courts – a short guide

Posted by Sen on August 10, 2018

This posting will look at the institutions of Bahai courts, the House of Justice, the International Bahai Council and the International Tribunal as they are described primarily in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. I will assume that readers know what the Universal House of Justice is, and how the National Houses of Justice, known as National Spiritual Assemblies, are elected and function. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Church and State, Community, History | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Bahais marry their sisters” — the prohibited degrees of affinity

Posted by Sen on May 16, 2015

Itchingfield Church - [Upate, October 26, 2015, see postscript.]
This posting will explore the principles and procedures that determine the ‘prohibited degrees of marriage’ in Bahai law. How closely does someone have to be related to you, to be too close for you to marry? The term “affinity” is used to include blood relationships and marriage relationships (and relationships by adoption ~ see the postscript).

Bahai readers will no doubt ask, why do we need a systematic explanation of this now? It is not as if there is a problem: we do not have a prevalence of first cousin marriages in Bahai communities, our assemblies are not overburdened by requests from fathers wanting to marry their daughters. Our lack of interest in the issue is indicated by the fact that the Bahaikipedia section on marriage laws does not mention the prohibited degrees of marriage. Apparently, we are quite satisfied to obey the civil laws and use our common sense.

However the lack of a systematic presentation in terms that are understandable for people from an Islamic background has given room for numerous Islamic scholars and anti-Bahai web sites to tell people that Bahais “marry their sisters.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Defence of the Faith, Ethics and Morality, Polemics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Age of consent

Posted by Sen on May 18, 2011

On the Talisman discussion list, a participant noted:

> We appear to have three somewhat contradictory choices for the age of consent, according to Sen: 14 years old; 15 years old,; or “unknown” / not yet decided

The reason the question comes up, is that there’s a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that says “There is no specific minimum age mentioned in the Baha’i teachings at which girls may marry,” yet there is a specific minimum age for marriage given in the Kitab-e Aqdas. They can’t both be right. Or can they?

There’s a way of having your cake and eating it to, squaring the circle, even perhaps escaping the iron law of the exuding middle (see my profile). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Abdu’l-Baha on religious law and the House of Justice

Posted by Sen on November 22, 2010

This tablet by Abdu’l-Baha, dated around 1899, responds to detailed questions, “concerning the wisdom of referring some important laws to the House of Justice.” Abdu’l-Baha replies that, in principle, the Baha’i Faith is similar to Christianity, whose scriptures also specify only a few laws.

The Bahai Faith, he says, has little connection to worldly concerns. Religion’s primary function is to refine characters and bring light in darkness. However the Bahai scriptures do specify some foundations of our religious law, leaving subsidiary matters to the divinely-inspired House of Justice, which can make ‘cultural laws,’ (ahkaam madaniyyih) in accordance with time and circumstance. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Ethics and Morality, Translations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments »

Religious law as a symbolic language, in Gate of the Heart

Posted by Sen on September 14, 2010

Continuing with the readings from Nader Saiedi’s Gate of the Heart, I’ve turned to the first of six principles of moral and spiritual action that Saiedi finds in the Persian Bayan. He calls it ‘the mystic character of action.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Abdu’l-Baha’s last tablet to America

Posted by Sen on February 21, 2010

Abdu’l-Baha’s “last tablet to America” was published in Star of the West and Bahai World Faith. It is a long tablet, and of some historical and doctrinal importance. It deals primarily with the importance of the Bahais shunning “any person in whom they perceive the emanation of hatred for the glorious Beauty of Abha” or “violators” — Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Bahai Writings, Community, Defence of the Faith | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

No counterfeits

Posted by Sen on May 11, 2009

willtestamentThis posting points out that there is a clear procedure for the appointment of a legitimate Guardian of the Bahai Faith, and none of the claimants satisfy it. Therefore, all the past claimants and present hopefuls are counterfeit.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Defence of the Faith | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

It’s Friday: thank God

Posted by Sen on April 11, 2009

calendaraddon [Revised October 2019]
The wikipedia page for the Bahai Calendar state: “Like Islam, Friday is also the day of rest in the Baha’i Faith.”

That’s not true for Islam: Friday is the day on which attendance at the congregational prayers at noon in the mosque is obligatory for those Muslims who are able, but it is not a ‘day of rest’ in Islam. But what about the Bahai Faith? We do not say our obligatory prayers in congregation (although we may say them, each for himself, during the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar service, but that is another story). Do we have a day of rest, as the Wikipedia article says?
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Bahai Writings, Community, Devotions, Translations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

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?
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Aqdas and Law, Bahai Writings, Community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: