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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

Short link for this page: http://wp.me/pcgF5-2Sa


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

The Guardian and the Governor

Posted by Sen on July 30, 2013

Someone asked a question in the comments to this blog, which is so important I have decided to answer in a new posting. He asks whether a government leader [in Israel] who enrolled in the Bahai community would have had temporal authority over the Guardian, had the line of guardians continued, or would the governor have had to defer to the authority of the Guardian, as the head of the Bahai community? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Church and State, Political science, Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

This great American democracy?

Posted by Sen on February 27, 2011

A Bahai friend asked about Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to America as a “democracy,” in the talk he gave to the Orient-Occident-Unity Conference in Washington on 20 April 1912. In the course of researching it, I found a short prayer by Abdu’l-Baha for East-West unity, which I have translated, and also discovered that a much loved and quoted reference to the future of America, known as the “prayer for America,” is not authentic.

The context of this query was a discussion of whether the United States is a republic, or a democracy. The question appears to depend largely on definitions: if a republic is a state with an elected head of state and a government answerable to the people, and a democracy is a state with a government chosen in free and fair elections, with freedom of speech and protection of individual and minority rights under the rule of law, the United States would appear to aspire to be a democratic republic, at the intersection of these two terms.

Be that as it may, I was asked about the term “American democracy” in the talk Abdu’l-Baha gave at the Orient-Occident-Unity Conference. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bahai Writings, Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London

Posted by Sen on October 27, 2010

Towards the end of his life, Baha’u’llah wrote a number of works that included numbered lists of his teachings. Abdu’l-Baha also wrote several letters that include such numbered lists of essential teachings. Not surprisingly, Abdu’l-Baha sometimes adopted the same format when speaking to gatherings, however the records of these in English are often unreliable. One of these talks – one for which there are authenticated Persian notes (here), not just notes taken in English, caught my attention because it includes “the separation of religion and politics” as a key principle and also refers to this as “not entering into politics” — a formulation that will be more familiar to Bahais. An earlier report of this talk is published in Abdu’l-Baha in London (which incidentally shows that not all talks in that book cannot be authenticated). Naturally that report, based on an interpreter’s words, is more compact than the Persian version which I have translated. Its list of principles differs, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bahai Writings, Church and State, Political science, Theology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 56 Comments »

Pluralist society

Posted by Sen on April 4, 2010


This is in response to ‘Pluralist Society is an Unethical Rabble’ on another Bahai blog on WordPress, Owen’s Meanderings. Owen says he is

“increasingly reminded of that famous biblical story about Sodom and Gommorroh,” … the men and women who sit in government seats must take their share of the blame for the inequities within a nation. However increasingly I have realized that the person living in my street is likely to be twice a corrupt as a politician. … There seems to be very few people who have self-regulating ethical decision-making process. .. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Church and State, Community, Ethics and Morality, Individualism, Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Evolving to individualism

Posted by Sen on January 10, 2010

This posting briefly explains two different ways in which the Enlightenment and its fruits in Western societies can be viewed, in relation to the goal of building a Bahai society. It argues that our attitude to the political philosophy of individualism will influence the Bahai communities we build, and suggests that it is possible to see the individualisation of society, individualism and other aspects of the Enlightenment as positive elements of the new order, rather than as signs of the breakdown of the old order. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Community, History, Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

Executive and legislative

Posted by Sen on October 29, 2009

Two columns hirschTrilith_Stonehenge [Updated, July 2012: added A Traveller’s Narrative]
 
One of the friends asked:

What do you make of ‘Abdu’l-Baha having written:

“This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, 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.” (Will and Testament, 14)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bahai Writings, Church and State, Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Abdu’l-Baha’s ‘socialism’

Posted by Sen on June 11, 2009

wheatfieldI was led to this subject by one of the friends, who commented that the House of Justice’s revenues include mines, and its expenditures the care of the poor, both governmental matters, so it is not unreasonable for Habib Taherzadeh to say, in his translation of Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of Ishraqat, that “matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 27)
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Bahai Writings, Political science, Translations | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

Elections in Baha’u’llah’s World Order

Posted by Sen on January 30, 2009

One of the friends asked three questions:

1. After the World Order of Baha’u’llah is established and the World’s legislative & executive branches of government are arms or derivatory institutions of the Universal House of Justice (which appears to be the case from my readings) will non-Baha’is have the opportunity to vote for the National Assemblies that elect the House of Justice? Alternatively, can/will the Universal House of Justice be elected in some other way?

2. Will the World Legislature and/or Executive be elected or appointed by the Universal House of Justice? Alternatively, is the Universal House of Justice to become the World Executive? If elected, will only Baha’is have the right to vote?

Read the rest of this entry »

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The practicalities of monarchy

Posted by Sen on November 28, 2008

In the fifteenth Glad-Tidings, Baha’u’llah writes:

Although a republican form of government profiteth all the peoples of the world, yet the majesty of kingship is one of the signs of God. We do not wish that the countries of the world should remain deprived thereof. If the sagacious combine the two forms into one, great will be their reward in the presence of God.

I don’t think we have to suppose that Baha’u’llah was thinking about some future form of constitutional monarchy, requiring us to figure out what he meant and how it could be put into practice. There were good models of constitutional monarchy already working in his day, and most of them are still working today. In contrast, most of the republics from the time of Baha’u’llah have gone through at least one revolution, or at least a major upset, in the past century, and the absolute monarchies have fared even worse. Constitutional monarchy is the ‘leading technology’ in the field of government.

So why do constitutional monarchies work so well?
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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