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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Compilation on the learned

The role of the learned in the Bahai community and the world

a compilation from the Bahai Writings

There are certain pillars which have been established as the unshakeable supports of the Faith of God. The mightiest of these is learning and the use of the mind, the expansion of consciousness, and insight into the realities of the universe and the hidden mysteries of Almighty God.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 126)

This compilation shows where in the Bahai Writings in English one can find the spiritual principles underlying Bahai attitudes to the “learned,” and their roles in Bahai community life and in the Bahai vision of a good society. It does not duplicate compilations designed to guide the present development of Bahai Studies. Because I am able to link to full texts in the Bahai Reference Library, I have shortened many of the extracts. I have not included a number of summons, exhortations and reprimands addressed to the divines of various religious communities. Feel free to suggest more relevant quotes, through the comments section at the end.

I have divided it into the following sections:

1. Scholars in society
– 1a. A positive role for the learned and divines
– 1b. Are they equal, those who know and those who know not?
– 1c. Condemnations of the divines, warnings, and specific events

2. Scholars in the Bahai community
– 2a. Definitions: the learned and wise: scholars and counsellors
– 2b. Role of the learned in the Bahai community
– 2c. Ilm and Irfan, knowledge and true understanding
– 2d. Duty to support learning
– 2e. The institutions of learning

3. Qualities of the scholar
– 3a. Qualities and behaviour of the ideal scholar
– 3b. Praise of learned individuals

4. The learning of the unlearned
– 4a. The most unlettered of men
– 4b. Study is a task for all
– 4c. Knowledge as a veil

5. Scholars and the House of Justice

6. The learning of the future

==
 
 

1. Scholars in society

 
 

1a. A positive role for the learned and divines

From the Writings of the Bab

Nay, by God, be thou neither a divine without discernment nor a follower without discernment, for both of these shall perish on the Day of Resurrection. Rather it behooveth thee to be a discerning divine, or to walk with insight in the way of God by obeying a true leader of religion.
(Selections from the Writings of the Bab, 123)

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Those divines, … who are truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are, verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the nations. The guidance of men hath, at all times, been and is dependent upon these blessed souls.
(Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 16-17)

… but as for the learned who practice [their knowledge] and the wise who act justly, they are as the spirit unto the body of the world. (cited by Abdu'l-Baha, in A Traveller's Narrative, 45)

The people are ignorant, and they stand in need of those who will expound the truth. The Great Being saith: The man of consummate learning and the sage endowed with penetrating wisdom are the two eyes to the body of mankind. God willing, the earth shall never be deprived of these two greatest gifts. … Please God, the peoples of the world may be led, as the result of the high endeavours exerted by their rulers and the wise and learned amongst men, to recognize their best interests.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 170-1)

If the learned and wise men of goodwill were to impart guidance unto the people, the whole earth would be regarded as one country.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 172)

If the learned and worldly-wise men of this age were to allow mankind to inhale the fragrance of fellowship and love, every understanding heart would apprehend the meaning of true liberty, and discover the secret of undisturbed peace and absolute composure.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 162)

… servants who dedicate themselves to the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples … are, in truth, cup-bearers of the life-giving water of knowledge and guides unto the ideal way. They direct the peoples of the world to the straight path and acquaint them with that which is conducive to human upliftment and exaltation.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 34)

Hear Me, O men of insight, and be warned, ye who are endued with discernment!” It is Our hope that thou wilt hear with attentive ears the things We have mentioned unto thee, that perchance thou mayest turn men away from the things they possess to the things that God possesseth.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 28)

God hath forbidden unto men the drinking of wine, and this prohibition hath been revealed and recorded in His Book. [and] learned doctors of the age—may God increase their numbers!—have all prohibited the people from such a wretched act, …
(Baha’u’llah, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 122)

O ye Assembly of Ulama! (Divines). …the glory is in your submissiveness to the word of the Truth, and in cutting yourselves secretly and openly from everything besides God, the Powerful, the Able. Blessed is the learned who doth not allow science to intervene as a veil between him and the Known, and when the Self-existent cometh, he advanceth unto Him with a bright face, – verily he is of the Ulama, – by whose wit the people of paradise will be exalted, and by whose lamp whomsoever is in heaven and earth will be illuminated. Verily he is one of the heirs of the Prophets and he who sees him hath seen the Truth, and he who advanceth towards him hath advanced to God, the Mighty, the Wise.

O ye Dawning Places of Science, beware not to be changed in yourselves; because, by such a change, most of the servants change; verily this is an oppression on your part upon yourselves – to this will bear witness every informed Knower. Ye are likened unto a spring which when changed, all the rivers branching out from it will be changed; fear God and be of those who are pious.
(Suratal Haykal, Anton Haddad translation, p. 54)

Great is the blessedness of that divine that hath not allowed knowledge to become a veil between him and the One Who is the Object of all knowledge, and who, when the Self-Subsisting appeared, hath turned with a beaming face towards Him. He, in truth, is numbered with the learned. The inmates of Paradise seek the blessing of his breath, and his lamp sheddeth its radiance over all who are in heaven and on earth. He, verily, is numbered with the inheritors of the Prophets. He that beholdeth him hath, verily, beheld the True One, and he that turneth towards him hath, verily, turned towards God, the Almighty, the All-Wise.

Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requireth.
(Baha’u’llah, Lawh-e Maqsud, in Tablets revealed after the Kitab-e Aqdas, 168)

The divines must needs unite with His Majesty, the Shah, and cleave unto that which will insure the protection, the security, the welfare and prosperity of men.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 91)

It is incumbent upon the divines to unite with His Majesty, the Shah—may God assist him—and to cleave day and night unto that which will exalt the station of both the government and the nation.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 137)

The Pen of the Most High exhorteth, at this moment, the manifestations of authority and the sources of power, namely the kings, the sovereigns, the presidents, the rulers, the divines and the wise, and enjoineth them to uphold the cause of religion, and to cleave unto it. Religion is verily the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquillity amongst its peoples.
(Baha’u’llah, in Kalímat-i-firdawsíyyih (Words of Paradise) in Tablets revealed after the Kitab-e Aqdas, 63)

The divine whose conduct is upright, and the sage who is just, are as the spirit unto the body of the world. Well is it with that divine whose head is attired with the crown of justice, and whose temple is adorned with the ornament of equity.
(The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, 78)

The divine who hath seized and quaffed the most holy Wine, in the name of the sovereign Ordainer, is as an eye unto the world. Well is it with them who obey him, and call him to remembrance.
(The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, 79)

Concerning the prerequisites of the learned, He saith: “Whoso among the learned guardeth his self, defendeth his faith, opposeth his desires, and obeyeth his Lord's command, it is incumbent upon the generality of the people to pattern themselves after him….”
(Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 118)

The learned of the day must direct the people to acquire those branches of knowledge which are of use, that both the learned themselves and the generality of mankind may derive benefits therefrom. Such academic pursuits as begin and end in words alone have never been and will never be of any worth.
(Tablets of Baha'u'llah, 169)

Certain laws and principles are necessary and indispensable for Persia. However, it is fitting that these measures should be adopted in conformity with the considered views of His Majesty — may God aid him through His grace — and of the learned divines and of the high-ranking rulers.
(Baha'u'llah, Lawh-e Dunya, in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, 92)

O Supreme Pontiff! … Sell all the embellished ornaments thou dost possess, and expend them in the path of God, … Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings, … then speak forth the praises of thy Lord betwixt earth and heaven. … Exhort thou the kings and say: “Deal equitably with men. Beware lest ye transgress the bounds fixed in the Book.” … Beware lest thou appropriate unto thyself the things of the world and the riches thereof. … Know that thy true adornment consisteth in the love of God and in thy detachment from all save Him, and not in the luxuries thou dost possess.
(Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 61-2)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

He has given us ears, that we may hear and profit by the wisdom of scholars and philosophers and arise to promote and practice it.
Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 3)

Those eminent divines who are steadfast in the straight path and are versed in the secrets of divine wisdom and informed of the inner realities of the sacred Books; whose blessed hearts are adorned with the ornament of righteousness, and whose luminous faces shine with the lights of guidance, who are aware of present needs and see the requirements of the age, are undoubtedly devoting all their energies to encouraging the advancement of learning and civilization. “Are they equal, those who know, and those who do not know?… Or is the darkness equal with the light?”

The divines are lamps of guidance among the people of the world,
they are stars of good fortune rising and shining above the horizons of nations and religions.
They are the fount of life for souls dead of ignorance and folly,
the pure spring of perfections for those who thirst in the wastes of imperfections and errors.
They are the dawning place of the emblems of Divine Unity
and aware of the realities of the glorious Qur'an.
They are skilled physicians for the ailing body of the world,
the sure antidote to the poison that has corrupted human society.
They are the strong citadel in the city of humanity,
an unassailable sanctuary for the sorely afflicted and distracted victims of ignorance. “Knowledge is a light which God casts in the heart of whoever He wills.”

An authoritative Tradition states: “As for him who is one of the divines, protecting his self, defending his Faith, opposing his passions and obeying the commandments of his Lord: let the common people imitate him.” … Whoever … is not an exemplary embodiment of this sound tradition, shall be stripped of the title of learning. It is neither required nor fitting that the faithful should obey him.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, my translation)

The third requirement of perfection is to arise with complete sincerity and purity of purpose to educate the masses: ….For the mass of the population is uninformed as to these vital agencies which would constitute an immediate remedy for society's chronic ills. It is essential that scholars and the spiritually learned should undertake …. to counsel and exhort the masses and clarify their vision with that collyrium which is knowledge.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 39)

… it is essential to establish a body of scholars the various groups of whose membership would each be expert in one of the aforementioned branches of knowledge. This body should with the greatest energy and vigour deliberate as to all present and future requirements, and bring about equilibrium and order.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 37)

It is therefore urgent that beneficial articles and books be written, clearly and definitely establishing what the present-day requirements of the people are, and what will conduce to the happiness and advancement of society. These should be published and spread throughout the nation, so that at least the leaders among the people should become, to some degree, awakened, …. The publication of high thoughts is the dynamic power in the arteries of life; it is the very soul of the world. Thoughts are a boundless sea … not until the sea boils up will the waves rise and scatter their pearls of knowledge on the shore of life.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 109-10)

From the Writings of Shoghi Effendi

Nor should it be thought for a moment that the followers of Baha'u'llah either seek to degrade or even belittle the rank of the world's religious leaders, whether Christian, Muslim, or of any other denomination, should their conduct conform to their professions, and be worthy of the position they occupy.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, 110)

 
 

1b. Are they equal, those who know and those who know not?

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

O people of God! Righteous men of learning who dedicate themselves to the guidance of others and are freed and well guarded from the promptings of a base and covetous nature are,… stars of the heaven of true knowledge. It is essential to treat them with deference.
(Baha’u’llah: Tablet of the World in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 96-97)

Beware that ye swell not with pride before God, and disdainfully reject His loved ones. Defer ye humbly to the faithful, they that have believed in God and in His signs, whose hearts witness to His unity, whose tongues proclaim His oneness, and who speak not except by His leave.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 127)

This Wronged One hath invariably treated the wise with affection. By the wise is meant men whose knowledge is not confined to mere words and whose lives have been fruitful and have produced enduring results. It is incumbent upon everyone to honour these blessed souls. Happy are they that observe God’s precepts; happy are they that have recognized the Truth; happy are they that judge with fairness in all matters and hold fast to the Cord of My inviolable Justice.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 62)

Respect ye the divines and learned amongst you, they whose conduct accords with their professions, who transgress not the bounds which God hath fixed, whose judgements are in conformity with His behests as revealed in His Book. Know ye that they are the lamps of guidance unto them that are in the heavens and on the earth. They who disregard and neglect the divines and learned that live amongst them — these have truly changed the favour with which God hath favoured them
(Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 204 (and in Gleanings, in the same form))

Alternative translation (also by Shoghi Effendi):

Respect ye the divines amongst you … They whose acts conform to the knowledge they possess, who observe the statutes of God, and decree the things God hath decreed in the Book. Know ye that they are the lamps of guidance betwixt earth and heaven. They that have no consideration for the position and merit of the divines amongst them have, verily, altered the bounty of God vouchsafed unto them.”
(The Promised Day is Come, 111)

The fifth Taraz concerneth the protection and preservation of the stations of God’s servants. One should not ignore the truth of any matter, rather should one give expression to that which is right and true. The people of Baha should not deny any soul the reward due to him, should treat craftsmen with deference, and, unlike the people aforetime, should not defile their tongues with abuse. In this Day the sun of craftsmanship shineth above the horizon of the occident and the river of arts is flowing out of the sea of that region. One must speak with fairness and appreciate such bounty. By the life of God! The word `Equity’ shineth bright and resplendent even as the sun.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 38-39)

Beware, O My loved ones, lest ye despise the merits of My learned servants whom God hath graciously chosen to be the exponents of His Name ‘the Fashioner’ amidst mankind. Exert your utmost endeavour that ye may develop such crafts and undertakings that everyone, whether young or old, may benefit therefrom. We are quit of those ignorant ones who fondly imagine that Wisdom is to give vent to one’s idle imaginings …
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 150-1)

(KA173) Happy are ye, O ye the learned ones in Baha. … Ye are the billows of the Most Mighty Ocean, the stars of the firmament of Glory, the standards of triumph waving betwixt earth and heaven. Ye are the manifestations of steadfastness amidst men and the daysprings of Divine Utterance to all that dwell on earth. Well is it with him that turneth unto you, and woe betide the froward.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, 82)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

Those eminent divines and men of learning …. these are alert to the present need and they understand the requirements of modern times, and certainly devote all their energies toward encouraging the advancement of learning and civilization. “Are they equal, those who know, and those who do not know?… Or is the darkness equal with the light?”
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 32)

From authenticated talks of Abdu’l-Baha

… religion and learning are twins that cannot be separated, or they are two wings on which you fly. A single wing will not suffice. Any religion that is bereft of learning is to be considered as blind imitation. It is superficial, not spiritual. Therefore the promotion of learning is one of the limbs of religion. (Address to the Theosophical Society, London, 1911)

 
 

1c. Condemnations of the divines, warnings, and specific events

From the Writings of the Bab

The blame [for Christendom’s failure to respond to Islam] falleth upon their doctors, for if these had believed, they would have been followed by the mass of their countrymen.

(The Bab, in the Dala’il-i-Sab’ih (Seven Proofs), cited by Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day is Come, 18)

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

“The source and origin of tyranny have been the divines… God, verily, is clear of them, and We, too, are clear of them.”
(Baha’u’llah, cited in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 230)

“The Lote-Tree beyond Which there is no passing crieth out, by reason of the cruelty of the divines.”
(Baha’u’llah, cited by Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day is Come, 86)

O questioner, know thou that the people pride themselves upon knowledge, and praise it, whereas this Servant complaineth of it. For without it Baha would not have been imprisoned in ‘Akka with extreme abasement, nor would He have drunk from the cup of woes proffered by His enemies. Eloquence hath banished Me, and the science of rhetoric brought Me low.
(Baha’u’llah, Tafsir-i-Suratu’l-Shams (Commentary on the Surah of the Sun) – J.R, Cole translation)

When We observed carefully, We discovered that Our enemies are, for the most part, the divines… Among the people are those who said: He hath repudiated the divines. Say: Yea, by My Lord! I, in very truth, was the One Who abolished the idols! We, verily, have sounded the Trumpet, which is Our Most Sublime Pen, and lo, the divines and the learned, and the doctors and the rulers, swooned away except such as God preserved, as a token of His grace, and He, verily, is the All-Bounteous, the Ancient of Days… O concourse of divines! Fling away idle fancies and imaginings, and turn, then, towards the Horizon of Certitude. I swear by God! All that ye possess will profit you not, neither all the treasures of the earth, nor the leadership ye have usurped. Fear God, and be not of the lost ones… Say: O concourse of divines! Lay aside all your veils and coverings. Give ear unto that whereunto calleth you the Most Sublime Pen, in this wondrous Day…. The world is laden with dust, by reason of your vain imaginings, and the hearts of such as enjoy near access to God are troubled because of your cruelty. Fear God, and be of them that judge equitably.
(Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, 76)

And, now, strive thou to comprehend the meaning of this saying of Ali, … “Piercing the veils of glory, unaided.” Among these “veils of glory” are the divines and doctors living in the days of the Manifestation of God, who, because of their want of discernment and their love and eagerness for leadership, have failed to submit to the Cause of God, nay, have even refused to incline their ears unto the divine Melody. “They have thrust their fingers into their ears.” And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Notwithstanding the divinely-inspired admonitions of all the Prophets, the Saints, and Chosen ones of God, enjoining the people to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, they have … blindly followed … the leaders of their Faith.

It is clear and evident that whenever the Manifestations of Holiness were revealed, the divines of their day have hindered the people from attaining unto the way of truth.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 164-5)

O concourse of divines! When My verses were sent down, and My clear tokens were revealed, We found you behind the veils. … Beware lest ye shut out the people by yet another veil. Pluck asunder the chains of vain imaginings, in the name of the Lord of all men, and be not of the deceitful. Should ye turn unto God and embrace His Cause, spread not disorder within it, and measure not the Book of God with your selfish desires. … Had ye believed in God when He revealed Himself, the people would not have turned aside from Him ,…
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, 79-80)

Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty. Thus, their eyes beheld not the light of the countenance of the Well-Beloved, nor did their ears hearken unto the sweet melodies of the Bird of Desire. For this reason, in all sacred books mention hath been made of the divines of every age. Thus He saith: “O people of the Book! Why disbelieve the signs of God to which ye yourselves have been witnesses?” And also He saith: “O people of the Book! Why clothe ye the truth with falsehood? Why wittingly hide the truth?” Again, He saith: “Say, O people of the Book! Why repel believers from the way of God?” It is evident that by the “people of the Book,” who have repelled their fellow-men from the straight path of God, is meant none other than the divines of that age, whose names and character have been revealed in the sacred books, and alluded to in the verses and traditions recorded therein, were you to observe with the eye of God.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 15-16)

O concourse of divines! Because of you the people were abased, and the banner of Islam was hauled down, and its mighty throne subverted. Every time a man of discernment hath sought to hold fast unto that which would exalt Islam, ye raised a clamor, and thereby was he deterred from achieving his purpose, while the land remained fallen in clear ruin.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 99 also in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 213)

The glory with which this Day is invested hath been explicitly mentioned and clearly set forth in most heavenly Books and Scriptures. However, the divines of the age have debarred men from this transcendent station, and have kept them back from this Pinnacle of Glory, this Supreme Goal.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 259)

[warnings]

O ye the dawning-places of knowledge! Beware that ye suffer not yourselves to become changed, for as ye change, most men will, likewise, change. … Ye are even as a spring. If it be changed, so will the streams that branch out from it be changed.
(Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 47-48)

O Baqir! Rely not on thy glory, and thy power. Thou art even as the last trace of sunlight upon the mountain-top. Soon will it fade away, as decreed by God, the All-Possessing, the Most High. Thy glory and the glory of such as are like thee have been taken away, and this verily is what hath been ordained by the One with Whom is the Mother Tablet.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 212)

Say: Still your pens, O concourse of divines, for lo, the shrill voice of the Pen of Glory hath been lifted up between earth and heaven. Cast away all that ye possess and take fast hold of that which We have revealed unto you with power and authority.
(Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 53)

Announce thou unto the priests: Lo! He Who is the Ruler is come. Step out from behind the veil in the name of thy Lord, He Who layeth low the necks of all men. Proclaim then unto all mankind the glad-tidings of this mighty, this glorious Revelation. Verily, He Who is the Spirit of Truth is come to guide you unto all truth. He speaketh not as prompted by His own self, but as bidden by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 12)

O concourse of monks! If ye choose to follow Me, I will make you heirs of My Kingdom; and if ye transgress against Me, I will, in My long-suffering, endure it patiently, and I, verily, am the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 13)

That the term “sun” hath been applied to the leaders of religion is due to their lofty position, their fame, and renown. Such are the universally recognized divines of every age, who speak with authority, and whose fame is securely established. If they be in the likeness of the Sun of Truth, they will surely be accounted as the most exalted of all luminaries; otherwise, they are to be recognized as the focal centres of hellish fire. Even as He saith: “Verily, the sun and the moon are both condemned to the torment of infernal fire.”
(Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Iqan, 37)

From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics.
(Baha’u’llah, cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, 70)

O Concourse of divines! Ye shall not henceforth behold yourselves possessed of any power, inasmuch as We have seized it from you, and destined it for such as have believed in God, the One, the All-Powerful, the Almighty, the Unconstrained.
(The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, 80)

[specific events]

They [Muslim ecclesiastics] rose up against Us with such cruelty as hath sapped the strength of Islam… The divines of Persia committed that which no people amongst the peoples of the world hath committed. …The divines of Persia … have perpetrated what the Jews have not perpetrated during the Revelation of Him Who is the Spirit (Jesus).
(Baha’u’llah, cited by Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By, 231)

But for the repudiation of the foolish and the connivance of the divines, I would have uttered a discourse [in the presence of the Shah] that would have thrilled and carried away the hearts unto a realm from the murmur of whose winds can be heard: “No God is there but He!”
(Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 126)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

… the sources of opposition to the friends of God, and of disputation with those who believed in the divine verses, have been certain individuals who have been outwardly graced with the jewel of knowledge, but piety and the fear of God have faded from their hearts. They are learned in form, and ignorant in truth, devout of speech but deniers at heart, devotees in the flesh, but lifeless in spirit.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Sermon on the Art of Governance. [the translation has since been retitled The Art of Governance])

How much blood the Popes have shed merely to retain temporal power! For mere differences of opinion they arrested, imprisoned and slew thousands of the servants of the world of humanity and learned men who had discovered the secrets of nature. To what a degree they opposed the truth! …

But when they [the Popes] came into possession of governmental power, … the Papal government … killed people, opposed the diffusion of learning, tormented the men of science, obstructed the light of knowledge, and gave the order to slay and to pillage. Thousands of souls, men of science and learning, and sinless ones, perished in the prisons of Rome.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 136)

 
 

2. Scholars in the Bahai community

 
 

2a. Definitions: the learned and wise: scholars and counsellors

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

The obligations of the Hands of the Cause of God are to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Will and Testament, 13)

From the Writings of Shoghi Effendi

In the Kitab-i-‘Ahd (the Book of His Covenant) Baha’u’llah wrote “[It is incumbent upon everyone to aid those daysprings of authority and sources of command who are adorned with the ornament of equity and justice. ] Blessed are the rulers and the learned in Al-Baha,” and referring to this very passage the beloved Guardian wrote on 4 November 1931:

In this holy cycle the “learned” are, on the one hand, the Hands of the Cause of God, and, on the other, the teachers and diffusers of His teachings who do not rank as Hands, but who have attained an eminent position in the teaching work. As to the “rulers” they refer to the members of the Local, National and International Houses of Justice. The duties of each of these souls will be determined in the future.
(Translated from the Persian).

(The Universal House of Justice, Elucidation of the Nature of the Continental Boards of Counselors (1972))

From the Universal House of Justice

While some Counsellors, like some of the Hands, will have pursued various academic or professional disciplines in their individual careers, their discharge of their duties is not dependent on proficiencies of this kind.
(The Universal House of Justice, in a letter entitled ‘Issues relating to the study of the Bahai Faith’)

The existence of the institution of the Hands of the Cause, and subsequently of the Counsellors, comprising individuals who play such a vital role in advancing the interests of the Faith, but who have no legislative, executive or judicial authority, and are entirely devoid of priestly functions or the right to make authoritative interpretations, is a feature of Baha’i administration unparalleled in the religions of the past.
(The Universal House of Justice, The Institution of the Counsellors, 3)
 
 

2b. Role of the learned in the Bahai community:

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

O ye beloved of the Lord! …. Abase not the station of the learned in Baha and belittle not the rank of such rulers as administer justice amidst you.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 138-9)

It is incumbent upon everyone to aid those daysprings of authority and sources of command who are adorned with the ornament of equity and justice. Blessed are the rulers and the learned among the people of Baha. They are My trustees among My servants and the manifestations of My commandments amidst My people.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 221)

O people of God! Righteous men of learning who dedicate themselves to the guidance of others and are freed and well guarded from the promptings of a base and covetous nature are, in the sight of Him Who is the Desire of the world, stars of the heaven of true knowledge. It is essential to treat them with deference. They are indeed fountains of soft-flowing water, stars that shine resplendent, fruits of the blessed Tree, exponents of celestial power, and oceans of heavenly wisdom. Happy is he that followeth them. Verily such a soul is numbered in the Book of God, the Lord of the mighty Throne, among those with whom it shall be well.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 96-7)

Respect ye the divines and learned amongst you, they whose conduct accords with their professions, who transgress not the bounds which God hath fixed, whose judgments are in conformity with His behests as revealed in His Book. Know ye that they are the lamps of guidance unto them that are in the heavens and on the earth. They who disregard and neglect the divines and learned that live amongst them — these have truly changed the favor with which God hath favored them.
(The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 203, also in Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 128.

There is a variant translation in The Promised Day is Come 111)

And now, We beseech the people of the Bayan, all the learned, the sages, the divines, and witnesses amongst them, not to forget the wishes and admonitions revealed in their Book.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 92)

Whosoever among the divines of every age receiveth, in the Day of Reckoning, the testimony of faith from the Source of true knowledge, he verily becometh the recipient of learning, of divine favour, and of the light of true understanding.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 36)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

In the future, God willing, means will be brought about. Translations will be made by a committee composed of two most erudite Persians and two learned Americans, all of them having the utmost proficiency in both languages and possessing a certain knowledge of sciences and arts. Then others from among the scholars and thinkers must assist.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha 1)

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi

. . . The Cause needs more Baha’i scholars, … who have a deep grasp of the Teachings and their significance, and who can correlate its beliefs with the current thoughts and problems of the people of the world.
(From a letter dated 21 October 1943 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

With regard to the school’s program … the Guardian would certainly advise … the friends to make a thorough study of the Qur’an, as the knowledge of this sacred Scripture is absolutely indispensable for every believer who wishes to adequately understand and intelligently read, the writings of Baha’u’llah. Although there are very few … who are capable of handling such a course in a scholarly way, the mere lack of such competent teachers should encourage and stimulate the believers to get better acquainted with the Sacred Scriptures of Islam. In this way, there will gradually appear some distinguished Baha’is who will be so well versed in the teachings of Islam as to be able to guide the believers in their study of that religion.”
(On behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, 63)

First is the importance of the study of Islam …. whose importance for a proper and sound understanding of the Cause is absolutely indispensable. Your Committee should … emphasize the study of this all-important subject, and make every effort to provide the [attendants] with all the facilities required, such as textbooks, competent lecturers and writers, who though not necessarily Baha’ís, should have a correct knowledge and sound appreciation of Islam, so as to be able to impress its true significance and mission upon all the attendants at the school.
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, August 14, 1939)

Teaching Moslems the Faith requires to a great degree a knowledge of the Qur’an, so that you can bring them proofs from their own texts. If you have not mastered this yet, he suggests that you do so with the help of some of the Baha’is from the Islamic background.
(Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, 396)

The conditions in India are now quite favourable but what the Bahaís need is a group of well-educated and seriously-minded people who would spend a good deal of their time in lecturing before large audiences and in writing and distributing books and pamphlets. We are in need of such people. They are, as you know very well, very few in number and the Guardian hopes that you will do your utmost to organize or to encourage and assist the formation of such a group.
(Letter on behalf of the Guardian, July 10, 1931, published in Dawn of a New Day, 189; and in Messages to the Indian subcontinent 71)

It seems what we need now is a more profound and coordinated Baha’i scholarship in order to attract such men as you are contacting. The world has … caught up by now with all the great and universal principles enunciated by Baha’u’llah … But we know that the deeper teachings, the capacity of His projected World Order to recreate society, are new and dynamic. It is these we must learn to present intelligently and enticingly to such men!
(From a letter dated 3 July 1949, on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

 
 

2c. Ilm and Irfan, knowledge and true understanding

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Gather ye together with the utmost joy and fellowship and recite the verses revealed by the merciful Lord. By so doing the doors to true knowledge will be opened to your inner beings, and ye will then feel your souls endowed with steadfastness and your hearts filled with radiant joy.
(Tablet of Baha’u’llah, translated in the compilation “The importance of deepening.”)

Inasmuch as it hath been clearly shown that only those who are initiated into the divine mysteries can comprehend the melodies uttered by the Bird of Heaven, it is therefore incumbent upon every one to seek enlightenment from the illumined in heart and from the Treasuries of divine mysteries regarding the intricacies of God's Faith and the abstruse allusions in the utterances of the Day-springs of Holiness. Thus will these mysteries be unravelled, not by the aid of acquired learning, but solely through the assistance of God and the outpourings of His grace. “Ask ye, therefore, of them that have the custody of the Scriptures, if ye know it not.”[Qur'an 16:43]
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 191)

The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit.
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 211)

Know thou that he is truly learned who hath acknowledged My Revelation, and drunk from the Ocean of My knowledge … He, verily, is even as an eye unto mankind, and as the spirit of life unto the body of all creation. … Verily, such a man is blessed by the Concourse on high, and by them who dwell within the Tabernacle of Grandeur …
(Tablets of Baha'u'llah, 207-208)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

It is my hope that the breaths of the Holy Spirit will so be breathed into your hearts that your tongues will disclose the mysteries, and set forth and expound the inner meanings of the Holy Books; that the friends will become physicians, and will, through the potent medicine of the heavenly Teachings, heal the long-standing diseases that afflict the body of this world; that they will make the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dead to come alive; that they will awaken those who are sound asleep.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 274)

 
 

2d. Duty to support learning

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 161(and in Gleanings CXXII))

Everyone, … should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earns through trade, agriculture or other occupation, for the training and education of children, to be spent for this purpose with the knowledge of the Trustees of the House of Justice.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 90)

Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet. He that putteth away that which is commanded unto him, the Trustees are then to take from him that which is required for their instruction, if he be wealthy, and if not the matter devolveth upon the House of Justice. Verily, have We made it a shelter for the poor and needy. He that bringeth up his son or the son of another, it is as though he hath brought up a son of Mine …..
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 128)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

… the religion of God is the promoter of truth, the founder of science and knowledge, it is full of goodwill for learned men … how can it be said to oppose knowledge? God forbid! Nay, for God, knowledge is the most glorious gift of man and the most noble of human perfections. To oppose knowledge is ignorant, and he who detests knowledge and science is not a man, but rather an animal without intelligence. For knowledge is light, life, felicity, perfection, beauty and the means of approaching the Threshold of Unity. It is the honor and glory of the world of humanity, and the greatest bounty of God. Knowledge is identical with guidance, and ignorance is real error.

Happy are those who spend their days in gaining knowledge, in discovering the secrets of nature, and in penetrating the subtleties of pure truth! Woe to those who are contented with ignorance, whose hearts are gladdened by thoughtless imitation, who have fallen into the lowest depths of ignorance and foolishness, and who have wasted their lives!
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 137)

There are certain pillars which have been established as the unshakeable supports of the Faith of God. The mightiest of these is learning and the use of the mind, the expansion of consciousness, and insight into the realities of the universe and the hidden mysteries of Almighty God. To promote knowledge is thus an inescapable duty imposed on every one of the friends of God.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 126)

To organize assemblies is praiseworthy and acceptable, … For example: … assemblages for the spread of learning …. To be brief, similar societies are very acceptable and praiseworthy and concern all in general and not a particular number.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v2, 394)

Establish schools that are well organized, and promote the fundamentals of instruction in the various branches of knowledge through teachers who are pure and sanctified, … scholars and educators with a thorough knowledge of sciences and arts.
It is incumbent upon the exalted body of the Hands of the Cause of God to watch over and protect these schools … so that all the means of progress will continually be at hand, and the lights of learning will illumine the whole world.
(Abdu’l-Baha, a Tablet translated from Persian, published in The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, 273)

… it is incumbent upon the father and mother to train their children both in good conduct and the study of books; study, that is, to the degree required, so that no child, whether girl or boy, will remain illiterate. Should the father fail in his duty he must be compelled to discharge his responsibility, and should he be unable to comply, let the House of Justice take over the education of the children; in no case is a child to be left without an education. This is one of the stringent and inescapable commandments to neglect which would draw down the wrathful indignation of Almighty God.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 127 (see also the previous sections))

the primary cause of oppression and injustice, of unrighteousness, irregularity and disorder, is the people’s lack of religious faith and the fact that they are uneducated.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 18)

But if the community would endeavor to educate the masses, day by day knowledge and sciences would increase, the understanding would be broadened, the sensibilities developed, customs would become good, and morals normal; in one word, in all these classes of perfections there would be progress, and there would be fewer crimes.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 271-2)

 
 

2e. Institutions of learning or in which the learned serve

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Schools must first train the children in the principles of religion, so that the Promise and the Threat recorded in the Books of God may prevent them from the things forbidden and adorn them with the mantle of the commandments; but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 68)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is one of the most vital institutions in the world, and it hath many subsidiary branches. Although it is a House of Worship, it is also connected with a hospital, a drug dispensary, a traveller’s hospice, a school for orphans, and a university for advanced studies. Every Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is connected with these five things
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 99-100)

Amongst other things is the holding of the meetings for teaching so that blessed souls and the old ones from amongst the believers may gather together the youths of the love of God in schools of instruction and teach them all the divine proofs and irrefragable arguments, explain and elucidate the history of the Cause, and interpret also the prophecies and proofs which are recorded and are extant in the divine books and epistles regarding the manifestation of the Promised One, so that the young ones may go in perfect knowledge in all these degrees.

Likewise, whenever it is possible a committee must be organized for the translation of the Tablets. Wise souls who have mastered and studied perfectly the Persian, Arabic, and other foreign languages, or know one of the foreign languages, must commence translating Tablets and books containing the proofs of this Revelation, and publishing those books, circulate them throughout the five continents of the globe.

Similarly, the magazine, the Star of the West, must be edited with the utmost regularity, but its contents must be the promulgation of the Cause of God that both East and West may become informed of the most important events.
(Tablets of the Divine Plan, 54-5)

If … [wealth] is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor — in brief, if it is dedicated to the welfare of society — its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth …
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 25)

O ye recipients of the favours of God! In this new and wondrous Age, the unshakeable foundation is the teaching of sciences and arts. According to explicit Holy Texts, every child must be taught crafts and arts, to the degree that is needful. Wherefore, in every city and village, schools must be established and every child in that city or village is to engage in study to the necessary degree.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 134-5)

The Sunday school for the children in which the Tablets and Teachings of Baha’u’llah are read, and the Word of God is recited for the children is indeed a blessed thing. Thou must certainly continue this organized activity without cessation, and attach importance to it, so that day by day it may grow and be quickened with the breaths of the Holy Spirit
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 143)

Inform the near (dear) maid-servant of God … who hath organized a school of industry in order that children may learn an industry and chant communes, that this is very agreeable.
(Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, 149)

From the Writings of Shoghi Effendi

If he attends his summer school … let him consider such an occasion as a welcome and precious opportunity so to enrich, through lectures, study, and discussion, his knowledge of the fundamentals of his Faith as to be able to transmit, with greater confidence and effectiveness, the Message that has been entrusted to his care.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, 53-4)

… the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, round which in the fulness of time shall cluster such institutions of social service as shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant,
(Shoghi Effendi, Bahai Administration, 184)

… those initial schools … will, on the one hand, evolve into powerful centers of Baha’i learning, and, on the other, provide a fertile recruiting ground for the enrichment and consolidation of its teaching force …
(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, 8)

Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi

Shoghi Effendi feels that the real purpose of these Summer Schools is to deepen the knowledge of the friends. Lectures are very essential for they give a wonderful picture of the subject matter. But it is not sufficient to have a picture; the friends should deepen their knowledge and this can be achieved if, together with the lectures, there are study classes and seminar work carried on by the same lecturer. The world is undoubtedly facing a great crisis and the social, economic and political conditions are becoming daily more complex. Should the friends desire to take the lead in informing the world, they should start by educating themselves and understand what the troubles and problems really are which baffle the minds of men. It is in these Summer Schools that this training should be provided for the friends.” (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi through his secretary, to Mr. John Bosch.)

The primary purpose of the School is to deepen the knowledge of the friends in the Teachings, to enable them to consort, as Baha’is, with each other, and to confirm any contacts who may have attended.
(On behalf of Shoghi Effendi, High Endeavours – Messages to Alaska, 35)

 
 

3. Qualities of the scholar

 
 

3a. Qualities and behaviour of the ideal scholar

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Whatever is written should not transgress the bounds of tact and wisdom, and in the words used there should lie hid the property of milk, so that the children of the world may be nurtured therewith, and attain maturity. We have said in the past that one word hath the influence of spring and causeth hearts to become fresh and verdant, while another is like unto blight which causeth the blossoms and flowers to wither. God grant that authors among the friends will write in such a way as would be acceptable to fair-minded souls, and not lead to cavilling by the people.
(From a Tablet of Baha’u’llah, translated from Persian and Arabic in a letter from the Universal House of Justice entitled, ‘Issues relating to the study of the Bahai Faith))

..an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured … It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 173 (and see the previous page))

Blessed are the learned that pride not themselves on their attainments; and well is it with the righteous that mock not the sinful, but rather conceal their misdeeds, so that their own shortcomings may remain veiled to men’s eyes.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 315)

In the estimation of the people of Baha, man’s glory lieth in his knowledge, his upright conduct, his praiseworthy character, his wisdom, and not in his nationality or rank.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 67)

Know that whoso clingeth to the outward sense of the words, leaving aside their esoteric significance, is simply ignorant. And whoso concentrateth on the metaphorical sense to the exclusion of the prosaic meaning is heedless. Only the one who intepreteth the verses esoterically while harmonizing this reading with the literal meaning can be said to be a complete scholar.
(Baha’u’llah, Tafsir-i-Suratu’l-Shams, Commentary on the Surah of the Sun – Translation J.R. Cole, 1994)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

… we should not belittle anyone and call him ignorant, saying: ‘You know not, but I know’. Rather, we should look upon others with respect, and when attempting to explain and demonstrate, we should speak as if we are investigating the truth, saying: ‘Here these things are before us. Let us investigate to determine where and in what form the truth can be found.’ The teacher should not consider himself as learned and others ignorant. Such a thought breedeth pride, and pride is not conducive to influence. The teacher should not see in himself any superiority; he should speak with the utmost kindliness, lowliness and humility, for such speech exerteth influence and educateth the souls.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 30)

“Not every cleric’s turban is a proof of continence and knowledge; not every layman’s hat a sign of ignorance and immorality. How many a hat has proudly raised the banner of knowledge, how many a turban pulled down the Law of God!”
(Abdu’l-Baha (quoting a saying), The Secret of Divine Civilization, 59)

For every thing, however, God has created a sign and symbol, and established standards and tests by which it may be known. The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. For an unlit candle, however great in diameter and tall, is no better than a barren palm tree or a pile of dead wood.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 33-4)

“As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord. It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him.”

… The first attribute of perfection is learning and the cultural attainments of the mind, and this eminent station is achieved when the individual combines in himself a thorough knowledge of those complex and transcendental realities pertaining to God, of the fundamental truths of Qur’anic political and religious law,… [etc.] … The second attribute of perfection is justice and impartiality. This means to have no regard for one’s own personal benefits and selfish advantages, and to carry out the laws of God without the slightest concern for anything else. It means to see one’s self as only one of the servants of God, the All-Possessing, and except for aspiring to spiritual distinction, never attempting to be singled out from the others. … The third requirement of perfection is to arise with complete sincerity and purity of purpose to educate the masses… … Other attributes of perfection are to fear God, to love God by loving His servants, to exercise mildness and forbearance and calm, to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate;… (etc.,)

The second of these spiritual standards which apply to the possessor of knowledge is that he should be the defender of his faith. … the whole population should be protected in every way; that every effort should be exerted to adopt a combination of all possible measures to raise up the Word of God, increase the number of believers, promote the Faith of God and exalt it and make it victorious over other religions.

The third element … is, “opposes his passions.” How wonderful are the implications of this deceptively easy, all-inclusive phrase. This is the very foundation of every laudable human quality;… A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation.

The fourth phrase … is: “obedient to the commandments of his Lord.” It is certain that man’s highest distinction is to be lowly before and obedient to his God; [and] close observance of the Divine commands and prohibitions. Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 34-5, 38-40, 58-59, 71)

Next in rank [to the prophets] are those eminent and honorable ministers of state and representatives, …. Again, there are those famed and accomplished men of learning, possessed of praiseworthy qualities and vast erudition, who lay hold on the strong handle of the fear of God and keep to the ways of salvation. In the mirror of their minds the forms of transcendent realities are reflected, and the lamp of their inner vision derives its light from the sun of universal knowledge. They are busy by night and by day with meticulous research into such sciences as are profitable to mankind, and they devote themselves to the training of students of capacity. It is certain that to their discerning taste, the proffered treasures of kings would not compare with a single drop of the waters of knowledge, and mountains of gold and silver could not outweigh the successful solution of a difficult problem. To them, the delights that lie outside their work are only toys for children, and the cumbersome load of unnecessary possessions is only good for the ignorant and base. Content, like the birds, they give thanks for a handful of seeds, and the song of their wisdom dazzles the minds of the world’s most wise.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 20-22)

But as for the learned who are pure of heart and soul,
each one is a mercy from the Lord and a gift of God.
They are a candle for guidance and a lantern of God’s grace,
the lightning bolt of truth and the guardians of the Law.
They are the scales of justice and the sovereigns of trustworthiness.
They are the true dawn and the towering palm,
the bright star, and a planet clearly seen.
They are the fountainhead of mystical insight,
the spreading of the sweet waters of life.
They are the educators of souls
they bring glad tidings to the hearts.
They are a guide to the nations,
the heralds of God among the children of Adam.
They are the greatest sign and the loftiest banner,
the jewels of being and the Graces of existence.
They are the manifestations of detachment,
the dawning place of the sun of sanctity.
This ephemeral mortal existence has no attractions for them,
they hold themselves apart from the lusts and passion of the human world.
In gatherings in the world, they are drunk
with the virtues and praises of their Lord and Beloved,
but in that Court where God is manifest and seen,
they are performing the rites of prayer.
They are firm pillars of the divine edifice,
an impregnable fortress for the manifest religion.
They are the sweet waters of the Euphrates for the thirsty,
and the path of salvation for those who have lost the way.
They are birds giving thanks in the gardens of “God is One,”
and candles giving light in the councils of “I renounce all else.”
They are God’s scholars, and the heirs of the prophets,
the initiates of mysteries, and the commanders of the company of the pious.
They turn the private chapel, where dhikr is chanted,
into a cloister in the Kingdom of heaven.
They consider withdrawal from all that is other,
as gaining the threshold of Godhead itself.

Those who are not like this, are lifeless bodies and images on walls. As it is written in the authoritative text of the Quran, “God has led him astray by means of some knowledge.” [ Quran 45:23.]

However, the dignity of the Imams of guidance, the station of those close to the court of grandeur, is the honour and respect due to holiness.

Their prerogative is the patronage of the All-Merciful,
their garland of glory is the dust in the path of the Merciful,
their gleaming crown is the lights of the bounty of God.
Their seat of justice is the throne-room of the hearts,
their sublime and glorious throne is this,
that they are faithful to the world of the Kingdom.
They are lords of the worlds of life and soul,
and not of water and clay.
They are kings of the realms of immeasurable space,
not of the straight places of this contingent world.
No-one can usurp or plunder
this glorious station, this ancient honour.

Yet in the human world their throne is the mat, their seat of high honour is the row of shoes. The pinnacle of prestige for them is the lowest rank of servitude, and the court of their sovereignty is some secluded corner. They see well-furnished palaces as graves underground, and worldly pomp as an intolerable nuisance. They know that wealth and riches are toil and sorrow, and a great entourage is a burden to the soul. Like grateful birds in this house of vanity, they are satisfied with a few grains. In the arbour of “God is One,” at the tip of the branch of detachment, they busy themselves with singing the virtues and praises of the Ancient and the Living in an eloquent tongue.
Abdu’l-Baha’s The Art of Governance:

 
 

3b. Praise of learned individuals

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

In this most resplendent Dispensation, however, this most mighty Sovereignty, a number of illumined divines, of men of consummate learning, of doctors of mature wisdom, have attained unto His Court, drunk the cup of His divine Presence, and been invested with the honor of His most excellent favor. They have renounced, for the sake of the Beloved, the world and all that is therein…..[list of examples] … Let it be known, however, that none of these doctors and divines to whom we have referred was invested with the rank and dignity of leadership.
(Baha’u’llah, Kitab-e Iqan 222, 228)

After Socrates came the divine Plato who was a pupil of the former and occupied the chair of philosophy as his successor. He acknowledged his belief in God and in His signs which pervade all that hath been and shall be. Then came Aristotle, the well-known man of knowledge. He it is who discovered the power of gaseous matter. These men who stand out as leaders of the people and are pre-eminent among them, one and all acknowledged their belief in the immortal Being
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 147 (and see the previous page))

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

As to deistic philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, they are indeed worthy of esteem and of the highest praise, for they have rendered distinguished services to mankind. In like manner we regard the materialistic, accomplished, moderate philosophers, who have been of service (to mankind). We regard knowledge and wisdom as the foundation of the progress of mankind, and extol philosophers who are endowed with broad vision.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet to August Forel, 7-8)

Nabil-i-Akbar .. A sign of guidance, he was, an emblem of the fear of God. For this Faith, he laid down his life, and in dying, triumphed. He passed by the world and its rewards; he closed his eyes to rank and wealth; he loosed himself from all such chains and fetters, and put every worldly thought aside. Of wide learning, at once a mujtahid, a philosopher, a mystic, and gifted with intuitive sight, he was also an accomplished man of letters and an orator without a peer. He had a great and universal mind.
Praise be to God, at the end he was made the recipient of heavenly grace. Upon him be the glory of God, the All-Glorious. May God shed the brightness of the Abha Kingdom upon his resting-place. May God welcome him into the Paradise of reunion, and shelter him forever in the realm of the righteous, submerged in an ocean of lights.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, 4-5 (and more in this book))

[Haji Mirza Hasan Afnani] A merchant by profession, he spent only a short period of the day and evening at his business, devoting most of his time to discussion and research. He was truly erudite, a great credit to the Cause of God amongst leading men of learning. With a few concise phrases, he could solve perplexing questions. His speech was laconic, but in itself a kind of miracle.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, 21-2)

[Mirza Muhammad, the Servant at the Travelers’ Hospice] was from Isfahan, and from an early age was known to its leading divines for his excellent mind. He was of gentle birth, his family was known and respected, and he was an accomplished scholar. He had profited from philosophy and history alike, from sciences and arts, but he thirsted after the secret of reality, and longed for knowledge of God. His feverish thirst was not allayed by the arts and sciences, however limpid those waters.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, 105)

Ismu’llahu’l-Asdaq was truly a servant of the Lord from the beginning of life till his last breath. When young, he joined the circle of the late Siyyid Kazim and became one of his disciples. He was known in Persia for his purity of life, winning fame as Mulla Sadiq the saintly. He was a blessed individual, a man accomplished, learned, and much honored. The people of Khurasan were strongly attached to him, for he was a great scholar and among the most renowned of matchless and unique divines. As a teacher of the Faith, he spoke with such eloquence, such extraordinary power, that his hearers were won over with great ease.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, 5-6)

From the Writings of Shoghi Effendi

Many of the most valuable, enkindled and erudite teachers the Cause has possessed were formerly members of the clergy, Islamic or Christian
(Shoghi Effendi, 10 May 1945, in The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, 442)

 
 

4. The learning of the unlearned

 
 

4a. The most unlettered of men

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

… the most unlettered of all men, if he be honoured with this supreme distinction, he verily is accounted as one of those divinely-learned men whose knowledge is of God; for such a man hath attained the acme of knowledge, and hath reached the furthermost summit of learning.
(Baha’u’llah. The Kitab-i-Iqan, 146)

Consider how Balal, the Ethiopian, unlettered though he was, ascended into the heaven of faith and certitude, whilst Abdu’llah Ubayy, a leader among the learned, maliciously strove to oppose Him. … For this reason He hath written: “He that is exalted among you shall be abased, and he that is abased shall be exalted.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 83-4)

This Day, O Shaykh, hath never been, nor is it now, the Day whereon man-made arts and sciences can be regarded as a true standard for men, since it hath been recognized that He Who was wholly unversed in any of them hath ascended the throne of purest gold, and occupied the seat of honor in the council of knowledge, whilst the acknowledged exponent and repository of these arts and sciences remained utterly deprived. By “arts and sciences” is meant those which begin with words and end with words. Such arts and sciences, however, as are productive of good results, and bring forth their fruit, and are conducive to the well-being and tranquility of men have been, and will remain, acceptable before God.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 19)

… This is evidenced by those who, today, though without a single letter of the accepted standards of learning, are occupying the loftiest seats of knowledge; and the garden of their hearts is adorned, through the showers of divine grace, with the roses of wisdom and the tulips of understanding. Well is it with the sincere in heart for their share of the light of a mighty Day!”
(Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Iqan, 211)

Blessed is the wayfarer who hath recognized the Desired One, and the seeker who hath heeded the Call of Him Who is the intended Aim of all mankind, and the learned one who hath believed in God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

How vast the number of the learned who have turned aside from the way of God and how numerous the men devoid of learning who have apprehended the truth and hastened unto Him, saying, ‘Praised be Thou, O Lord of all things, visible and invisible.’
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 235-6)

These “clouds” signify, in one sense, … the repeal of rituals and customs current amongst men, the exalting of the illiterate faithful above the learned opposers of the Faith.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 71-2)

Consider, how can he that faileth in the day of God’s Revelation to attain unto the grace of the “Divine Presence” … be justly called learned, though he may have spent aeons in the pursuit of knowledge, and acquired all the limited and material learning of men? It is surely evident that he can in no wise be regarded as possessed of true knowledge. Whereas, the most unlettered of all men, if he be honoured with this supreme distinction, he verily is accounted as one of those divinely-learned men whose knowledge is of God; for such a man hath attained the acme of knowledge, and hath reached the furthermost summit of learning.
(Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, 145)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

What a bounty and what a favor it is that the sages of the world and the wise among mankind are incompetent of comprehension, yet the little children of the Kingdom have attained the Truth, dwell and abide under the shadow of the Tree of Life and are assisted by the everlasting and eternal gift! (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, 484)

 
 

4b. Study is a task for all

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

The third Tajalli is concerning arts, crafts and sciences. Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world. Unto this beareth witness the Mother Book on the day of His return. Happy are those possessed of a hearing ear. In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory,
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 51-2)

Knowledge is one of the wondrous gifts of God. It is incumbent upon everyone to acquire it. Such arts and material means as are now manifest have been achieved by virtue of His knowledge and wisdom which have been revealed in Epistles and Tablets through His Most Exalted Pen ….
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 39)

In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him. Happy the man that cleaveth unto it, and woe betide the heedless.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 27)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

The attainment of the most great guidance is dependent upon knowledge and wisdom, and on being informed as to the mysteries of the Holy Words. Wherefore must the loved ones of God, be they young or old, be they men or women, each one according to his capabilities, strive to acquire the various branches of knowledge, and to increase his understanding of the mysteries of the Holy Books, and his skill in marshalling the divine proofs and evidences.
(Abdu’l-Baha, from a Tablet translated from the Arabic, cited in The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 193-4)

I most urgently request the friends of God to make every effort, as much as lieth within their competence, along these lines. The harder they strive to widen the scope of their knowledge, the better and more gratifying will be the result. Let the loved ones of God, whether young or old, whether male or female, each according to his capabilities, bestir themselves and spare no efforts to acquire the various current branches of knowledge, both spiritual and secular, and of the arts.
(Abdu’l-Baha, from a Tablet, translated from the Arabic, cited in a compilation entitled ‘Scholarship’ (and see the surrounding pages)

It is imperative to acquire the knowledge of divine proofs and evidences, and to acquaint oneself with convincing testimonies which demonstrate the revelation of God’s resplendent Light. The study group thou didst organize hath inspired much joy and happiness to the heart of Abdu’l-Baha. Thou must exert much effort and show forth perseverance and constancy that, God willing, through the reviving breaths of His mercy, souls may be so educated as to become like radiant candles shining in the assemblage of divine knowledge and understanding. This matter is highly important. It is binding on everyone and must be regarded as an obligation.
(Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet in the compilation, ‘The importance of deepening’)

Regarding the “two wings” of the soul: These signify wings of ascent. One is the wing of knowledge, the other of faith, as this is the means of the ascent of the human soul to the lofty station of divine perfections.
(Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, 178)

 
 

4c. Knowledge as a veil

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

Beware lest human learning debar thee from Him Who is the Supreme Object of all knowledge, or lest the world deter thee from the One Who created it and set it upon its course

Tear asunder the veils of human learning lest they hinder thee from Him Who is My name, the Self-Subsisting. Call thou to remembrance Him Who was the Spirit, Who, when He came, the most learned of His age pronounced judgement against Him in His own country, whilst he who was only a fisherman believed in Him. Take heed, then, ye men of understanding heart! Thou, in truth, art one of the suns of the heaven of His names. Guard thyself, lest darkness spread its veils over thee, and fold thee away from His light.
(Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 56)

When a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading unto the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 264)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

If, then, the pursuit of knowledge lead to the beauty of Him Who is the Object of all Knowledge, how excellent that goal; but if not, a mere drop will perhaps shut a man off from flooding grace, for with learning cometh arrogance and pride, and it bringeth on error and indifference to God.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 110)

And every branch of learning, conjoined with the love of God, is approved and worthy of praise; but bereft of His love, learning is barren — indeed, it bringeth on madness. Every kind of knowledge, every science, is as a tree: if the fruit of it be the love of God, then is it a blessed tree, but if not, that tree is but dried-up wood, and shall only feed the fire.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 181)

 
 

5. Scholars and the House of Justice

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

…do not suppose that the House of Justice will make just any ruling, according to its own concepts and opinions. God forbid! The Supreme House of Justice will issue rulings and laws through the inspiration and confirmation of the Holy Spirit, …. Briefly, this is the purpose and wisdom of referring ‘cultural laws’ to the House of Justice. Similarly, in Islamic religious law not every ordinance was explicitly revealed; not even a thousandth part. … Today this process of deduction is entrusted to the board of the House of Justice, and the personal deductions and inferences of scholars have no authority, unless they are endorsed by the House of Justice. The difference is this, that the deductions and endorsements of the House of Justice, whose members are chosen and accepted by the entire religious community, will not give rise to conflict, whereas the deductions drawn by individual divines and scholars immediately led to contention, …

(Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet on the religious law and the House of Justice, provisional translation)

In a letter written in Persian on his behalf to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’ís of Istanbul, the Guardian is at some pains to underline the importance of this marked departure from past religious history:

But praise be to God that the Pen of Glory has done away with the unyielding and dictatorial views of the learned and the wise, dismissed the assertions of individuals as an authoritative criterion, even though they were recognized as the most accomplished and learned among men, and ordained that all matters be referred to authorized centres and specified assemblies.
(Translated in a letter from the Universal House of Justice, ‘Issues related to the study of the Baha’i Faith.’)

 
 

6. The learning of the future

From the Writings of Baha’u’llah

In every land We have set up a luminary of knowledge, and when the time foreordained is at hand, it will shine resplendent above its horizon, as decreed by God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 150)

From thee have We caused all sciences to appear, and unto thee shall We cause them to return. And from thee shall We bring them forth a second time. … Erelong shall We bring into being through thee exponents of new and wondrous sciences, of potent and effective crafts, and shall make manifest through them that which the heart of none of Our servants hath yet conceived.
(The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 36)

From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

Thou hast described thyself as a student in the school of spiritual progress. Fortunate art thou! If these schools of progress lead to the university of heaven, then branches of knowledge will be developed whereby humanity will look upon the tablet of existence as a scroll endlessly unfolding; and all created things will be seen upon that scroll as letters and words. Then will the different planes of meaning be learned, and then within every atom of the universe will be witnessed the signs of the oneness of God.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 58)

…consider, in this great century which is the cycle of Baha’u’llah, what progress science and knowledge have made, …. Before long, material science and learning, as well as the knowledge of God, will make such progress and will show forth such wonders that the beholders will be amazed. Then the mystery of this verse in Isaiah, “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord,” will be completely evident.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 64)

Thou didst ask whether this Cause, this new and living Cause, could take the place of the dead religious rites and ceremonials of England; whether it would be possible, now that various groups have appeared, whose members are highly placed divines and theologians, far superior in their attainments to those of the past, for this new Cause so to impress the members of such groups as to gather them and the rest into its all-protecting shade.
O thou dear friend! Know thou that the distinguished Individual of every age is endowed according to the perfections of His age. That Individual who in past ages was set above His fellows was gifted according to the virtues of His time. But in this age of splendours, this era of God, the pre-eminent Personage, the luminous Orb, the chosen Individual will shine out with such perfections and such power as ultimately to dazzle the minds of every community and group. And since such a Personage is superior to all others in 63 spiritual perfections and heavenly attainments, and is indeed the focal centre of divine blessings and the pivot of the circle of light, He will encompass all others, and there is no doubt whatsoever that He will shine out with such power as to gather every soul into His sheltering shade.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 62-3)

2 Responses to “Compilation on the learned”

  1. Jim said

    I remember once when I said that I had a feeling that you were equating “the learned” in Baha’i scriptures with “scholars,” and you didn’t seem to know where I could have gotten that impression. It could possibly have something to do with a compilation labeled “Compilation on the learned: The role of the learned in the Bahai community and the world,” in which four out of six sections have “scholars” in the title.

  2. Sen said

    Fair comment regarding the headings in my compilation, on the other hand, there is no mention of academics. If there is such a thing as “Bahai scholarship” then there are Bahais scholars, as a collective term including the historians, translators, commentators, theologians and other disciplines. It is however essential that Bahai scholarship and scholars should not be equated with academia and academics, and my own field of Bahai theology should be distinguished from the academic study of religion called “religious studies” or “history of religion” or “phenomenology of religion” in universities. That’s not to say that one is better than the other; rather I would say that the community’s need for Bahai scholars cannot be entirely satisfied by a supply of Bahai academics, and vice versa that not every Bahai academic can be expected to make the committment and adopt the stance implied by the term “Bahai scholarship.”

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