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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

The Bahai Faith as Iranian modernism

This posting was on a now-defunct Iranian forum, where Iranian Bahais had been accused of being un-Iranian.

It has been said that the future is a foreign country. In that sense, the Bahais really do belong to another land – for who can doubt that the future of the world, Iran included, lies in internationalism: a world federal system, guaranteeing the independence of member states, but binding all to the rule of law. The alternatives are the anarchy of the present system, increasingly overlaid with the domination of the United States as the one great power. A world order of that sort leaves the small fry – and Iran is a small player on the world stage – just the crumbs from the table. So all the smaller countries will gradually push towards a world order of the sort that Baha’u’llah preached. Sooner or later we will all end up living in that other country – the future – to which the Bahais migrated a century or so ago. Much of the world has already seen the sense of it, even if the actual mechanisms of world order haven’t been created. In how many countries could one still hear “internationalist” used as a nasty name? Iran, North Korea, Burma, and maybe in Zimbabwe. It’s a small club, the unreconstructed national chauvinists.

Our good ‘King Cyrus’ [a forum participant] has brought up the interesting theory that the Bahais are a Russian creation. This story is based on the publication, in 1943, of what purported to be a Persian translation of a “Political confessions, or the memoirs of Count Dolgoruki,” the Count being the Russian minister in Tehran from 1845 to 1854. According to these ‘memoirs,’ the Russians fostered the growth of Babism in order to undermine the unity of Islam. The memoirs are a 20th century forgery, full of mistakes because the forger hadn’t bothered to find out about Count Dolgoruki’s real life, so the ‘memoirs’ have him living in one city when he was really in another. There is a brief account of the forgery in ‘Changes in charismatic authority in Qajar Shi`ism,’ in Bosworth and Hillenbrand (eds), Qajar Iran, Edinburgh University Press, 1983, page 148, and references there to fuller studies. No reputable scholar still maintains that there is even a shred of truth in this story. And nobody but an idiot would imagine that the Bahais were serving both the Russians and the British, the two great international rivals, as well as a third country (Israel) which didn’t even exist.

Far from being a foreign invention, the Baha’i faith looks to some extent like a reassertion of Iranian sensibilities, against their swamping by the Arab culture: it is recognisably a religion growing from Islam, but its scriptures are partly in Persian (and partly in ‘pure’ Persian, without any words derived from Arabic), its calendar looks Zoroastrian, the ‘maid of heaven’ who plays the role of Gabriel looks rather like the female angelic being in Yasht 23, part of the scriptures are in Persian poetic forms, etc.. But this element of ‘persian pride’ (see eg Abdu’l-Baha’s Risalih-ye Madaniyyah) is within a realistic assessment of the change in the world that makes national isolationism untenable, and a world legal order unavoidable.

Apart from its internationalism, the Bahai faith teaches the separation of church and state, constitutional government and democracy, the elimination of taqlid (everyone his own mujtahid), equality of men and women, elimination of najes and *encouragement* to meet with people of other religions, non-descrimination, freedom of the press. Which of these is not a necessary part of Iran’s future, if it is to become a free and modern nation? And vice-versa, can anyone suggest any essential feature of Iranian modernism which is not already preached by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha?

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