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Quick Review of the work of Cornell and Schaefer as explanations of Bahai Law

This began with a question on the Bahai Questions Resource Forum on facebook, March 19, 2015, where Nabil Moghadam asked

“My parents happen to have a copy of “Ganjeeneyeh hoodood va ahkom” [Ganjaniyeh Hudud wa Ahkam, The Treasury of Laws and Ordinances] which is a Persian compilation of ALL the laws He revealed. Do we have an English version of such a book?”

After clarifying that “This is not a supplement to the Aqdas, it’s one editor’s collection of texts from Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, relevant to Bahai laws and injunctions. Naturally it includes the Aqdas verses, but arranged thematically. Most of it is tablets commenting on the laws, rather than being additional Bahai laws.” I looked around for English equivalents, which led me to a critique on the usefulness of Cornell and Schaefer’s works for this purpose.


(1) Six Lessons On Bahai law by Beatrice C. Rinde, and John B. Cornell,
Published by the NSA of Hawai’i

I cannot entirely recommend it. It quotes the Guardian’s strictures against the use of unauthenticated talks, but then includes these talks in its sources. Among other things, this leads to the description of the Huququllah as a 20% income tax, based on a bad text in Promulgation of Universal Peace.

The book does not distinguish between works by Shoghi Effendi and letters written on his behalf, contrary to Shoghi Effendi’s wishes. It includes laws for Bahai communities under “laws for society,” and includes texts about the punishments inflicted by civil governments under the duties of the LSA. It mixes texts about the jurisdiction of assemblies with those about the independence of nations, and cites dictionaries and authorities in the sphere of civil law as clarifications of the terms and reasoning in Bahai law. The NSA was apparently unaware of a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which states that ““The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Bahá’í community; consequently it works, according to its own procedure, best suited to its needs. (Messages to Canada, 276). This makes the whole project of clarifying Bahai law by reference to civil law (and in one place, Roman Catholic law), a moot point. Bahai law is sui generis, it must be clarified by cross-referencing within itself, not by external references, except in so far as Islamic law and institutions cast light on the terms used, and what was in the mind of the people from Middle-Eastern backgrounds who posed questions to Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha.

Cornell’s “Six Lessons on Bahai Law,” which is available on the Bahai Library, appears to be a rearrangement of the same material.

If these problems are borne in mind, Cornell’s work is useful to supplement a search of the Bahai Writings on key terms, using a programme such as Ocean. It is arranged thematically and includes quotes that you might miss with a key word search, and it will suggest relevant key words for a search. Incidentally, since Ocean and similar programmes include unauthenticated texts, and letters on behalf of the Guardian, a keyword search also requires an awareness of the various levels of authority and authenticity of the texts.

(2) Udo Schaefer’s works on law and ethics.
An Introduction to Bahá’í Law: Doctrinal Foundations, Principles and Structures
Journal of Law and Religion, published by Hamline University, School of Law vol. 18
German original in: Kirche und Recht. 2003

And a book in two volumes entitled Bahai Ethics in Light of Scripture. This contains much that is useful on Bahai law (although the focus is on ethics), but shares with Cornell the problematic approach of clarifying Bahai law and ethics by reference to civil law and Roman Catholic law and philosophy. Like Cornell, he relies on texts such as Paris Talks and Promulgation of Universal Peace that are not authentic. He does not use the Persian and Arabic sources, but has discussed key issues with those able to do so. He relies on letters on behalf of the Guardian, even where these are obviously wrong, and generally does not make text-critical distinctions. He is confused at the philosophical level, for example as to whether the Word of God means scripture, or is the Manifestation; and whether a universal moral law based on reason is possible, or norms and values are axiomatic (given) and cannot be proved by reason. But if you are looking for an explanation of Bahai laws, philosophical inconsistencies won’t bother you.

His use of civil law definitions and assumptions is really problematical, notably in the meaning he attaches to “legislation.” The Persian/Arabic term, tashri`, is much broader than he supposes, meaning in effect the promulgation of a religious way of life, including its laws and principles. So when he says “Until now, no supplementary legislation has been passed and it is not possible to foresee when the time will be ripe for such legislation” this conclusion is simply the product of his narrow definition. He is looking for something that resembles civil ‘legislation’ and does not find it. Likewise his critique of the Bahai administration, “a framework of legal regulations is precisely what is lacking in the Bahá’í community” comes from measuring internal Bahai procedures against the standards of civil law, which would only be a valid comparison if they were the same kind of thing. The role for scholars, in the form of a body of experts, in laying the foundation for clear and reliable law, which he proposes, has no basis in the Bahai writings, and would tend to create a distinct class of ‘qualified’ Bahais. God forbid.

Nevertheless, the work is extensive and systematic and notes its sources. It will help you to find things about Bahai law that might escape your own search of the authentic sources.

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