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Shoghi Effendi on the principle of majority decision-making

Posted by Sen on July 11, 2020

What follows is my translation of Abdu-dhalil Zarqaani’s summary of a talk given by Shoghi Effendi in 1927, in response to a question coming, apparently, from the local Spiritual Assembly of Istanbul. The details of the question are not included. Zarqani’s summary is published in a collection of Shoghi Effendi’s letters, Tawquiaat-e Mubaarakeh 1922-1948 (p. 33), which has led some authors to cite parts of it as coming from a letter written by or on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

March 14, 1927, from Haifa to Istanbul, via Mr. Aqa Mirza Jalaal Ahmadoff, honourable member of the sanctified Spiritual Assembly – May their glory only increase:

In the name of God, the Exalted.

Dear Friends in God, [your] petition of February 27 was presented to the Guardian of the Cause of the Lord of Manifest Verses, (for whose incomparable beauty I offer myself). On reading it, his innocent heart was deeply moved.

One of the root principles of the divine teachings – a principle that conduces to unity and affection, and is the foundation of harmony and fellowship – is that in this wondrous cause, this luminous age, any matters that have not been specified, and all ‘loosening and binding’ in any difficulties the community may encounter, are referred to individuals chosen by the community, not to any individual within the community. Furthermore, those chosen individuals, the members of the sanctified Spiritual Assembly, should also hold fast to unanimity or the majority opinion. The criterion of majority opinion is specified and endorsed in the Bahai Writings. Furthermore, today, united and enlightened nations and peoples hold firmly to this criterion.

That is, both within the Bahai world, where it is based on decisive and explicit scripture, and in the civil sphere, according to the laws of governments and peoples, the chosen representatives of the community should deliberate on the issues and difficulties facing the community and act according to the criterion of majority opinion.

It cannot be that the opinion of one individual, contrary to the majority view, should be treated as the criterion. Surely, all matters should be organised according to the criterion of majority rule. All should be settled according to this procedure.

No individual among the Assembly members, however high their rank may be, however accomplished, knowledgeable and virtuous, can have a decisive voice. In accordance with the law, that person must obey the principle of majority rule. Even if there are four among the nine members who wish to oppose the majority rule, and behave in a way that is contrary to the majority view, this would still be incompatible with the fundamentals of the Cause and contrary to the inviolable procedures of God’s Law. If such a thing were permitted, everyone, everywhere, in every community, could call themselves the most knowledgeable and most notable, and oppose the Assembly despite being in the minority. That would undermine the foundations of unity and deny influence and success to the Cause and its champions. Such groups would be tantamount to parties, leading to the formation of opposing sects.

For if, in the previous religious communities, there had been none who considered themselves the most knowledgeable and accomplished, the common people would not have become their followers, and the formation of thousands of sects could have been avoided. Thus whenever some have considered themselves superior to all others, they have become the cause of disputes.

But praise be to God, the Pen of the Most High has done away with the tyranny of the personal opinions of the divines and intellectuals. He did not make the assertions of individuals a criterion, even if they should be the most learned of the learned and the noblest of the noble. He ordained that matters be referred to explicitly specified centers and [spiritual] assemblies.

Even so, he has not made any [spiritual] Assembly the centre in the general and universal affairs of countries. Absolutely not. Rather, he has called all the Spiritual Assemblies under the shadow of one House of Justice, one supreme divine centre, so that there would be only one centre and all, being in the shadow of one specified pivot, would be as one person, and would remain protected from schism and the formation of sects.

Therefore it is to be hoped that the friends in that land will arise with all their strength and with complete assurance to preserve the unity of the word of God, to protect the foundations of the Cause of God, to such an extent that they are not held back by any veil or hindered by any obstacle. Let them expound the teaching of unity and fellowship in every meeting, without giving any sign of differences in relation to any person. Quite the contrary, they should refrain from any word or expression that gives even a whiff of division.

This is a summary of the emphatic and detailed explanations of that generous guide, which, as he instructed, has been written down [by] Abdu-dhalil Zarqaani

The published Persian text is not divided into paragraphs. My transcription of the text follows below.

The reference to جلال احمراوف (Jalaal Ahmara’uf) in the heading is almost certainly to a member of the Ahmadoff family. Thanks to Moojen Momen for this information. I have not confirmed that a Jalal Ahmadoff lived in Istanbul or was a member of the Spiritual Assembly there.

The question put by the Assembly in Istanbul is not specified, but from the response it appears to have covered both the role of men of recognized learning, and the possible wider role of a metropolitan Local Spiritual Assembly, or perhaps a question about the role of the Local Spiritual Assembly in Haifa in relation to the Bahai world.

I have translated منتخبه as ‘chosen’ throughout, rather than ‘elected,’ because the Persian word covers both, and a translation should not, in principle, be more specific than the original. Nevertheless, by 1927 the method of choosing would have been by election with a secret ballot.

The third paragraph, applying majority rule to both the affairs of a religious community and civil matters, seems to reflect Baha’u’llah’s declaration “From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics.” (cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 20). Baha’u’llah’s words were both a prophetic “should” and an observation. Democracy was indeed supplanting absolute monarchy in his lifetime, while the 1856 Ottoman Reform Decree (Islāhat Hatt-ı Hümāyūnu) both affirmed the rights of senior clerics to lead their religious communities (subject to recognition by the Sultan) and decreed that “the temporal administration [of the religious communities, the mellats] shall be placed under the safeguard of an assembly chosen from among the members, both ecclesiastics and laymen, of those communities.” The term mellat (and مليه ) appear several times in the original, and is translated as community or religious community — not as “nation” or “national.”

The seventh paragraph has been translated previously and published in various compilations on Bahai scholarship, in this form: “”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.”

Following the reference to the [Universal] House of Justice that has authority over all the Assemblies, the report says “all would find themselves in the shadow of one specified pivot and the command of one person” — an apparent contradiction to the previous explanation. The “one person” in this paragraph must be Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian, who was Head of the Bahai community but — according to his own understanding — not all-powerful. In the sphere of “legislation” (a very broad term, in my opinion), the House of Justice and not the Guardian ruled, and the Guardian’s decisions had the character of ad hoc policies pending the election of the Universal House of Justice. Zarqani’s wording here seems to be a very compressed allusion to Shoghi Effendi’s explanation on this point.

At the close of the explanation, the “meetings” (“Let them expound the teaching of unity and fellowship in every meeting) are not limited to Assembly meetings or Bahai meetings. The term مجالس is broad, and I think he is referring to what we would call “engaging in social action and public discourse.”

I have not “polished” the translation to clarify such awkward points for the reader, because there is some roughness and discontinuity in the original. We are reading a summary of what Shoghi Effendi said, not a transcript, and Zarqani has naturally been specific on the sections he understood well and vague on the bits he was not sure about. Moreover, when speaking, one conveys a great deal of the thought structure with tone and pause and gesture, and this is lost even in a literal transcript. The final paragraph says explicitly that this is not a transcript, and while Zarqaani says he was instructed to prepare it for the friends in Istanbul, he does not say that Shoghi Effendi saw and approved it. In contrast, the postscript to the preceding letter in this volume says that it too was prepared by Zarqaani, and adds “seen by the servant of His threshold, Shoghi.”

(WordPress stubbornly puts the ۱۴ out of place ~ I cannot fix this)

۱۴مارچ ۱۹۲۷ میلادی
از حیفا باستانبول بواسطه جناب آقا میرزا جلال احمراوف اعضا محترمه محفل مقدس روحاني زيد عزّهم العالي

هو الله تعالي
دوستان الهي عريضه ٢٨ شباط بمحضر مبارك ولي امر رب البينات فديت جماله الجميل فائز و از مطالعه آن قلب اطهر را نهايت تاثر حاصل فرمودند
يكي از اصول تعاليم الهيّه كه مايه وحدت و وداد است و اساس الفت و اتحاد اينست كه در اين امر بديع و كور لميع مسائل غير منصوصه و حلّ و عقد مشكلات مليه جميع راجع بنفوس منتخبه ملّت است نه فردي از افراد جمعيّت و آن نفوس منتخبه كه اعضاء محفل مقدّس روحاني باشند نيز باتفاق يا غلبه آرا تشبّث نمايند
و اين غلبه آرا ميزاني است كه در اثار مباركه منصوص و مؤكد است و علاوه امروز در جميع دنيا ملل متنوّره و امم متحّدنه كلّ باين ميزان متمسكند
يعني چه در عالم بهائي بنصوص محكمۀ قاطعه و چه در عالم تمدّن بقانون دول و ملل موجوده مُنتخبين ملّت بايد بميزان غلبه آراء در مسائل و مشكلات امّت مذاكره و رفتار نمايند
نه انكه رأي فردي از افراد را بر خلاف غلبه آراء ميزان گويند و البته بايد جميع اُمور باين ميزان اغلبيّت فيصل يابد و باين قانون تمام شؤن انجام گیرد
و اما فردی از افراد محفل هر قدر عظيم الشاُن باشد و كاملء و هر چه اگاه باشد و فاضل باز رأي فرد مصاب نبوده و نخواهد بود و آن فرد قانوناً بايد مطيع اغلبيّت باشد
حتي اگر از نه نفس چهار نفر بخواهند مخالف اغلبيّت نمايند و بر خلاف ميزان غلبۀ آراء عمل كنند
اين منافي اساس امر الله است و مخالف قوانين متينه شريعة الله
اگر چنين باشد هميشه در هر محل و مجمعي نفوسي خود را اعلم و اعلي گويند و با وجود اقليّت مخالفت محفل نمايند و در اساس وحدّت و اتّحاد خلل اندازند و امر و اصحاب امر را از نفوذ و غلبه باز دارند و بمثابه احزاب قبل تشكيل فرق مختلفه نمايند
زيرا اگر در امم ماضيه اشخاصي خود را اعلم و اجّل نمی دانستند عوام بیچاره مرید آنان نمی شدند و مائه تفرقه نمي گرديدند پس هميشه نفوسي كه خود را افضل از كلّ ميدانستند سبب اختلاف گشتند
ولي الحمد لله قلم اعلي اين استبداد رأي افراد علما و عقلا را از ميان بردند و قول افراد را و لو اعلم علمأ و افضل فضلا باشد ميزان نفرمودند و امور را بمراكز منصوصه و محافل مخصوصه راجع نمودند

حتّي هيچ محفلي را در امور كليِّه عموميه ممالك بالاطلاق مركز قرار ندادند
بل جميع محافل مقدّسه را در ظل يك بيت العدل و مركز اعظم الهي خواندند
تا مركز مركز واحد باشد
و جميع در ظلّ محور منصوص حكم يك نفس يابند
و از انشقاق و تفرقه محفوظ مانند
لهذا اميد چنانست كه احباي آن ارض به کمال قوّت و اطمنیان بر صیانت وحدت کلمت الله برخيزند و بر حفظ اساس امر الله قيام نمايند بدرجهئ كه بهيچ حجابي محجوب نشوند و بهيچ مانعي ممنوع نگردند
بدرجهئ‌ي كه بهيچ حجابي محجوب نشوند و بهيچ مانعي ممنوع نگردند
و در تمام مجالس تعاليم وحدت و وداد را شرح دهند من دون آنكه اشارۀ خلاف نسبت بنفسي نمايند بلكه از كلمه و حرفي كه رائحه تفرقه از آن بمشام رسد كناره جويند
اين بود خلاصۀ بيانات مؤكده مفصلۀ آن مولاي رؤف كه بامر مباركش تحرير شد
عبد ذليل زرقانی

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Evolving to individualism

Posted by Sen on January 10, 2010

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

Posted in Community, History, Individualism, Political science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments »

Elections in Baha’u’llah’s World Order

Posted by Sen on January 30, 2009

One of the friends asked three questions:

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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