Read: 2001 Apr 18, Clarification of Various Issues Raised by Provisional Translations


The Universal House of Justice

The Bahá'í World Centre
Department of the Secretariat

18 April 2001

Mr. Ron House

Dear Baha'i Friend,

The Universal House of Justice has received your email letter of 8 February 2001, and has asked us to provide the following response.

You have sought guidance on the matters which are causing you difficulties as a consequence of Internet postings which include excerpts from unpublished Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha translated by a non-Baha'i. Believers should generally observe caution in placing reliance on such passages. Apart from questions of the accuracy of the translations, any extracts must be considered in the context of the Tablet in which they appear. A distorted representation of the Baha'i Teachings can easily be conveyed, whether deliberately or inadvertently, by the selection of brief excerpts which are then used out of context.

The first issue you have raised concerns a brief excerpt from a Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Baha which, in the form presented on the Internet, conveys the impression that it is inappropriate for an administrative institution of the Faith, such as a National Spiritual Assembly or the Universal House of Justice, to make a pronouncement that an individual is no longer a member of the Baha'i Faith.

This matter is readily clarified by studying an authorized translation of this excerpt in context with the passage which follows it.

"O ye beloved of the Lord! The Cause of God hath never had any place for denouncing others as infidel or profligate, nor hath it allowed anyone to humiliate or belittle another. Contend and wrangle not with any man, and seek ye not the abasement of any soul. Disparage not anyone's name, and wish no harm upon anyone. Defile not your tongues with calumny, and engage ye not in backbiting. Lift not the veil from the doings of others, and so long as a person professeth to be steadfast, remonstrate not with him, nor expose him."

"Let not these very words be a pretext for dispute and contention. Through your constancy and steadfastness destroy the edifice of vacillation, and by your faithful adherence and scrupulous observance, strengthen the foundations of the Cause of God. Leave the people of negligence unto themselves and refer them for judgement to the Lord of the Covenant and Testament."

The three sentences at the beginning of this passage constitute the extract which was translated and posted on the Internet, in a form which has some significant differences from the authorized version.

It is clear that this passage refers to the prescribed conduct of individual believers in relation to each other, rather than to administrative institutions. It is similar to innumerable passages in the Writings of Baha'u'llah, including the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. However, the Spiritual Assemblies, as embryonic Houses of Justice, perform functions quite different from those of the individual, as is apparent from the following two passages from a letter written on behalf of the Guardian.

"Love is the standard which must govern the conduct of one believer towards another. The administrative order does not change this, but unfortunately sometimes the friends confuse the two, and try to be a whole spiritual assembly, — with the discipline and justice and impartiality that body must show, — to each other, instead of being forgiving, loving and patient to each other as individuals."

(Lights of Guidance: A Baha'i Reference File, Helen Hornby, rd comp., 3 rev. ed. (New Delhi: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1994), p. 403)

"... There is a tendency to mix up the functions of the Administration and try to apply it in individual relationships, which is abortive, because the Assembly is a nascent House of Justice and is supposed to administer, according to the Teachings, the affairs of the community. But individuals toward each other are governed by love, unity, forgiveness and a sin-covering eye. Once the friends grasp this they will get along much better, but they keep playing Spiritual Assembly to each other and expect the Assembly to behave like an individual...."

(ibid., p. 77)

The duty of deciding whether a person satisfies the qualifications of a true believer has been assigned to the Spiritual Assemblies by the Guardian and is clearly stated in the constitutions of those Assemblies.

The second issue causing you concern is that of relating other excerpts from Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha which have appeared on the Internet to the statement of the House of Justice that the future Baha'i World Commonwealth will unite spiritual and civil authority. An authorized translation of the excerpt which is central to your concern is presented below, together with the succeeding passages.

"Ye have asked concerning the wisdom of referring certain important laws to the House of Justice. Before all else, this divine cycle is purely heavenly and spiritual, and concerned with the matters of the soul. It hath but little connection to physical, temporal, or worldly matters. The Christian dispensation was in like manner solely spiritual. Thus, in the entire New Testament, there appeareth naught but the prohibition of divorce and the allusion to the abrogation of the Sabbath. Even as He saith, 'the Son of man came not to judge the world but to save the world'. This most great cycle is likewise of purely spiritual character and is the bestower of life eternal. For the head cornerstone of the religion of God consisteth in refining the characters, reforming the manners, and improving the attributes of men. The purpose is that beings that are veiled may see, and that dark and defective realities may become illumined."

"All other ordinances are subservient to faith, certitude, confidence, and understanding. This blessed cycle being however the greatest of all divine cycles, it embraceth all spiritual and temporal matters, and is endowed with the utmost power and sovereignty. Therefore, those matters of major importance which constitute the foundation of the Law of God are explicitly recorded in the Text, but subsidiary laws are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that the times never remain the same, for change is a necessary quality and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place. Therefore the House of Justice will take action accordingly."

"Let it not be imagined that the House of Justice will take any decision according to its own concepts and opinions. God forbid! The Supreme House of Justice will take decisions and establish laws through the inspiration and confirmation of the Holy Spirit, because it is in the safekeeping and under the shelter and protection of the Ancient Beauty, and obedience to its decisions is a bounden and essential duty and an absolute obligation, and there is no escape for anyone."

"Say, O People: Verily the Supreme House of Justice is under the wings of your Lord, the Compassionate, the All-Merciful, that is under His protection, His care, and His shelter; for He has commanded the firm believers to obey that blessed, sanctified, and all-subduing body, whose sovereignty is divinely ordained and of the Kingdom of Heaven and whose laws are inspired and spiritual."

"Briefly, this is the wisdom of referring the laws of society to the House of Justice. In the religion of Islam, similarly, not every ordinance was explicitly revealed; nay not a tenth part of a tenth part was included in the Text; although all matters of major importance were specifically referred to, there were undoubtedly thousands of laws which were unspecified. These were devised by the divines of a later age according to the laws of Islamic jurisprudence, and individual divines made conflicting deductions from the original revealed ordinances. All these were enforced. Today this process of deduction is the right of the body of the House of Justice, and the deductions and conclusions of individual learned men have no authority, unless they are endorsed by the House of Justice. The difference is precisely this, that from the conclusions and endorsements of the body of the House of Justice whose members are elected by and known to the worldwide Baha'i community, no differences will arise; whereas the conclusions of individual divines and scholars would definitely lead to differences, and result in schism, division, and dispersion. The oneness of the Word would be destroyed, the unity of the Faith would disappear, and the edifice of the Faith of God would be shaken."

The extract presented on the Internet is that translated and appearing as the first paragraph of this passage. It is clear that use of that portion of the passage alone, out of context, conveys a misleading impression which is immediately rectified by perusal of the entire passage. The statement of 'Abdu'l-Baha that the Baha'i Faith "embraceth all spiritual and temporal matters" is consonant with that of the House of Justice about the future Baha'i World Commonwealth.

You have referred also to a number of extracts from Risaliy-i-Siyasiyyih, in which 'Abdu'l-Baha describes the damaging effects of the interference of religious teachers in political affairs. The inapplicability of these passages to the future role of the democratically elected Houses of Justice is clarified by study of the Baha'i Writings on the World Order of Baha'u'llah. Authorized translations of these extracts are enclosed with this letter.

The House of Justice trusts that you will find these clarifications helpful, and it will offer its prayers in the Holy Shrines for your spiritual illumination.

With loving Baha'i greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

Enclosure


Extracts from Risaliy-i-Siyasiyyih

Human society is by nature in need of binding rules and relationships, for otherwise it would not experience peace and protection, nor enjoy happiness and security. Without them, the sacred glory of the human condition would not be unveiled and the desire of all hearts would remain unrealized. The country would not prosper, and its cities and villages would not find order and arrangement.

The duty of the doctors and divines is, however, to attend to the matters of the spirit and to promote the attributes of the All-Merciful. Whenever the leaders of God's glorious Religion and the pillars of His mighty Law have intervened in political affairs, and designed schemes and devised plans, it hath inevitably shattered the unity of the believers and scattered the ranks of the faithful; the flame of sedition hath been kindled and the fire of hostility hath consumed the world; the country hath been pillaged and plundered; and the people have fallen into the hands of the mediocre.

Were ye to refer to history, ye would find countless similar instances, each and all due to the interference of religious leaders in political affairs. These souls are meant to issue the ordinances of God, not to enforce them. That is, whenever the government inquireth of them, in matters of greater or lesser consequence, concerning the exigencies of the law of God and the true purport of His ordinances, they should set forth that which hath been deduced from His laws and is consonant with His religion. Beyond this, what can they know of political matters, of the protection of the subjects, the management of important affairs, the welfare and prosperity of the nation, the administration of the laws and statutes of the realm, and of internal and external issues?

Observe that both this blessed verse and explicit tradition are absolute and universal in their purport, not conditional or confined to a specific case. As to the true leaders of religion and the favoured servants of the celestial Threshold, their rank and station is that of spiritual honour and majesty, and their prerogative the vicegerency of the All-Merciful Lord. Their crown of glory is the dust of the pathway of God, and their resplendent diadem the light of the bestowals of the Almighty. Their throne of justice is established upon the hearts, and their exalted and glorious honour is the seat of truth in the realm of the Kingdom. They are the monarchs of the realms of heart and soul, not of the world of water and clay, and the sovereign lords of the lands of the placeless, not of the narrow straits of this contingent world. And none can ever usurp or deny this sublime station and ancient glory.


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