Read: Commentary on the Azhar's Statement regarding Baha'is and Baha'ism


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Published in the Bahá'í Studies Review, vol. 2.1 (1992)


BACKGROUND

The Islamic Research Academy of the Azhar University is one of the most prestigious institutions of the Islamic world. Created in 1961, it is regarded by the Sunni branch of Islám, whose members constitute the majority of Muslims, as the traditional defender of the Islamic values. The Azhar was built in Cairo in 970 CE during the reign of the Fatimids, and was ironically first used as a mosque for the promotion of Shí'i doctrine. But now Sunnis have come to regard the Azhar as their highest religious institution and mention its name followed by the adjective al-sharif [lit. = upright]; as is the custom when speaking of the Qur'án and the hadith.

The Azhar statement on 'Bahá'ís and Bahá'ím' was signed in January 1986 by the rector, the head and president of the Islamic Research Academy, and was very widely publicised in a press campaign against the Bahá'í Faith of unprecedented proportions in Egypt and the entire Muslim world. The year preceding the publication of the Azhar statement saw a concerted campaign carried out against the Bahá'ís involving the publication of hundreds of articles and dozens of books after the arrest in Cairo of fifty Bahá'ís, who were accused of taking part in Bahá'í meetings and reviving the activities of the Bahá'í assembles which had been banned by Nasser in 1960.

The essence of the statement is that the condemnation of the Bahá'ís should not be only based on charges of the Bahá'ís resuming activities and holding meetings, but rather on their beliefs. Consequently all Bahá'ís should be incriminated and not only those who allegedly have disobeyed a particular law. The accusations listed in the statement are mostly repetitions of previous allegations, except for its inference that the unanimous opposition of Muslims to the Bahá'í Faith is a proof of its error; an assertion implicitly invoking the tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that the unanimity of the Muslim nation cannot be infallible. The importance of the statement consisted in its attempt to make the condemnation of the Bahá'í Faith a doctrinal assertion, and as a consequence, tremendous pressure was exerted by some religious deputies on the speaker of the Egyptian parliament to pass a bill which stipulated that conversion to the Bahá'í Faith was an act of apostasy punishable by death.

As the Bahá'ís in Egypt were not in a position to produce a rebuttal of the statement, the responsibility lay on their brothers and sisters outside Egypt. A commentary was written in Arabic, suitable for publication in a newspaper, in exercise of right of reply – hence its brevity. It was sent to the main daily Egyptian newspapers, all of which had published the Azhar statement under large headlines. It was also sent to some suitable senior officials, such as the Minister of Information and the Speaker of Parliament. To our knowledge no newspaper has published it. In April 1987, however, it appeared in Arabic in a periodical published by the Bahá'í International Community, copies of which can be consulted at the Institut du Monde Arabe' in Paris. At a later date, when the trial of the Bahá'ís became a cause for international concern, a collection of material was translated into English to allow international organisations and foreign governments to reach an independent and objective perspective of the problem. Among this material was a translation of the Azhar statement and the commentary on it, which is reproduced below.

THE COMMENTARY

The Islamic Research Academy at the Azhar University recently issued a statement about Bahá'ís and Bahá'ím' which was published in a number of newspapers in Egypt and other Arab countries on 21 January 1986. The statement was, in effect, a denunciation of the Bahá'í Faith, which it described as a 'false creed'.

The reasoning followed by the Research Academy in arriving at its conclusion of the 'falsity' of the Bahá'í Faith may be resolved into two basic trains of argument. The first line of argument is that it must be false since it is at variance with Islam in denying the Day of Judgement, the Resurrection, Heaven and Hell; in repudiating the Prophet Muhammad's station as the 'Seal of the Prophets'; in claiming that God became incarnate in the person of Bahá'u'lláh; and in altering the forms of worship ordained by Islam. The second line of argument seeks to demonstrate the falsity of the Bahá'í Faith by showing the opposition that it has encountered from Islamic society, whether this has taken the form of condemnatory religious and judicial pronouncements, of legal decisions adjudicating it to be a form of 'apostasy', or of the persecution of its followers through campaigns of execution and torture, as has been happening in Iran. The Research Academy winds up its case by urging the legislative, judicial, and executive powers of government in Egypt to 'extirpate' from the country a small and disadvantaged group of peaceable citizens, for no other reason than that they call themselves Bahá'ís.

It was obvious from the profuse amount of erroneous information contained in the Research Academy's statement that it had placed its reliance on sources hostile to the Bahá'ís, sources that purvey to the public scurrilous misrepresentations of the Bahá'í Faith that are as offensive to them as they must be to any Muslim. In consequence, the findings arrived at by the Research Academy stand in striking contrast to the true facts of the case, which could quite easily have been ascertained standard Bahá'í source books or to the beliefs actually held by the Bahá'ís. Our concern to make available to students of religion some basic information about the Bahá'í Faith, and an outline of its principles and teachings, was the chief consideration prompting the writing of this commentary. Our hope is that it may go some way towards dispelling the accumulated falsehoods and fictions that have obscured the true face of this Faith – a Faith which has been extolled by many eminent thinkers from both East and West, who have familiarised themselves with its beliefs, the spirituality of its teachings and the loftiness of its vision.

The Belief of the Bahá'ís in the Qur'án

The Bahá'í believe in all the divine verses contained in the Book of the 'Wise Remembrance' whether these relate to the question of the 'Seal of the Prophets' or to such matters as the Day of Judgement, the Resurrection, the Afterlife, Heaven and Hell. Bahá'ís, however, do not regard themselves as bound to follow the interpretations assigned to these verses by the scholars of former ages (particularly where the meaning is not clearly apparent), except in cases where such interpretations are fully in accordance with reason. The distinction between Text and interpretation is so clear that it would be superfluous for us to elaborate upon it here in detail: the one is the revealed Word of God, while the other is the production of His fallible creatures. The reason why we believe that our forefathers' interpretations of the Holy Text cannot be accepted en masse without any discrimination on our part is that they suffer from certain limitations. Broadly speaking there have been two main schools of exegesis: the vast majority of Qur'ánic exegetes placed exclusive reliance on the linguistic signification and outward meaning of the verses they were engaged in expounding, and their interpretative efforts are therefore marked by strict adherence to a literalistic understanding of the text. (Needless to say, were the meanings of the Qur'án really to be confined to these outward significations, it could hardly be said to contain those 'figurative' verses, of which, together with the 'perspicuous' verses, it is, by the Academy had it referred either to the its own testimony, composed.)[2] The other school of exegesis overlooked the outward sense of the words and placed such emphasis on their inner meanings that they sometimes assigned to the scripture interpretations which it could not, under any construction, be made to bear. The Bahá'ís regard these two different approaches as each, in its own way, unbalanced. The Bahá' í approach to the interpretation of the Qur'án is marked by its moderation, and by its blending of elements from both schools of exegesis, without accepting unreservedly the premises of either. On this basis, the Bahá'ís have been able to develop an understanding of the Holy Text which they consider to be at once deeper and more balanced than that expounded by the exegetes, and more in harmony with the exigencies of sound logic and the findings of modem science; and that takes full account of the rich profusion of hidden meanings contained in the metaphors, similes and allusions with which the verses of all the Holy Books abound.

The truth of the matter is that the Bahá'ís are proponents neither of the 'inward' nor the 'outward' exegesis of the Qur'án; or to put it another way, they are proponents of both these schools. Bahá'u'lláh has expressed this idea in the following words: 'Truly wise is he who understandeth the inward meaning in the light of its outward form.'[3] To illustrate the kind of area in which the Bahá'í approach to the interpretation of scripture can provide the student with an appreciation of its deeper levels of meaning, let us look briefly at the terms 'life' and 'death', which occur quite frequently in the Qur'án, and see how the Bahá'í approach deepens our understanding of them. The Bahá'ís do not restrict the meanings of these words to their immediately obvious denotations of physical existence and nonexistence, but add to them further senses of spiritual life and death (provided that they are not, by so doing, 'straining the context'): they are thus afforded fresh insights into such verses as 'Shall he who hath been dead, and whom we have restored unto life, and unto whom we have ordained a light, whereby he may walk among men, be as he whose similitude is darkness, from whence he shall not come forth?'[4] where it is the spiritual connotations of 'life' and 'death' that appear to accord more nearly with the logical flow of the passage than the exclusively literal senses of these words. The same observations hold true for the interpretation of the holy verse, 'Thou shalt in no wise reckon those who have been slain at Ohod in the Cause of God, dead; nay, they are sustained alive with their Lord.'[5] In this manner, and with this same moderate, reasonable approach, the Bahá'ís also arrive at their interpretations of Resurrection, the Afterlife, the Day of judgement, and Heaven and Hell.

Unfortunately, objectors to this method of studying the Qur'án, instead of explaining the reasons they have for being opposed to it, have taken the easier course of branding its followers as 'infidels' and 'unbelievers' and flinging at them other similarly opprobrious terms that one associates more with the extreme language of demagoguery than the measured and dispassionate reasoning of a scientific discourse.

The Seal of the Prophets

As regards the 'Seal of the Prophets', the difference between the Bahá'í and the Muslim stances on this matter goes beyond questions of interpretation and the validity of one school of exegesis as against another; for the Bahá'ís hold that Muhammad was indubitably the Seal of the Prophets, for such was the explicit designation given him in the fortieth verse of the Súrah of the Confederates in a manner that precludes any further debate 'Mohammed is not the father of any man among you; but the apostle of God, and the seal of the prophets...' The Prophetic Traditions further make it unmistakably clear that there will be no prophet after Muhammad, and the truth of this assertion is likewise not open to question. Nowhere in His writings did Bahá'u'lláh attribute to Himself the station of prophethood; on the contrary, He declared on numerous occasions that prophethood had been sealed with the advent of 'him who cast his radiance over Yathrib[6] and Al-Bathá'[7] and all the denizens of the world of creation'.[8] The son of Bahá'u'lláh assumed the title of 'Abdu'l-Bahá – 'the servant of Bahá' – to dispel all doubt as to the nature of his position and to proclaim to the world that, in his inward and outward reality, He was no more than the selfless servant of His father's Cause. This was His true mission; this was the rôle to which He aspired; and He made no pretence, nor laid any claim, to a station beyond this. It is in these terms that every Bahá'í forms his or her conception of the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.

From the above, it is clear that Muslims and Bahá'ís are at one in regarding Muhammad as uniquely entitled to the title 'Seal of the Prophets'. The respects in which the two faiths differ is the contrasting sets of conclusions they derive from this initial shared premise; for while the preponderating majority of Muslim divines take the view that Muhammad's station as 'Seal of the Prophets' necessarily implies the end of revelation – that there should be no further dispensation of divine inspiration to mankind thereafter – and so exclude the possibility that another messenger[9] should be sent by God after Muhammad, or a new religion appear amongst men after Islám, Bahá'ís do not infer the same consequences. In their view, it has been God's way in the past to provide His creatures, through His revealed word, with dispensations of divine guidance, and 'Thou shalt not find any change in the way of God; neither shalt thou find any variation in the way of God. [10] They believe, moreover, that the verse, 'O children of Adam, verily apostles from among you shall come unto you, who shall expound my signs unto you: whosoever therefore shall fear God and amend, there shall come no fear on them, neither shall they be grieved'[11] leaves the door open for the advent of further bearers of religious messages from God in the future.

The Bahá'ís have a number of theories to reconcile the idea of Muhammad as the 'Seal of the Prophets' with the concept of progressive divine Revelation. Of these, one will be sufficient to our purposes, namely that of religious cycles. According to this theory, just as there are natural cycles in the physical world, so too in the spiritual world there are cycles, each of which is initiated by the coming of a new religion, and continues for the duration of the civilisation to which it gives rise. Is it conceivable, the Bahá'ís ask, that the spiritual side of the individual's life, which is after all the core and basis of his or her existence should be subject to a less consummate and precise ordering than the material, non-essential side of his life? Each of these cycles has its own aims, its own distinctive features; taken together they are like courses of academic instruction in which the student progresses from the preparatory, through the intermediary to the university stage, all the while expanding his or her knowledge. The cycle initiated by Adam – the aim of which was to inculcate belief in God's unity, and one of the hallmarks of which was the prominence of parables and prophecies – was brought to an end by Muhammad, the son of 'Abdu'lláh. Therefore in the light of this understanding, 'Seal of the Prophets' means no more than the perspective that, with the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, one great phase in the spiritual development of humanity came to a close. The coming of Bahá'u'lláh signals that humanity has entered upon the next great phase in its development, a phase which, although differing from its predecessor in its distinguishing features, aims and approaches, nevertheless remains connected to it by the closest of ties. If the Bahá'í Faith does not appear to address itself to long and detailed vindications of the principle that God is One, the reason is that it regards this as an established fact, and one that was fully demonstrated and proven in the previous cycle. The Bahá'í Faith does not deviate to the extent of a hair's breadth from the principle of the oneness of God, and from a recognition that it lies at the heart – and is one of the fundamental verities – of every religion. To believe otherwise would be to turn back the clock and oppose the tide of humanity's spiritual progress.

God is Exalted Above Incarnation

According to the Bahá'í belief in the oneness of God, God, in His essence, is exalted above all outward appearance, ascent or descent, egress or regress. There is nothing in the Bahá'í teachings to indicate that God became incarnate in the person of Bahá'u'lláh; on the contrary, Bahá'u'lláh Himself has said: 'No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible.'[12] Abdu'l-Bahá further elaborates: 'Ascent, descent, egress, regress, and incarnation are properties of physical bodies, not immaterial spirits. How then must be the case with the Divine Reality, the Everlasting Being? Vastly exalted is He above all such ascriptions!'[13] It is true that readers who are not familiar with the style of the Bahá'í writings may be confused to find them phrased in such a way as to have the appearance in some cases of emanating from God Himself. The Bahá'ís, however, do not interpret such passages as indicating that God became incarnate in Bahá'u'lláh. In fact they understand the tenor and spirit of these utterances no differently from those of similar statements made by the Prophet Muhammad, whether in the Qur'án: 'Verily they who swear fealty unto thee, swear fealty unto God',[14] and again: 'Neither didst thou, O Mohammed, cast gravel into their eyes, when thou didst seem to cast it; but God cast it'[15] or in the Traditions: 'Manifold and mysterious is my relationship with God: I am He, Himself, and He is I, myself, except that I am that I am and He is that He is.'[16]

Just as the Bahá'ís do not claim that God became incarnate in the person of Bahá'u'lláh, they similarly do not claim that Bahá'u'lláh was 'more excellent' than Muhammad: both are, in their estimation, exponents of the will of God, precisely as were all the other Divine Messengers. Bahá'u'lláh Himself has said in this regard: 'Beware ... lest ye be tempted to make any distinction between any of the Manifestations of His Cause, or to discriminate against the signs that have accompanied and proclaimed their Revelation. This indeed is the true meaning of Divine Unity...'[17] The differences that are to be observed between the laws and teachings of different religions are not attributable to any inherent disagreement between the messages of those Prophets of God who enunciated them, but rather to the differing needs of the ages in which they taught, and the varying levels of capacity and preparedness of the people amongst whom they lived – the greater their level of preparedness, the larger was their allotted portion of divine grace. In the view of the Bahá'ís, the Manifestations of God, one and all, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, speak the will of one celestial Father, and shine upon all men with one Divine Light. It is incorrect to assert, then, that the Bahá'ís 'make distinctions' between any of God's Messengers.

The Bahá'í Faith does not 'change' the Laws of Islam

Nothing could be farther away from the true purpose of the Bahá'í Faith than for it to interfere with Islam – or any other religion for that matter – by changing its laws or altering its forms of worship. The Bahá'í Faith – as an independent religion existing in its own right – does indeed possess those same features that characterize any other religion: it possesses its own scriptures, code of laws and forms of worship. However, it would be quite unwarranted to assume from this that it is thereby 'changing' or 'altering' the laws of the other religions in the sense that the Bahá'ís are calling on Muslims not to follow the laws of their own Faith. The Muslims are free and indeed obliged to follow the laws of their Faith, as are the Christians to follow their own practices. The Bahá'ís are merely claiming for themselves the same right. The Bahá'í laws concern none but the Bahá'ís; they obligate none save those who, of their own volition, wish to follow them and as such they involve no encroachment upon the domain of any other religion. Has not every individual who has attained the age of maturity the right to determine for himself the course he will pursue in worshipping God? Did not every religion initially depend for its growth on the exercise of that personal freedom that some would have us replace by coercion and force? Heaven forfend the religion that should ever be inculcated into people through intimidation and threats, and that their hearts should remain empty of genuine faith or commitment!

Opposition to the Bahá'í Faith

The second train of argument followed by the Research Academy in its statement was that the Bahá'í Faith must be false on account of the resistance and opposition that ít has encountered from Islamic society. This line of reasoning is basically unsound because it relies on a false premise: namely, that the truth must unfailingly meet with the unhesitating acceptance of the general public, and that the mass of the people will eschew only falsehood. This premise is one that is not consistent with logic, history or reason. On the contrary, there is a strong tendency in human beings to preserve inherited culture, and to resist any new set of ideas that appear to impinge too drastically on familiar beliefs. The same phenomenon may be predicated of humanity's corporate activity as a society; for society will always tend to oppose any behaviour which is perceived as being widely at variance with the accepted norms. It is a matter of common knowledge that most important scientific breakthroughs and discoveries were greeted with deprecation and ridicule at the time they were made by none other than the scientific establishment itself, and only later were they vindicated – and their benefit to humankind demonstrated – by the efforts of impartial investigators. It is, likewise, a historical fact that all the divine religions met with the people's scorn and enmity when they first appeared amongst them, and only after their followers had been subjected to divers kinds of persecution and torture did their teachings gain currency, their laws come into effect, and their Holy Reality shine forth. Time and time again the stories contained in the 'Wise Remembrance' bear witness to this historical fact and present to us their salutary testimony for our improvement and admonishment: 'The people of Noah, and the tribe of Ad, and Pharaoh the contriver of the stakes, and the tribe of Thamud, and the people of Lot, and the inhabitants of the wood near Madian, accused the prophets of imposture before them: these were the confederates against the messengers of God. All of them did no other than accuse their apostles of falsehood: wherefore my vengeance hath been justly executed upon them.'[18] Any analytical survey of the period of transition through which our modern world is passing, and the concomitant vast flood of baleful trends that have swept across it, shaking its established systems of values to their very core would find the upsurge in materialistic ideologies, the breakdown in morals that is approaching crisis proportions, and the resurgence of patterns of behaviour reminiscent of the pagan 'Time of Ignorance' preceding the advent of Muhammad – a dispassionate survey of this period and its attendant phenomena cannot but demonstrate the failure both of clerical authority and of religious belief to stem the high tide of decay. Pre-eminent among the reasons for this impotence is that many of the heads and leaders of religion – we do not say all of them – have been overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the task of countering these adverse trends and have submitted to accommodating themselves to existing conditions. Few indeed are those who are prepared to face up to the truth, to confess their subservience to the spirit of the age, and to admit their efforts to bring religious principle into line with temporal interest and to compromise the former for the sake of the latter. It is times like these that coincide with the growth of movements of reform and give rise to the birth of religions; but how few again are those who are prepared to surrender positions of influence, to sacrifice wealth and rank, to relinquish stations of eminence and respect – all for no other reason than to devote themselves to the championing of principles which are diametrically opposed to the natural inclinations of the vast majority of the people, and, as such, can hardly avoid coming up against the obdurate hostility of all those who, for one reason or another, have an interest in preserving the status quo! It is against the background of reflections such as these that we may appreciate in its correct perspective the opposition that the Bahá'í Faith has so far encountered: these are what lie at the heart of the adversities it has sustained; these are what constitute the mainspring of the accusations and threats with which it has been assailed; these are what provide the true explanation of the harrowing persecutions it has been, and is still, undergoing.

Some Bahá'í Principles

There is no doubt at all that much of the so-called 'opposition' to the Faith has sprung from ignorance of the fundamental verities of the Bahá'í Faith and of the true nature and essence of its teachings. The Bahá'í Faith is not – as the Islamic Research Academy's statement seems to imply – a mere movement founded by a group of reformers with the object of working towards religious rapprochement and reconciliation. Rather, the Bahá'í Faith is (and this is the steadfast conviction of every one of the several million Bahá'ís residing throughout this planet who stem from every race, colour and creed) a new divine summons to mankind, a heavenly God-inspired Faith. Its books, its laws, its teachings, they hold, have been revealed to man from the exalted heaven of God's Will and good-pleasure. Its founder, Bahá'u'lláh, is, they believe, the bearer of His Holy Mission in this day, chosen by the All-Merciful – as He chose His messengers aforetime – to be the trustee of His message and the repository of His Revelation.

The Bahá'í Faith does not harbour enmity – far less a hostile intent! – towards any of the other religions. Its Holy Writings forbid the Bahá'ís to entertain other than feelings of goodwill for the followers of different faiths or to deal with them other than with sincerity and kindness. They explicitly state that the relationship between the Bahá'ís and the followers of other religions is one of fellow-ship, amity and respect. Bahá'u'lláh said for example:

O people of Bahá! Ye are the dawning-places of the love of God and the daysprings of His loving-kindness. Defile not your tongues with the cursing and reviling of any soul, and guard your eyes against that which is not seemly . . . Be not the cause of grief, much less of discord and strife. The hope is cherished that ye may obtain true education in the shelter of the tree of His tender mercies and act in accordance with that which God desireth. Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean.[19]

The Bahá'í Faith believes that all the religions enshrine one truth. desire fact the whole purpose of the Bahá'í Faith is to explain their teachings, reassert their truths, and revive their messages; to unite their followers and demonstrate the essential harmony of their objectives; and to encourage people to cleave to them, to deepen in their understanding of them, and to work towards fulfilling their highest aspirations. The Bahá'í Faith has no other wish than to uproot the tares of hatred and animosity from amongst mankind, and in its place to sow the seeds of harmony and goodwill.

The Bahá'í Faith is most certainly not a movement that countenances licentiousness and immorality. desire teachings on the role of women are concerned to place her on an equal footing with men in such areas as educational opportunity and to grant her full participation in the task of mapping out the future course of society. If these teachings were implemented, the latent potential of one half of the world's population could be harnessed to the service and betterment of humankind. Bahá'ís believe that it is God's Will that, in this age, women should achieve equality with men and receive the heavenly recompense for undertaking those great works that previously fell exclusively in the preserve of men.

The Bahá'í Faith is opposed to the idea that religion should be passed down from father to son – without any heart-searching or investigation on the part of the recipient – as though it were a chattel to be disposed of through inheritance. It requires all mature and rational persons to examine the truth for themselves and to found their belief on firm conviction and accurate understanding, not on the flimsy basis of blind fanaticism and downright ignorance. In this way, according to the teachings of the Faith, people will be enabled to view things with their own eyes, not through the eyes of others, and to be guided in their affairs by their own judgement, not by the judgement of any other party.

The Bahá'í Faith regards religion as the staunchest foundation for ensuring the lasting peace and stability of society. Religion is far more than a mere auxiliary of the law: it is its champion protector; for the sanction of the law is brought to bear only after an offer has been committed, whereas a person who has been schooled in religious values will be deterred from all nefarious behaviour, criminal or otherwise, by the workings of his or her conscience. Religion is, then, the true educator of humankind; it is a skilled moral preceptor, and a firm guarantor of the health and happiness of society. By 'religion', however, is to be understood the spirit and teachings that lie at the core of every religion, and whose acceptance by their followers is a matter of genuine conviction, not spineless imitation.

The Bahá'í Faith believes in the necessity of harmonising science and religion, and of bringing the two into collaboration so that they can both serve humankind. They are, after all, both ways leading to a greater understanding of the truth; and the truth is one, and, as such, not capable of division. Science and religion are like twins between which no disagreement should exist and, with respect to each other, it would be quite inadmissible to part. Bahá'ís believe that research and investigation are the means that will demonstrate the full extent of their correspondence. The Bahá'í Writings compare science and religion to the two wings of a bird, by which the world of humanity may be enabled to soar ever higher in the realms of material and spiritual attainment: unless these two wings are commensurate with each other, humanity will inevitably either fall a victim to materialism – stifling alike to its moral endowments and true inner nature – or become prey to superstitious and fanciful beliefs that stultify its intellect and becloud its vision.

The Bahá'í Faith affirms that the religions which have been divinely revealed to humankind throughout successive ages have had as their object to teach people to be kind, loving and compassionate with one another, and to be governed in all their mutual dealings – whether these be at an individual or community level – by amity, concord and unity. That the light of religion should turn into darkness and gloom, that it should become a source of rancour and dissension, a cause of enmity and hatred – this, in the eyes of the Bahá'ís, is a negation of all that religion stands for.

The Bahá'í Faith is not a political party or organization, and consequently does not favour one nation above another, champion one particular group, or promote the interests of one party against the general good. governed is a movement neither of the East nor the West. It is, in the belief of the Bahá'ís, nothing less than the fulfillment of God's promises to humanity since ancient times, promises that have been reiterated across the ages by all His prophets and messengers. It is the 'great news of the resurrection about which they disagree.'[20] It is the 'true call'[21] of God, exalted be His glory, by which He is summoning his faithful servants – in whichsoever country they may reside, and to whatsoever race or religion they may belong – to come together and join forces in the great work of rescuing humanity from the slough of corruption and decay into which it has foundered, and of preserving it from the fearful hazards and dangers that surround it on every side, from the fanatically intolerant partisan spirit that besets every phase of its life, and from the impending ruin and devastation that at this moment threatens it with extinction. In the nations, the Bahá'í Faith raises its call to all peoples: 'Hasten ye to peace and reconciliation! Hasten ye to virtue and prosperity!' 'Set your reliance on the army of justice, put on the armour of wisdom, let your adorning be forgiveness and mercy and that which cheereth the hearts of the well-favoured of God.'[22]

Our purpose in writing the foregoing summary account of the Bahá'í Faith (which can hardly provide more than the most general outline of the subject) has been to place at the disposal of the public the truth about this religion. The Bahá'í Faith is, to its followers, a fresh outpouring of divine guidance to humanity, that all are free to accept or reject according to their own free will. It is a reaffirmation of all previous revelations and an assertion of the oneness of their origins, spirit and aims. God does not detract from the sacred verities of any of the other religions, and only desires to bring together their followers so that, unitedly and harmoniously, they can set about remedying the grave problems that confront humanity and work towards building the world of the future.

There has been a Bahá'í presence in Egypt for more than 110 years. The Egyptian press has reported at length on the principles and teachings of the Bahá'í Faith ever since the close of the last century; Bahá'í books have been published in Egypt from the early years of this century; and 'Abdu'l-Bahá was Himself acclaimed and entertained by the country's leading lights and religious dignitaries during the second decade of this century. Among these figures were such illustrious names as Shaykh Muhammad Bakhít, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Imám Muhammad 'Abduh, and others, all of whom lavished praise on him, and treated him with a quite unexampled degree of veneration and respect. These facts are amply testified by the record of the publications and journals of the period, and we hope to be able to explore this theme in greater detail in a future study. What concerns us here is to note that the Bahá'í presence in Egypt is of long standing, and that there has never been any conflict between this presence and the maintenance of public order and the rule of law.

Those who presume to denounce the Bahá'í Faith without obtaining from its adherents an accurate account of their beliefs should know that their pronouncements are made in ignorance of the true nature of this religion and are unsupported by any clear proof. The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith are new, and it may be that their very newness causes them to appear – when viewed superficially – alien to the tenets of other religions, standing out as they do in contrast to the generally accepted understanding of these tenets. Be that as it may, ever since the inception of this Divine Cause, its followers have had to suffer hearing it condemned, as did its Founder Himself, without their testimony being solicited. Bahá'u'lláh alluded to this trend in a letter that He wrote from Turkey, where He was living in exile, to Násiri'd-Din Sháh, King of Persia, in which He exhorted him to judge fairmindedly:

Look upon this Youth, O King, with the eyes of justice; judge thou, then, with truth concerning what hath befallen Him. Of a verity, God hath made thee His shadow amongst men, and the sign of His power unto all that dwell on earth. Judge thou between Us and them that have wronged Us without proof and without an enlightening Book. They that surround thee love thee for their own sakes, whereas this Youth loveth thee for thine own sake, and hath had no desire except to draw thee nigh unto the seat of grace, and to turn thee toward the right-hand of justice. Thy Lord beareth witness unto that which I declare.[23]

Bahá'u'lláh pursues this theme in the same Tablet, though in the Persian language (here translated into Arabic [i.e. in the Arabic original of the present document]), saying:

O would that the world-ordering judgement of the King might decide that this servant should meet those doctors, and, in the presence of His Majesty the King, adduce arguments and proofs! This servant is ready, and hopeth of God that such a conference may be brought about, so that the truth of the matter may become evident and apparent before His Majesty the King. And afterwards the decision is in thy hand, and I am ready to confront the throne of thy sovereignty; then give judgement for me or against me.[24]

This simple request of Bahá'u'lláh's, so self-evidently indispensable to the formation of a just verdict, was refused by the divines of the age, who, in ignorance of His Cause, and lacking the support of any clear proof, nevertheless chose to condemn it – and how like is tonight to yesternight!

At this critical juncture in the fortunes of our great nation, we address ourselves to all the powers of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – and call upon them to uphold the individual rights of the populace, and to guarantee to the citizens in this country the freedom to think and investigate of their own accord, and to decide – by themselves and for themselves – on those matters of conscience that are, before all else, their own private concern, whether they affect one's personal or spiritual life. In this way, we believe, will the Egyptian people retain their hard-won position amongst those countries whose names have become, by common consent, bywords for intellectual freedom, religious tolerance and political maturity. Nations do not attain to greatness and political leadership on the international scene through extirpating and repressing groups of minorities, prestige, standing and respect in the world community are rather the portion of those nations whose territories are the preserve of freedom, whose air is scented with the spirit of tolerance; in which the rule of law has been firmly established, and equality granted to all citizens, and in which final authority in any disagreement is always accorded to considerations of principle, to humane and enlightened values, and to the highest standards of moral sensibility and awareness.


End Notes

  1. The Wise Remembrance: i.e. the Qur'án (from the Súrah of the Family of Imrán, v. 58).
  2. See Qur'án, Súrah of the Family of Imrán, v. 7: 'It is he who hath sent down unto thee the book, wherein are some verses clear to be understood [i.e. 'perspicuous'], they are the foundation of the book; and others are parabolical [i.e. 'figurative'].' (George Sale's translation; emphasis added).
  3. Majmú'iy-i-Alváh-i-Mubárakih, edited by Muhyi'd-Din Kurdíy-i-Sanandajfy-i-Kánímishkání, Cairo, 1920, p. 11.
  4. Qur'án, Súrah of the Cattle, v. 122 (Sale's translation).
  5. Qur'án, Súrah of the Family of Imrán, v. 169 (Sale's translation).
  6. Yathrib: Medinah.
  7. Al-Bathá': a designation of Mecca (lit.: 'the level plain').
  8. Majmú'iy-i-Alváh-i-Muhárakih, p. 407.
  9. The Arabic language makes a clear distinction between the word for 'prophet' (nabi, an active derivative of the root |naba'a| which, in other of its patterns, provides the Arabic equivalents for 'prophecy' /nubú'ah/ and 'to prophesy' |tanabba'a|) and 'messenger' (rasúl, a passive derivative of theroot |rasala| whose senses revolve in large part around the idea of 'to send'). Both the terms nabi and rasúl are used in the Qur'án to refer to Muhammad, but the quoted verse 40 from the Súrah of the Confederates states only that Muhammad was the 'Seal of the Prophets', using the plural of the word nabi.
  10. Qur'án, Súrah of the Creator, v. 43.
  11. Qur'án, Súrah of Al Araf, v. 35 (Sale's translation).
  12. Kitábu'l-Iqán, translated into Arabic under the auspices of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Egypt, Cairo, 1934, p. 75. (The English wording is taken from the translation made by Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 to 1957)
  13. Khutabu 'Abdu'l-Bahá fí Urubbá wa Amríká, published under the auspices of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of North-East Africa, Addis Ababa, n.d., p. 62.
  14. Qur'án, Súrah of the Victory, v. 10 (Sale's translation).
  15. Qur'án, Súrah of the Spoils, v. 17 (Sale's translation).
  16. Quoted in Majmú'iy-i-Alváh-i-Mubárakih, p. 340. (The English wording is taken from the translation made by Shoghi Effendi)
  17. Muntakhabátí az Athár-i-Hadrat-i-Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Verlag GmbH, Hofheim-Langenhain, 1984, p. 46. (The English wording is taken from the translation made by Shoghi Effendi [Gleanings, p. 59])
  18. Qur'án, Súrah of S, vv. 12-14 (Sale's translation).
  19. Majmú'atun min Alwáhi Hadrati Bahá'u'lláh Nuzzilat ba'da 'Kitabu'I-Aqdas', Maison d'Editions Bahá'íes, Brussels, 1980, p. 28. (The English wording is taken from Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the 'Kitáb-i-Aqdas', translated by Habib Taherzadeh with the assistance of a committee at the Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa, 1978, p. 128)
  20. Qur'án, Súrah of the News, vv. 2-3 (Sale's translation).
  21. Qur'án, Súrah of the Thunder, v. 14.
  22. Quoted from Bahá'u'lláh's Lawhu'í-Hikmah [Tablet of Wisdom], included in Mdjmú'atun min Alwáhi Hadrati Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 118-19 [Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 139].
  23. Athár-i-Qalam-i-A'la', Kitáb-i-Mubín, reprinted from a manuscript copy written by Mullá Zaynu'l-'Abidín-i-Najaf ('Zaynu'l-Muqarrabín'), Mu'assisiy-i-Milláy-i- Matbú'át-i-Amrf, Tihrán, 120 BE (Bahá'í Era), p. 68, 1. 14. (The English wording is taken from the translation made by Shoghi Effendi [The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 58])
  24. Athár-i-Qalam-i-A'la', Kitáb-i-Mubín, p. 79, 1.6. (The English translation is taken from A Traveller's Narrative Written to illustrate the Episode of the Báb, Edward G. Browne, MA, MB, FBA, FRCP, Bahá'í Publishing Committee, New York, l93O,p. 121)
  25. A well-known Arabic proverb signifying how little have circumstances changed despite the passage of time!

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