Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Saiedi commentary on the first verse of the revelation

The following is a transcript of two 10-minute sections from talk no 6 in Dr Nader Saiedi's series "Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age", 2014.  In this talk, Dr Saiedi discusses Baha’u’llah’s three declarations:
  1. the one in the Siyah Chal
  2. the one in the Garden of Ridvan
  3. the one consisting of the messages to the leaders of the world.
The transcript covers the section of the talk in which Dr Saiedi discusses the content of the first declaration, the one in the Siyah Chal. For this, he focuses on the first sentence of the revelation: "Verily, we shall render thee victorious by thy self and by thy pen". Dr Saiedi finds six major themes of Baha'u'llah's revelation suggested in that sentence. Dr Saiedi says: "I believe that everything about the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah’s message is present in this very first sentence."

The themes are:
  1. the principle of freedom of conscience
  2. the rejection of the principle of violence in terms of religious belief and violence in general
  3. the rejection of the culture of patriarchy
  4. the rejection of miracles and the emergence of rationality
  5. the agreement of reason and faith
  6. the principle of the separation of church and state.
The transcript includes the last 10 minutes of the talk, in which Dr Saiedi answers a question about the issue of the separation of church and state.

All the talks in the series "Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age" can be accessed at https://soundcloud.com/bahai-blog/sets/nader-saiedi-text-and-context

A transcript of a passage from talk no 5 in the series can be found here.

**********************

Text and Context in the Baha'i Heroic Age
A series of talks by Dr Nader Saiedi, 2014
https://soundcloud.com/bahai-blog/sets/nader-saiedi-text-and-context

Transcript of talk no 6, beginning 36:43-48:48 and last 10 minutes
(Prepared by Alison Marshall)

Introductory note: In this talk, Dr Saiedi discusses Baha’u’llah’s three declarations: the one in the Siyah Chal, the one in the Garden of Ridvan, and the one consisting of the messages to the leaders of the world. This transcript covers the section of the talk in which Dr Saiedi discusses the content of the first declaration, the one in the Siyah Chal. The transcript also includes the last 10 minutes of the talk, in which Dr Saiedi answers a related question. 


36:43 What happens in these declarations? What is the content? What is the message of Baha’u’llah in terms of these declarations? Let us look at the first declaration. The first moment of declaration, which is the moment of the birth of Baha’i Faith, is told us by Baha’u’llah, in terms of this particular statement, that he says that, one night, in dream he hears from all sides this particular voice. This is the emergence, this the birth of the Baha’i Faith. This sentence, this statement, is the first statement in the history of the Baha’i Faith. And this is really the essence of his concealed revelation.

37:28 The concept of dream is very interesting. You remember that I talked about dream in relation to the story of Joseph. With the story of Joseph, the Bab begins with a dream, ‘cos Joseph sees a dream, that sun and moon and eleven stars they bow down - and twelve stars bow down before Joseph. That’s the way it started. And the Bab emphasises this dream that this dream actually becomes a dream which takes place at the level of the throne of God. In other words, that dream, instead of being a shadow of reality, is the essence of reality. And this statement of Baha’u’llah in Siyah Chal that, in a dream, he sees this, this dream should not be understood simply as that he was sleeping - but that can be the first layer of the meaning. But more importantly, is dream in the sense that it is the spiritual truth, the invisible realm of the truth, of this material reality, this ?? reality of phenomenal shadows - which is, as a matter of fact, just an expression of that dream - that dream is the ultimate reality. So this is what Baha’u’llah says: “One night in a dream, these exalted words were heard on every side, ‘Verily, we shall render thee victorious by thy self and by thy pen’”. This is the first experience of revelation. This is the moment that Baha’i Faith is born. I believe that everything about the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah’s message is present in this very first sentence. Since we don’t have time, I’ll be very brief analysing this statement in order to have a sense of his mission. 

39:35 Remember, this is a time that oppression has - oppression of the Babi community, genocide and tyranny and cruelty against the Babi community - has reached limits which is beyond description. And it appears to be no hope - that it is destroyed and so on. And at this time, what Baha’u’llah hears as the essence of this new spiritual attitude and values is that “verily, we shall render thee victorious”, Baha’u’llah who is in prison in that situation, “by thy self and by thy pen”. The question is, what is the response, what is the appropriate response, to experience of oppression? This is a very important sociological, political question as well. This becomes very important in all the Baha’i writings and the like. In that Tablet of Job, the Book of Job, the Surah of Patience or Job, also this issue becomes very important. 

40:41 So the first meaning of this, of course, is the principle of freedom of conscience. Namely, in the past, particularly in Islamic discourse, many times rendering the Cause of God victorious took place by the sword. The sword was used as a legitimate vehicle for promoting the faith. And Baha’u’llah is removing the sword and replacing that with two things: one is the character and personality and deeds and actions and attitudes, and the other one is with pen. So the Cause of God, which appeared to be dead and finished, is going to be rendered victorious “by thy self and by thy pen”, through our actions, values, which are expressed in our deeds, as well as by pen. So the principle of freedom of conscience becomes the fundamental issue. It is also an expression of the rejection of the principle of violence in terms of religious belief and, as you will see, the question of violence in general. In all three declarations of Baha’u’llah, the question of violence, and discourse on violence, is the central issue - the common issue among all the three declarations. Rejection of the culture of violence. 

42:22 But this statement also is a rejection of the culture of patriarchy. Baha’u’llah describes for us that this experience, this word that he hears, this voice he hears that through Maid of Heaven. Maid of Heaven becomes the truth of Baha’u’llah. (Actually, I found one tablet of Baha’u’llah in which he directly and explicitly talks about who is, and what is, this Maid of Heaven, this huriyyah. And he explains that that is the truth of the Manifestation of God.) In any case, women - the female figure - was usually the symbol and the sign of wickedness, of nafs al-`ammarah - you know, that aspect of the self and the soul which is attached to the material world and sinful and insists and is the opposite of reason and intellect and morality and so on. This was the conception that we had of female figure in Persian poetry, even in the Sufi poetry of Rumi, for example, it’s consistently that way. Women are represented as the nafs al-`ammarah. Men are represented as ‘aql, of intellect and reason, even though mystics were less patriarchal as compared to the legalistic `ulama, clergy and so on. But still in `Attar and Rumi, all of them, you see consistently the female figure becomes representative of everything which is bad and evil. Baha’u’llah turns this upside down and, aside from God, which is neither male nor female, the highest absolute reality of the world - namely, the truth of all Manifestations, the truth of all prophets - is presented symbolically as a female figure, as Maid of Heaven. The truth of Baha’u’llah is Maid of Heaven. Maybe that’s why he’s ‘Baha’u’llah’ because the word ‘Baha’’ is a female word in Arabic. And when the Bab talks in his Commentary on the Surah of Joseph, he defines, he talks about Baha’ as a mother who gives birth … “Baha’ is my mother”, “I was born by Baha’”. Baha’ is a female figure. So Baha’u’llah is identifying the truth of divine revelation as a female entity. Now why this is happening if his culture, the new spiritual culture, is rejection of the principle and culture of violence, then definitely without any surprise, this must be also rejection of the culture of patriarchy. Culture of patriarchy is not just the question of violence against half of the population, it is also a culture of a general attitude of violence with regard to life, with regard to everybody and everything. 

45:55 The other thing that you see in this same statement is rejection of miracles, a culture of magic and magical consciousness. The Cause of God is going to be rendered victorious, to be proved, to be affirmed, not by strange events defying the laws of nature called miracles, but through pen. Pen becomes the supreme proof of the sovereignty of God. The highest expression of the spiritual reality becomes consciousness, becomes emergence of a spirit in this world, not natural events. And of course, this is the emergence of a new culture of rationality. Already, the idea of agreement of reason and faith is present in this very statement. 

46:56 And of course, a very important implication of all of these statements is separation of church and state. Baha’u’llah explains in a variety of his writings that the realm of religion belongs to the realm of heart, dominion over the realm of the heart, which only can be a question of voluntary acceptance and persuasion. Political dominion, dominion on earth, is an area in which coercion sometimes may become relevant. But for Baha’u’llah, with regard to the realm of the heart, the realm of religion and religious consciousness and religious belief and so on, no coercion, no violence can be legitimate. It is a complete philosophical, sociological, theoretical separation of the two realms and that, institutionally, they cannot be one and the same. This issue, namely separation of church and state, not only is mentioned, is a statement, in the first, the very first statement of Baha’u’llah’s writing, it is also emphasised in his last work, which is his Book of Covenant. And in the Book of Covenant, two issues are emphasised. One is that successor of Baha’u’llah, and leadership of Baha’u’llah, is specifically determined in the figure of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. And the second point is, again, separation of the realm of the heart and the realm of dominion over earth. And Baha’u’llah says that this distinction can never be revoked, can never be changed. It’s an eternal covenant of God. 48:48

Transcript skips to the last 10 minutes of the recording, in which Dr Saiedi answers a question about church and state.

1:22:20 [Questioner] You mentioned that Baha’u’llah emphasises the split between church and state and how those should be kept separate. There seems to be a current strand of Baha’i thought that our institutions are going to somehow replace the secular government, in which case we’d be sticking church and state very much together and welding them forever together. So could you please comment on that with regards to the writings?

[Dr Saiedi] Yes, I have seen a number of similar statements that primarily on the sense that this separation is a temporary thing but in the future it would be different, something like that. I believe that this is contrary to all the principles of the Baha’i Faith. As I mentioned, the very first statement of Baha’u’llah deals with that. All his various statements and discussions all over his ministry is affirmation of the same thing. ‘Abdu’l-Baha has written extensively on this issue; for example, his work Risalih-i Siyasiyyih (Treatise on Politics), which was written at a particular point of time in which the religious clergy in Iran appeared to be, to have actually a progressive, apparently progressive, role. But interference in politics and so on - ‘Abdu’l-Baha writes, at that very time, to say that these two are completely different, their functions are different, and they have to be separate. And whenever the religious leaders, clergy, have interfered in politics, he says the result has been catastrophic, elimination of freedom, of liberty, of religion and so on. We are used to, in Baha’i literature, to talk of 12 principles of the Baha’i Faith. There is no such thing. And ‘Abdu’l-Baha - in one of my talks in the future I might deal with this - at least has talked about 16 principles that he discussed when he came to the West and so on. And one of these 16 principles is separation of church and state. And he mentions that - you know, in one of his talks, he says the first principle is, for instance, independent investigation of truth, the second one is agreement of reason and faith and so on - and one of them he says is about separation of church and state. 

1:24:46 It’s interesting that he discusses that in Paris, when he was in Paris. He doesn’t emphasise it when he is in United States. In Paris, because Catholicism, even at the time of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, throughout 19th century has had always struggles and tensions with question of secularism and there was this battle between church and state and the necessity of separation of that. The fact that ‘Abdu’l-Baha chooses in France to discuss this, and to affirm this, is very important. So he discusses that and he says the ‘leaders of religion’ - he doesn’t say ‘`ulama of Islam’ or something like that in general.

1:25:33 And the statement of Baha’u’llah that is in his final work, which is his Will and Testament really, his basic message to humanity and the Baha’i Faith is that he says that God has given the dominion on earth to secular figures. And he says that Baha’is, as a religious group, should be concerned with the realm of the heart. And he says that these two are separate and this separation, he says, is a law that God has decided to be a principle which can never be revoked. It won’t be subject to mahv [erasure]. If you read also one of his last works, which is Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, the entire work is a discourse on the necessity of separation of church and state. He quotes extensively from Gospel and the idea that what is due to Caesar, should give it to Caesar, and what is due to God, render it to God and so on and emphasises in a variety of ways that. The reason was that the addressee of this particular work, he himself had almost political rule. He was one of these famous intolerant, cruel religious figures in Isfahan, but he had his own private army and ruled more or less like [the] state. And Baha’u’llah at this time, which was again the time that tobacco revolt is happening and the Shi`a clergy becomes conscious of its potential for political power, he is writing this particular work, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and constantly emphasising the necessity of this separation. 

1:27:42 So there is one statement of Baha’u’llah with regard to the House of Justice, in which he says "Amur-e siyasiyyeh kull raje` ast be bayt-al adl"[1]; namely, political affairs, issues of politics, should be referred to the House of Justice. This idea is misunderstood normally by conventional readings of that and misunderstood by a number of scholars who want to prove that there is separation of church and state in the Baha’i Faith. Both have misread it. Some wants to say the word “siyasiyyeh” does not mean siyasat, it means, ‘in general, leadership’, which is not the case here, it means ‘politics’. But the conventional understanding of this is that therefore House of Justice in the future would be the political leader. But what the statement says is very clear. It says that, for the Baha’i community - in relation to state, in relation to political issues - the authority to make decisions, in terms of our relation to state - what to do, what not to do, what position to take and so on - is the consultative body, consultative leadership of the Baha’i community. It’s not up to the individuals to decide for them what is the policy of the Baha’i Faith, but it should be through consultative leadership of the Baha’i Faith. So [the passage from Bisharat] doesn’t mean that bayt al-`adl is going to be, the House of Justice is going to be, the new state of the future. It means that the relation of the Baha’i community to state, which is a secular state, to political institutions and so on ultimately is going to be decided by the consultative leadership of the Baha’i community.

1:29:32 This issue is so fundamental, and so frequently discussed in so various ways, that it is impossible to consider it in other ways. And, if you assume that, in the future, Universal House of Justice is going to be the political, legislative power of the world and so on, what it means is elimination of all the basic principles of the Baha’i Faith. Namely, those who make decisions - political decisions - can be only Baha’is because members of the House of Justice can only be Baha’is. Non-Baha’is therefore - entire civil rights of the non-Baha’is, from the very beginning, is going to be destroyed, contrary to everything that Baha’u’llah has said from the very beginning in various fashions and so on.

1:30:22 So, in my judgement, we sometimes understand Baha’i writings in terms of pre-Baha’i cultures and ideas and so on. Coming from a Shi`a background also many Baha’is have looked at some of the Baha’i texts in those ways and so on. So my understanding of this issue is that it is categorical. Baha’u’llah has legitimised the secular state and that’s why sometimes he talks - because in the writings of Baha’u’llah, the democratic state is suggested and approved. But, in some of the writings of Baha’u’llah, you see that, about kings in general, also there are positive statements. And the reason is that he is reacting to the Shi`a dominant, increasingly dominant, clerical position that the only legitimate political rulers are `ulama, are the religious leaders, as representatives of the 12th Imam. And Baha’u’llah is rejecting that. For that, he is affirming the legitimacy of secular state. But for him, that secular state also eventually has to be, has to move, towards a democratic, consultative state.
______________

Footnote 1: Here, Dr Saiedi has quoted a verse from the 13th Bisharat (Glad Tidings). There are two official translations: 1. “Administrative affairs are all in charge of the House of Justice" (Shoghi Effendi: The Baha´i World, Vol 11 (1946-1950), p67); and 2. “All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice.” (Habib Taherzadeh in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p27). The same verse was also revealed by Baha’u’llah in the 8th Ishraqat (Splendours). Habib Taherzadeh’s translation of this (Tablets p129) is the same as above; and Shoghi Effendi’s translation is "Administrative affairs should be referred to the House of Justice" (published in The Dawn: a monthly Bahai Journal of Burma, Vol. II, No. 7, March, 1925).

Download a PDF of this transcript.