Sabtu, 05 Juli 2008

The Baha’i Faith: An Islamic Paradigm for Peace

Sobat, sekarang kita sedang ribet dengan masalah Ahmadiyah yang kelihatannya masih terus akan jadi kisruh dalam jangka panjang. pada kesempatan ini saya kopy pastekan artikel tentang satu lagi kelompok yang mirip dengan Ahmadiyah tetapi muncul di Iran dengan nama Baha'i. seperti apakh mereka, selamat membaca!

The Baha’i Faith: An Islamic Paradigm for Peace


This website is NOT connected in any way with the Baha’i Faith, Islam, or any religion or religious sect, nor is its author, Dana Stone, a member of any formal religion or religious sect. The intent of the monograph that follows is to assist those from western cultural backgrounds better understand Islam and how the Baha’i Faith evolved from it, becoming one of the most tolerant and peace-loving religious communities in the world today. In many ways, the Baha’is provide a case study of how Islam and the Christian West have already become peacefully reconciled, and a paradigm for reconciliation on a broader scale. In the end, love and worship of God should be a unifying shared experience among the peoples of this Earth, not a causus belli. This is the spirit in which this website was built, and it is assumed that readers will follow this spirit as they turn the pages that follow. DS

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Gate (“The Bab”)
  3. Baha’u’llah (“The Glory of God”)
  4. The Hijaz
  5. Monotheism & the Hanifs
  6. The Prophet Muhammad
  7. The Qur’an
  8. Baha’i Revelations
  9. Islamic Law
  10. Sufism
  11. Conclusion


O ye children of Men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity. This is the straight Path, the fixed and immovable foundation. Whatsoever is raised on this foundation, the changes and chances of the world can never impair its strength, nor will the revolution of countless centuries undermine its structure. Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requireth . . . (1)

This voice and its extraordinary statement of religious principle written circa 1863 does not emanate form a Christian Unitarian, or Quaker, or European Christian progressive. It is not even a Western voice at all. On the contrary it is a voice speaking to us out of Shi’ih Islam, from Persia and Baghdad, the voice of the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah. What is immediately striking about this voice is its clear opposition to “religious fanaticism” and hatred, and the insistence that “the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men.”(2) How could Muslim religious men writing at the time of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War have had such modern, progressive ideas about religion and world peace? We are accustomed to thinking of Islam as typified by jihadi exhortations to fight and kill in the way of God. For example, we read in the nine/one-eleven Surah from the Qur’an: (3)

“Allah has bought from the believers their lives and their wealth in return for Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah, kill and get killed. That is the true promise from Him in the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur’an. (Qur’an, 9:111)

How can what many consider the most bellicose and intransigently intolerant religion on earth have been the source of such profound advocacy for peace and universal tolerance? This paper is an attempt to help elucidate this issue and at the same time to draw attention to a different side of Islam which is more humanitarian, progressive, and ecumenical in its outlook, and point to some of the intellectual stepping stones that mark the path from Islam to the “People of Baha”, the “People of Glory” as the Baha’i are called in their scriptures.

During an age when we have witnessed a Muslim shoot Pope John Paul in Saint Peter’s Square, the Taliban dynamite the ageless Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, and Islamic terrorists unleash a campaign of arbitrary violence against innocent and defenseless people throughout the world, it is important to avoid demonizing Islam across the board and to establish instead a more informed balanced view that incorporates some of the progressive and peaceful currents in Islam that must be engaged if we are to reach an acceptable level of understanding, tolerance, and peace among the peoples of the

Earth. The story of the Baha’i faith has special value in this context. Although the Baha’is are categorically rejected as apostates by most Muslims, their religion, for all its progressive, ecumenical spirit, is Islamic in its origins. Its story, and the story of its two prophets, the Bab and Baha’u’llah, provide a case study of how Islam evolved into one of the world’s most humanitarian and progressive religions. It is a compelling story that is filled with heroism and heart-breaking martyrdom on a scale comparable to the Roman Christians. For Baha’u’llah and most of his followers, theirs was a life “preceded in every step . . . by an army of unforeseen calamities, while in His rear follow legions of agonizing sorrows.”(4) During the early years of the faith, these dire circumstances served as a foil that illuminated the dignity, the magnanimity, and spiritual purity of the Bab and Baha’u’llah in their daily lives, giving them an exemplary authority that has commanded respect from those both in and outside their community ever since. More important still to our present purposes is the intellectual achievement of their work. Using Islamic tradition, the Qur’an, and the life of the Prophet Muhammad as their primary points of departure, they developed a logically coherent humanitarian theology that is at once anchored in Muslim history but at the same time in tune with the modern world and its future. It is the intellectual and historical connections between Islamic past and the forward-looking Baha’i theology of world unity and peace that is primary focus of the pages that follow.

The Bab (The Gate)

“I am the Gate, and you are the Gate of the Gate.” (The Bab)

In Shiraz, Persia, the evening of May 23rd, 1844, an extraordinary new religion was born out of Islam. A young Persian merchant of twenty-five, revealed that he was the long-awaited Mahdi, the Hidden Imam descended from the Prophet Muhammad, who after centuries of occultation, had returned to usher in a new era for mankind, an era in which we could ascend to a higher plane of consciousness and being, perhaps a return to Paradise! Sayyid’Ali Muhammad, henceforth The Bab (“The Gate” in Arabic), made this revelation in an all-night ecstatic session to a new acquaintance, Mulla Husayn Bushru’i, who was himself on a quest to find the Mahdi at the behest of his mentor, Shaykh Ahmad.

Shaykh Ahmad (1) and Mulla Husayn were part of larger movement within the faith that sought to understand the ramifications of the end of the Islamic millennium (“one thousand years in your reckoning” [Qur’an 32:5]) in the context of contemporary 19th Century history. In the few centuries prior to that time, Islam had experienced an accelerating series of reversals. In 1492 Granada fell to the Catholic Kings of Spain and Muslims were expelled or required to convert to Christianity; in 1585 the Ottomans were defeated at Lepanto by the combined Spanish and Venetian fleets; in 1798 Napoleon invaded Egypt and Palestine only to be supplanted by the English who stayed on in North Africa; at the same time the English continued their expansion in India at the expense of the Mogul kingdoms of the northern subcontinent; Russian imperial expansion annexed not only Siberia but the northern regions of Persia and much of the Ottoman Empire around the Black Sea; the French returned to North Africa in 1830 to occupy Algiers following a successful American expedition against the “Barbary pirates” only a few years before. In the markets of the world, Western manufactured goods competed with traditional artisans and merchants of the Middle East, adding increased economic pressure to the growing political pressures and huge territorial losses. The great Islamic kingdoms of the past were rapidly becoming mere pawns in the power politics of modern, western nation states. Muslims of the period were dismayed by these reverses, and sought answers. In that context, millennialism acquired new importance. Much of the blame was placed on corruption and decadence among the political and religious leadership, which added internal tensions to the external ones exerted by the West. Into this environment came Shakh Ahmad and his followers who combined Sufi mysticism with the search for the Mahdi (in Persian, Qa’im). It was in the context of this search that Mulla Husayn discovered The Bab. The morning after the Bab had revealed his mission and identity to the Mullah, he is reported to have said to him:

“Thou who art the first to believe in Me! Verily I say, I am the Bab, the Gate of God, and thou art the Babu’l-Bab, the gate of that Gate. Eighteen souls must, in the beginning, spontaneously and of their own accord, accept Me and recognize the truth of My Revelation.”(2)

Soon the eighteen had found him and become his disciples, among them a woman, Tahirih. These he called the “Letters of the Living,” and sent them out into the world to announce His coming. Within a few short years most would be martyred.

As the “Letters of the Living” dispersed, the Bab set out on pilgrimage for Mecca where, in order to fulfill a prophesy identifying the mahdi, he announced his own arrival. Standing at the entry to the Ka’ba and grasping the door ring in his hand, he called out three times: ‘I am that Mahdi whose advent you have been awaiting.’”(3) The prophesy fulfilled, he returned to Persia where his teachings soon attracted the attention of the authorities who promptly imprisoned him. However, his charismatic presence and devout demeanor won over his jailers. A number of clerics sent by the Sultan to examine him for heresy were converted to the new Islamic sect. Those who accepted his teachings were now called Babis or “followers of the Bab.” For long periods of his incarceration--and against the strict order of the Grand Vizier--he was allowed to receive visitors and dictate his revelations. Much of his most important work was written in prison, in particular the Bayan, a work that contained new laws that superseded parts of Islamic law, or Sharia. Understandably, this outraged conservative clerics. It also led to riots and civil unrest in a number of towns in which many Babis were beaten and killed.

The revolutionary core of The Bab’s theology was his evolutionary view of religion and the cycle of prophets. Moses had brought Jehovah’s Commandments to the ancient Jews who lived by them until the advent of Christ; the Christian Gospels became the primary religious teachings during the Late Empire until the advent of Muhammad; the Qur’an was the authoritative religious text until advent of The Bab; and after the Bab, his own writings, including the Bayan, would become the dominant scriptures:

“For example, from the inception of the mission of Jesus—may peace be upon Him—till the day of His ascension was the Resurrection of Moses . . . And from the moment when the Tree of the Bayan [The Bab’s book of laws] appeared until it disappeareth is the resurrection of the Apostle of God [Muhammad], as is divinely foretold in the Qu’ran . . . The stage of perfection of everything is reached when its resurrection occurreth . . . The Resurrection of the Bayan will occur at the time of the appearance of Him Whom God shall make manifest [i.e., Baha’u’llah]. For today the Bayan is in the stage of seed; at the beginning of the manifestation of Him Whom God shall make manifest its ultimate perfection will become apparent . . .”(4)

According to this view, the cycle of prophets repeats every thousand years or so. A prophet appears and delivers the teachings of God, which are codified into a system of laws that flesh out the ground rules for God’s covenant with is people. With clear guidance as to the will of God, the faithful flourish under the laws of the covenant. However, over the centuries these laws become rigid, stultified, and antiquated, as in the case of the Talmud and Sharia. In the end, they cease to evolve with history as it changes and so become artifacts of the past that have limited application to contemporary life. At this point God sends another Messenger who refocuses attention on the humanitarian core of all true religions and reveals new teachings that realign the eternal values with contemporary social and economic conditions. The Bab simply saw himself as the latest in this millennial cycle of divine messengers sent to replace the atrophied laws of the past with a new covenant that reaffirmed the core values taught by preceding prophets but in keeping with contemporary conditions.

“I am, I am, I am, the Promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen [i.e., the Qa’im, or Mahdi), whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten. Verily I say, it is incumbent upon the peoples of both the East and the West to obey My word and to pledge allegiance to My Person.”(5)

The Shah, however, did not pledge allegiance to The Bab, but left him in prison, and eventually ordered his execution, which was carried out by a firing squad of 750 soldiers in Tabriz, July 9th, 1850. It had been just six years and eighteen days since he had revealed himself to Mulla Husayn. His mission had lasted twice as long as Jesus Christ’s.

Baha’u’llah (The Glory of God)

After the Bab’s death leadership of the movement passed gradually to Baha’u’llah (The Glory of God), born Mirza Husayn Ali, November 12, 1817. He was two years older than The Bab, whose revelation he had accepted in 1844, although the two never met in person. The son of a powerful aristocrat whose functions included that of royal scribe, he grew up in the Shah’s court, in which he was assured a role of influence and power if only he chose to pursue it. However, an abortive assassination attempt on the Shah by three disaffected Babi’s in August of 1852, shattered Baha’u’llah’s ties to the court. As a member of the now feared and hated Babi sect, he was arrested, shackled, and thrown into the notorious “Black Pit,” a primitive prison that had originally been the outlet for waste waters from the public bath in Tehran. In his own account of it he says:

“No pen can depict that place, nor any tongue describe its loathsome smell. Most of these [150 prisoners] men had neither clothes nor bedding to lie on.”(1)

While in the midst of such dire deprivation, Baha’u’llah had a series of life-altering visions, which he understood to be divine visitations. It was here in this prison that he came to believe that he was the Bab’s successor--“Him Whom God shall make manifest.” It would take years, however, for him to reveal his role to the Babi community at large. When he was released from prison, he told no one, but he was visibly transformed, as his daughter, Bahia Khanum, attests:

“We saw a new radiance seeming to enfold him like a shining vesture, its significance we were to learn years later. At that time we were only aware of the wonder of it, without understanding, or even being told the details of the sacred event.”(2)

The condition of Baha’u’llah’s release from prison was exile. The chains and weights shackled to his body during his four months in prison left him weakened and with permanent skeletal damage. After a short convalescence, he began on January 12th, 1853, the arduous three-month trek from Tehran to Baghdad. He could barely walk. Two months after his arrival, his half-brother, Mirza Yahya, reached the city and challenged him for the leadership of the Babi community. Rather than participate in an internecine struggle that would devastate both his family and followers, he withdrew to the foothills of the Zagros mountains in Kurdistan. There he lived for a year as a hermit in the wilderness, and another year at a Sufi seminary in the town of Sulaymaniyyih, where he was well received. The renewed contact with nature and the Sufi community reinforced for him the value of the spiritual quest and communion with nature that are both so essential in the Baha’i Faith.

Upon his return to Baghdad, he found the small Babi community in disarray. No less than twenty-five men had claimed to be “Him Whom God shall make manifest.” Mirza Yahya even plotted to have one of his rivals murdered, while at the same time the Shah’s government hired agents to assassinate Baha’u’llah. In one encounter on the streets of Baghdad, the hired assassin dropped his pistol, whereupon Baha’u’llah is reported to have said to his aide: “Pick up his pistol and give it to him, and show him the way to his house; he seems to have lost his way.”(3) Despite the disorder and danger, Baha’u’llah’s return revitalized the Babi movement both in Baghdad and, through correspondence, in Persia. However, his presence in a city, so close to the Persian border, constituted a perceived threat, and the Shah’s emissaries to the Ottoman court sought his extradition back to Tehran. When that failed, they petitioned for his removal to a greater distance. The Sultan granted the request and “invited” him to Istanbul.

On leaving Baghdad, April 22nd, 1863, Baha’u’llah and his immediate family were rowed across the Tigris with the help of the provincial governor, Namiq Pasha, who had become a friend and admirer, to temporary accommodations in a large, rented garden. There he stayed for twelve days, bidding farewell to his followers. There, too, he revealed to his most intimate companions that he was “The One Whom God would make manifest,” whose coming the Bab had prophesied. Later this garden was renamed the “Garden of Ridvan” (Garden of Paradise), and his stay there is celebrated as the holiest time of year. The holy garden as emblematic of Paradise on earth is one of the central symbols of the faith, and is one of the reasons why the gardens and gardening among its adherents are spiritually charged.

Baha’u’llah was first taken to Istanbul, then Adrianople (Edrine), and finally, on August 31, 1868, to the prison city of Akka on the Bay of Haifa, where the most holy Baha’i shrines and World Center are now located at the foot of Mt. Carmel. There he spent the rest of his life, at first in oppressive captivity along with his family and companions, and then, over time, in increasing freedom and state of well being. He died there on May 29th, 1892. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha, who oversaw the transition of the faith to a world-wide religion. Upon his death (1921), Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson, Shoghi Effendi, became the leader of the growing Baha’i community. He was responsible for translating many of the sacred texts and establishing the institutions that today give the faith cohesion and direction. Following his death in 1957, leadership passed to an interim council of twenty-seven “custodians” and then, in 1963, to the elected nine-member Universal House of Justice.

Seen in its modern historical perspective, the Baha’i faith of today has evolved substantially from its origins in 1844, when the Bab first revealed himself. His writings, and to a much greater extent, those of Baha’u’llah, form the Baha’i divine scriptures. The exegetical works, translations, and recorded speeches of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi,(4) although of lesser weight, are an integral part of the religion and occupy a place similar to the Acts & Letters of the Apostles in the New Testament. Taken as a whole, the work of these four men is an astonishing accomplishment. It confronts the difficult problems faced by religion in the modern world with directness, clarity, and wisdom. Among the many progressive beliefs central to the Baha’i faith are the acceptance of other religions and religious practices as divinely inspired, the insistence on the universal equality among all men and women, the elevation of justice over ritual, the harmony of science and faith, the sanctity of the individual’s search for truth, the replacement of a clerical hierarchy with democratic councils, the identification of religion with peace, the moral injunction against war, and the conjunction of progress with religious history. In many respects it points the way toward an ecumenical consensus in which tolerance and peace among world religions would replace the hatreds and conflicts that currently disrupt the Earth today, particularly conflicts that involve Islam. Since Islam provided the original foundation for the Baha’i faith, it is helpful to review some of the more relevant features of its history as well as the life and teachings of its Prophet, Muhammad.

The Hijaz

The Arabian Peninsula and surrounding Fertile Crescent and Nile Delta are home to the oldest civilizations on earth. There are archeological sites in this region that are a hundred thousand years old. It is where farming and animal husbandry were first developed, the earliest irrigation systems, the earliest cities, the birth of mathematics, the first astronomical records, where writing first appeared, the earliest know literature, and the oldest historical records. Virtually every aspect of Near Eastern and Western civilization has its roots in this relatively small area and in the cultures of the Semitic peoples who have lived there since time immemorial. One of the enduring features of the region is its strategic importance astride the major trade routs connecting the three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe, and numerous seas and river systems that converge there. The conjunction of continents, seas, and river systems is punctuated by the vast, inhospitable deserts that make travel extremely difficult. These unique conditions juxtaposed two distinct Arab social orders—one urban and stationary supported by full scale farming and husbandry, the other tribal and nomadic supported by the limited resources of desert oases. Economically, the nomadic Bedouin tribes and the urban Arabs depended on each other for the maintenance of the caravan routs and system of trade so vital to both their economies. The social consequence of the interdependence was that tribal organization persisted in Arab communities, both urban and rural, combining elements from the ancient civilizations rooted there with more primitive social traditions from the Bedouin desert tribes. Muhammad’s childhood provides an example of how these contrasting social backgrounds could be combined in the life of an individual; in accordance with custom, he was given as an infant to a Bedouin woman to be wet-nursed and raised until the age of about four, when he was returned to his mother in Mecca. The mixture of these two strains, the desert-tribal and the urban, was the source of considerable tension during Muhammad’s time. In the Qur’an itself, one often finds Muhammad frustrated by the conflicts inherent in integrating the desert tribes into the more civilized, urban Muslim social order:

The desert Arabs are more steeped in unbelief and hypocrisy and are more likely not to know the bounds of what Allah has revealed to His Messenger. Allah is All Knowing, Wise. And some of the desert Arabs regard what they spend [i.e., the zakat or alms tax] as a fine, and await the turns of fortune to go against you. May the veil turn go against them! (9:97-98)

The desert tribes competed with each other through a formalized system of warfare, characterized by a strategy of raiding for live stock, portable goods, and captives, whose ultimate aim was to weaken and then absorb neighboring tribes, and in so doing, strengthen the dominant tribe. In Muhammad’s lifetime, the process was loosely governed by rules designed to minimize casualties, and provided a respite of four sacred months for pilgrimage—primarily to shrines in Mecca--during which raiding was prohibited. This environment of inter-tribal war pervades the early history of Islam and the life of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. Consider, for example, the following passage from the Qur’an:

This is an immunity from Allah and His Messenger to those idolaters with whom you made compacts. Travel, then, in the land freely for four months. . . . Honour your compact with them until the end of its term. Allah loves the righteous. Then, when the Sacred Months are over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them, take them [captive], besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every point of observation. If they repent afterwards, perform the prayer and pay the alms, then release them. Allah is truly All-Forgiving, Merciful. (9:1-6)

Here it is clear that Muhammad and his community (the Muslim Ummah) were thoroughly immersed in the inter-tribal wars that characterized the Hijaz (the south central region of the Arabian Peninsula including the cities of Mecca, Medina, and Taif) during that period. Seen from the sociological point of view, the Muslim Ummah can be seen as a newly-formed Arab super-tribe that would go on to assimilate all other Arab tribes in a few short decades of inter-tribal war and diplomatic negotiation. The wars fought by Muhammad and the Ummah involved Bedouin nomads, of course, but primarily as federated allies in the larger struggle against the urban Quaryysh tribe that dominated Mecca, and to which Muhammad’s family belonged. It was the victory over the Quaryysh and the capture of Mecca that established the Ummah as the dominant tribe in the Hijaz. The birth of Islam in the fires of an inter-tribal civil war left an indelible imprint on the faith.

To the north and east of the Hijaz stood the two formidable empires of the Byzantines in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, and the Sassanids in Persia, mutually engaged in a protracted struggle for regional dominance. The Arab tribes along their borders acted as federated vassal states and allies that helped buffer their patrons from direct attack. In contrast, the Hijaz remained free of foreign political domination and enjoyed greater cultural liberty to develop and prosper on its own. This political freedom gave added impetus to the early formation and spread of Islam, which was also bolstered, at the time of Muhammad’s birth in 570 C.E., by demographic growth among Arab-speaking populations in the Near-East in contrast to other Semitic groups, such as those speaking Aramaic--the language of the Jesus and the early Christians-- which were in decline.

This period in the Hijaz was marked by singular good fortune. Yemen had traditionally been the most prosperous region of southern Arabia. During pagan times the practice of cremation among the Greeks and Romans had favored Yemeni exports of frankincense which was widely used to mask the stench of burning flesh during cremation. The Christians, however, because they believed in the resurrection of the body, abandoned the cremation in favor of burial, which greatly diminished demand for the export. To make matters worse, the two super-powers of the day, the Persians and Byzantines, fought to control the Yemen by proxy through their allies. Thus it was that in 525 CE, the Christian Abyssinians invaded and captured Yemen from Dhu Nuwas, its anti-Christian Jewish ruler who was allied with the Persian Sassanids. In an attempt to further consolidate their control, they mustered a large army in 570 CE reinforced by elephants and marched against the Hijaz. Outside Mecca, however, this formidable army succumbed to a plague--probably the bubonic plague which ravaged Europe and the Byzantine Empire from 542 to 558 CE (typically fatal to between 40% and 70% of its victims)--and was forced to turn back. This episode, remembered in Arab history as the “Year of the Elephant”, confirmed the dominance of Mecca in the Hijaz. It is also the year associated by tradition with Muhammad’s birth, although scholars date it a decade or two later.

The ascendancy of Mecca in Arabia is somewhat of an anomaly because it had a limited agricultural base and was off the main caravan routes. The city’s importance was owed in large part to the political genius of Muhammad’s great, great, great grandfather, Qusayy.(1) Toward the end of the fourth century CE, he united several feuding tribal clans into the Quaryysh Tribe and with them took control of the Ka’ba (the “Cube”), the principal religious shrine in city. At that time the Ka’ba, which has since been rebuilt on several occasions, was a primitive, roofless enclosure of rough hewn stones without mortar. The shrine was associated with a well spring, the well of Zamzam, which provided water for ritual cleansing. A seven-revolution circumambulation of the shrine was one of the rituals performed by worshipers who visited it, a number associated with the lunar calendar in which four weeks approximate a lunar month. Some of the divinities idolized there--they would eventually number about 360--were associated with the astronomical bodies. These facts have led some scholars to suggest that the circumambulation may have been a human re-enactment of the movement of the heavens, a motif that is still seen in the circular dance of the Sufi Dervishes which intentionally mimics the movement of the cosmos.

Having wrested control of the Ka’ba from competing tribes, Qusayy had his house attached to the shrine and used his control over it as “the Keeper of the Keys” to consolidate his power and collect revenues from pilgrims. According to tradition, the shrine had been built by Abraham and his first son, Ishmael. Through manipulation of this tradition, Qusayy elevated the status of his tribe by affirming his clansmen to be “the noblest and purest of the descendants of Ishmael” and proclaimed himself “King of Mecca.” He made the Ka’ba and, of course, his own residence, the center of the city from which power and wealth radiated outward. He further increased Mecca’s importance by removing idols worshiped by neighboring tribes in the neighboring sacred hills of Safah, Marwah and even from the City of Ta’if, and enshrining them in the Ka’ba, whose pantheon came to include an icon of Jesus Christ himself, said to have been brought there by a Copt named Baqura. In this manner he was able to make Mecca the h

Holy City not just for the divinities worshiped in the Hijaz, but for those of all Arabia. With the increased income brought by growing numbers of pilgrims, came the added economic benefit from barter and trading of goods. The sacred four-month truce was instituted to allow pilgrims to travel to and from the holy shrine and also coincide with a cycle of fairs and markets throughout the Hijaz and beyond. This confluence of religion and commerce brought additional revenues to the city and another source of taxation to the Quarysh oligarchs, who became disproportionately wealthy with respect to ordinary tribesmen. The stratification of wealth had unanticipated social consequences because it undermined the egalitarian ethos of Arabian tribal life in which the leader or “sheik” was the first among equals and whose authority was based on consultation and consent. Now, under Quraysh dominance, Mecca had gained new wealth and power but was fast loosing the sense of equality and shared wealth from earlier days, and those who lost the most were those toward the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

For Muhammad, who was orphaned at the age of six with little inheritance, the economic and social inequities of life under the rule of the Quarysh oligarchs made a lasting impression and his drive to redress them became one of the dominant themes of his prophetic mission. He was always the champion of widows, orphans, women, and the down-trodden. He instituted an alms tax (zakat) to provide for the redistribution of wealth among the needy. He even elevated generosity toward the poor above prayer in holiness, as expressed in the following passage from the Qur’an, where the phrase “turn your faces towards the East and the West” means “to pray”:

Righteousness is not to turn your faces towards the East and the West; the righteous is he who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the Prophets; who gives of his money, in spite of loving it, to the near of kin, and the orphans, the needy, the wayfarers and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves; who performs the prayers and pays the alms-tax [zakat]. Such are also those who keep their pledges once they have made them, and endure patiently privation, affliction and in times of fighting. Those are the truthful and the Good-fearing. (2:177)

The central importance of the zakat and redistribution of wealth within the Ummah has, in modern times, led to numerous experiments with socialism throughout the Islamic world, with varied results. The interplay between these two traditions, which in many respects are diametrically opposed, is one of the most interesting dynamics in Muslim countries today and merits extensive examination in its own right in a separate paper. In the passage above, one particularly controversial topic mentioned is the freeing of slaves. Slavery was common practice in the Hijaz during Muhammad’s time, usually referred to in the Qur’an by the expression “what you hold by your right hand.” Muhammad, however, instituted a humanitarian policy through which slaves, usually slaves who had accepted Islam, were purchased from their owners and set free. At the same time, he made a habit of freeing slaves who were given to him or who fell under his control through inter-tribal war. Nevertheless, the traditional acceptance of slavery has persisted, in spite of Muhammad’s disposition against it, down to the present day in many Islamic areas, particularly in the Sahara where armed Arabs are engaged in the slave trade of African blacks.(2) This trade is such an egregious ethical violation, its continued tolerance by the Islamic international community is blight on the religion and certainly not in keeping with the spirit of the Qur’an.(3) One final note regarding the Hijaz is the routine destruction of archeological sites that threatens to deprive Islam and the world of much of its own precious history. The sources of this danger to historic preservation are two. One, of course, is development of the area, spurred by the huge demands of the Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca. The other is the antagonism of some conservative Islamic sects, particularly the Wahhabite clerics who dominate in Saudi Arabia, against anything that might be construed as a shrine or relic, and especially any historical artifacts that might call into question Islamic history as crystallized in their teachings and beliefs. It should be remembered that what is at stake is not just the archeology of early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but the nexus of the primeval migrations through which the ancestors of all mankind left Africa to inhabit the rest of the world. Nor should it escape notice that this sect which began with the systematic destruction of iconic structures in Arabia and the Near East, including many sites held sacred by most Muslims, has expanded its modus operandi on the world stage where its disciples have attacked Shiite mosques, blown up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and destroyed the Twin Towers.

Monotheism & the Hanifs

The early history of religion in the Hijaz and surrounding areas has immense importance for world history through its obvious connections to Judaism and Christianity as well as Islam. One of the best documented instances is the story of Noah, which first appears in the Sumerian epic poem, Gilgamesh, composed in the late third or early second millennium BCE. It was incorporated with little modification into the Torah; it is a favorite Biblical story among Christians; and it is cited and retold in the Qur’an some thirty-four times. What is not so obvious is the fabric of connections that go back to an even deeper past and encompass a wider range of cultures and systems of belief. The unraveling of the threads of this fabric is an ongoing endeavor of encyclopedic proportions being undertaken by researchers around the globe, aided by new information technologies and often motivated by renewed interest in the origins of local cultures with the support of their Diaspora from abroad. Such is the case of the Zoroastrians, who once formed the dominant religion of Persia, Tibet, Mesopotamia, and other regions in the Middle East. Now after years of relative obscurity, they are enjoying a modest international revival which is encouraging new research into their history.(1)

The Prophet Zoroaster’s dates are uncertain, but current scholarship suggests he lived c. 1500 to 1000 BCE. He is thought to have been born in Eastern Persia, perhaps in Bactria. His prophetic mission was to reform the Indo-Iranian religion inherited from Arian ancestors from Europe and which had strong ties through common Indo-European roots to the early Vedic religions of Northern India and the Norse pantheon of Europe. On the basis of implements and practices mentioned in Zoroastrian texts, some scholars have dated the birth of this religion to the earlier transitional period from Neolithic to Bronze Age and the establishment of agriculture as the economic basis of society and religion. One of Zoroastrianism’s most revolutionary aspects was suppression of warrior cults associated with war gods, such as Indra. On the social level this change was reflected in a theology that elevated herding and cultivation of the soil--“He who cultivates corn cultivates righteousness”(2)--over the aggression on the battle field, a difficult task in a culture dominated by warring communities. Here it is important to call attention to a number of points regarding the Zoroastrians because of the way they dove-tail with the Baha’i view that there is continuity in God’s revelations to mankind. First, scholars have confirmed that there was an intercontinental system of religious practice and belief that connected Europe and Asia from prehistoric times which is traceable in much the same way as the family tree of Indo-European languages. Second, in Zoroaster’s revelations the beginnings of an evolutionary process can be discerned through which religion adapts to new socio-economic conditions, such as the use of bronze, the development of agriculture, and breeding of domestic animals, which in turn lead to attempts to suppress aggression and violence to protect their new economic base, all of which was done in the name of cosmic peace. Third, in this evolutionary process an alliance is formed between God and mankind whose primary purpose is to combat evil and achieve peace on earth. And fourth, the tradition established in Iran by Zoroaster has remained in tact, although beleaguered, to the present day, and has probably had a much more formative influence on Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith as well, than is usually recognized.

At the age of twenty Zoroaster is said to have retreated to a cave where he spent seven years meditating and seeking enlightenment. There he experience several visitation from the Ahura Mazda (literally “Wise Lord” or “Lord of Wisdom”), the author of the Creation to whom alone Man owes his devotion. Ahura Mazda is opposed by his twin opposite, the destructive spirit, Angra Mainyu, the embodiment of all evil. Even though it was prophesied that Ahura Mazda and the forces of good would eventually defeat Angra Mainyu, there is nonetheless a fundamental dualism in this view of the cosmos. In this sense, Zoroastrianism has been described as devotional monotheism (devotion to one god) and metaphysical dualism (belief in two separate and distinct divine forces differentiated along the ethical divide that separates good from evil). Shortly after Ahura Mazda created the earth, Angra Mainyu broke through the lower dome of the sky and set about adulterating all earthly perfection with evil. The period that ensued, and the one in which we live, is therefore the era of “Mixture” where “good” creation is contaminated by the evil spirit. Ahura Mazda has enlisted the aid of mankind to help him return the Creation to its original pristine state. The alliance with God and goodness of his common cause with the Creator has ennobled man and given him the opportunity to prove himself worthy in life of achieving everlasting peace after death. Upon death, the good and evil thoughts, words, and deeds of each person are weighed on a balance scale; those whose good works outweigh the evil, go to Paradise; if the balance stays even, they go to a purgatorial Limbo where neither joy nor sorrow exist; and if evil outweighs the good, they go to a place of punishment in the underworld. In opposition to older customs, money and lavish sacrifices avail no one in the face of divine justice; all are judged equally. At the end of the era of “Mixture,” Ahura Mazda will send a savior, “a man who is better than a good man.”(3) Called Astvat-ereta (“He who embodies righteousness”), he will be born of a Virgin impregnated by bathing in a lake where the seed of Zoroaster is miraculously preserved in its pure waters. Under the leadership of Astvat-ereta, mankind unites with the Creator to drive Angra Mainyu and the forces of evil from the earth. A second and Last Judgment then takes place, and at its conclusion, the damned are destroyed, the saved cross a bridge to an earthly Paradise restored to its original purity and goodness where they live forever in the company of the Divine Creator.

When Zoroaster emerged from his cave and started teaching, he was at first ridiculed, but through a series of conversions beginning with his nephew, established a small band of followers who had to arm themselves for protection, so controversial was his message. The fortunes of the new faith improved abruptly when the prophet fortuitously cured King Vishtaspa’s horse, which so impressed the king that he converted along with his Queen. Subsequently, Zoroaster married the king’s daughter, Hvogvi, and many throughout the kingdom followed the example of the royal family and converted, too.

The rational ethical focus of Zoroastrianism is underscored by several essential aspects of this religion: 1) the designation of the primary metaphysical properties of the Creation in ethical terms, namely as “good” and “evil”, 2) the title naming the supreme deity “Lord of Wisdom”, 3) the alliance between God and man for the epic task of restoring perfect goodness to the Creation, and 4) the final judgement by which the good are rewarded and the evil punished. Its moral teachings are encapsulated in the epigrammatic phrase: “Good thoughts, good words, good deed,” a creed repeated by the Buddhist saying, “Think good, speak good, and do good”, the three fundamental acts that determine karma. This strong orientation toward ethical action that can be understood by reasonable people had broad appeal during a period of growing contacts among the diverse lands connected by the Silk Road. Zoroastrianism spread east along the Silk Road into northern China, where it enjoyed official status in several northern states (temple remains have been found in Kaifen and Zhenjiang), and west through Persia, Babylonia and, in subsequent periods, the Hellenistic world and Roman Empire. According to Herodotus, Zoroastrians were at the court of King Astyges of Media. When Astyges was defeated by Cyrus the Great (550BCE), founder of the Achaemenid Empire, they maintained prominence as functionaries in the state bureaucracy. In spite of being caught on the losing side of a dynastic struggle upon the death of Cambyses (522 BCE), they continued to serve as judges, accountants, and controllers, as well as state priests until the Persian defeat by the Macedonians under Alexander the Great in 335 BCE. Persecuted by Alexander, they sought refuge in northern Media and in Parthia, where they were influential. When the Sassanids (c. 226 CE) reestablished Persian autonomy, Zoroastrians regained political importance, again serving as judges, bureaucratic functionaries, and state priests, especially under King Ardasir. It was during this third Persian dynasty that Zoroastrian texts were first committed to writing on a systematic basis. Following the Sassanids’ defeat by Muslim forces in 642 CE, Zoroastrianism went into gradual decline suffering an unabated series of reverses that marginalized its followers to isolated areas in Persia or forced them to emigrate, as the Parsi community that settled in India near modern Bombay.

It is argued by a number of scholars that Zoroastrianism had a profound influence on Judaism, especially during the Babylonian Captivity (Nebuchadnezzar 597 BCE to Cyrus 538 BCE) as well as on Christianity and Islam. It contains a number of elements which are readily identifiable as core monotheistic concepts characteristic of these closely related religions of Semitic origin. They include the concepts of heaven, hell, and purgatory, a code of ethics, a Last Judgment, a Messiah, his birth by a virgin, a hierarchy of angels and demons, a Satanic enemy, and of course, devotion to a single god. There are also some general similarities between the lives of Zoroaster and the Prophet Muhammad that merit attention. Both retreat to a cave to meditate and seek enlightenment, where they receive a divine message. Following the instructions of their revelations, they set out to reform the polytheistic religion followed by their contemporaries calling on them to worship a single god, only to be ridiculed and attacked. Their first converts are family members and close friends. Driven to defend themselves and their followers from violent attacks, they form military bands for self protection. Through skillful political negotiation they enhance the status and power of their nascent religion. A synergy develops between the new faith and the birth of a new political empire. Religion, politics, and economic power enhance each other as together they spread far beyond their original local borders.

A probable conduit for familiarity with Zoroastrian doctrine and practice in Islam is the emancipated slave, Salman, who was among Muhammad’s closest Companions. Born in Isfahan, Persia, he had grown up a Zoroastrian. According to Islamic tradition, his father was responsible for a prominent fire temple, perhaps a head priest. Literate and cultivated, and intimately familiar with different religious cultures of the Middle East, he converted to Christianity. While traveling as an emissary for his bishop, he was treacherously sold into slavery, and ultimately became the property of a Jew of the Qurayza tribe in Medina. Thanks to Muhammad’s established practice of manumitting slaves, Salman was purchased and freed. He converted to Islam and was instrumental in the Muslim success at the Battle of Ahzab (the “Battle of the Ditch” also called the “Siege of Medina”). Muhammad, who was very fond of him, made him an honorary member of his family. Muhammad’s wife, Aisha, recounted how he spent long evening hours at the Prophet’s house engaged in conversation about religion. Muhammad’s familiarity with the Zoroastrians, who were commonly referred to as Magians, is attested to in the Qur’an, where they are identified as monotheists, along with the Sabians, who were probably a sect or population of Zoroastrians also, perhaps from the area around Basra.(4)

The believers, the Jews, the Christians and the Sabians—whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is good, shall receive their reward from their Lord. They shall have nothing to fear and they shall not grieve. (2:69; also see 7:85 & 5:69)

Indeed, the believers, the Jews, the Sabians, the Christian, the Magians and the idolaters—Allah shall decide between them on the Day of Resurrection. (22:17)

In addition to the points of coincidence among the religions cited above and Zoroastrianism, there are other similarities that have special relevance to Islam. Similar to Islamic practice, Zoroastrians prayed five times a day--at dawn, sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight--and ritual ablations were often performed prior to prayer. Islamic demonology also shows certain affinities with Persian antecedents. In the Zoroastrian cosmology Ahura Mazda had a retinue of beneficent emanations similar to archangels and angels and Angra Mainyu a retinue of “Daevas”, “a race of evil purpose.”

“The Daevas chose not rightly, because the Deceiver [Angra Mainyu] came upon them as they consulted, so that they chose the worst purpose. Then together they betook themselves to Wrath, through whom they afflicted the life of man.”

(Yasna, 30.6)

In Christian doctrine, Lucifer and his companion demons are fallen angels, but

in Islamic metaphysics there is God, the angels, man, and a forth spiritual manifestation called the jinn—familiarized as “genie” in Western folklore. Jinn could be either good or evil, but it is significant that Muhammad describes Satan as one: “Satan, he was one of the jinn.” (18:50) When God asks Satan to prostrate himself before Adam, he refuses:

He [Allah] said: “. . . Have you waxed proud or were you one of the exalted?” He [Satan] said: “I am better than he [Adam]; You created me from fire and You created him from clay.” (38:75-76)

The jinn, like Satan (here called “Iblis”), who are created from fire, hark back to an earlier demonology like that of the Zoroastrians, although dualism in the strict sense is avoided here because Satan is “created . . . from fire” by God. The jinn were a traditional part of the animistic pre-Islamic system of belief, but the manner in which they were incorporated into Islam suggests a supportive Zoroastrian influence.

During the third century CE another Persian prophet, Mani (c. 210-276 CE), founded a new religion known to modern readers as Manichaeism. Having received divine revelation in his youth from a spirit he described as his “twin”, his “double”, his “Divine Self”, he claimed to be the last in a long line of successive prophets that included Zoroaster, Hermes, Plato, Buddha, and Jesus. Following Zoroaster, Mani believed in the dualistic existence of two opposing forces, light and darkness, locked in perpetual conflict; but in contrast to Zoroaster who prophesied the ultimate triumph of good over evil, Mani taught they were equally balanced in power and neither could ever dominate the other. Given the syncretic predisposition of its founder, Manichaeism incorporated the beliefs of many disparate religions, such as the transmigration of souls from Buddhism, numerous concepts from Neo Platonic philosophy, and Christianity to the extent that he described himself as a “disciple of Jesus Christ.” He was branded a heretic by Christians, and rejected in Persia by the Zoroastrians priests under Bahram I, who put him in prison where he died awaiting execution. Mani’s teachings were widely disseminated to the East as far as Tibet and China, and West throughout the Roman Empire. Due to their tolerance of other religions, the Manicheans collected writings from a wide range of authors and sects. To this practice is owed the preservation of many manuscripts including apocrypha as well as heretical and pagan works systematically destroyed by Christians. St. Augustine of Hippo, who was a practicing Manichean for nine years, is perhaps the best known today of Mani’s many followers. John, the author of the Book of Revelations, who paints the most vivid Biblical version of the war between the forces of good and evil recalls many features of the Zoroastrian/Manichean tradition. The most notable importance of Manichaeism for the purposes of this paper stems from its syncretism, its practice of religious tolerance, and the concept of progressive revelation across religious lines on a global scale, all of which are recurring themes in the teachings of Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah.

The Christians with whom Muhammad came in contact in the Hijaz were primarily Nestorians and Monophysites (Copts are Egyptian Monophysites), sects that were heretical in both Western and Eastern churches. These sects were essentially outgrowths of disputes among Greek-speaking Christians in the East who were involved in the protracted process of clarifying the inherent conceptual difficulties of the Incarnation of Jesus and the Trinity, especially the relationship between Father and Son, using the sophisticated and highly nuanced language inherited from Greek philosophy. Words like essence (ousia), substance (hypostasis), nature (physis), person (hyposopon)--all subject to vicissitudes of interpretation--denote some of the major topics of controversy generated by attempts to explain how Father and Son are two but really one, the Son both god and human, and Jesus the son of the Father, but not created by him because both are “co-eternal.” Further discord was added by the fact that these controversies were being translated into Latin and then back again to Greek in communications between Eastern and Western churches. Foremost among those led by philosophical reasoning to “mistaken” heretical doctrine is Arias, a Christian of Libyan ancestry, who grew up in Antioch and served as presbyter of a local church in Alexandria. In his view, the Son was of the same essence or nature as the Father, but not “consubstantial” with him. The Son was begotten, the First-Born of the Creation: the Father was the eternal Creator and therefore not “created.” As a consequence, Arias relegated the Son to the status of demigod, half way between man and God, a doctrine that did not square with Roman orthodoxy. The controversy over Arias’ views became so heated that Constantine, who believed he needed the Church to be unified in order for him to exert control over it as he controlled the pagans through his role as Pontifex Maximus, summoned the First Council of Nicaea (June, 325 CE), which almost unanimously affirmed that Father and Son were both “consubstantial” and “coeternal.” The Council redacted the Nicene Creed to encapsulate orthodoxy in a brief statement, which was slightly amended by the first Council of Constantinople (381 CE). It was later modified with controversy in the Sixth Century by the addition of “and the Son” (filioque) in an attempt to combat the Arian heresy, a change which was not officially sanctioned until 1014 CE. This statement, together with the Apostle’s Creed of the First Century, articulates the essentials of Christian belief and has remained to this day one of the principal unifying documents among Christian sects around the globe. For those who don’t have it by rote, the entire text is given because of its historical importance.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son (filioque)]; who with the Father [and the Son] together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

The schismatic Arias refused to accept the Creed or its doctrine and was promptly banished to Illyria by the Emperor who viewed his heresy as an act of rebellion.

It is ironic that this same dispute over the nature of the Son—was he “created” by the Father or “coeternal” with him—would resurface centuries later in the debate over Islamic law and the nature of the Qur’an. There the fault line between “traditionalists” and “rationalists” erupted in the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries with the Qur’an replacing the Son in this dispute. Restated in these terms, Muslim traditionalists argued that the Qur’an was “coeternal” with God, and therefore not “created,” while the rationalists believed it to be created by God along with the rest of the Creation. The traditionalists won the power struggle if not the argument, and that victory set the stage for the future development of Islamic law, relegating reason to a subservient level in legal discourse, as shall be seen when we return to this subject later.

The Arian controversy did not die when Constantine banished Arias to Illyria but continued for centuries, often in transmuted or variant forms, primarily in the East, and of these variants the Monophysites and Nestorians are among the more prominent. As with the Aryans, these sects diverged from orthodox Catholic dogma on the nature and essence of Christ: the orthodox position was that Christ was one person, one essence, and two natures (i.e., one divine and one human); the Monophysite simplified this formula to one person, one essence, one nature; and the Nestorians held the doctrine of one person, two essences, and two natures. Although these differences seem inconsequential today in an age when dogmatic niceties have negative connotations, they led not just to ostracism and banishment, but to imprisonment and sectarian persecution matched in violence only by that inflicted on Christians by the pagans in centuries prior. Many of these conflicts had political overtones, to the extent that support of one camp over another was often given to secure and maintain power both at home and abroad. These two sects were particularly hostile toward each other and through their hostility became politically aligned, the Monophysites, in spite of their heretical doctrine, with the Byzantine Empire and the Nestorians with the Sassanid dynasty in Persia. This alignment crystallized when the Monophysites drove the Nestorians out of Antioch and Syria into Persia. There, King Peroz (457-84), following the advice of the Bishop of Nisibis, sought to insure the loyalty of the Christian population within his boarders, long suspected of being a “fifth column” for the Byzantines against Zoroastrian Persia. The Persian church had already asserted its independence from Antioch and the Byzantine Church at the Council of Seleucia (410 CE). With Nestorians forced out of their schools and churches in Syria now seeking shelter in his kingdom, Peroz consolidated Christian unity in Persia by driving all non-Nestorians out. This political maneuver took advantage of the preexisting enmity between the Nestorians and the Eastern Empire, which had acquiesced to the Monophysites’ demand for their expulsion. In this manner, the Nestorians severed the ties which in the past had bound them as Christians to the Emperor in Constantinople. In like manner, the Byzantines used this same religious division to bolster the loyalties of their allies along the Syrian border by proselytizing the federated Arab tribes, such as the Salihids, who were fanatic Christians. In 541 BCE, al-Harith, leader of the Ghassanid Arabs on the southern border of Syria, while on a visit to Constantinople, asked the Empress, Theodora, for Monophysite bishops for his tribe, and was granted two. One of these itinerant bishops, Jacob Baradaeus, is said to have consecrated before his death in 578 BCE, twenty-seven bishops and the in-verisimilar number of a hundred thousand clergymen. With the vicissitudes of church dogma and politics, the Monophysites were periodically harassed during times of enforced orthodoxy, which also led to increased dissemination of their doctrine through the Arab communities to the south, as in the case of Monophysite monks in the Arab regions of Syria who, during the reign of Justin (518-27 CE), were given the choice between embracing orthodoxy or expulsion. They, for the most part, chose expulsion and their exodus in turn enhanced the spread of Monophysite teachings among Arab the populations into which they re-assimilated. As a result, Christianity was widely infused throughout the Arab population which, unlike today, was highly tolerant of religious diversity. Perhaps the Christian who had the greatest impact on Muhammad’s religious mission was Waraqa b. Naufal, his wife Khadija’s cousin. It was he who counseled him after his first revelation while still in a state of terror after his first visitation by the Angel Gabriel. One of Muhammad’s later wives, Mariyah, was an Egyptian Copt (i.e., Monophysite) whom he married to strengthen political relations with Egypt.

The Monophysites and Nestorians followed the lead of Arias in so far as they emphasized the human aspect of Jesus over the orthodox western doctrines of “consubstantiality” and the “co-eternal” nature of Father and Son. In the context of this controversy, Muhammad, or course, would go a step farther and completely deny the divinity of Jesus and reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

And when Allah said: “O Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to the people: “Take me and my mother as gods, apart from Allah?” He said: “Glory be to you. It is not given me to say what is untrue.” (5:116)

Unbelievers too are those who have said that Allah is the third of three. For there is no god except the One God. (5:73)

Although many Christians revere Mary, no established sect thought of her as a “god.” Christianity as encountered by Muhammad, however, was a more complex matter. It was noted previously that the images of Jesus had been brought to Mecca by a Copt Monophysite where both he and the Virgin Mary were worshiped as demigods along with the other companion deities in the Ka’ba. It is these worshipers whom Muhammad addresses in the passage above. The local idiosyncrasies and varied strains of monotheism that were current in the Hijaz at the time of Muhammad are important, and should be kept in mind as contributory to the cultural milieu in which Islam was born. The most immediate and influential group of practicing monotheists on Muhammad, however, was not the Jews, Arians, Nestorians, or Zoroastrians, but the Hanifs whom in the early years of his mission he identified as Muslims.

Relatively little is known about the Hanifs. The pre-Islamic religion of the Arabs, both Bedouin and urban, was generally characterized by ancestor worship, animism, and the deification of natural forces loosely dependent on a Supreme Creator, Al-ilah (literally “the god”), hence Allah. His “daughters” referred to in the Qur’an as al-Lat and al-Uzza, may have represented the two phases of Venus or “Morning Star” and “Evening Star”, while the third, Manat, was identified with destiny. In the Hellenized Nabataean city of Petra, which had come under Roman control during the reign of Trajan, al-Lat was goddess of spring and fertility who became identified with the Greco-Roman Athena/Minerva, al-Uzza with Aphrodite/Venus, and Manat with Nemesis. Upon the ascendancy of Christianity in the Empire after Constantine (Emperor, 306-337 CE), the Judeo-Christian tradition supplanted the Greco-Roman pantheon in influence and infused Arab culture with a new sense of identity over the course of the next three centuries. With the accelerated diffusion of Biblical texts throughout Arab lands, Arabs found a biblical context for their genealogy which traced back to Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, born to Hagar, the handmaiden of his then barren wife, Sarah. The pivotal passage asserting this connection is from Genesis, which recounts how God protected Ishmael and Hagar in the desert after being cast out by Abraham at Sarah’s insistence. It is cited at length due to its importance.

And the angel of the Lord said to her [Hagar], “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall cal his name Ishmael [literally “God hears”]; because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” (Gen., 16)

So she [Sarah] said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendents be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” And as she sat over against him, the child lifted up his voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt. (Gen., 21)

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Shea and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Ashurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

. . . Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him [Abraham] in the cave of Machpelah . . .

These are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, born to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the first born of Ishamel; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Misham, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jeur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishamel and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. (These are the years of the life of Ishmael, a hundred and thirty-seven years; he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his kindred.) They dwelt from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria; he settled over against all his people. (Gen., 25.)

In this account, and numerous variants available to them, Arabs found a documented scriptural link between their ancestry and Abraham. Moreover, God had blessed this ancestry through his active intervention. The name Ishmael, itself, means “God hears”; God had reassured Hagar, prior to his birth; again, He reassured Abraham that He would “make a nation of the son of the slave woman”; in the wilderness of Beer-sheba “God hears” (a name pun) Ishmael’s cry and intervenes to save mother and child with water—again He reassures Hagar that He will make Ishmael “a great nation”; as he grows up, “God was with the lad”; Ishmael takes part in the Abraham’s burial; the genealogy of “the twelve princes according to their tribes” derived from Ishmael is spelled out; and a further connection is made between the Arabs and Abraham’s children with Keturah, whose sons were sent “eastward to the east country.” Moreover, the “twelve princes”, like the twelve Apostles, and the twelve Imams, are linked to the twelve stations of the Zodiac, giving them a transcendent symbolic significance.

Prior to Constantine, Christians viewed the Arabs as treacherous barbarians, the outcast descendants of the renegade Ishmael, the “wild ass of a man . . . [who raised his] hand against every man and every man’s hand against him.” In the fourth and fifth centuries, this perception gradually changed in the Eastern Empire, which had become dependent on federated Christian Arab tribes for the defense of its eastern borders against the Sassanids. Christian Arabs by that time had become active participants in the Eastern Church at all levels and Arab bishops were in ample attendance at the ecumenical Councils of Ephesus (431 CE) and Chalcedon (435 CE). The fusion of Christian and Arab elements produced many interesting cultural variations. In the federated tribe of “Udra, for example, Christian spirituality and the Arab concept of “manliness” fused in a new poetic form called ‘Udrl or ‘Udrite, which was ultimately conveyed through Spain to southern Europe where it contributed to the formulation of the Art of Courtly Love. In broader terms, the enhanced environment of Arab-Christian interdependence fostered a theological metamorphosis by which the unredeemed “outcast Ishmaelites” were transformed into the legitimate heirs to the patrimony of Abraham. Written works that elaborate the “Ishmaelite” version of Arab history in considerable detail include the apocryphal Jewish Book of Jubilees (c. 140-100 BCE) and the writings of the ecclesiastical historians Theodoret and Sozomenus from the fifth century CE. The image make-over within Christendom was paralleled by a similar transformation in the pagan Arab communities where the wide dissemination of Christian and Judaic scripture, both orthodox and heretical, stimulated interest in the story of the ancestral Abraham and its implications for Arab religious belief which was already infused with ancestor worship. The Hanif were an integral part of this trend as it was manifested in the Hijaz.

The Hanif who was probably Muhammad’s first source of inspiration was Zayd b. ‘Amr. A small number of his writings have survived and in them any attentive reader of the Qur’an will detect, as in the following passages, many similarities in subject, treatment, and wording.(5)

Am I to worship one lord or a thousand?

If there are as many as you claim,

I renounce al-Lat and al-‘Uzza both of them

As any strong-minded person would.

I will not worship al-‘Uzza and her two daughters,

Nor will I visit the two images of the Banu ‘Amr.

I will not worship Hubal’ though he was our lord

In the days when I had little sense.

. . .

I serve my Lord the compassionate

That the forgiving Lord may pardon my sin,

So keep to the fear of God your Lord;

While you hold to that you will not perish.

You will see the pious living in gardens,

While for the infidels hell fire is burning.

An indication of the attitude of local Arab Christians to the Hanif is provided by the elegy written by Waraqa b. Naufal b. Asad. He was reputed to be a former Hanif who had converted to Christianity and translated numerous religious texts into Arabic. More significant still is the fact that, as noted above, he was a paternal cousin of Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, his partner in the founding of Islam.

You were altogether on the right path Ibn ‘Amr,

You have escaped hell’s burning oven

By serving the one and only God

And abandoning vain idols.

And by attaining the religion which you sought

Not being unmindful of the unity of your Lord

You have reached a noble dwelling

Wherein you will rejoice in your generous treatment.

You will meet there the friend of God . . .

Here it is noteworthy that a learned Christian would assert that Zayd b. ‘Amr had “escaped hell’s burning oven” and “reached a noble dwelling” because he had been mindful of the “unity of your Lord” and not because he had accepted Christ and the sacraments, the traditional Christian path to Heaven. It is also significant that Muhammad, in a state of terror and confusion following his first revelation, was taken by Khadija to Waraqa b. Naufal who both reassured and warned him with these remarks:

Never did a man come with something similar to what you have brought [i.e., a divine visitation] but was treated with hostility. If I should remain alive till the day when you [Muhammad] will be turned out [ostracized] then I would support you strongly. (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 9, Bk. 87, No. 111. The source of this account is Muhammad’s wife, Aisha.)

Here again is evidence of a fluidity that blurred clear distinction between Hanif and Christian doctrine when the Christian declares that if he lived he “would support [him] strongly”, just as he had supported Zayd b. ‘Amr in the elegy cited above.

According to Islamic tradition, Zayd bin ‘Amr objected publicly to the religious practices of the Quarysh leadership in Mecca, especially the polytheistic representation of idols they tolerated in the Ka’ba. Abu Bakr’s daughter recalled the following anecdote about him: “Asmad, Abu Bakr’s daughter, said that she saw Zayd as a very old man leaning his back on the Ka’ba and saying, ‘O, Quraysh, By Him in whose hand is the soul of Zayd, not one of you follows the religion of Abraham but I.’”(6) Zayd bin ‘Amr was driven out of town probably by his own relatives(7) and retreated to a cave on Mt. Hira, the same place where Muhammad was first visited by the Angel Gabriel. Eventually he was forced to leave The Hijaz. From there tradition reports, he travel to Syria but return to Mecca where he died, purportedly killed at the instigation of the Quraysh, whom he had opposed. During the early phase of his prophetic mission, Muhammad elaborated the Hanif doctrine of Zayd bin ‘Amr. In so doing, he assumes the role of a reformer who avoids the doctrinal labyrinth of Judeo-Christian sects and their disputes by returning to the fountainhead of true religion, the bosom of Abraham. The return to the Biblical patriarch and putative common ancestor of all tribes had wide appeal for Arab society for on the one hand the reverence of ancestors was already established practice while on the other, it gave the ancestry of the tribes scriptural status as a people favored by God distinct from but equal to Christians and Jews. This simple fact is the key to understanding how Muhammad interpreted the Muslim relationship to the other Biblical religions. Although he associates himself with the Judeo-Christian prophetic traditions, he does not present Islam as derived from either Judaism or Christianity. Muslims were more like Hanifs, and as such they were the direct heirs of monotheism as practiced by Abraham. It is upon the Covenant of Abraham, the first Muslim, with God that Islam is directly founded.

Abraham was neither Jew nor a Christian, but a Hanif and a Muslim. And he was not one of the polytheists. (3:67)

Muhammad, of course, accepted as authentic the covenants of the other biblical prophets.

And [remember] when We took from the Prophets their covenant and from you [Muhammad] and from Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, son of Mary, too; and We took from them a solemn covenant. (33:7)

But the heritage that matters most is the heritage from Abraham.

And who has a better religion than one who submits himself to Allah, does right and follows the true religion of Abraham the upright one? Allah has taken Abraham for a friend. (4:125)

Indeed, Abraham was a model, obedient to Allah and upright; and he was not one of the polytheists. . . . Allah elected and guided him to a Straight Path. . . . and in the Hereafter he will be one of the righteous. Then We revealed to you [Muhammad]: “Follow the religion of Abraham, the upright; for he was not one of the polytheists.” (16:120-123)

The importance of Abraham is symbolized by the Ka’ba, the shrine that, according to Arab tradition, he and Ishmael build at Mecca, “the First house” of worship “founded for mankind,” implying both “earliest” and “first” in preeminence.

Say: “Allah has spoken the truth. Follow then the religion of Abraham, the upright; he was not one of the polytheists.” The first House founded for mankind is truly that at Bakka [Mecca], blessed and a guidance to all the nations. (3:95-96)

Allah has made the Ka’ba, the Sacred House, a foundation of religion for all mankind. (5:97)

The building of the Ka’ba was accompanied by the formulation of the “sacred rites” given specifically to the people of the Hijaz by God, as differentiated from those granted other “people of the book”, such as the Jews and Christians.

And while Abraham and Isma’il raised the foundations of the House [Ka’ba], [they prayed]: “Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Surely You are the All-Hearing, the Omniscient.”

“Our Lord, cause us to submit to You, and make of our posterity a nation that submits to You. Show us our sacred rites, and pardon us. You are, indeed, the Pardoner, the Merciful.” (2:127-28)

These “sacred rites” specifically inherited from Abraham the “Hanif” included pilgrimage, circumambulation of the Ka’ba, ritual cleansing, fulfillment of vows, and prayer enacted through prostration.

And when We appointed for Abraham the site of the House [We said]: “You shall not associate with Me anything [i.e., other deities] and purify My House for those who circle round, those who stand up, those who kneel and those who prostrate themselves;”

And proclaim the pilgrimage to the people . . . during certain numbered days . . .

Then, let them complete their self-cleansing and fulfill their vows and circle round the Ancient House.

And to every nation, We have appointed a holy rite. (22:26-34)

The purity of the Ka’ba, however, had not been maintained. During Muhammad’s time, the Quraysh leadership had housed in and around the shrine some three hundred and fifty deities, roughly the number of days in a year, to be venerated and visited during the sacred months of pilgrimage by worshipers from across the Hijaz and beyond. The Hanif, of course, objected to the pagan defilement of the shrine and protested. Exactly when and how Muhammad became involved in this movement is unclear, but the pivotal moment was probably the placing of the “black stone,” thought to be a meteorite that is embedded in the wall of the shrine as a reference mark for the ritual circumambulation. According to tradition, some draperies in the shrine caught fire and damaged the roof. Before repairs could be effected unseasonable torrential rains damaged the structure further. The tribal clans of Mecca cooperated in making the repairs, but not without an undercurrent of competition which came to a head when it was time to reset the “black stone.” Unable to agree on who should have the honor, they decided to leave it to fate and let the next person who appeared at the site choose. That person chosen by fate was Muhammad. His ingenious solution was to have a large cloth laid out and the stone placed upon it. The clan leaders were then arranged around the cloth which they lifted by the hem, and in this fashion carried the stone to its destination where Muhammad himself set it back in the wall. According to tradition, it was after this episode that his life became increasingly spiritual, a change that led to his visitation from the Archangel Gabriel in the Cave of Hira, and the beginning of his mission as Messenger of God.

The Prophet Muhammad

The Prophet Muhammad is one of the most extraordinary people to have ever lived. He is, of course, extraordinary as the Prophet and founder of a major world religion which has endured almost a millennium and a half and now claims almost a fifth of the world’s population. But what is also extraordinary is the range of his other achievements. He was a talented business man, a successful military commander who unified the Arabian Peninsula, a great political leader, a masterful diplomat, a visionary social reformer, a literary genius who transformed his native language in spite of being “unlettered”, and a devoted family man. What other historical personage accomplished so much on so many levels? Although many traditions have embellished the life of the Prophet, the essential facts and achievements are for Muslims incontrovertible and beyond rival. Alexander the Great was backed by the powerful army of his father, Phillip, and the knowledge of his tutor, Aristotle: Muhammad grew up an impoverished, illiterate orphan at the edge of the desert. For Muslims, this simply begs the question: If God didn’t help Muhammad, then who did? And how can he have achieved what he did without divine intervention? It just seems too large an accomplishment for one man in a single human lifetime.

Within Islam Muhammad’s life has immense importance because it is the ideal example which every Muslim should emulate, even though one must, in the end, fall short. Moreover, his example is not just a model for emulation; it is the basis of Islamic law (sharia). The laws that govern civil conduct in Muslim communities are directly or indirectly based on what he wrote, said, did, or what legal scholars think he might have thought, said, or done in given circumstances. In this sense, the essence of Islam is to follow his example and to know Islam is to know its Prophet. However, as we have pointed out above, the Prophet is an immensely complex and often seemingly contradictory person. In the passage cited above from Qur’an 9:1-6, one reads:

when the Sacred Months are over, kill the idolaters wherever you find them, take them [as captives] . . . If they repent afterwards, perform the prayer and pay the alms, then release them. Allah is . . . Merciful.

How does one extrapolate from this moment in Muhammad’s life so deeply embedded in the intertribal wars of The Hijaz, guidance for life in the modern world? Herein lies the crisis in Islam today, the fork in the road. In simplified form, it is the dichotomy between “kill” or be “merciful,” violence or peace, Muhammad speaking as military general or Prophet of “Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” Muhammad’s answer is to be very cautious in interpreting texts; do not, he tells us, “take the words out of context” (15:12) and “as to those in whose hearts there is vacillation, they follow what is ambiguous in it [The Qur’an], seeking sedition and intending to interpret it.” (3:7) His direction is to take the Qur’an as a whole, and not chose snatches “out of context” to support ambiguous interpretations. From this higher perspective one can say with certainty that Muhammad, both by word and deed, was a believer in “Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.” When in doubt, this is the Qur’an’s higher, over arching message.

Muhammad ibn Abdullah (“son of Abdullah”) was orphaned at the age of six when his mother, Amina, died. His father had died before he was born (c. 570 CE). Although his immediate family was not wealthy, he belonged to the Banu Hashim clan of the dominant Quraysh tribe which had taken control of Mecca under the leadership of his forefather, Qusayy. As a lesser member of this most powerful tribe he was cared for by his extended family and protected by its connections with those in power. At an early age he was employed in the caravan trade and by his early twenties managed the caravans of Khadija, a wealthy widow. When Muhammad was twenty-five they were married. Although tradition holds that she was much older than he, she cannot have been very much older since she bore him three sons (who died in infancy) and four daughters. Her importance in the founding of Islam was second only to her husband’s; without her, it probably would have never happened. After Muhammad’s transformational experience rebuilding the Ka’ba, he became increasingly devout, spending up to a month each year at the Cave of Hira, fasting and meditating. There or in the environs, traditions say that during his teenage years he happened upon the Hanif, Zayd bin Amr, whom he offered meat from a pagan sacrifice. The Hanif refused the offer saying: “I do not eat of what you slaughter on your stone altars nor do I eat except that on which Allah’s Name has been mentioned on slaughtering.”(1) In the same area on Mt. Hira, at the age of forty he was visited in a dream by the Archangel Gabriel. He was fear-struck by the visitation and doubted his own sanity. He returned home quickly where he recounted what had happened to his wife, Khadija. This dramatic moment was recounted by Abu Bakr’s daughter, Aisha, who later became one of Muhammad’s wives. Given her father’s friendship with the Prophet and her intimate knowledge of his household from childhood, tradition regards her as one of the most reliable biographical sources.

He [Muhammad] used to go in seclusion to Hira where he used to worship continuously for many nights. He used to take with him the journey food for that and then come back to Khadija to take his food likewise again for another period to stay, till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him in it and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, “I do not know how to read.” “The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, “I do not know how to read,” whereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read.” Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, “Read: In the Name of your Lord the Most Generous . . .”

Then Allah’s Apostle returned with the Inspiration, his neck muscles twitching with terror till he entered upon Khadija and said, “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him [with blankets] till his fear was over and then he said, “O Khadija, what is wrong with me?” Then he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may happen to me.” Khadija said, “Never! But have the glad tidings, for by Allah, Allah will never disgrace you as you keep good relations with your kith and kin, speak the truth, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guest generously and assist the deserving, calamity-afflicted ones.” Khadija then accompanied him to Waraqa bin Nafal bin Asad bin ‘Abdul ‘Uzza bin Qusai [a former Hanif]. Waraqa was the son of her paternal uncle, who . . . became a Christian and used to write the Arabic writing and used to write of the Gospels in Arabic as much as Allah wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadija said to him, “O my cousin! Listen to the story of your nephew.” Waraqa asked, “O my nephew! What have you seen?” The Prophet described whatever he had seen. Waraqa said, “This is the same Namus [Gabriel] whom Allah had sent to Moses.” [The rest of Waraqa’s response is given above.](2)

After the first visitation, Muhammad began his prophetic mission, following the course initially charted by the Hanifs, such as Zayd bin Amr. Family members and close friends, like his young cousin, Ali, and childhood companion, Abu Bakr, were prominent among his early followers. Khadija, who was his wealthy patron and business partner as well as his wife, was deeply involved in the early Muslim community and may have played an even greater role than is commonly accepted at present. The Prophet’s revolution had two thrusts, one spiritual and monotheistic, the other socio-economic, which sought greater equality including the redistribution of wealth, a moral imperative summed up by Khadija in the passage above, where she asserts “glad tidings” (an echo of the Christian expression “good news”) from God for those who “help the poor and the destitute.” Both the religious and social thrusts of Muhammad’s mission threatened the economic underpinnings of the Quraysh power base in the Hijaz. On the one hand, if the religious idols were thrown out of the Ka’ba it would all but end the inflow of wealth and commerce brought to Mecca by the pilgrims. And if on the other, Muhammad succeeded in realizing his campaign for greater social equality and redistribution of wealth, the oligarchs’ control of the city would be in jeopardy. Needless to say, by 619 CE as the number of his followers grew, the perception of him as a threat to the status quo had grown to the point that he had many powerful enemies. Moreover, by establishing a separate religious community, the Muslim Ummah, with bonds that transcended tribal loyalties, he challenged the tribal structure of Arabian society at its core. In that year Muhammad’s enemies gained the upper hand when death took two of his keenest supporters, his uncle, Abu Talib, and his wife, Khadija, after twenty-five years of monogamous marriage. His uncle had been Sheik of the Banu Hashim clan, a position from which he had protected his beloved nephew since childhood. Upon his death, however, his successor, Abu Lahab, who detested Muhammad, withdrew the support of his clan. In a society where order was dependent on a code of retribution that obligated clan members to avenge harm inflicted upon one of its own, Abu Lahab had in effect declared Muhammad fair game for his enemies without fear of reprisal. As long as he remained in Mecca, he did so at the mercy of his main detractors from the Umayyad clan, the “Keepers of the Keys” to the holy Ka’ba. As Waraqa had predicted, Muhammad was ostracized and he and his followers were forced to leave Mecca in 622 CE and relocate in Medina a three hundred-mile journey due north, where Muhammad had been invited to resolve and inter-tribal dispute. At the time it was an oasis called Yathrib that supported a number of scattered villages, later named Medinat an-Nabi (“The City of the Prophet”), since shortened to Medina. There was an established Hanif presence in Yathrib—two influential tribal leaders were Hanif. The settlement, however, was controlled by several tribes of rustic Arab Jews who, having settled there first, possessed the richest agricultural lands and were dominant in numbers, wealth, and power. The local economy was based on agriculture, especially date orchards, supplemented by cottage manufacturing in metals, textiles, and wine making. For the urbanized Muhajirun, or “Emigrants”, who had cut ties with tribe and family in Mecca to make the hijra (the exodus of Muhammad’s people from Mecca to Medina), Yathrib was a very new and different environment. Within the ten short years remaining before the Prophet’s death in 632 CE, this humble cluster of rural villages would be transformed into the holy city of Medina, the political and cultural center of Arabia, and the model upon which all Islamic communities are ideally founded.

In a fundamental way, Islam is a profoundly nostalgic religion. Every Muslim community looks back to the formative moment in its history when Muhammad established the Ummah in Medina. It is the archetypical ideal which governs Muslim life, and to which the faithful turn for guidance. It is what all Islam holds in common along with the Qur’an. From the Islamic desire to reinstitute life as lived under “Muhammad in Medina,” a tension arises between the impulse to reinstitute the past as lived by a society organized around tribal principals on the one hand and on the other the impulse to actualize the profound and timeless humanitarian teachings of the Prophet and social revolutionary as they apply to conditions in the contemporary world. The arena in which the tension between these two opposing poles is played out is the law, which inherited many features from pre-Islamic tribal custom. For example, many aspects of retribution as a legal remedy passed from Arab social custom and legal “usage” into the Qur’an and Islamic law.

Whoever commits aggression against you, retaliate against him in the same way. (2: 194)

O believers, retaliation for the slain is prescribed for you: a free [man] for a free [man], a slave for a slave and a female for a female. But if he is pardoned by his brother [the aggrieved], usage should be followed and he should pay him liberally and kindly. This is remission and mercy from your Lord. He who transgresses after that will have a painful punishment. In retaliation there is life for you, O people of understanding, that you may be God-fearing. (2:178)

However, in his handling of legal retribution Muhammad took a number of measures to ameliorate some of its harsher aspects and encourage a more progressive and humanitarian legal response in which the punishment was “proportionate to the wrong done” and preferably tempered by forgiveness.

If you punish, then let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong done to you. Yet should you forbear, that is truly better for those who forbear. (16:126)

And We prescribed to them therein [in the Torah] that a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds retaliation; but whoever forges it charitably, it will be an atonement for him. (5:45)

It is significant that in victory, Muhammad was characteristically magnanimous and clement to those vanquished, even to his own detriment. By far the most poignant instance occurred when his army marched unopposed into Mecca after eight years of fratricidal war. There he not only spared the population at large, but also his most intransigent enemies from the Banu Umayya. It is the bitterest ironies for Islam that this very clan that fought against him tooth and nail would accept his clemency and then after his death stealthily seize power within a few short years. To make matters worse, it was the Umayya who, on their way to founding the Umayyad Caliphate, butchered many of the Prophet’s descendents, thereby initiating the Sunni/Shia schism which has split Islam to this day. Islamic law still struggles with finding a legal middle road between retribution and forgiveness, which is just one of the most salient examples of the ongoing debate between the literalists who are often plagued by an anachronistic implementation of Muhammad’s teachings and the progressive movement which affirms the Prophet’s timeless humanitarian ethics as its point of departure in seeking to bring Islamic custom and law into harmony with a modern world that has evolved centuries beyond tribal usage. How this conflict plays out is the essential drama of Islam today, and however it unfolds, its point of departure will always remain the ten years spent by “Muhammad in Medina.”

On the eve of the hijra, Muhammad warned his followers that they were in danger of attack instigated by their enemies in Mecca. As a counter measure, he instructed them to leave in small groups, often by night and taking back roads to avoid discovery. Only after all had left the city did he slip away at night and hide out for three days with Ali and Abu Bakr in a cave while his enemies combed the countryside, offering a reward of a hundred she camels for his capture. The hijra to Medina marks the beginning of the new Muslim era, the year “one” of the new calendar. It is important to note that the calendar is not dated from the Prophet’s birth, or his death, or the first revelation in the cave on Mt. Hira, but rather from the year of the Exodus of Muhammad and his companions. Dating the calendar in this manner underscores the liberation of the Ummah from the “tyranny” of the Quraysh as the beginning of Islam. It also calls attention to the parallels between Muhammad and the hijra with story of Moses, Exodus, and the liberation of the Chosen People by the hand of God.

In Medina the Muslims came in close contact first with rustic Arab Jews and then along the boarders of Palestine, with more traditional Jewish populations, including the Samaritans. It was through them, it is argued, that Muhammad was exposed to the influences of Jewish messianism, a tradition that prophesies the coming of a Messiah who, after escaping to the desert, returns in force and reclaims the Promised Land, the Patrimony of Abraham. This tradition also held that the template for the new Messiah was the life of Moses, and the central event of his coming was a re-enactment of Exodus. Illuminated by this biblical backdrop, the hijra was elaborated in terms of Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh and the flight from Egypt to reclaim the birthright of the Israelites. This model was reinforced by the example of the Samaritans, an ancient Jewish sect who had been settled in Samaria by the Assyrians around 772 BCE. Their version of the Torah is restricted to the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament. The Samaritans were, therefore, an established community rooted in the authentic scripture of the simpler ancient past and not encumbered by subsequent rabbinical law and the sectarian conflicts of later periods. Moses was their primary law giver and Exodus was the story of how their laws were delivered to them by God. It is significant that “Samaritan” is sometimes used in the Qur’an as synonymous with “Jew”: “He [Moses] said [to Aaron]: ‘What is the matter with you, O Samaritan?’” (20:95, also see 20:85) A group of scholars has put forth the argument that these influences were essential in the early formulation of Islam. In this view, Muhammad becomes the new Moses, the hijra is the Exodus of the faithful; the surahs of the Qur’an delivered on Mt. Hira are the equivalent of the tablets received on Mr. Sinai; the Meccan oligarchs, especially the Umayyads, are equated with Pharaoh, his “dignitaries”, and magicians who deny God; and the Islamic conquest of Mecca, Arabia, and finally of Palestine is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy that reclaims the patrimony of Abraham and Moses and returns the Promised Land to the people of God. The extent to which this parallel was implicit in the story of Exodus is exemplified in the following retelling from the Qur’an.

Then We sent forth after them Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his dignitaries, with Our Signs; but they were arrogant; they were sinful people. . . . They said: “Have you come to us to turn us away from that [religion] in which we found our fathers so that sovereignty may be yours, in the land? We shall not believe in you both.” Then Pharaoh said: “Bring me every skilful magician.” Then, when the magicians came, Moses said to them: “Cast down what you intend to cast down.” [i.e., “divining arrows”, etc.] Then, when they cast down, Moses said: “What you brought forward is real sorcery. Allah will bring it to naught. Allah indeed does not uphold the work of the mischief-makers. Allah vindicates the truth by His Words, even if the wicked sinners dislike it.” And so only a handful of his people believed in Moses for fear that Pharaoh and his dignitaries would persecute them. Pharaoh was truly a tyrant in the land and one of the transgressors. And Moses said: “O my people, if you believe in Allah, then in Him put your trust, if you submit.” Whereupon they said: “In Allah we have put our trust. Our Lord, do not let us be tried by the wrongdoing people. And deliver us by Your Mercy from the unbelieving people.” And We revealed to Moses and his brother: “Take for your people dwellings in Egypt and make your dwellings places of worship, perform the prayer and announce the good news [about the after life] to the believers. Moses then said: “Lord, you have given Pharaoh and his dignitaries adornment and wealth in the present life, with which they lead people away from Your Path. O Lord, obliterate their wealth and harden their hearts so that they will not believe, till they see the very painful punishment.” He said: “Your prayer is answered; carry on both with your call and go straight, and do not follow the path of those who do not know.” And We brought the Children of Israel across the sea. Pharaoh and his troops followed them insolently and aggressively; but when he was about to drown, he said: “I believe that there is no god but He in Whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am one of those who submit.”. . . And we have established the Children of Israel in a dignified domain and provided them with good things. So, if you are in doubt concerning what We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Book [Torah] before you. Indeed, the truth has come to you from your Lord; so do not be one of the doubters.


Here the conflict between Pharaoh and Moses arises from the latter’s religious teachings--“Have you come to us to turn us away from that [religion] in which we found our fathers so that sovereignty may be yours, in the land?” Not surprisingly, this is exactly the same language used by the Meccan oligarchs against Muhammad: “’Follow what Allah has revealed’, they say: ‘We would rather follow that which we found our fathers doing.’” (2:170) The people are hesitant to believe “in Moses for fear that Pharaoh and his dignitaries would persecute them” in the same way the Muslims were persecuted in Mecca by their enemies who are as implacable as the Egyptians: “Nor will they cease to fight you until they make you, if then can, renounce your religion.” (2:217) The war against Pharaoh is fundamentally religious, but it also has political and socio-economic implications. On the political level it is a struggle for “sovereignty . . . in the land”; on the socio-economic level it is a war against those who misuse “adornment and wealth in the present life, with which they lead people away from Your Path.”

Pharaoh waxed proud in the land and reduced its inhabitants into factions, subduing a group of them, slaughtering their sons and sparing their women. He was truly a corruption-worker. We wish to favour the downtrodden in the land and make them leaders and make them the inheritors; and establish them firmly in the land and show Pharaoh and Haman [Pharaoh’s minister] and their troops what they used to fear.” (28:4-5)

As to the unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will avail them anything against Allah; in fact, they shall be the fuel of the Fire [in Hell]. Like Pharaoh’s people and those before them who denounced Our Revelations. . . . There surely was a sign for you in the two armies that confronted each other [at the Battle of Badr, 622 CE]; the one side fighting for the Cause of Allah, and the other consisting of unbelievers. (3:10-13)

The Battle of Badr was the first major armed battle fought by the Muslims and, as such, has both historical as well as theological significance within Islam. In it, Muhammad, like Moses, proves his leadership and the power of his God against the “Pharaoh’s people” who are equated with the Umayyad clan, the “Keeper of the Keys”, the protectors of idolatry at the holy shrine of Abraham, personified in the person of Umayya Ibn Khalaf, the arch-enemy of the Prophet. The immediate cause of the battle, however, was economic. The Meccans had sent an exceptionally rich caravan to Syria and feared it would be plundered by the Muslims as it passed near Medina on its return home. In its defense they mustered an army of a thousand men which was met and defeated near Badr (80 miles from Medina) by a much smaller force led by Muhammad, reputed by tradition to have been only 313 men strong. The victory at Badr left the Muslims at Medina in control of the coveted Syrian caravan route which the Meccans tried to wrest back in the inconclusive Battle of Uhud (625 CE) and finally in the siege of Medina, also known as the “Battle of the Ditch”, because of the defensive dry moat that was dug around the vulnerable parts of the city at the suggestion of Salman Al-Farisi, the Persian who, as mentioned above, was one of the points of contact between Muhammad and the Zoroastrians. The “ditch” proved very effective and allowed the Muslim community to defend itself until the besiegers, their supplies running low and weakened by the defection of allies, were finally forced to retreat by a severe storm. It was another act of God that supported the Prophet’s mission and tilted the balance of power in the Hijaz permanently in his favor.

After the Siege of Medina, Muhammad’s forces undertook several campaigns and fought numerous battles that eventually led to the unification of Arabia under his aegis. The most important, however, was the bloodless conquest of Mecca in 630 CE. Entering the city at the head of ten thousand soldiers, he declared a general amnesty, and ordered the manumission of all slaves. In so doing he spared, as was mentioned above, his fiercest enemies, the leadership of the powerful Umayya clan of the Quaryysh tribe who, after his death, would prove the fiercest enemies of his descendents. He rejected being installed “King of Mecca’, but did take from the Banu Umayya the office of “Keeper of the Keys.” In that capacity he went to the Ka’ba where, with Ali’s help, he brought the idols out one by one and smashed them before the crowd that had assembled to watch. The status of the Ka’ba, however, was not diminished but elevated as the common destination of all Muslim during the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj. The commercial matrix of fairs, pilgrimage, sacred shrine, and Holy City that had been inherited from Muhammad’s forefather Qusayy and underpinned the Meccan economy was left largely in tact, with the notable difference that he was now the preeminent religious authority there as well as throughout the Hijaz and Arabia. Although most Meccans converted to Islam, the Prophet followed the letter of his own revelation that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and did not force conversion. Instead he required the city to agree to a non-aggression pact and then, to everyone’s surprise, returned with the Ansar (Muslims natives of Medina) to Medina which remained the seat of governance. This act confirmed for eternity the preeminence of Medina as the embodiment of the Islamic socio-political ideal. Although it remains a real city, Medina’s main significance within Islam is its function as the idealized form of the Ummah under Muhammad. It is, therefore, no less important than Mecca, the city of the holy shrine, the Ka’ba.

The non-aggression accord with the Meccans was a continuation of the Prophet’s general policy of seeking peaceful solutions to inter-tribal political conflicts that had begun when he was first invited to Yathrib to solve a tribal dispute. After arriving at the settlements, he worked within the framework of tribal alliances to forge a rudimentary charter, commonly known as the “Pact” or “Constitution of Medina.” In this document he declared that, like Mecca, “Yathrib will be Sanctuary for the people of this pact”; and to insure the peace of the Sanctuary, he implemented a reciprocal mutual defense accord by which whenever “anyone attacks anyone who is a party to this Pact the other must come to his help.” Within this cooperative framework, loyalty was paramount. Decisions were worked out in accordance with the tribal tradition of “mutual advice and consultation,” and each tribe was required to bear its share of military expenses.

“They (the parties to this Pact) must seek mutual advice and consultation. Loyalty gives protection against treachery. Those who avoid mutual consultation do so because of lack of sincerity and loyalty. A man will not be made liable for misdeeds of his ally. Anyone who is wronged must be helped. Jews must pay [for war] with the Muslims. Yathrib will be Sanctuary for the People of this Pact.”

The Jewish-Arab tribes, being numerically and economically dominant, necessarily were integrated into the political structure of the pact.

“No Jew will be wronged for being a Jew. . . . The Jews will contribute towards the war when fighting alongside the Believers. The Jews of Bani Awf will be treated as one community with the Believers. The Jews have their religion. This will also apply to their freedmen. The exception will be those who act unjustly and sinfully. By so doing they wrong themselves and their families. The same applies to Jews of Bani Al-Najjar, Bani Al Harith, Bani Saeeda, Bani Jusham, Bani Al Aws, Thaalba, and the Jaffna, and the Bani Al Shutayaba.”

During the ten-years Muhammad spent in Medina, the Ummah evolved under his leadership into a super-tribe that as it grew would weaken and displace competing tribes, and in the end would assimilate them completely or drive them out. The “Believers” (Ummah), as they are referred to in the “Pact”, assume shared responsibilities previously born by the families and clans.

“It will be a common responsibility of the Ummah and not of the family of the

prisoners to pay blood money [for ransom when they have been captured after having killed an enemy].”

The “Believers” also replace tribal and family ties with loyalty to the Ummah, its values, and code of ethics, which are to be enforced even if it means turning against ones own kith and kin.

“The Believers, who fear Allah, will oppose the rebellious elements and those that encourage injustice or sin, or enmity or corruption among Believers. If anyone is guilty of any such act all the Believes will oppose him even if he be the son of any of them.”

The bonds of loyalty among the believers are formalized to exclude “all others” in much the same way clans and tribes were closed circles commanding reciprocal fidelity in all things aimed toward the wellbeing of the commonwealth. In cases of wrongful death, the “Pact” makes clear, the Ummah has the same obligation to exact retribution as a tribe or clan.

“No Believer will help an un-Believer against a Believer. . . . Believers are all friends to each other to the exclusion of all others. . . . If any un-believer kills a Believer, without good cause, he shall be killed in return, unless the next of kin are satisfied [as with blood money, etc.].”

While the Believers were required to protect their own through retribution, they were forbidden from killing each other for any reason. Thus, in the Qur’an, Muhammad expressly prohibits it, except in cases of accidental death, in which instance the perpetrator must pay the “blood-money” required by tribal tradition.

It is not given to a believer to kill another believer except by mistake; and he who kills a believer by mistake should free a slave who is a believer and pay blood-money to his relatives, unless they remit it as alms. . . . And he who kills a believer intentionally will, as punishment, be thrown into Hell . . . (5:92-94)

In the logic of inter-tribal warfare, Muhammad had created an egalitarian super tribe which, upon the conquest of Mecca, had assimilated the other powerful tribes of the Hijaz into the brotherhood of the Ummah, replacing blood ties with religious bonds that united them as one people blessed by God and governed by His Covenant. The articulation of that covenant was the Qur’an.

The Qur’an

Islam, like Judaism, is a religion built on a Covenant with God which is elaborated through an extensive body of religious law (sharia). Although the Covenant with God is certainly important to Christians, Christianity developed within the framework of the Roman Empire which had in place a highly developed tradition in jurisprudence whose roots were fed by centuries of Greek law and moral philosophy. When Constantine convoked the Council of Nicaea neither he nor the Church were concerned with elaborating the Christian Covenant into a civic legal structure. Such an undertaking was unthinkable and would have challenged the civic authority of the Emperor. This separation was underscored by Christ’s admonishment: “Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”(1) The Council’s purpose was to delineate the boundaries of orthodoxy in order to achieve Church unity--hence “catholic” Church or in Latin catholicus meaning “universal.” This supported the Emperor’s political purpose of imperial unity as expressed in the formula: One God, one Church, One empire, One Emperor. Scripture and its interpretation were in the hands of the Church. The faithful were not encouraged to memorize scripture, but recite the Nicene Creed (from the Latin credo, “I believe”) as an essential part of the liturgical mass. The Church as guardian of orthodox belief and ritual was the mediator between scripture and the faithful; it’s primary concern was not the elaboration of scripture into law. In contrast, the Qur’an was intentionally written to be “easy to remember.” (54:17) The Quranic covenant applies directly and personally to all believers and its expression through the Qur’an is recited several times every day as part of ritual prayer.

He [Allah] has already taken your covenant, if you are true believers. (57:8)

From its inception the Qur’an has been memorized and recited as the embodiment of God’s covenant first and foremost with the Arab people “in Arabic”; and then toward the end of Muhammad’s life the scope of its message was extended to embrace “all mankind.” In the process of formulating the covenant, those of previous prophets are included and “corroborated.”

And [remember] when We took from the Prophets their covenant and from you and from Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, son of Mary, too; and We took from them a solemn covenant. (33:7)

And before it, there came the Book of Moses, as a guidance and a mercy; and this [Qur’an] is a corroborating Book in Arabic tongue to warn the wrongdoers and serve as good news to the beneficent. (46:12)

The covenant as “a guidance” is elaborated in the Qur’an through its instructions regarding prayer, family governance, giving of alms, and the like. It also incorporates some Arab legal traditions, such as those regarding retribution, payments of blood money, and so on, as was shown above. However, a vast tradition similar to that of Greco-roman law that provided the legal framework for Christian life under Constantine was simply not part of the administration of justice in the tribal social structures of the Hijaz. As a consequence, where the primary focus of Christian thought has been theological, in Islam it has been legal. The effort to deduce from the Qur’an and the life of its Prophet the details of God’s covenant with the Ummah and covert them into established law has been the predominant intellectual enterprise of the Muslim world. In Islam, the Christian priest was replaced by the scriptural lawyer. In this respect Islam is more similar to Judaism than to Christianity. Or from a different point of view, the principal argument between Islam and Christianity is the theological argument about the Trinity; the argument with the Jews is essentially about law, whether to live under sharia or rabbinical law and whether or not the authority of the Talmud is superseded by the Qur’an.

The Qur’an, is a relatively short work containing Muhammad’s revelations as received over a period of about twenty-two years. They were written down in self-contained units called surahs, then distributed to different groups among his followers in this fragmented form.

“It is a Qur’an [Book] which We have divided into parts that you may recite it with deliberation, and We revealed it piecemeal. (17:106)

The unbelievers say: “If only the Qur’an had been sent down on him all at once.” That is how We wanted to strengthen your heart with it and We have revealed it in stages. (25:31)

Although Muhammad thought of his collection of surahs as a single work he called the Qur’an, the fragments were not gathered and edited until several years after his death, a process in which the first three Caliphs all took an active role. The individual surahs are similar to a collection of sermons in so far as many of them address specific situations and specific audiences. And like a collection of sermons, they contain a lot of repetition, sometimes verbatim; and they also contain apparent contradictions, most notably between The Prophet of forgiveness (“forbear, that is truly better” [16:126]) and Muhammad the embattled warrior (“kill the idolaters wherever you find them[9:5]). There is also the sense of a work in progress that evolves as “revealed in stages” over time. Gambling and drinking wine in moderation, for example, were first tolerated with growing reservation until finally they were prohibited as “abominations of the Devil’s doing.”

They ask you about wine and gambling say: “In both there is great sin and some benefit for people. But the sin is greater than the benefit.” (2:219)

O believers, do not approach prayer while you are drunk, until you know what you say. (4:43)

O believers, wine, gambling, idols and divining arrows are an abomination of the Devil’s doing: so avoid them that perchance you may prosper. (5:90)

Once in Paradise, however, the purified resurrected believer will have available for his pleasure “rivers of wine delighting its drinkers.” (47:15) The evolution of Muhammad’s stance on gambling and alcohol is indicative of more substantive aspects of the Qur’an that exhibit progressive development over the course of the Prophet’s mission. The important point here is that it exemplifies an evolutionary process in the nature of revelation itself which God adjusts to keep pace with changing social needs and circumstances. This is a pivotal concept for the Baha’is who view this evolutionary process as inherent in all revelation. The Bab and especially Baha’u’llah understood that Islam was both a religion and a community, and consequently believed that its social and the religious manifestations were inextricably linked. Due to this linkage, when society moves forward it is therefore imperative that religion progress as well, and the seminal source of these ideas for them was Muhammad and the Qur’an.

The one hundred and fourteen surahs that make up the Qur’an are beyond history and embedded in the larger, universal context because they are revelations from God, brought by the Prophet “for all mankind”:

“We have sent the Book [Qur’an] upon you for all of mankind in truth.” (Qur’an, 39:41)

At the same time, they are also embedded in that particular landscape inscribed by the Hijaz, the stage on which the drama of nascent Islam was played out between Muslim Medina and pagan Mecca, and in the Arabic language of its inhabitants.

And so, We revealed to you an Arabic Qur’an in order to warn the Mother of the Cities [Mecca] and those around it [the Hijaz] and to warn of the Day of Forgathering which is undoubted, whereon a group shall be in Paradise and a group shall be in Hell. (42:7)

Moreover, the Arabs of Mecca and the Hijaz had not previously been warned by a Messenger and were therefore “heedless” of their imminent danger.

By the wise Qur’an. You are truly one of the Messengers. Upon a straight path. It is the Revelation of the All-Mighty, the Merciful. To warn a people, whose fathers were not warned and so they are heedless. (36:2-6)

Significantly, Muhammad is only “one of the messengers.” Like those before him, he has a specific mission, which in his case is to “confirm” and “corroborate” in Arabic to the Arab people the message of “One God” expounded by the Biblical prophets from Moses to Jesus.

“He has revealed the Book [Qur’an] to you in truth, confirming what came before it; and He has revealed the Torah and the Gospel, aforetime, as guidance to mankind.” (3:3-4) (Also see “In manifest Arabic Tongue” below, 26:192; and “an Arabic Qur’an”, 42:7 above.)

By way of corroboration, most of the Qur’an is devoted to telling and retelling the stories of the Biblical prophets, especially lives like those of Noah, Moses, and Lot, where divine retribution has exceptional prominence. And for further proof of the authenticity of his message, he calls upon his detractors to consult Jewish scholars should they have any doubts.

“And this [Qur’an] is the revelation of the Lord of the Worlds; Brought down by the Faithful Spirit [Gabriel], Upon your heart, so that you [Muhammad] might be one of he warners; In manifest Arabic Tongue. And it is, indeed, in the Scriptures of the ancients. Is it not a sign for them that the scholars of the Children of Israel recognize it?” (26:192-197)

Here as elsewhere, Muhammad cites the authority of literacy and scholarship that connects his book with the revelations of past prophets to bolster his own, in contrast to the pagan Arabs who had only oral tradition unauthenticated by any written scripture or scholarship.

The influence of the Torah and the Jews of Medina on Muhammad was, of course, significant. His detractors called attention to such outside influences in an effort to discredit him by claiming that he had not received revelations but was simply taking dictation from those around him instead.

“The unbelievers say: “This [the Qur’an] is nothing but deceit, which he [Muhammad] has invented and was assisted therein by other people.” They have simply come up with wrongdoing and falsehood. And they say: “Legends of the ancients which he solicited their writing down. Hence they are dictated to him morning and evening.” (25:4-5)

This was not, however, a point where the Qur’an could be successfully criticized. From the onset Muhammad identified himself as a new prophet in the Judeo-Christian tradition who had come to the Arabs, “after a cessation of messengers, lest you say: ‘No bearer of good news or a warner has come to us.’” (5:19) He had many conflicts with both Christians and Jews; some were theological like his rejection of the Trinity, and others political, like the betrayal by some of the Jewish tribes, especially during the pivotal siege of Medina. But at a higher level, he emphasized the continuity between himself and the prophets before him. He was careful to distinguish between the teachings of Christ, who does not claim to be the son of God, and the Christian doctrine concerning the Trinity which he rejects. He repeatedly criticizes the fractious disputes among Christian and Jewish sects as petty and disruptive. His main focus, therefore, is on the central issue, the fundamental revelation.

Say: “I am only a mortal like you, to whom it is revealed that your God is One God.” (41:6)

It is in this spirit that Muhammad takes the more ecumenical position that tries to bridge the gap among the religious men of his time, emphasizing the unity among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Say: “We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us, what was revealed to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and what was imparted to Moses, Jesus and the other Prophets from their Lord, making no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit.” (2:136, 3:84)

Citing this passage, Baha’u’llah goes one step further. In the Shia tradition he follows, the twelve Imams are both blood descendents of Muhammad and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God that connects the past to the present and man to God. In this second aspect as manifestations of the Holy Spirit, all the Prophets are identical in their spiritual role, “making no distinction between any of them.”

These Manifestations of God [the Prophets] have each a twofold station. One is the station of pure abstraction and essential unity. In this respect, if thou callest them all by one name, and dost ascribe to them the same attributes, thou hast not erred from the truth. Even He hath revealed: “No distinction do We make between any of His Messengers.” For they, one and all, summon the people of the earth to acknowledge the unity of God, and herald unto them the Kawthar [a river in Paradise] of the infinite grace and bounty. They are all invested with the robe of Prophethood, and are honored with the mantle of glory. Thus hath Muhammad, the Point of the Qur’an, revealed: “I am all the Prophets.” Likewise, He saith: “I am the first Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus.” Similar statements have been made by Imam ‘Ali [Muhammad’s cousin, the First Imam]. (Gleanings, XXII)

As in many of his revelations, Baha’u’llah here cites the scriptural authority of the Qur’an to authenticate his identity not only as heir to the prophetic tradition of Muhammad and the Twelve Imams, but of all the Biblical prophets of the past. The widening of religious perspective from one tribe or region to include other faiths and peoples also had antecedents in early Islam, and in particular in the unique relationship between the Ummah and Judaism from the first few years they shared in Medina.

During the formative period in Medina, Muhammad tried to forge close ties with the Jewish tribes settled there. The relationship between the Ummah and Jews was emphasized by a number of ritual practices. Jerusalem was designated as the direction worshipers faced during prayer (the qiblah) and a number of Jewish dietary restrictions and purity requirements were adopted. He also encouraged inter-marriage and set the example himself by taking a wife, Rayhana, from the Banu Qurayza, the largest Jewish tribe in Yathrib.

This day good things have been made lawful to you; the food of the People of the Book [Jews] is lawful to you, and your food is lawful to them; and so are the believing women who are chaste, and the chaste women of those who were given the Book before you, provided you give them their dowries and take them in marriage, not in fornication or as mistresses. . . . O believer, if you rise to pray, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows and wipe your heads and your feet up to the ankles. If you are unclean, then cleanse yourselves. (5:5-6)

The shared ritual with the Arab Jews of Yathrib and their inter-marriage within the Ummah conveys the initial commonality these two Abrahamic religions shared. During this period before the break with Judaism, Muhammad presents Islam as just another branch of the Abrahamic religions that parallel each other and from which both are descended, each uniquely adapted by God to each culture in its own idiom with its own “Book.”.

And we have sent forth no Messenger except in the tongue of his own people so that he may expound to them clearly. (14:4)

Then We gave Moses the Book, completing Our Grace on him who would do good, making plain everything and serving as a guidance and mercy, so that they [the Children of Israel] may believe in the encounter with their Lord. This Book [Qur’an] which We sent down is blessed; so follow it and fear God, so that you may receive mercy. Lest you should say: “The Book was revealed only to two sects [Jews and Christians] before us, and we were unaware of their reading.” (6:154-56)

“I believe in whatever Book Allah has sent down. I have been commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord; we have our deeds and you have your deeds. There is no dispute between us and you; Allah will gather us together and unto Him is the ultimate return.” (42:13-16)

In Yathrib, however, the Jewish tribes, did not accept Muhammad as a prophet. Furthermore, they had numerous political and economic ties to the Quraysh whom they did not wish to alienate. They were also apprehensive of Muhammad’s growing power and mistrustful of his social reforms which eliminated market surtaxes that had formerly been a source of income they monopolized. Little by little the oasis villages of Yathrib were evolving into Medinat an-Nabi, the “City of the Prophet”, an evolution which threatened their position of wealth and privilege. Their disaffection escalated as both groups became mutually mistrustful. First the Banu Qaynuqa were exiled for plotting to assassinate the Prophet, and then the Banu Nadir. Finally during the Siege of Medina the Banu Qurayza treacherously collaborated with the attacking Quraysh army. The clan’s fate was ultimately decided, not by Muhammad, but according to Arab custom by an outside arbitrator (Hakam), who condemned the men to death and the women and children to slavery. The Jewish clans that remained in Medina did not repeat these costly mistakes, but it was too late to repair the damage done. The rift with the Jewish tribes of Medina changed the direction of Islam. On the literal level, the quibla (the niche in the mosque designating the direction Muslims face during prayer) was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca which in many ways symbolizes the more substantive changes made by Muhammad as he abandoned the narrow view of Islam as merely an Arab reformation of the old Abrahamic religion shared with Christians and Jews, and recast his prophetic mission in broader global terms encompassing “all of mankind.”

Much of the Qur’an is devoted to explaining the Prophet’s mission to his followers and parrying the critical thrusts of his detractors who sought to undermine his authority by portraying him as a “sorcerer”, a “mad poet”, or just plain “madman.” Muhammad’s response was to bolster his position by identifying himself with the Biblical prophets on the one hand, and on the other to delineate his role and its limitations. One of the principal and most repeated observations he makes in the face of his critics is the abuse and mockery suffered by the prophets of the past from those they were sent to help.

And we have sent forth Messengers before you [Muhammad] to the sects of old. And no Messenger came to them but they mocked him. (15:10-11)

. . . each nation sallied forth against their Messenger to seize him, and they disputed falsely to repudiate therewith the truth. (40:5)

The rejection and persecution of the prophets by their respective peoples becomes a theme in the Qur’an which recurs in the writings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah who identify the persecution they suffer at the hands of Islamic clerics as a repetition of the attacks against the prophets of old, most notably those against Muhammad by the Quraysh, against Moses by his apostate followers, the execution of John the Baptist by Herod, and the crucifixion of Christ instigated by of the Pharisees. Another theme, however, emerges from the Quranic discussions of the prophets which is far more important, and that is the characterization of the nature of prophecy itself.

In his role as Prophet, Muhammad was at pains to emphasize his own humanness as a mortal. “I am only a mortal like you” (18:110), he says, “I do not exonerate myself from sin.” (12:53) “I do not say to you that I posses Allah’s Treasures; and I do not know the Unseen. I do not claim to be an angel; nor do I say to those at whom you look with disdain that Allah will not accord them any good.” (11:31) He is, however, very clear about his role as prophet, and because that very role was constantly being challenged, as had been the case with his predecessors, he is constantly concerned with authenticating his status. In so doing he makes repeated reference to the lives of Biblical prophets and his own role as Messenger of God. From these references a theory of prophecy emerges from the pages of the Qur’an, which is revolutionary. Briefly outlined, some of this theory’s main characteristics are described in his own words as follows (emphasis is mine):

1. It is not given to any mortal that Allah should speak to Him, except by Revelation or from behind a veil. Otherwise, He sends forth a Messenger who reveals by His Permission whatever He wishes. (42:51)

2. Allah chooses from angels and men Messengers. (17:22)

3. Muhammad is merely a Messenger, before whom many Messengers have come and gone. (3:144)

4. And we have sent forth no Messenger except in the tongue of his own people so that he may expound to them clearly. (14:4)

5. We have sent forth to every nation a Messenger saying: “Worship Allah and avoid the idols.” (16:37

For each people there is a guide. (13:7)

6. To every nation we have appointed a holy rite. (17:34)

To every nation, We have given a sacred rite which they observe. So do not let them dispute with you in this matter. (22:67)

7. Your Lord, however, never destroys the cities, unless He first sends to their mother-city a Messenger, to recite to them Our Revelations. (28:59)

8. Every age has its own Book. Allah blots out and confirms what He pleases; and with Him is the Mother of the Book [a heavenly compendium of all revelations]. (13:39)

And we replace a verse by another—and Allah knows best what He reveals. (16:101)

The ignorant among the people will say: “What caused them to turn away from their former Qibla towards which they used to turn?” (2:143) [The qibla, or direction faced during prayer, was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca in 2AH/624 CE.]

And there will be no alteration of the Words of Allah. 10:64

9. I [Jesus] have come to confirm what came before me of the Torah and make lawful to you some of the things that were forbidden to you. (3:50)

Jesus in Allah’s Sight is like Adam; He created him from dust, then He said to him: “Be”, and there he was. [3:59]

And when Jesus, son of Mary, said: “O Children of Israel, I am Allah’s Messenger to you, confirming what came before me of the Torah, and announcing the news of a Messenger who will come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” Then when he [Ahmad, i.e., Muhammad] brought them the clear proofs, they said: “This is manifest sorcery.” [61:6]

10. The Hour shall come, on that Day the negators shall lose. And you will see every nation kneeling: each nation being called unto its Book. . . a record of what you were doing. (45:28-29)

11. We took from the Prophets their covenant and from you [Muhammad] and from Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, son of Mary, too; and We took from them a solemn covenant. (33:7)

12. We bestowed on some of the Prophets more gifts than on others, and We gave David the Psalms. (17:55)

13. Do not hasten [to discuss] the Qur’an before its revelation to you is complete, and say: “Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (21:114)

They take the words [of the Torah] out of context. (15:12)

It is He Who has revealed to you the Book [Qur’an], with verses which are precise in meaning and which are the Mother of the Book, and others which are ambiguous. As to those in whose hearts there is vacillation, they follow what is ambiguous in it, seeking sedition and intending to interpret it. However, no one except Allah knows its interpretation. Those well-grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in it; all is from our Lord.” (3:7)

14. Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts. (13:11)

15. It is only incumbent on the Messenger to deliver the message plainly. (29:18)

16. And We have revealed to you [Muhammad] the Book in truth, confirming the scriptures that preceded it and superseding them. Judge between them, then, according to what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their illusory desires, diverging from what came to you of the Truth. To each of you, We have laid down an ordinance and a clear path; and had Allah pleased, He would have made you one nation, but [He wanted] to test you concerning what He gave to you. Be, then, forward in good deeds. (5:48)

17. But those who strive against Our Revelations defying Us—those are the people of Hell. We have not sent a Messenger or Prophet before you but when he recited the Devil would intrude into his recitation. Yet Allah annuls what the Devil had cast. Then Allah establishes His Revelations. Allah is All-Knowing, Wise. (22:51-52) [The reference here is to the so-called “Satanic Verses”; see 53:19-26 & 17:73-75.]

In the passages cited above an immediate connection between revelation and literacy can be discerned. Revelation is authenticated by being written down, preferably in a “book.” “Every age” and “every nation” receives its own messenger,” its “own book” of revelations in its “own tongue.” The revelations expound “a covenant”, and part of that covenant confirms that God will not retribute against a nation until it has received “a sacred rite” and “its own book” with proper warnings. Although “every nation” and “every age has its own Book”, an account of all Allah’s revelations is kept by Him in a “Mother Book”; he also keeps books accounting for the deeds and misdeeds of each nation and each individual to be rewarded or punished upon Judgment Day. For Muhammad the fact that the “idolaters” and “polytheists” followed religious practices based on oral tradition rather than scripture as written down in “an illuminating book” is tantamount to damnation.

“Some people, however, continue to dispute regarding Allah, without any knowledge or guidance or an illuminating Book. If it is said to them: ‘Follow what Allah has sent down [i.e., in written revelations]’, they say: ‘Rather, we will follow what we found our fathers doing.’ It is as though Satan was summoning them to the punishment of Hell.” (31:20-21)

When discussing revelations in general and the Qur’an in particular, argument and dispute over scripture should be avoided. The messenger delivers “the message plainly,” “with verses which are precise in meaning and which are the Mother of the Book.” Some, however, are “ambiguous.” Those who “take the words out of context” or “follow what is ambiguous” may run the risk of “sedition”, for only “Allah knows [their true] interpretation.” Although “there will be no alteration to the words of Allah,” occasionally “we replace one verse with another” or alter ritual such as in the reorientation of the “qibla.” Changes may occur from one age to the next. “Every age has its own Book. Allah blots out and confirms what He pleases.” The Qur’an was revealed “confirming the scriptures that preceded it and superseding [them].” Similarly, Jesus made “lawful to you some of the things that were forbidden to you.” Changes in scripture and ritual are, therefore, normal from one prophet to the next. A messenger may even amend his own revelations from time to time, especially if they are corrupted by “the Devil” as in the Satanic Verses. And finally, had God desired that all peoples have the same scripture and rites, he “would have made you one nation.” It follows, therefore, that each people should have “an ordinance and a clear path” of its own according to which they will be tested by God.

Baha’i Revelations

For our purposes here, there are three general points to be made about revelation as presented in the Qur’an. First, there is a centuries-old history of revelation that includes “every nation” and “all mankind.” Second, revelation is tailored to “each people” by its own messenger in its own “tongue.” And third, there are changes in revelation from one age to the next and in “sacred rites” from one people to the next. From time to time a prophet may even amend his own revelations to change the “qibla” or “replace one verse with another.” It is from these basic concepts about the nature and history of revelation that the Bab and Baha’u’llah were to derive the evolutionary view of scripture so essential in the Baha’i faith. Thus Baha’u’llah understands that he is following Mohammad when he identifies himself with the prophets of the past.(1)

“Hath not Muhammad, Himself, declared: ‘I am all the Prophets’? Hath He not said as We have already mentioned: ‘I am Adam, Noah, Moses, and Jesus’?” Kitab-i-Iquan, pp 161-2.

Expanding on the ideas initiated by Muhammad, he elaborates how God, through His Prophets, has revealed himself to all peoples of the world “as best befitted the exigencies of the age.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, no. 109.)

“Every Divine Revelation hath been sent down in a manner that befitted the circumstance of the age in which it hath appeared.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, XXXIV)

“These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated.” (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Arabic, #64.)

The view of scripture embedded in history and evolving over time helps overcome some of the most difficult problems faced by religion today, such as the fundamentalist trap. If God is perfect and omnipotent, then so is his word as expressed in scripture; therefore it is incumbent on the faithful to obey scripture to the letter, even in the face of anachronism and against the counsel of reason. The Baha’i, however, see the matter from another point of view. Scripture as received in one age may undergo legitimate modification in the next not because The Almighty made mistakes that need correction, but because divine revelation is tailored by Him to the needs and level of those who receive it “as best befitted the exigencies of the age.” It is His will that religion evolve in step with civilization toward a more perfect world.

“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 125)

Progress in civilization is matched by progress in religion; the two mirror each other. This concept of progress makes tolerance paramount. Differences between regions and between ages are God’s work as he moves to establish universal brotherhood. There is a nuanced but very important distinction in this view regarding tolerance. The Baha’i go a step beyond tolerance; that is, they don’t just tolerate other religious beliefs, they accept them as authentic, of divine origin. To disrespect the religion of other peoples is to disrespect God and his work as revealed throughout the history of mankind.

Belief in “an ever-advancing civilization” also emphasizes the interwoven relationship between faith and society. The core of most religions centers around ritual services, the display of icons, a priesthood, religious law (such as Cannon Law, Sharia, the Talmud), dogmatic theology, and worship of a specific divine figure or group of figures. This structure creates a clear division between believers and non-believers, the faithful and infidel. In contrast, Bahais emphasize brotherhood and peaceful unity among all peoples. For them, religion has a profound humanitarian function; it has a paramount moral imperative to work for world harmony and peace. Any religion which does the contrary, that divides peoples, is not true religion.

“Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. …. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.” Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1912, p. 130)

At first glance this statement seems self evident; yet it contains a radical departure from that espoused by most faiths. It puts brotherhood among men closer to God and godliness than religious membership, including the Baha’i faith. Where in Christianity acceptance of Christ and the sacraments is paramount, or the Qur’an and Sharia in Islam, for the Baha’i being the “cause of love and unity” is more important than ritual, observance of religious law, or membership in the faith. The prophets and holy texts are of secondary importance, devotion to the brotherhood of man is primary. It is a point of view that stands the traditional religious order on its head, priesthood and ritual at the bottom, humanitarian conduct at the top. Seen against the current backdrop of international strife mired in bellicose religiosity, this point of view is a breath of fresh air.

If the unity and brotherhood of mankind is the highest expression of godliness on earth, the principles of justice and democracy are its primary instruments in worldly affairs. As a result, the principal Baha’i executive institutions are elected, and decisions made through a process that emphasizes consultation, open discussion, and consensus building. Elections begin at the local level and send representatives to regional bodies; they in turn send representatives to national, and finally to the supreme governing body, The Universal House of Justice in Haifa. The title House of Justice underscores the importance of social and humanist values within the faith and complements the democratic principles through which it is administered.

“The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice.” (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Arabic, #2)

With this in mind it is easy to understand why the Baha’i have a permanent mission at the UN where they are involved in humanitarian efforts to alleviate the plight of the down-trodden throughout the world. Support for the UN is to some extent a scriptural imperative, as Baha’u’llah called for the creation of an international security agreement ratified by all nations that would ensure world peace over a century ago. This call was reiterated by Abdu’l-Baha in 1912, when he spoke of an “arbitral” world court:

An arbitral court of justice shall be established by which international disputes are to be settled. Through this means all possibility of discord and war between the nations will be obviated. (Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation, p. 317)

The emphasis on ethical behavior has its primary roots in the Islamic concept of God. Virtually every surah in the Qur’an begins with the invocation: “In the name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful.” It is by far the most repeated single phrase; and its constant repetition underscores the message that ethics are fundamental to His nature. In addition to being “strong” and “mighty”, He is “all-forgiving”, “all-seeing”, “all-hearing,” and just. He keeps accounts of all lives in “books.” “Allah will judge between you on the Day of Resurrection.” (17:69) There is no escaping his justice. It is universal. Compassion, mercy, and universal justice are bedrock in the Qur’an. No wonder, then, that they are the foundation upon which The Bab and Baha’u’llah built a religion of ethical behavior.

Another compelling aspect of the Baha’i faith is the harmonious relationship between faith, reason, and science.

We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two winds for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 130-31)

If the religious beliefs of mankind are contrary to science and opposed to reason, they are none other than superstitions and without divine authority. (Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgations, p. 316)

This comfortable synthesis of faith and reason is characteristic of Baha’i discourse. It allows its adherents to move without apology or contraction from the realms of technology and research to the divine and back again.

The constellation of elements mentioned in the preceding pages as characteristic of the Baha’i is similar to what has been espoused by some of the more progressive Christian denominations, which stress the importance of humanitarian justice and morality as opposed to fundamentalist dogma. Take, for example, the Unitarians. (2) Seen from outside, the Baha’i and the Unitarians, are a classic case of convergent evolution still unfolding, a living example of how Islam and Christianity have drawn ever closer over the years and might peacefully converge in the future. The two communities are, in fact, familiar with each other and exchange guest speakers from time to time. Although they have many similarities, most of them derive from a few fundamentals they both share. First, they are value-based religions in which tolerance, piety, love, brotherhood, and justice are more important than ritual or a formalized creed supported by dogma, clerical hierarchy, and religious law. Second, they believe in progress in the broader sense outlined earlier, through which civilization and religion are inextricably interwoven and evolve together through a process of continued refinement and growing prosperity. Third, they hold an optimistic view of human nature—as opposed to the pessimistic Christian concept of “original sin.” Fourth, they see no conflict between faith and reason. Fifth, they believe that since God is Parent to all mankind, there is no select community chosen to be saved and the rest damned to Hell; good people leading upright lives in any religion on any continent will be blessed by God’s salvation. Sixth, they are strict monotheists; the Unitarians, for example, do not accept the Trinity nor the divinity of Christ; they believe in the “oneness” or unity of the godhead in opposition to “Trinitarians” who believe in the traditional manifestations of Father, Son, & Holy Ghost. And seventh, they share the early Protestant dedication to education and the elevation of “work to the rank of worship of the one true God.”(3)

In the Baha’i faith, then, we have an example of how Islam has evolved in step with the development of modern culture and civilization from the 1840’s to the present. Although members of this faith continue to be ostracized in most Moslem communities and suffer barbaric persecution in their country of origin, Iran, they have assimilated peacefully into the world community. The largest Baha’i congregation is in India, but they can be found in almost every country where religious freedom is granted. What, then, does the success of Baha’i in the modern world portend for Islam? First, it demonstrates that Islam can evolve peacefully within the context of contemporary world civilization toward a more tolerant and ecumenical outlook on other religions and belief systems. The fact that this has happened over a century ago, should put to rest the perception that Islam is so inherently flawed by intransigent atavism that such an evolution is unthinkable in our time. Second, it provides a template of how such an evolution could occur within the context of Moslem civilization with minimal reference to Western concepts and practices. For example, the view of democracy embodied in Baha’i organizations is significantly different from the tradition the West has inherited from its Greco-Roman legacy. Where Western politics center around elections in which one group wins and the other loses, the Baha’i strive to build consensus, a practice more in line with the traditional Islamic concept of ijma (consensus among tribal principals) and remains a guiding principle in the Moslem world today. And third, Baha’i faith provides a detailed history point by point of how the many facets of evolutionary reform took place, how they were implemented, how they were received, and finally how they were assimilated at the grass roots level year by year, decade by decade. Regarding the position of women, for example, we know that when Tahirih (the only woman among the Bab’s original “Letters of the Living”) first appeared at a Babi conference without her head scarf, a fellow Babi was so distraught he slit his own throat. By the time Shoghi Effendi assumed leadership of the faith half a century later, the place of women had so strengthened, that much of the administration was directed by his great aunt and Baha’u’llah’s eldest daughter, Bahiyyih Khanum. The cooperation between nephew and great aunt in sharing leadership helped set the stage for full participation of women at all levels, thus fulfilling in the twentieth century the teachings of equality made by The Bab and Baha’u’llah in the nineteenth. Baha’i history is a gold mine of details like these that provide an insight into the inner process at the human level of how Islamic values and mores evolved in step with the modern world as it took shape.

In the context of women’s rights it is helpful to make a larger point, namely that the Baha’i were advancing, as in so many other instances, ideas they found in the Qur’an and the traditions derived from life of Muhammad and his followers. It is often forgotten or overlooked that The Prophet was a champion of women. He established as law their right to own and inherit property (“women [should have] a share of what parents and kinsmen leave” (4:7); their right to a negotiated divorce (“If you fear a breach between the two [i.e., husband and wife] then send forth an arbiter from his relatives and another arbiter from her relatives (5:34); freedom from being treated as property (“It is unlawful to inherit women against their will” (4:19); freedom from forced prostitution even as slaves (“Do not force your slave-girls into prostitution” (24:33); protection of their children, usually female, from infanticide (“Those who kill their children foolishly without knowledge are real losers [i.e., ‘damned’]” (8:140); warned his followers of the inherent problem of polygamy (“You will never be able to treat wives equitably, even if you are bent on doing that” (4:129); and admonished men to take no more than “four” wives, “but if you fear that cannot be equitable, then only one . . . to enable you to avoid unfairness.” (4:3)* The Prophet’s predisposition to enhance the status of women attested to in the Qur’an is also reflected at the family level in his own personal life. The traditions report that Muhammad often consulted his wives on important matters, even matters military, and the women of his household, his wives and daughters, are among the most important figures in the history of Islam. Equality between the sexes, then, is just one example among many of the developments taken from the Qur’an and Muslim tradition and built upon by the Baha’i to arrive at positions that seem Western, but are in fact derived from Eastern and Islamic roots.

Islamic Law

“They know the law by heart but have forgotten the heart of the law.”

Given Muhammad’s genius as a forward-looking religious visionary, tireless champion of social and economic justice, peerless poet, and brilliant political revolutionary who transformed a handful of Arab tribes into a world empire, why has Islam not lived up to the promise of so great a prophet? And why has it not progressed in the modern world at a pace and with a refinement commensurate with the example of the Baha’i? As Muhammad said in his own words, “I do not know the Unseen; I do not claim to be an angel.” He would have needed angelic power to solve the problems Islam would face after his death, and had he clairvoyance to see the tragedies his family would soon suffer he would have been appalled. Following his death in 632 CE, a general uprising occurred among “the desert Arabs . . . more steeped in unbelief and hypocrisy.” (9:97) Some refused to pay the alms tax to the leadership in Medina, others apostatized by reverting to pagan beliefs, and still others followed new charismatic leaders proclaiming to be successors of the Prophet. Against them Abu Bakr, the newly chosen Caliph (literally “successor”), marshaled eleven “armies,” which were sent simultaneously against different enemies throughout Arabia and its environs. These campaigns, known as the Apostasy Wars (or Ridda Wars, as they are commonly called, ridda meaning “apostasy”), only lasted two years, but were very costly, especially in human terms. Many of those who knew much or all the Qur’an by heart were killed, which gave a new urgency to collecting the scattered surahs and editing them into a single book, a process that took over a decade to complete (c. 650 CE). The Ridda Wars spilled over into subsequent campaigns in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Egypt only to be followed by civil war during the reign of Ali, the fourth Caliph and Muhammad’s younger cousin and son-in-law. Of the first four Caliphs, only Abu Bakr, who reigned just twenty-seven months, died a natural death at age sixty-two or three—and even in his death was the subject of unsubstantiated rumors that he was poisoned. The other three were assassinated. The death of Ali was especially detrimental for the Muslim Ummah, not only due to the civil wars, but because it precipitated the Sunni/Shia split, which has endured to this day. Furthermore, his assassin was chosen and sent by a fanatical splinter sect, the Kharijites, who came to espouse the anarchist position that Muslims should live without any ruler save God. Apostasy and sectarian division had become extremely dangerous for Islam. It was in this atmosphere that a consensus was reached putting an end to new revelations. Muhammad became “the Seal of Prophets” (33:40), a phrase which was taken from the Qur’an out of context and interpreted in Procrustean fashion to mean the last and final prophet. Even though the context does not support such an interpretation, it has prevailed down to this day. Since then, no “latter day” prophet, including the Bab and Baha’u’llah, has received a positive reception in Muslim world community.

The two Caliphs who immediately followed Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman, belonged to the Banu Umayya, the clan that had so vehemently opposed Muhammad in Mecca. Through widespread nepotism, especially under Uthman, the clan came to dominate the administration of the new empire. When Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, became Caliph in 656 CE, Mu’awiyah, the Umayyad governor of Syria, rebelled, and then after Ali’s assassination, used his army to establish control over the rest of the empire, killing in the process much of the Prophet’s family, including his grandsons, Husayn. Thus it was that the Umayyad Dynasty was founded spilling the Prophet’s own blood line in a civil war that in many ways reenacted the same clan and tribal wars fought by Muhammad a generation before, but on the grander scale of empire which proved to be too vast and complex to be governed by tribal politics and law.

As mentioned previously, the bishops Constantine convened at Nicaea were concerned with orthodoxy not law, which clearly belonged to the Emperor’s domain, fortified by a well recorded Greco-roman legal tradition that could be traced back a millennium to Solon and Lycurgus.(1) The tribal legal system of the Hijaz, however, was primarily based on oral tradition as modified by Muhammad in the usage he established for the Ummah in Medina and written into the Qur’an and Charter of Medina.(2) This usage was spiritually charged by virtue of its designation as covenant between God and the Arab people descended from Abraham. The problem, however, is that neither the Qur’an nor the Charter was intended as a legal codex. Without Muhammad’s personal guidance and no written legal code, a void was left in the administration of law that was exacerbated by the rapid expansion of the Caliphate into a vast empire in which tribal usage was no longer adequate. The great spiritual and intellectual enterprise of Islam over the following four centuries was to elaborate God’s covenant as expressed in the Qur’an and exemplified by the Prophet’s life (sunna) into law (sharia). In this respect, as in so many others, Islam has a close kinship with Judaism whose primary creative intellectual and spiritual energies were devoted to the elaboration of a religious legal structure embodied in the Talmud, derived from the Torah and Jewish oral tradition.(3)

The formulation of Islamic law was defined in large part by two major conflicts whose resolution would have profound and lasting effects. The first was a struggle between the political hierarchy epitomized by the Umayyad Caliphate who wanted its hold on power reinforced by law but was opposed by the legal scholars (Ulamah) engaged in the formulation of the law itself. Surprisingly, the scholars were able to assert their control of the legal system vis-à-vis the Caliphate through the emergence of four principal schools of legal thought(4) between the eighth and tenth centuries CE, which were composed of loosely affiliated groups of scholars who espoused the teachings of the school’s titular founder and the putative promulgator of its doctrine.(5) The influence of the schools was only strengthened by the increasing fragmentation of the Caliphate in the Middle Ages. During this period of growing political divisions, they remained loosely federated organizations that crossed linguistic, cultural, and political boundaries and provided one of the international bonds that helped Islam cohere. In some respects, the legal schools whose universal language was Arabic, functioned analogously to the way in which the Greek and Latin Churches provided linguistic and cultural unity during the medieval period in Europe. The system of legal “schools” has remained to this day and continues to be a dominant aspect of Islamic jurisprudence and politics. The other defining conflict was the one waged between the two major camps of legal scholars, the rationalists and the traditionalists. As was previously mentioned, the difference between the two sides was epitomized by their split over the fundamental nature of the Qur’an,(6) which recapitulated the Christian dispute over the nature of Christ the Son—i.e., Was it ‘created’ by the Father or ‘coeternal’ with him?” The power struggle was won by the traditionalists who enshrined the Qur’an as the eternal and immutable word of God and the Prophets life and sayings as the living embodiment of God’s covenant with “all mankind.” Reason was to be used only as a last resort; tradition derived from the life of the Prophet was paramount.(7) There was, however, a serious flaw inherent to the traditionalist approach, and that was the myriad controversies over the verification of the texts upon which traditionalist law sought to found itself.

As has been mentioned above, when Muhammad died in 632 CE, the Qur’an existed only in fragmentary form, in some cases recorded on primitive materials including stones, palm leaves, and the bleached bones of livestock. The definitive compilation was finally completed under the direction of the Prophet’s scribe, Zayd b. Thabit, only toward the end of Uthman’s reign (644--655 CE). This was a period of limited literacy. Muhammad refers to himself in the Qur’an as “unlettered” as were many in administrative positions within the Ummah. In the realm of jurisprudence, for a century or more after his death, many of the judges (qadi, sing.) were recruited from the ranks of the pre-Islamic arbitrators (hakam, sing.), such as the one who condemned the Banu Qurayza in Medina, “and some of the qadis who performed financial, military and policing tasks were illiterate.”(8) A sense of the transitional state of law in Islam during this early period of limited literacy can be glimpsed from the following passage from Wael Hallaq’s The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law.

Despite the lack of formal legal education (which Islamic culture had not yet developed), and the patent illiteracy of some them, qadis were expected, if not required, at least to have a degree of religious knowledge. At the time this meant possessing a reasonable knowledge of the legal stipulations of the Qur’an plus knowledge of the rudimentary socio-religious values the new religion had developed. . . A significant function of the early qadis was story-telling. It appears that many officials were appointed with the double function of qadi and story-teller (qass; pl. qussas). This function usually entailed recounting stories of a generally edifying nature, related to the Quranic narratives of ancient peoples and their fates, biblical characters and, more importantly, the exemplary life of the Prophet. The first official appointment was made by Mu’awiya in, or sometime immediately after, 41/661 CE, with the specific duty of “cursing the enemies of Islam” after the morning prayer and of explaining the Qur’an to worshipers after the Friday prayer.(9)

The role of the judge (qadi), then, was often combined with other functions that could range from finance, the army, and policing, to that of story teller whose duties might include recounting Quranic narratives or even the more mundane task of “cursing the enemies of Islam.”(10) Combined with sporadic illiteracy among officials, this mix of competing functions exercised by judges added confusion to a legal system that was developing in a pragmatic ad hoc fashion from one region to the next, in which the local qadi was allowed ample use of his personal judgement.(11) At the same time Muslims came in contact with the highly advanced legal systems of the Jews in Palestine and Babylon, as well as those of the Persian and Byzantine/Roman empires in the conquered regions of Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, Spain, Syria, Iraq, and Persia itself. In these areas they preferred to leave the indigenous legal systems intact, and initially exercised Islamic law only in the military garrisons which were typically settled at some distance outside strategic cities to exert imperial control without disrupting the social, economic, or legal systems of the inhabitants.

With the exponential expansion of the Ummah within the empire, which by the end of the first century after the hijra extended from India to Portugal, there was an urgent need to establish a unified code of laws. The limited reference to law in the Qur’an, however, forced jurists to look beyond scripture to the oral traditions (hadith, sing.) about the Prophet and his close Companions (muhajirun, pl.) who had left with him on the hijra and those who had joined the Ummah during his lifetime in Medina (ansar, pl.). To aid the qadis in this process a new class of legal scholars was born which would over time develop into the confederation of Islamic clerics collectively known as the Ulamah and who have held to this day a position comparable in influence to that of the Church in Medieval European society and politics. Over the course of the first three centuries after the hijra the Ulamah emerged as the guardians of Islamic tradition and the instrument through which the Muslim covenant with God was elaborated into a unified code of law equally applicable throughout all Islam. In this process the legitimate sources of law were gradually restricted. The first authorized source of law was, of course, the Qur’an; second, the life of the Prophet, his sunna (sing.); third, the lives of his family members and Companions of the hijra (muhajirun) and of the Ulamah in Medina (ansar), usually referred to as the “lives” or sunnan (pl.); fourth, the social traditions and ritual practice established by the Prophet in the Hijaz, most importantly in Medina and then Mecca, and passed down through the generations as living customs descended from him; and fifth, the written accounts almost universally attributed to oral sources of the lives and customs of Muhammad and his Companions known collectively as the “traditions” or hadith. Since the sunnan and hadith were based almost exclusively on word of mouth, there was always a problem of verification surrounding their use as the basis for God’s law. This problem was exacerbated by the conflation of the role of qadi with other functions, such as story teller or governor, which contributed to the fabrication of hadith for a variety of personal, economic, and political motives, not least of which were the dynastic struggles between the Umayyids and the Alids (the family and followers of Muhammad’s cousin, Ali), and later the Abbasids (descended from Muhammad’s uncle, Abbas, they came to power in 750 CE). In these and other power struggles, hadith were created and altered to enhance the standing of one faction over another, while on the local level tradition as practiced in the conquered territories, such as Syria and Iraq, competed with those affirmed by usage in Medina and Mecca. Spurred by powerful economic and political incentives, such as relief from the “protection tax” (jizya)--the main issue that impelled ascendancy of the Hanifa School in many of the conquered territories--the traditions were manipulated and falsified for pragmatic ends, leaving the whole system suspect and the divine authority of the law jeopardized. To correct the abuses and legitimize the foundations of Islamic law, early legal scholars developed a protocol for collecting and evaluating the hadith through comparative examination of their dates, their variations, and above all their sources.(12) In this process it was determined that the source of “nearly one sixth of all ‘reliable’ hadith can be traced back to Muhammad’s wife Aisha.”(13) She was, as mention above, Abu Bakr’s daughter, and as such was privy to many details of her father’s life-long friendship with the Prophet, as well as her intimate knowledge of him as his favorite wife who virtually grew up in his household. As a result, traditions that can be reliably traced to her and to other intimates, such as Ali, are ranked as more reliable than those from more distant sources. Upon this edifice of rated hadith is Islamic law founded.

The work of the Medieval scholars who undertook the verification of the traditions, however, has been reviewed by modern scholars, mostly from Western European and North American institutions, who have raised basic doubts about their reliability and consequently about the very foundations of Islamic law. They have pointed to discrepancies in texts that call into question the validity of the whole edifice of the hadith and sunnan, which has become a sore point between Western philological scholarship and the Ulammah. To make matters worse, a number of scholars have questioned whether or not the Qur’an itself was adulterated by the Umayyids and others for political reasons. They point out that there are even discrepancies between Quranic texts embossed on ancient coins and the official text as it exists today and believed to be the literal word of God. Similar discrepancies found in recently discovered Quranic fragments, carbon dated to be among the oldest to have survived, have added fuel to this controversy.(14) In the immediate future, new studies using computer-aided analysis are likely to add to this growing controversy throughout academic and legal circles around the world. Needless to say, this kind of academic work is anathema to the Ulammah and most Muslims. They do not share the same tolerance of textual analysis that current scholarship has focused on Biblical studies nor does the discovery of ancient Islamic texts elicit the same eager interest that has attended the modern discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Gnostic Gospels. This mistrust by fundamentalist Muslims has led to an obscurantist attitude in many quarters regarding scholarship of any kind that touches on Islam, perhaps best exemplified by the destruction of archeological sites in the Hijaz. Where the work of scholars and archeologists to recover the treasures of past cultures has been greeted with pride and cooperation in many countries, as in Egypt and Mexico, it is viewed problematically in the Hijaz, especially where it might intimate that Islamic law may not express the true covenant with God or that the Qur’an might not be His eternal word or even the unadulterated word of Muhammad. The confrontation between archeological artifact and scriptural text is not encouraged. How the crisis of textual scholarship and archeology unfolds over the coming years will contribute just one more facet to the larger internal crisis Islam is undergoing today.

A template for how this conflict between modern scholarship and fundamentalist Islam could resolve itself is indicated by the Baha’i interpretation of religious evolution. They, of course, believe that the Qur’an is the word of God as revealed to Muhammad, the “Messenger . . . in the tongue of his own people” just as “to every nation, [God has] given [its own book and] a sacred rite which they observe.” They point out that here and throughout the Qur’an Muhammad taught that religion was evolving, even over the short period of his own mission, and that to deny this fact as he revealed it, not in some questionable saying from the traditions, but in the Qur’an itself, is to deny one of its most important messages. Seen from this point of view, to not evolve, to not progress toward a more enlightened and humanitarian future in which the primary Quranic attributes of God “the Merciful, the Compassionate” can reign down on mankind and this earth, is to deny the will of God and His Messenger.

Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. . . . Whoso hath been re-born in this Day, shall never die; whoso remaineth dead, shall never live. (Gleanings, CVI)

The call to “be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in” is not to deny Islam, but to embrace the teachings of Muhammad, not as expressed in Islamic law which the Baha’is view as the artifact man, but as documented in the Qur’an. Regardless of whether or not the Baha’i model is followed, Islam must evolve into the future. Muslims cannot remain forever trapped in reenacting the role of the qadi assigned to “cursing the enemies of Islam” after morning prayer. A fresh reading of the Qur’an and re-examination of the Prophet’s sunna which exemplifies the Quranic attributes of God “the Merciful, the Compassionate” is not a bad place to start. It is, coincidentally, the Baha’i point of departure.


“Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian:

All are welcome here.” (Rumi)

“Islam and the other faiths

have all come around so recently,

yet Love has no beginning or end.

You can’t call the unbeliever an infidel

If he’s been the latest victim of Love.” (Rumi) (1)

“The essence of the divine mysteries in the journeys of ascent

set forth for those who long to draw nigh unto God.” (Baha’u’llah) (2)

There is, of course, a quietistic side to Islam which is Sufism. It has a rich and varied history with ancient pre-Islamic roots and its practitioners today are widely spread throughout both the Sunni and Shiah world communities. Its history, however, has been more closely associated with the Shiism of Persia where it is intertwined with Imamism and Sheikism, and there are some reasons why. During the thirteenth century the Safavids began as a revivalist Sufi brotherhood which evolved over the next two centuries into a broader movement that combined Shii messianism with a call to arms. In 1501, Ismail (1487-1524) proclaimed himself Shah of Iran and established the Safavid dynasty. In an effort to enhance his own legitimacy he claimed to be the descendant of the twelfth imam, asserting that he was a mahdi. He assumed the title “Shadow of God on Earth” and imposed “Twelver Shii Islam upon Iran’s Sunni majority”(3) to enhance his political control and differentiate the people of Iran from those of the surrounding territories, a political maneuver similar to the adoption of Nestorian Christianity by the Sassanids a thousand year before. To underscore the differences the new Shah gave special prominence to the martyrdom of Husayn and his followers who were overrun on the plain of Karbala; and to further distinguish Sunni from Shii Islam, the events of the martyrs death were dramatized in passion plays and commemorated by an annual pilgrimage to Karabal that came to rival the Hajj in importance within the Shia community. Shii ulama were brought in from Iraq and southern Lebanon to provide the legal underpinnings of the new regime at the expense of those aligned with Sunni doctrine. The mix of Shia messianism with Sufi tradition, the veneration of saints, and Twelver Imamism has made Islam as practiced in Iran abhorrent to many Sunni Muslims. At the same time, it created greater diversity of religious expression and thought that allowed Persians to connect intellectually with their own native Zoroastrian traditions on the one hand and to allow Sufism a more prominent place within the religious framework of their culture. It is in this context that we will now encounter the emergence from Twelver Imamism of Sheikhism and the Babi movement itself.

Of particular importance for the present this paper is the twelfth-century Persian scholar al-Suhrawardi (1154-91 CE), the renowned “Master of Oriental Theosophy.” At a theoretical level, he laid the philosophical groundwork that allows Sufism to exist within orthodox parameters, although not without frequent tensions. Toward that end he elaborated an epistemology or theory of knowledge that made mystical gnosis the template for the acquisition of knowledge in general, a process he identified with “illumination.” In choosing this imagery of light and darkness, he affirmed the Mazdean heritage received from Zoroaster, whom he acknowledges as one of the great sages, along with Muhammad, Plato, and Aristotle. His writings are, in part, a response to Aristotelian “peripatetics,” exemplified among Islamic philosophers by Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Within his cosmology of “light”(4) he created an “intermediate universe” (often identified by the name “Hurqalya”) which has special importance for Muslim mystics. This universe of archetypes is described by a later commentator, Abd Al-Razzaq Lahije (d. 1662) as follows:

The Oriental theosophists and the Sufis agree in affirming the following: between the intelligible world, which is the world of entirely immaterial pure Intelligences, and the sensory world, which is the world of purely material realities, there exists another universe. . . Every being of the two universes, the intelligible and the sensory, has its archetypal Image in this intermediate universe. . . . This universe is also designated as the world of autonomous Images and Imagination.

. . . Forms contemplated in mirrors and those manifested in the Imagination both belong to that mundus archetypus, which is manifested for us in these “epiphanic places”, that is, the mirror and the Imagination. In the same way also, the forms one sees in a dream, Angels, genii, and demons, are likewise beings belonging to this same world. . . . There is, moreover, a tradition dating back to the Sages of antiquity concerning the existence of a universe having extent but different from the sensory world—a universe with infinite wonders and countless cities.(5)

Here one finds a number of important elements: first, a sophisticated philosophy of mystical knowledge; second, this philosophy is drawn from “a tradition dating back to the Sages of Antiquity”, including the Greek philosophers and the Persian religious tradition derived from Zoroaster; third, “Imagination” is designated as the cognitive agent for perception in this “world of autonomous Images”; and fourth, the development of a cosmology with an “intermediate universe” of archetypes, an “epiphanic place” which is especially suited to the Islamic mystic because, as the Qur’an admonishes, it is not given to any mortal that Allah should speak to Him” directly, face to face. As the locus of “epiphanic” experience, the “intermediate universe” is a point of contact between God, who is categorically inaccessible, and the sensory world of everyday life. It is a world that exists like the objects in a mirror or in the imagination, which are at once real but at the same time distinct from the objects they reflect. Although the Sufi mystic cannot within orthodox Islam come face to face with God, he can aspire through the powers of the “active Imagination” to ascend to this intermediate universe and experience an epiphany in the form of an angel, or an essence of one of His divine “Names,” or in the form of the “Hidden Imam.”

We have already discussed the Bab’s connection to Sheik Ahmad (d. 1826) who played a pivotal role in the refinement of Shaikhism or duodecimal (i.e., Twelver) Imamism. Briefly described, this school is a version of Sufism centered around the family of the Prophet as descended from Ali and Fatima through the twelve Imams who, like the twelve Apostles of Christ and the twelve tribes descended from Ishmael, are linked symbolically to the twelve-month zodiac and the astral world, in this case the “intermediate universe.” As the locus of mystical experience, this universe is characterized by a spiritual landscape whose contents are symbolic markers for the initiate’s ascent toward epiphany with the godhead as represented by the Imams themselves. The ascent toward the Imam is made possible by the “imaginative power.” God “created the imaginative Power in the shape of a mirror . . . ; the power of imagination is without doubt consubstantial with the soul, is an organ comparable in that respect to what the hand is for the body.”(6) Through practiced use of the “organ” of imagination, the initiate ascends to the “intermediate universe” in which religion and religious law are rendered superfluous. However, to achieve this state we must first “change our way of being.”

And it is in darkness [i.e., the state of the world since the “time of Adam”] that one must seek a religion, behave in a certain way, profess some belief. But as soon as men have emerged from these mists and entered into pure air, they gaze at the Sun, the face of the Friend, the Imam; then they contemplate its lights uncovered and unveiled, without needing to dissemble. For the laws are no longer laws; religion is no longer religion; institutions are no longer institutions.

. . . . . .

What is needed, therefore, is for us ourselves to reach the spiritual level where the Friend, the Imam, becomes visible. . . . Thus, if the Imam came before we ourselves were there, that is, before there was a change in our way of being, we would not even see him. (Sheik Kahn Kirmani. d. 1870)(7)

Although relatively few were capable of the spiritual preparation necessary to behold “the face of the Friend,” there was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a growing optimism that the spiritual knowledge could be shared among many even to the point that wisdom and spiritual knowledge acquired in the intermediate universe could be returned to our own quotidian sensory world to infuse every-day life with the “perfume emanating from the flowers of the world of Hurqalya (i.e., the “intermediate universe”). The immanence of the “Hidden Imam” among us is graphically presented in this passage from Sheik Khan Ibrahimi (b. 1896) who compares the Imam to Joseph when he at first hides his identity from his brothers but later reveals himself.

When the venerated Sheik Ahmad Absai, and all our Sheiks with him, repeat that already now the Imam is visible to them and contemplated by them in Hurqalya, the hidden meaning of such a statement is that for those who belong to the world of Hurqalya the Imam is recognized as being already invested with the Imamate, with sovereign dignity and royal splendor. Yes, they recognize him and pledge him their allegiance. But the fact is that in this world, he cannot be perceived by the senses of people like ourselves, and we do not see him. This does not mean that the Imam is not here, in our world. Of course he is here. His presence in this world is like the presence of Joseph among his brothers. Joseph was there, beside them, and in spite of that they did not recognize him. And until Joseph made himself known, his bothers did not recognize him, so our traditions tell us. The same applies in this case. So long as the Imam does not make himself known, we do not recognize him. We remain ignorant and unconscious. But he can only make himself known at the very moment when we are capable of recognizing him, at the very moment when we have attained the capacity for this spiritual consciousness with its prerequisites, that is, when we have opened the eye which is capable of knowing the Imam and awakened the senses belonging to men of Hurqalya. Then indeed, at that very instant, we shall see that the whole visible realm is the realm of the Imamate.(8)

Early in this paper the story of how the Bab revealed himself as the Mahdi to Mulla Husayn (himself a disciple of “the venerated Sheik Ahmad”) at the end of an all-night ecstatic session was recounted. Now we have come full circle, and in returning to our beginning, are better informed about the context of the meeting between these two. According to “Twelver” or “Duodecimo” Shiism, the end of the succession of Imams descended from Ali and Fatima occurred “in 874 CE with the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam, the child Muhammad al-Muntazar (Muhammad, the awaited one).”(9) Shii theologians explained the disappearance as an “occultation” by which he was sequestered away for protection from his enemies to the “intermediate universe” of Hurqalya or similar rarified spiritual environment where he awaits the end of the millennium to return as the Mahdi (also Qa’im, the Persian equivalent) and restore the Shia community before the Last Judgement. In the context of this tradition and the teachings of Sheik Ahmad and his followers, the Bab literally became the epiphanized manifestation of the Hidden Imam himself, the Mahdi or Qa’im. And he assumed this role with conscious intention, as is demonstrated by his pilgrimage to Mecca during which in order to fulfill a prophecy, he called out from the door of the Ka’ba, “I am that Mahdi whose advent you have been awaiting.” Much of his support came from those who, like Mulla Husayn, were aligned with Imamism. His choice of the title “The Bab” or literally “The Gate”, indicates that he is the path of access to spiritual knowledge as described by those associated with the teachings of Sheik Ahmad and Imamism generally. Moreover, the means by which the path to divine wisdom is ascended are drawn directly from their teaching as exemplified in the concept of the “exalted Names” of God(10) and the contact with an “intermediate universe” where “enlightenment” is received “even as mirrors placed before the sun.”

Verily then make your hearts the daysprings of His exalted Names as recorded in the Book, and ye shall, even as mirrors placed before the sun, be able to receive enlightenment. (Selections From the Writings of the Bab, XVI, 17)

The integration of the basic tenants of Imamsim into the Baha’i faith are fundamental in the scripture that flowed from the inspired “pen” of Baha’u’llah.(11) Like his predecessors, he ascribes inspirational power to God’s “names and attributes” which can be apprehended by the prepared soul of man made into “a mirror” of God’s “own Self.”

Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He, through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him—a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation. . . . Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty. (Gleanings, XXIII)

Baha’u’llah also confirms the Bab as Qa’im (Mahdi) whom he identifies as the harbinger of the return of Husayn ibn Ali, the Third Imam, and Muhammad’s grandson by Fatima and Ali.

Husayn! [It should be recalled that Baha’u’llah was born Mirza Husayn Ali.] Consider the eagerness with which certain peoples and nations have anticipated the return of Imam-Husayn, whose coming, after the appearance of the Qa’im [i.e., The Bab], hath been prophesied, in days past, by the chosen ones of God, exalted be His glory. These holy ones have, moreover, announced that when He Who is the Day Spring of the manifold grace of God manifesteth Himself, all the Prophets and Messengers, including the Qa’im, will gather together beneath the shadow of the sacred Standard which the Promised One will raise. That hour is now come. Its grace is being poured out upon men. (Gleanings, IX)

In other places, Baha’u’llah is identified with the return of Christ, who in Islamic tradition is the divine personage who will be introduced by the Qa’im (Mahdi) as prelude to the Last Judgment. Baha’is, particularly those with Christian backgrounds, identify the Bab and Baha’u’llah as counter parts to John the Baptist and Christ, interpreting the Bab’s repeated references to “Him Whom God shall make manifest” as designating Baha’u’llah. This raises the question of his true identity: is he the Imam-Husayn, or Christ, or the Zoroastrian Messiah, Astvat-ereta, or the Pareclete (“Comforter” mentioned in the Gospels, but interpreted by the Moslems to mean Muhammad).(12) The answer is all of the above. For the Baha’is, Baha’u’llah, is the focal point wherein all the different threads of divine revelation throughout history finally converge; his mission is the fulfillment of all religious prophesies and the unification of “all the divers kindreds of the earth” into a single, humanitarian religion based on universal “peace and tranquility” and the spiritual quest for God.

Verily I say, this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One. Great indeed is this Day! The allusions made to it in all the sacred Scriptures as the Day of God attest its greatness. The soul of every Prophet of God, of every Divine Messenger, hath thirsted for this wondrous Day. All the divers kindreds of the earth have, likewise, yearned to attain it.

God grant that the light of unity may envelop the whole earth, and that the seal, “the Kingdom is God’s”, may be stamped upon the brow of all its peoples. (Gleanings, VII)

The purpose underlying the revelation of every heavenly Book, nay, of every divinely-revealed verse, is to endue all men with righteousness and understanding, so that peace and tranquility may be firmly established amongst them.

(Gleanings, CI)

Like Muhammad, who describes himself as “unlettered”, both The Bab and Baha’u’llah refer to themselves as “unschooled”, which in Islamic tradition is proof positive of the divine origin of their revelations. This motif parallels the story of Christ while still a child holding forth among the learned scholars at the Temple whom he enthralled with his knowledge and understanding. How could such wisdom come from so unlikely a source without God’s inspiration? And again, as was the case with Christ and Muhammad, Baha’u’llah, in spite of being the conduit for God’s revelations, was rejected by most of his contemporaries.

In spite of His not being accounted among the learned, His being unschooled and inexperienced in the disputations current among the divines, He hath rained upon men the showers of His manifold and Divinely-inspired knowledge; yet, behold how this generation hath rejected His authority, and rebelled Against Him!

(Gleanings, XXIII)

The source of contact with the godhead in Baha’u’llah’s revelations is very much in the Sufi/Imamist tradition in which the essence of God is expressed in his “Names” and embodied in the person of the “Imams” who are the catalyzing elements of meditative practice leading one toward God. As noted above, Man has been blessed because it is “upon the reality of man [that] He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self.” Man, the mirror of God, is a key metaphor to both the Sufi and the Baha’i vision of man. On the one hand, it presents a view of human nature far removed from the pessimistic concept of Original Sin that has made apocalyptic fear and carnal self-loathing essential to the fire-and-brimstone fundamentalism of revivalist Christianity. On the other hand, it underscores the internal aspect of man’s questto know his Creator and to attain His Presence.”(13) This means that to seek God, one must turn inward, for “He hath known God who hath known himself.”(14) It is for this reason that one of the requirements of the Baha’i faith is the “independent search for truth” and the “unity of God”, which is to say, the independent quest to know oneself and therefore know God, because at the highest spiritual level the two become interchangeable. “I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself.”

“And when this stage of the journey is completed and the wayfarer hath soared beyond this lofty station, he entereth the City of Divine Unity, and the garden of oneness, and the court of detachment. In this plane the seeker casteth away all signs, allusions, veils, and words, and beholdeth all things with an eye illumined by the effulgent lights which God Himself hath shed upon him. In his journey he seeth all differences return to a single word and all allusions culminate in a single point. Unto this beareth witness he who sailed upon the ark of fire and followed the inmost path to the pinnacle of glory in the realm of immortality: ‘Knowledge is one point, which the foolish have multiplied.’ This is the station that hath been alluded to in the tradition: “I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is.’”(15)

The topic of self-understanding and self-realization brings us back to the quest for the Hidden Imam. As was noted above, “when we have opened the eye which is capable of knowing the Imam and awakened the senses belonging to men of Hurqalya, then indeed, at that very instant, we shall see that the whole visible realm is the realm of the Imamate.” That is to say, “Hurqalya” and the “whole visible realm” of this earth will be one; Paradise will have descended to earth simply through the heightened awareness of mankind. In terms of Baha’i symbolism, the significance of the Garden of Ridvan will be actualized on earth through the spiritual act of becoming truly self-aware, knowing oneself and therefore knowing God.(16) This is also the essence of the Second Coming when Earth returns to Eden, and He creates “the new heavens and the new earth.”(17) The restoration of Paradise is, for Baha’u’llah and the People of Baha, part of God’s design for this world. They share the Imamists’ belief that “Paradise” on Earth, “the Kingdom” of God, is like Joseph (18) among his brothers, just waiting to reveal itself to those who are capable of seeing.

This is the Paradise, the rustling of whose leaves proclaims: “O ye that inhabit the heavens and the earth! There hath appeared what hath never previously appeared. He Who, from everlasting, had concealed His Face from the sight of creation is now come.” From the whispering breeze that wafteth amidst its branches there cometh the cry: “He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is made manifest. The Kingdom is God’s. (Gleanings, XIII)

Whether or not the Baha’i will usher in the Kingdom of God and Paradise on Earth as symbolized by the Garden of Ridvan, is still in the balance. As a group, they are certainly making strides in the right direction with their global efforts to effect peace, prosperity, and religious tolerance for all mankind. Viewed in the wide perspective of history, their efforts are truly an attempt to fulfill the heroic Mazdean prayer from three millenniums past: “May we be among those who are to bring about the Transfiguration of the Earth.”(19)


The Baha’i faith poses a complex conundrum for the Muslims. On the one hand, as the child of Islam, it has succeeded where the parent has not. It has integrated peacefully and successfully into the modern world without slavish, Procrustean imitation of the West and without losing its vitality as a vibrant, devout, spiritual community from whose example Islam could learn much. On the other hand, under current circumstances, mere mention of the Baha’is to most Muslims elicits immediate contempt and condemnation. Their fear and hatred of apostasy dates back to the Ridda Wars. In their eyes The Bab and Baha’u’llah are the personification of false prophets who would tear Islamic law asunder and challenge the absolute authority of Muhammad if they and their teachings were accepted. This fear and hatred should be overcome. The Baha’is do not pose a threat to Islam. There will not be a large exodus of Muslims leaving the faith to embrace the teachings of Baha’u’llah, nor will they touch off a series of modern Ridda Wars. Rather, Islam will continue to stumble into the Twenty-First Century torn between the jihadi militants’ nine/one-eleven interpretation of the Qur’an (“Kill and get killed”), and the more tolerant interpretation of the moderates (“Allah enjoins justice, charity . . . He forbids indecency, evil and aggression” [16:90]). The struggles between theocrats and democrats, fundamentalists and evolutionists, Islamists and progressives will continue as well. In this ongoing tug-of-war, the Baha’i experience has the potential to help illuminate the issues at stake and suggest solutions to the problems arising from them. The extent to which Muslims remain blinded by their prejudiced view of Baha’i history is an indication of how ensnared by their Medieval past they are likely to remain in years to come. The core of a religion, including Islam, is not law but values. The Ridda Wars against apostasy ended thirteen centuries ago. The basic message of the Qur’an, however, endures. “Our God and your God are one and to Him we are submissive.” (29:46) This elegantly simple sentence, more than any other, sums up the central teaching of The Prophet, Muhammad. May Peace Be Upon Him.

The End



1. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, CX.

2. Gleanings, CXXXII. “The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated.

Gird up the loins of your endeavor, O people of Baha, that haply the tumult of religious dissension and strife that agitateth the peoples of the earth may be stilled, that every trace of it may be completely obliterated. For the love of God, and them that serve Him, arise and aid this most sublime and momentous Revelation. Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction. . . .

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. The one true God, He Who knoweth all things, Himself testifieth to the truth of these words.”

3. For those interested in exploring the numerological aspects of the 9/11 attack, the following email in current circulation on the net is an imaginative exercise that expands the scope of numerology from ciphers to include cyberspace fonts like “Wingdings”:

1) New York City has 11 letters

2) Afghanistan has 11 letters.
3) Ramsin Yuseb (The terrorist who threatened to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993) has 11 letters.
4) George W Bush has 11 letters.
This could be a mere coincidence, but this gets more interesting:
1) New York is the 11th state.
2) The first plane crashing against the Twin Towers was flight number 11.
3) Flight 11 was carrying 92 passengers. 9 + 2 = 11
4) Flight 77 which also hit Twin Towers, was carrying 65 passengers. 6+5= 11
5) The tragedy was on September 11, or 9/11 as it is now known. 9 + 1+ 1= 11
6) The date is equal to the US emergency services telephone number 911. 9+1+1 = 11

Sheer coincidence..?! Read on and make up your own mind:
1) The total number of victims inside all the hi-jacked planes was 254. 2 + 5 + 4 = 11.
2) September 11 is day number 254 of the calendar year. Again 2 + 5 + 4 = 11.
3) The Madrid bombing took place on 3/11/2004. 3 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 4 = 11.
4) The tragedy of Madrid happened 911 days after the Twin Towers incident.
The most recognized symbol for the US, after the Stars & Stripes, is the Eagle.
The following verse is taken from the Quran, the Islamic holy book:
"For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle.
The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced: for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah and there was peace."
That verse is number 9.11 of the Quran.
Unconvinced about all of this Still ..?! Try this and see how you feel afterwards, it made my hair stand on end: Open Microsoft Word (or Word Perfect)
and do the following:
1. Type in capitals Q33 NY.
This is the flight number of the first plane to hit one of the Twin Towers.
2. Highlight the Q33 NY.
3. Change the font size to 48.
4. Change the actual font to the WINGDINGS

This is the result:

4. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, LXII

The Gate (“The Bab”)

1. Shayhk Ahmad-i-Ahsá’I (1753—1831) was the founder of the Shaykhí School and the first of the “twin luminaries that heralded the advent of the Faith of the Báb.” See Dawn Breakers, chapters 1 and 10. Also see note 171, p. 239, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas.

2. Mary Perkins, Hour of the Dawn: The Life of the Bab. p. 36.

3. Hour of the Dawn, p. 62.

4. Hour of Dawn, pp. 136-37.

5. Hour of Dawn, pp. 159-60.

Baha’u’llah (“The Glory of God”)

1. Baha’u’llah, Epistle, pp. 20-1.

2. Day of Glory, p. 61; also Blomfield, Chosen Highway, p. 45.

3. Day of Glory, p. 89; also King of Glory, p. 143.

4. For details concerning the roles of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, see The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Introduction by The Universal House of Justice, pp.3-4. “At the foundation of this guidance lies the unique role which Bahá-u’llah’s Writings—indeed the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas itself—confer on His eldest son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This unique figure is at once the Exemplar of the pattern of life taught by His Father, the divinely inspired authoritative Interpreter of His Teachings and the Centre and Pivot of the Covenant which the Author of the Bahá’i Revelation made with all who recognize Him. The twenty-nine years of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá ministry endowed the Bahá’i world with a luminous body of commentary that opens multiple vistas of understanding on His Father’s purpose.”

“In His Will and Testament ‘Abdu’l-Bahá conferred the mantle of Guardian of the Cause and infallible Interpreter of its teachings upon His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, and confirmed the authority and guarantee of divine guidance decreed by Bahá’u’llah for the Universal House of Justice on all matters ‘which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book.’ The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice can thus be seen to be, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, the ‘Twin Successors’ of Bahá’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. They are the supreme institutions of the Administrative Order which was founded and anticipated in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and elaborated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will.”

“During the thirty-six years of his ministry, Shoghi Effendi raised up the structure of elected Spiritual Assemblies—the Houses of Justice referred to in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, now in their embryonic stage—and with their collaboration initiated the systematic implementation of the Divine Plan that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had laid out for the diffusion of the Faith Throughout the world. He also set in motion, on the basis of the strong administrative structure that had been established, the processes which were an essential preparation for the election of the Universal House of Justice. This body, which came into existence in April 1963, is elected through secret ballot and plurality vote in a three-stage election by adult Bahá’is throughout the world. The revealed Word of Bahá’u’llah, together with the interpretations and expositions of the Centre of the Covenant and the Guardian of the Cause, constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation.”

The Hijaz

1. For a fuller account of Qusayy, see Reza Aslan, No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, pp. 24-28.

2. The early history of slavery in Islam is examined at length by David M. Goldenberg in his book, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton Univ. Press, 2006. The “Curse of Ham” refers to Noah’s curse of Ham’s son, Canaan. Ham happened upon Noah asleep after drinking wine, sees him naked, and tells his brothers, Shem and Japheth, who then took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awake from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed by Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” (Genesis, 9:18-27) This text was adapted by Muslim and then Christian slavers to justify the widespread use of African slaves. The following summary of Goldnberg’s thesis is from a review of his book by David Brion Davis, New York Review of Books, November 16, 2006, (pp. 37-40): “It was not originally racist biblical text that led to the enslavement of ‘Ham’s black descendants,’ but rather the increasing enslavement of blacks that transformed biblical exegesis, beginning especially with Muslims.”

“By 740CE the spectacular Muslim conquests had created a vast intercontinental empire extending from modern Pakistan westward across the entire Mideast and northern Africa to Spain and even southern France. This territorial conquest produced an immense flow of slaves from many ethnic groups for employment as servants, soldiers, members of harems, eunuch chaperons, and workers in the fields and mines. Since Islamic law prohibited the forcible enslavement of Muslims, the Arabs, Berbers, and their Muslim converts who made deep inroads into sub-Saharan Africa had strong incentives to acquire by purchase or capture large numbers of “infidel” black slaves.”

“Muslims, or ‘Moors’ as they were called, also enslaved enormous numbers of Europeans, but with the exception of the southeastern Byzantine region, Europeans were less accessible than East Africans. Between 1550 and the early 1800s the Moors of North Africa seized and enslaved well over one million Europeans—by raiding the coastlines from Italy to England and even Iceland as well as by capturing countless ships. But many of these white slaves were ransomed, thanks to the strength and negotiating power of European states and the concerted efforts of Christian benevolent societies, White captives tended to be given less onerous and degrading jobs than the blacks.”

“The importation of huge numbers of black slaves into Islamic lands, from Spain to India, was the result of a continuous, large-scale migration—by caravan and sea over a period of more than twelve centuries, beginning in the 600s. It may have equaled, in total number, all the African slaves transported to the New World. Between 869 and 833, thousands of black slaves in what is now southern Iraq staged one of the greatest slave revolts in human history. Because the status of slavery came to be associated with the increasing number of sub-Saharan Africans, the Arabic word for slave, abd, came to mean only a black slave, and in some regions referred to any black, whether slave or free. Numerous Arab and Iranian depictions of black slaves were almost identical with the worst racist stereotypes in nineteenth-century America.”

“In view of this history, it is hardly surprising that the Muslims wanted to justify the slavery of blacks on religious [p. 39] grounds. Goldenberg cites many early medieval Arabic sources that used the curse of Ham to do so. Since many Jews and Christians lived within Muslim states or interacted, as merchants, with Muslim societies, Goldenberg is also able to provide numerous quotations that show non-Muslims repeating or adopting the curse of Ham as the justification for enslaving blacks. For example, the highly distinguished Rabbi Ibn Ezra (d. 1164 or 1167), who lived in Islamic Spain and wrote works that introduced Islamic mathematics and Indian number systems to Europe, is clearly quoting the view of the surrounding culture when he says, ‘Some say that the Blacks are slaves because of Noah’s curse on Ham.’”

“The linkage between blackness and slavery first appears, implicitly, as early as the fourth century CE in a Syriac Christian work known as The Cave of Treasures. Goldenberg finds that the first explicit link between blacks and slavery was made in Arabic sources beginning in the seventh century, when the scale of the slave trade in black Africans was increasing with the Muslim conquests in Africa. From the seventh century onward some Islamic writers established strong precedents for uniting the curse of blackness with the curse of slavery.”

Davis points out that the so-called “curse of blackness” had its counterpart in Africa, the “curse of whiteness.” The main point here is that losing the natural coloration of one’s skin is equivalent to the loss or diminution of one’s identity, which is inherent in enslavement although not identical with it. Where it occurs in the Bible, it has no pejorative racial connotations.

3. Muhammad was first and foremost the champion of the common man, the downtrodden, and oppressed, including slaves. The manumission of slaves was one of his highest priorities to the point that he made a form of penance and atonement.

Monotheism & the Hanifs

1. New York Times Digest, Wed. Sept. 6th, 2006. “once ate least 40 [to] 50 million . . .The global population [of Zoroastrians] has dwindled to 190,000 at most, and perhaps as few as 124,000, according to a survey in 2004 by Fezana Journal, published by the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America. . . . The Zoroastrians assimilate and intermarry, virtually disappearing into their adopted cultures. . . . most individual Zoroastrians appear to be thriving. They are well-educated and well-traveled professionals, earingin incomes that place them in the middle and upper classes of the countries where they or their families settled after leaving their homelands in Iran and India. About 11,000 Zoroastrians live in the United States, 6,000 in Canada, 5,000 in England, 2,700 in Austraila and 2,200 in the Persian Gulf nations, according to the Fezana Journal survey.”

2. Vendidad, 3.1.

3. Yasna 43.3. (?)

4. Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i, “the Sabeans, those whom we now call the Subbah (more exactly, the Mandeans), most of whom, and they are many, have settled in and around Basra.” Cited from Corbin, Spiritual Body, p. 192)

5. The authenticity of many pre-Islamic and early Islamic texts has been questioned by a number of modern scholars who have suggested that in many cases they have been edited, re-written, and even falsified over the centuries for ulterior motives.

6. Ibn Ishaq, pp. 99-100

7. Ibn Ishaq, p. 102

The Prophet Muhammad

1. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Bk. 58, No. 169

2. Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111

The Qur’an

1. Luke, 20:25

Baha’i Revelations

1. Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries. “I thou be of the inmates of this city within the ocean of divine unity, thou wilt view all the Prophets and Messengers of God as one soul and one body, as one light and one spirit, in such wise that the first among them would be last and the last would be first. For they have all arisen to proclaim His Cause and have established the laws of divine wisdom. They are one and all, the Manifestations of His Self.” p. 33 “Know then that, inasmuch as all the Prophets are but one and the same soul, spirit, name, and attribute, thou must likewise see them all as bearing the name Muhammad and as being the son of Hasan [i.e., the Twelfth Imam], as having appeared from the Jábulqá of God’s power and from Jábulsá of His mercy [these are two cities of the intermediate universe, Hurqalya]. For by Jábulqá is meant none other than thre treasure-houses of enternity in the all-highest heaven and the cities of the unsween in the supernal realm. We bear witness that Muhammad, the son of Hasan, was indeed in Jábulqá and appeared therefrom. Likewise, He Whom God shall make manifest [i.e., Baha’u’llah] abideth in that city until such time as God will have established Him upon the seat of His sovereignty.” p. 37

2. The Unitarians trace their origins from the early Christian Arians through the middle ages in Transylvania and Poland to Renaissance Holland and thence England. However, it was not until the Enlightenment that Unitarian parishes split from the protestant “dissenters” in England and became an independent sect. From this period on its emphasis on scholarly examination of the Bible has had great appeal, especially within intellectual circles. At this stage the dominant issue was over the rejection of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity. Isaac Newton was one of the first eminent British men of letters to reject the divinity of Jesus. After him, Joseph Priestley, the great chemist and pioneer in the early study of electricity, espoused the same position as a radical Unitarian preacher. Late in life, he was forced to leave England for his religious views. He moved to Pennsylvania where he resumed his old friendship with Benjamin Franklin, and was on cordial terms with Washington, Jefferson, and John Adams. In the United States a new turning point in the Unitarian movement as marked in 1819, by a sermon delivered by William Ellery Channing. The sermon is striking because it is essentially an eloquent position paper on the status of Unitarian belief at that time. In an effort to preserve the authenticity of his message, I have paraphrased twelve important points made in this sermon using Channing’s own words, which convey in a most dramatic way the very process of religious evolution taking place in the young American republic at the turn of the nineteenth century.

1. “We [Unitarians] are said to exalt reason above revelation. . . . God has given us [Mankind] a rational nature, and will call us to account for it. . . . Revelation is addressed to us as rational beings.”

2. “Do not, brethren, shrink from the duty of searching God’s Word for yourselves. . . . Do not think that you may innocently follow the opinions which prevail around you, without investigation.”

3. “Our leading principle in interpreting Scripture is this, that the Bible is a book written for men, in the language of men, and that its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books . . . [using] established and obvious principles of criticism. . . . The scriptures demand the exercise of reason. . . . We profess not to know a book, which demands a more frequent exercise of reason than the Bible. . . . We reason about the Bible precisely as civilians do about the constitution under which we live. . . . The Bible . . . was written for past and future ages, as well as for the present.”

4. “We regard the Scriptures as the records of God’s successive revelations to mankind, and particularly of the last and most perfect revelation of his will by Jesus Christ. . . . Our religion . . . lies chiefly in the New Testament. The dispensation of Moses, compared with that of Jesus, we consider as adapted to the childhood of the human race, a preparation for a nobler system. The Christian dispensation is a continuation of the Jewish, the completion of a vast scheme of providence.”

5. “Consider the impure union, which still subsists in almost every Christian country, between the church and state; . . . recollect in what degree the spirit of intolerance has checked free inquiry, not only before, but since the Reformation. . . . [A new] glorious reformation in the church, we hope [will come into being], under God’s blessings, from the progress of the human intellect, from the moral progress of society, from the consequent decline of prejudice and bigotry, and . . . the fall of those hierarchies, and other human institutions, by which the minds of individuals are oppressed.”

6. “We believe in the doctrine of God’s UNITY, or that there is one God, and one only. . . . We object to the doctrine of the Trinity. . . . [We] protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity. . . . We challenge our opponents to adduce one passage in the New Testament, where the word God means three persons. . . . Jesus Christ is a being distinct from, and inferior to, God.”

7. “We farther agree in rejecting, as unscriptural and absurd, the explanation given by the popular system, of the manner in which Christ’s death procures forgiveness for men. This system used to teach . . . that man, having sinned against an infinite Being, has contracted infinite guilt, and is consequently exposed to an infinite penalty. . . . It naturally leads men to think, that Christ came to change God’s mind rather than their own. . . . We regard him [Jesus] as a Saviour, chiefly as he is the light, physician, and guide of the dark, diseased, and wandering mind. . . . Faith . . . contributes nothing to salvation, any farther than as it uses . . . the whole life, character, sufferings and triumphs of Jesus, as the means of purifying the mind, of changing it into the likeness of his celestial excellence.”

8. “We object to the systems of religion . . . [that] teach that God brings us into life wholly depraved, so that under the innocent features of our childhood is hidden a nature averse to all good and propense to all evil . . . [such as] to render certain and infallible the total depravity of every human being, . . . and it also teaches, that the offence of the child, who brings into life this ceaseless tendency to unmingled crime, exposes him to the sentence of everlasting damnation. . . . To punish the sin of this unhappily constituted child with endless ruin, would be a wrong unparalleled by the most merciless despotism. . . .

9. [According to these “systems of religion”] God selects from this corrupt mass a number to be saved. . . This system, which begins with degrading human nature, may be expected to end in pride . . . for pride grows out of a consciousness of high distinctions . . . and no distinction is so great as that which is made between the elected and abandoned of God.”

10. “We believe in the MORAL PERFECTION OF GOD. . . . We cannot bow before a being, however great and powerful, who governs tyrannically. . . . We venerate not the loftiness of God’s throne, but the equity and goodness in which it is established. We believe that God is infinitely good, kind, benevolent . . .; good, not to a few, but to all; good to every individual, as well as to the general system. . . . We believe, too, that God is just; . . . that his justice is the justice of a good being . . . By this attribute, we understand God’s infinite regard to virtue or moral worth, expressed in a moral government.”

11. “True love of God is a moral sentiment. [It] is in fact the same thing, with the love of virtue, rectitude, and goodness. . . . We esteem him, and him only a pious man, who practically conforms to God’s moral perfections and government. . . . We attach such importance to . . . the benevolent virtues . . . that we are sometimes reproached with exalting them above piety.”

12. “[We believe in God’s] Paternal character. We ascribe to him, not only the name, but the dispositions and principles of a father. . . . We look upon this world as a place of education, in which he [God] is training men by prosperity and adversity . . . for union with himself.”

From these passages the fundamental similarity between Unitarianism and Bahaism is abundantly clear. Moreover, the rapprochement between the two faiths took place during the eighteen hundreds, well over a century ago. As a result we now have a well established template of how a reconciliation between Christianity and Islam might evolve. It would, of course, be unreasonable to expect Christians to reject the Trinity or the divinity of Christ as have the Unitarians; and equally unreasonable to expect Moslems to accept a new prophet equal to Mohammad with new scripture abrogating parts of the Qur’an and Shari-a as have the Baha’i. To advocate against such deeply held religious beliefs is to attack the religion itself and in so doing underscore the differences between the two, creating tension and hostility instead of reconciliation. However, there are other areas where mutuality could be more easily achieved. The concept of social and religious progress from “the dispensation of Moses” down to the present, is a good place to start. Once accepted, it frees religious discussion from the fundamentalist trap of attempting literal interpretation of ancient scriptures which by their very nature do not lend themselves to literalism. The view that God is the just and benevolent Father of all mankind can also be readily accepted by most cosmopolitan believers today. To this we can add the importance of reason, justice, and good will toward men as fundamental to true religion.

3. Baha’u’llah, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas. “O people of Bahá! It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation—such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God. . . . Was tot your hours in idleness and sloth, but occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others. . . . The most despised of men in the sight of God are they who sit and beg.” paragraph #33. “Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet.” The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph #48.

Islamic Law

1. One should not loose sight of the fact that a significant part of Greco-Roman jurisprudence was intertwined with Near-Eastern legal usage and institutions of which the Arabian Peninsula was a part, such as the Law School founded in Beirut by Septimius Severus. Wael Hallaq cites Warwick Ball, Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire, pp. 173-74: “At the beginning of the third century the [Phoenician, but Roman] Emperor Septimius Severus founded Beirut’s most famous institution. This was the Law School, the first such institution in the Roman world, and it was enthusiastically supported by the [originally Near Eastern] Severan emperors. The Beirut Law School was to have a profound effect on Roman civilization. It represents the birth of Roman—hence European—jurisprudence, of which Justinian’s monumental Digest was the first great achievement. It attracted many prominent legal minds, mostly drawn from the Phoenician population of the Levant itself. The most famous was Papinian, a native of Emesa, and his contemporary Ulpian, a native of Tyre. Both were patronized by the Severan dynasty . . . and both were acknowledged in Justinian’s Digest as forming the basis of Roman Law . . . Beirut and its justly famous law school, and with it its profound legacy, is regarded as a “western” and Roman enclave in the Near East. But it was founded and promoted by emperors whose origins and destinies were intimately bound to Phoenician culture. Above all, it must be emphasized that . . . the environment of Beirut and its law school is the Near East, not Italy. Many of the great scholars who dominated it were natives of the Near East, however Romanized, notably Papinian and Ulpian. It drew upon literary traditions that stretched back to the Sanchuniathon of Beirut in the seventh century BC and legal traditions that stretched back even further to the Judaic traditions of the early first millennium and the Mesopotamian law codes of the early second Millennium. Ultimately, therefore, should we be viewing Beirut in the context of Rome or of Babylon?”

2. See Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, Chapter I: The pre-Islamic Near East, Muhammad and Quranic Law, p. 24: “This new conception of Quranic law does not mean that there occurred a clean break with the legal traditions and customary laws of Arabia. Despite his critical attitude toward the local social and moral environment, Muhammad was very much part of this environment which was deeply rooted in the traditions of Arabia. Furthermore, as a prominent arbitrating judge (hakam), he could not have abandoned entirely, or even largely, the legal principles and rules by which he performed this prestigious (but now prohibited) function. Yet, while maintaining continuity with past traditions and laws, Quranic Islam exhibited a tendency to articulate a distinct law for the Umma, a tendency that marked the beginning of a new process whereby all events befalling the nascent Muslim community henceforth were to be adjudicated according to God’s law, whose agent was none other than the Prophet. This is clearly attested in both the Quran and the Constitution of Medina.”

3. See Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, p. 3-4: “If the Bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice. In many ways the Talmud is the most important book in Jewish culture, the backbone of creativity and of national life. No other work has had a comparable influence on the theory and practice of Jewish life, shaping spiritual content and serving as a guide to conduct. The Jewish people have always been keenly aware that their continued survival and development depend on study of the Talmud . . . . . . . The formal definition of the Talmud is the summary of oral law that evolved after centuries of scholarly effort by sages who lived in Palestine and Babylonia until the beginning of the Middle Ages. It has two main components: the Mishnah, a book of halakhah (law) written in Hebrew; and the commentary on the Mishnah, known as the Talmud (or Gemarah), in the limited sense of the word, a summary of discussion and elucidations of the Mishnah written in Aramaic Hebrew jargon. This explanation, however, though formally correct, is misleading and imprecise. The Talmud is the repository of thousands of years of Jewish wisdom, and the oral law, which is as ancient and significant as the written law (the Torah), finds expression therein. It is a conglomerate of law, legend, and philosophy . . . . . . . yet it is still based on free association, on harnessing together of diverse ideas reminiscent of the modern stream-of-consciousness novel. . . . . . . . And although the Talmud is, to this day, the primary source of Jewish law, it cannot be cited as an authority for purposes of ruling.”

4. The schools of Islamic law had antecedents in Judaic law, where schools such as the Bet Hillel and Shammai had flourished since the first century CE.

5. Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, p. 165-67. “The embryonic formation of the schools started sometime during the eighth decade after the Hijra (ca. 650 CE), taking the form of scholarly circles in which pious scholars debated religious issues and taught interested students. This knowledge and production of legal doctrine began in these circles—nowhere else. Due to their epistemic standing (i.e., their expertise and knowledge of the religious and legal values of the new religion), these scholars emerged as social leaders who commanded the respect of the populace. Once the Umayyads rose to power (as early as 661 CE), the political leadership began to feel the need for a class of socially connected local leaders who could function as their link with masses. Within three or four decades after the Umayyads had assumed power, and with the gradual abandonment by this dynasty of the egalitarian/tribal form of governance pursued by the early caliphs, this need was all the more obvious. The legal specialists, with their circles and social influence, were the perfect groups to be patronized and supported by the ruling power. . . If a caliph actively participated in legal life—as ‘Umar II did—it was by virtue of his recognized personal knowledge of the law, not by virtue of his political office. . . . Whereas law—as a legislated and executed system—was state-based in other imperial and complex civilizations, in Islam the ruling powers had virtually nothing to do with legal governance or with the production and promulgation of law. . . . Whereas in other cultures the ruling dynasty promulgated the law, enforced it, and constituted the locus of legal authority, in Islam it was the doctrinal madhhab [body of legal doctrine espoused by a legal school] that produced law and afforded its axis of authority; in other words, legal authority resided in the collective, juristic doctrinal enterprise of the school, not in the body politic or in the doctrine of a single jurist. . . . As we have seen, it was not until the first half of the tenth century that the doctrinal school was finally constructed, although further doctrinal developments continued to take place even after this period. So the process of transition from personal schools to doctrinal madhhabs was a long one indeed, spanning the second half of the eighth century up to the end of the next, and in the case of personal schools that emerged during the ninth century, notably the Shafi’ite and Hanbalite, the process continued well into the middle of the tenth. This is to say that the Hanafites and Kalikites had constructed their doctrinal madhhabs before all others.” In general, see Chapter 7, The formation of legal schools.

Also see in general Nurit Tsafrir, The History of an Islamic School of Law: The Early Spread of Hanafism. “The dividing lines between legal schools conformed to those between theological schools to such an extent that, as I mention in Chapter Six, in Egypt those who opposed the official doctrine were indicated by their affiliation to their legal schools—Shafi’is and Malikis—rather than by their dogmatic beliefs.” Tsafrir, The History of an Islamic School of Law, p. xii.

6. The view that the Qur’an not only preceded The Creation, but was an essential ingredient in The Creation itself has interesting analogues in Judaism. See, for example, Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, pp. 6-7: “This analogy between the natural world and Torah is ancient and was developed at length by the sages. One of its earliest expressions is the theory that just as an architect builds a house according to a blueprint, so the Holy One, Blessed be He, scanned his Torah in creating the world. According to this viewpoint, it follows that there must be a certain correlation between the world and Torah, the latter forming part of the essence of the natural world.”

7. p. 49 See Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, Chapter 5 (“Prophetic authority and the modification of legal reasoning”) and Chapter 6 (“Legal theory expounded”).

8. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, p. 37.

9. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, pp. 38-39.

10. In the ancient world, ritual cursing of the enemy was common practice. In pharonic Egypt, magical execration was used by the state to help combat its enemies. One of the methods used was to make a clay figure and bind it like a prisoner, and then put it in a clay pot and bury it in an abandoned cemetery. Sometimes the bound effigy was burned or crushed; sometimes effigies of the enemy were drawn on the soles of the soldiers’ sandals for desecration. They could also be burned or boiled. There is an Egyptian example of a door stop with a peg hole in its back made to represent a captured enemy. Each time the door was used, it struck the effigy, enacting on a symbolic level what was desired for the enemy himself. There were also cursing rituals associated with these figures. In the Old Testament (Jeremiah 19:11) one reads: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: So I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended.” Adin Steinsaltz comments in his book, The Essential Talmud, p. 145: “The Sanhedrin sages at Yavneh decided to add to the Shemoneh Esreh an additional benediction (which is in fact a curse) on heretics and informers.” Also see John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, pp. 62-63, where he describes politics of the Safavid dynasty in Persia: “Sunni persecution of Ali and his family was commemorated, while the first three caliphs were ritually cursed as usurpers.” This passage is cited below (Sufism, note 3) at length.

11. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law,The Proto-Qadis” pp. 34-40.

12. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law, pp. 119-121.

13. Reza Aslan, No god but God, p. 70.

14. New York Review of Books, ___


1. The Forbidden Rumi: The suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication, translations and commentary by Nevit O. Ergin and Will Johnson. Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2006. Passages quoted from pp. 157 & 159. The text of the first poem, “Everyone Is Welcome to This School”, underscores the tension that exists between the “jurists” and “doctors” of Islam and Sufi mystics whose experience transcends the boundaries between traditional religions. It reads as follows: “Since the seminary of love was endowed by eternity, the difference between lover and Beloved has become the most difficult subject. There are other ways besides causality and deductive reasoning to solve the problem. But they’re inaccessible to jurists, doctors, and someone who fancies himself a cosmologist. They all had strong opinions and kept talking about their differences, but it led only to a dead end. Then, they turned toward the mosque, but here everything became even more confused. Thoughts are limited, but the one who gathers them is endless. Let what is limited disappear into the unlimited. The fly of the soul has fallen into this buttermilk forever. Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian: All are welcome here.”

2. Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, Title Page, Baha’i Publications Australia, Bundoora Vic., Australia, 2002.

3. John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, pp. 62-63. “The Safavids had begun as a revivalist Sufi brotherhood in the thirteenth century, calling for a restoration of a purified Islam. By the fifteenth century, the brotherhood was transformed into a religiopolitical movement, combining Shii messianism and a call for armed struggle (jihad) against other Mulsim regimes, which it denounced as un-Islamic. In 1501, Ismail (1487-1524), head of the Safavid family, invaded and occupied Tabriz, proclaiming himself shah of Iran. Within a decade, he had conquered the rest of Iran, rapidly building an empire east of the Ottoman frontier. The creation of the Safavid dynasty made Shii Islam the official religion of an Islamic empire.”

“Shii Islam was effectively imposed in Iran through a process of persecution and doctrinal interpretation. Shah Ismail imposed Twelver Shii Islam upon Iran’s Sunni majority to unify his rule. He sought religious legitimacy and leadership by asserting that he was a descendant of the twelfth (hidden) imam and a mahdi, or divinely guided reformer. Thus, the shah was both temporal and spiritual ruler, emperor and messianic messenger. The religious pretensions of Safavid rulers were symbolized by their title, “Shadow of God on Earth.” Rival Islamic groups or interpretations of Islam (Sunni and Sufi) as well as non-Muslim communities were suppressed. The Safavids enforced their own brand of Shii religiopolitical ideology and identity in an attempt to legitimate their political authority and to forge a new Safavid Shii Iranian bond of solidarity. A full-blown Shii alternative to Sunni Islam was skillfully developed. Sufi ideas, philosophical doctrines, and popular religious practices such as saint veneration were selectively appropriated. Emphasis was placed on the veneration of sacred “Shii” persons: Husayn, the imams, and their families. Visits to their shrines replaced popular Sufi village shrines. Sunni persecution of Ali and his family was commemorated, while the first three caliphs were ritually cursed as usurpers. The martyrdom of Husayn at Karbala, the scene of the original massacre of Husayn and his followers by Sunni forces, became a central religious symbol, ritually reenacted during the sacred month of Muharram in passion plays which emphasized mourning, self-sacrifice and atonement. Karbala served as an alternative pilgrimage site to Mecca, which was under Ottoman control. Shii ulama from Iraq, southern Lebanon, and Bahrain were brought to Iran as missionaries and became part of the state-created and controlled Shii religious establishment, responsible for preaching Shii doctrine and manning the schools, universities, seminaries, and courts. . . .

As with the Ottomans, the ulama and there educational and judicial institutions were brought within the Safavid state bureaucracy.”

4. Al-Suhrawardi’s cosmology of “light” not only has close ties to the Neo-Platonists but to the contemporaneous Jewish kabbalists’ concept of ein sof, closely identified with “light” and “illumination.” See, for example, Joseph Dan, Kabbalah, pp. 41-42: “The most important aspect of ein sof in kabbalistic thought is as the ultimate source of the flow of the purest divine light (sheaf) that constantly provides the power to exist in both divine and [p. 41] earthly realms. Emanation is not a one-time event, but an on-going vital process that maintains the existence of all beings. There is a close similarity between these kabbalistic concepts and the teachings of various neo-Platonic schools in the Middle Ages, and the centrality of the process of emanation in the kabbalistic descriptions of divinity attest to this close relationship. The kabbalists differed from the neo-Platonists in the intense dynamism and mythological elements that they introduced into their system, especially in the lower realms of existence, and in their belief in the capacity of human deeds and behavior to influence processes in the divine world.”

5. Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: From Mazdean Iran to Shi’ite Iran, pp. 172-73

6. Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i. Cited from Corbin’s anthology, Spiritual Body, pp. 212-213

7. Cited from Corbin, Spiritual Body, p. 238.

8. Corbin, Spiritual Body, p. 266. Baha’is may be annoyed by the inclusion of quotations by Karim Kahn-i-Kirmani, who “actively opposed both the Bab and Baha’u’llah, and used his treatises to attack the Bab and His Teachings.” “Call ye to mind Karim, and how, when We summoned him unto God, he waxed disdainful, prompted by his own desires.” See The Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph #170, and companion notes #182.

9. Esposito, Islam, the Straight Path, p. 45. For a review of the different versions of “Imamism”, “Twelver Imamism,” “Sevener Imamism,” and a synopsis of early Islamic sects and the political fragmentation of the Caliphate, see pp. 41-67.

10. In religions like Islam and Judaism where idolatry and representative religious art are suppressed, words and especially names acquire special spiritual resonance. In the hierarchy of words, the many Names of God (The Merciful, The Compassionate, etc.) are by far the most potent, hence their importance in prayer and spiritual exercises, especially for mystics. Adin Steinsaltz has written a clear elucidation of this subject in the context of Jewish mysticism, but it is applicable to Sufism as well. In his book The Essential Talmud, he writes: “Esotericism was apparently first taught in ancient times. The schools established by the prophets (“sons of the prophets”) certainly discussed was of preparing individuals to receive the gift of prophesy and dealt with the inculcation of specific intellectual methods of comprehending these matters. . . . Among the themes known to have been contained in esoteric teachings were the names of God. From the mishnaic period onward, the explicit name of God was never uttered except in the Temple, and we learn from the Septuagint that this was an ancient tradition. But even the name uttered in the Temple during prayers was not what is known as the “explicit Name,” which was known only to a select few. A certain sage who had served as a Temple priest in his youth reported that the name was uttered during the priestly blessing, but was intentionally drowned out by the singing of the Levites so that even the young priests never heard it. There is therefore no known tradition (except in the Kabbalah) on ways of uttering the Divine Name. (There were apparently a number of ways, expounded upon in later kabbalistic works, and modern attempts at transcription are not even viable guesses.) Furthermore, we know that the four-letter name, despite its sanctity, was not the explicit name, and that there was a twelve-letter name, a forty-two-letter name, and even one with seventy-two letters. These are referred to several times in the Talmud, but without explanation, and even the classic Talmudic commentators did not always understand the reference. The High Priest apparently uttered the explicit name on Yom Kippur, but because of its length and complexity, it was almost impossible to grasp it. The name aroused great awe, as the Mishnah related: ‘When the priests and the people heard the great and terrible name uttered by the High Priest, they would kneel and bow down and say: ‘Blessed be the name of His honored kingdom for ever and ever.’ The Talmud explains that only those few disciples who were outstanding for their spiritual qualities and profound moral standards were taught the name by their rabbis. [paragraph] The mystic and esoteric world was kept hidden for several reasons. One basic reason was that it was considered that matters pertaining to the greatness of God should be left to those worthy of studying them. But it was also feared that unworthy use might be made of the powers a man acquired from knowing the names and the secrets according to which the world was constituted. The sages regarded knowledge of ‘the letters according to which Heaven and earth were created’ as an instrument lending mortals the power to engage in acts of creation.” pp. 248-250. It is noteworthy that the esoteric power of “letters” played a role in the composition of the Qur’an. The Second Surah (The Cow), for example, begins with the incantation of the Arabic letters “Alif, Lam, Mim”, as do many other surahs, although with other letters. No one has yet discovered the significance or meaning of this esoteric use of the alphabet by the Prophet Muhammad.

11. Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, pp. 36-37. “All that thou has heard regarding Muhammad the son of Hasan [i.e., the Twelfth Imam]—may the souls of all that are immersed in the oceans of the spirit be offered up for His sake—is true beyond a shadow of a doubt, and we all verily bear allegiance unto Him. But the Imáms of the Faith have fixed His abode in the city of Jábulqá [a city in the intermediate universe, Hurqalya], which they have depicted in strange and marvelous signs. To interpret this city according to the literal meaning of the tradition would indeed prove impossible, nor can such a city ever be found. . . . If thou wouldst lead Me unto this city, I could assuredly lead thee unto this holy Being . . . Since this is not in thy power, thou hast no recourse but to interpret symbolically the accounts and traditions that have been reported from these luminous souls. And, as such an interpretation is needed for the traditions pertaining to the aforementioned city, so too is it required for this holy Being.”

12. For Bahá’u’lláh’s exposition of his role as the “Paraclete” see, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 9. “And in the fourth Gospel, according to John, it is recorded: ‘But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness.’ And elsewhere He saith: But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

13. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, XXIX. The need to know God directly is main area of common ground between the Bahais and Sufi mystics. This is closely tied to Baha’u’llah’s mistrust of priests, religious clerics, and the hierarchies of organized religion, all of whom become secondary or superfluous when one achieves direct and personal knowledge of God. “Strive to know Him [God] through His own Self and not through others.” (Gleannings, LXXVI)

14. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, XC

15. Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 30. Also see Gleanings, XC.

16. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, XC. “Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.” “And also in your own selves: will ye not, then, behold the signs of God?” “He hath known God who hath known himself.” “Blind is the eye which doth not perceive Thee.” “No thing have I perceived, except that I perceived God within it, God before it, or God after it.”

17. Isaiah, 65:17-25: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth. . . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” Isaiah 66:22: “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me, says the Lord.” Romans 8:19-21: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” Revelation to John, 21:1-4: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. . . . The holy city Jerusalem . . . had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes etc.”

18. For a brief treatment of the theme of Joseph in Baha’i scripture see The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 165, Note #1. On Baha’u’llah in the role of the Hidden Imam, see Gleanings, XI. “Call out to Zion, O Carmel, and announce the joyful tidings: He that was hidden from mortal eyes is come!” Also see note #8, above.

19. Yasna XXX, 9, Cited from Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body, p. 15.



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2 komentar:

onCe mengatakan...

How Am I Expecting to understanding them.... So, Kayaknya Tiang harus sering-sering bertamu.

Salam Tiang, Dari Batam

Anonim mengatakan...

"..There are revelations throughout history, and their communities and positive effects continue for some thousands of years (but not indefinitely). Humanity passes through climactic changes, such as the end of the classical age, and the current transition to the postmodern, and in such a new age, all of the religious communities have to reinvent themselves in a new world, which is painful and difficult. The religion that is newborn at the time of such a change also has to transform, but it has an easier task, less baggage, so its example of transformation can show the way. A historical example of this is the birth of Christian Faith, and the concurrent transformation of Judaism, to form Pharisaic Judaism centring on the synagogue. Perhaps the Bahai Faith can help its older sisters in the same way.

~~ Sen McGlinn