Monday, May 22, 2006

The Bahai Faith And Iran

Iran has been making death threats against Israel for some time now, and it's getting uglier by the week. Life has been hard inside Iran for that country's Christians and Jews ever since the Islamic Revolution. Indeed, one of the justifications for the founding of the state of Israel was self-defence:

Anywhere else I am at the mercy of the government. It is very simple. _I want to be in a country where I can defend myself when I am attacked_.
-- Ada Sereni, in James McNeish, _Belonging_, 1980

But Christians and Jews are at least quasi-tolerated as recognized classes of dhimmis. There's a religion known as the Bahai faith, though, which doesn't get even that much respect. They are a peaceful and peace-promoting syncretic sect, about six million strong worldwide. Think of them as transnational Quakers. They are persecuted--boy, are they persecuted!--under Iranian shariah law as out-and-out heretics. The faith is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, which like every other sect of Islam isn't supposed to have "offshoots". The "Seal of Prophets" and all, you know. I don't see it immediately anywhere online, but I remember being hearing that the floorplans for the Bahai temple in Iran, which the ayatollahs demolished, are in safekeeping in Haifa, for the day when it will be possible to rebuild it.

The Bahai faith does not appeal to me, but I do have a personal attachment to it. The first Iranians I ever met in person were Bahais. I met them at a Bahai meeting, which I was attending for a college class. They left Iran due to persecution after the Islamic Revolution. I studied the Bahai faith in more depth some time later, and even wrote a paper on the local Bahai community. Most amazingly, after it was done, I found a framed photo of the second Bahai spiritual leader, Abdul Baha, hanging in a pawn shop. I bought it for three bucks, and donated it to the local group. I've been wincing at the depredations visited on Bahais by the One True Faith ever since.

Fun fact: Bahaullah is the only founder of an Abrahamic faith of whom we have a photograph. Unless there's a daguerrotype of the Mormons' Joseph Smith out there someplace.

UPDATE: Yep, there apparently is.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your efforts on behalf of Baha'is - it's nice to be noticed and even better to be defended! There has been some problems in Egypt of late too.

    As a matter of clarification you note the Baha'is Faith is syncretic, an off-shoot of Shi' Islam, and an Abrahamic Faith. I think most Baha'is wouldn't feel comfortable with the first, or the second, though the third does kind of mostly fit. The first means "attempting to reconsile disparate or opposed themes or schemes". The presumption is that it is a human effort to bring such things together. At the core of any Faith is, as you note, a Founder, as well as a Scripture. Baha'is do not beleive their Faith is based on an effort to reconsile various truths of religion - we believe that God is the source of all the Religions. They are *already* of one source however colored by a history of division and strife. The syncretic effort, if any, is to seek out such details and illumine the underlying unity but to do so naturally - not to impose a forced unreasonable harmony (if unconventional.) In physics the pursuit of a "Theory of everything" could be thought of as syncretic - but physicists do not suppose that reality itself is somehow unsynced with itself or in need of a means of reconsiliation. It simply *is* with an undifferentiated unity. As for being an off-shoot of Shi' Islam... would it be fair to define Christianity as an off-shoot of Judaism or that I am a defined adequetly as a son of my parents? Again, in essence, while framed by the mechanics of history, religions are essentially a fresh exposition, however much they have in common with the prior religion's Source. I am a son, but I am also a father. While intimately related one is not well defined by the other. By extension the same thing holds for being an Abrahamic Faith. We do indeed see Abraham as the head of a religion from which prophetic, religious, and historical/social issues extend to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and claim in our Scriptures a linkage direct to our own Founders. But of Abraham Hinduism, Buddhism and various aboriginal Faiths of the peoples of the continents say nothing or less and the Baha'i Faith affirms those religions and faith-traditions as well. So being Abrahamic is indeed a big tent - but we are more.


Thanks for stopping by! Please keep your comments civil and on-topic. Spammage will be cheerfully removed.