Baha'i studies

The Baha'i Faith in Africa: Establishing a New Religious Movement, 1952-1962

In 1952, there were probably fewer than 200 Baha'is in all of Africa. Today the Baha'i community claims one million followers on the continent. Yet, the Baha'i presence in Africa has been all but ignored in academic studies up to now. This is the first monograph that addresses the establishment of this New Religious Movement in Africa. Discovering an African presence at the genesis of the religon in Iran, this study seeks to explain why the movement found an appeal in colonial Africa during the 1950s and early 1960. It also explores how the Baha'i faith was influenced and Africanized by its new converts. Finally, the book seeks to make sense of the diverse and contradictory American, Iranian, British, and African elements that established a new religion in Africa.

Planned Publication Date: October 2011

Full story...

Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Bab

{amazon id='1554580560'}

Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Bab. BY NADER SAIEDI. Baha'i Studies Series, vol. 1. Waterloo, Ont.: WILFRID LAURIER UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2008. Pp. viii 423. $85.

Since the Victorian era of the great Western Islamicists and Orientalists, very few modern academics have been bold enough to write about the life and writings of Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-50 C.E.), the early Qajar-era, Persian-born, messianic claimant widely known as the Bab or 'Gate' (primarily to the occulted twelfth Imam). Even fewer have attempted to translate his numerous, notoriously complex Arabic and Persian writings, the knowledge of which is indispensable to a proper comprehension of the short-lived religion that he founded in 1260/1844. The Bab was executed by a firing squad in Tabriz in 1850, but within a few years his post-Islamic religion was resurrected in a new form by Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri (1817-92), the founder of the now globally diffused Baha'i religion.

Full story...

Abdu’l-Baha’s British knighthood

Abdu’l-Baha’s knighthood has never been a matter of importance to Bahais themselves, who have many much weightier reasons to admire and follow Abdu’l-Baha as the successor to his father, Baha’u’llah, as the authorised interpreter of the Bahai scripture and teachings, as the Centre of the Covenant that unites Bahais across the world, and as the best exemplar of the Bahai life. However the photograph of Abdu’l-Baha, seated at the ceremony to confer on him the honour of Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, is one of the stock images on Iranian and Islamic anti-Bahai sites that seek to present the Bahai Faith as a Western invention, foreign to the Middle East. These anti-Bahai sites have also presented quite scandalous speculations about the reasons for the British award, such as Abdu’l-Baha spying for the British during the period of Ottoman rule, or supplying the British army during the war. So it will be useful to have a blog page that gathers documented evidence of Abdu’l-Baha’s activities before and during the British Mandate in Palestine, and the circumstances of his knighthood. What I have is incomplete: feel free to use the comments section to add more. I have selected what appear to me the more illuminating documents published in Moojan Momen’s The Babi and Bahai Religions: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, beginning on page 332, and supplemented these from other sources. To avoid a metres-long page, in some case I have put references and brief summaries on this page, with links to the full documents and their sources in the comments section.

Full story...

This great American democracy?

A Bahai friend asked about Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to America as a “democracy,” in the talk he gave to the Orient-Occident-Unity Conference in Washington on 20 April 1912. In the course of researching it, I found a short prayer by Abdu’l-Baha for East-West unity, which I have translated, and also discovered that a much loved and quoted reference to the future of America is not authentic.

The context of this query was a discussion of whether the United States is a republic, or a democracy. The question appears to depend largely on definitions: if a republic is a state with an elected head of state and a government answerable to the people, and a democracy is a state with a government chosen in free and fair elections, with freedom of speech and protection of individual and minority rights under the rule of law, the United States would appear to aspire to be a democratic republic, at the intersection of these two terms.

Full story...