Baha'i studies

Shaykh Ahmad on Infallibility

{josquote}...a divine disposition that prevents the act of disobeying and intending to do so while retaining the capability to do it.{/josquote}

As for how the `Adliyya define `isma, their definition is the most appropriate. The gist of the correct part of their definition is that (`isma) is a divine disposition that prevents the act of disobeying and intending to do so while retaining the capability to do it.

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Destiny and Freedom in Gate of the Heart

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I’ve been reading Nader Saiedi’s Gate of the Heart and I’m boundlessly enthusiastic. It’s more than a milestone of Bahai Studies: it contains much understanding that will help many of us trying to live the life of Faith – which the Bab, I think, would call the life of the heart. With the author’s permission, I’m going to make paraphrases of some sections, starting with a section on the Bab’s teaching on Destiny on pages 210-216. One might think that this topic has been chewed for centuries and can yield no new flavours: one chooses to believe in predestination, or in absolute freedom, or one simply hopes that human freedom is somehow compatible with the divine decree. Saiedi’s argument does start rather slowly, but stick with it: he comes to a remarkable argument newly translated from the writings of the Bab.

{josquote}God has created human beings with freedom and has enabled them to be shaped in time in accordance with their own decisions and choices – for which they are inevitably accountable.{/josquote}

The relation between freedom and divine predestination is raised directly at the level of human action, but destiny is actually a more general metaphysical principle and applies to any phenomenal event. In philosophical terms, the question of Destiny is related to the mystery of divine Action. Is God’s creative Action determined by the divine unconstrained Will, or is it dictated by the essences of things as a logical necessity? Are human actions determined by the divine Will, or are they products of human freedom? How can divine knowledge, which knows every event in advance, be compatible with human agency? How can actions be created by God yet caused by human beings? How can the essence of a thing be created by God and yet its choices – which are themselves rooted in that created essence – be free?

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Comment on Nicholas Bridgewater's "Baha'i Scholarship" post

I think that you’ve made a very important point here. You put your finger on precisely what I dislike about Bridgewater’s post. His belief in the clarity and simplicity of the Baha’i writings leads to something much worse than intellectual arrogance. It requires the condemnation of anyone who disagrees with him.

{josquote}If the writings are clear, disagreement isn’t innocent.{/josquote}

As long as you feel that the Baha’i writings, and indeed life itself, are ambiguous and complicated, you don’t have to assign nefarious motives even when someone disagrees very radically. You can always conclude that the person on the other side of the dispute is ignorant, narrow-minded, fatuous, or just plain deluded — hence the condescension you mention in your post. But you don’t have to believe that they’re acting out of bad faith. And this is a necessary conclusion if you think the way Bridgewater does. If the writings are clear, disagreement isn’t innocent. No one can be sincerely mistaken about the role and powers of the Universal House of Justice, no one can disagree with him and really mean it. And so Bridgewater can’t just question someone’s intelligence, he has to question their integrity.

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Exegesis in the fertile twilight of uncertainty

My official response to my colleague in academia and in faith, Nicholas Bridgewater, is still forthcoming.  At present it is under review by an Auxiliary Board here in Europe and an ex-Auxiliary Board member from the Philippines, as per the general request by the Administrative Order for Baha’i scholars to pass all potentially sensitive critical thought on our religion through examination.  It’s also being reviewed by some professors here in Europe.

Unfortunately it’s a slow process, and in the meantime, Nicholas has been busy blogging about Baha’i scholarship and the larger issue of faith and reason in our religion.  I feel that I should take a moment to comment on what he says therein and the reaction against it.  In the interest of full disclosure for those readers who don’t already know, Nicholas and I pretty much stand on opposite ends of the spectrum on a lot of these questions — so you might be surprised by my assessment.

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Baha'i Scholarship

{josquote}The TARIKH list and Planet Bahá’í are forums for unrest, where (often) scholars and others debate Bahá’í teachings in a futile endeavour to force it to conform to modern ideas or ideologies.{/josquote}

Bahá’í scholarship has a long history, with its roots in the early Bábí community. The Letters of the Living were Shaykhí mullás, trained by the renowned Sayyid Kázim, who was the disciple of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá’í. The Shaykhí tradition itself had its roots in the long shí‘í tradition of scholarship that claimed to derive its authority and wisdom from the holy Imáms themselves. While Shaykh Ahmad did couch his writings in the language of past traditions and philosophies, especially that of the ‘Ishráqí (illuminationist’) philosophy, his scholarship was also a renewal of scholarship itself. Although his was a recognised mujtahid, he derived his authority from a source that was invisible, unseen. He claimed to be in direct contact with the holy Imáms who appeared to him in dreams and visions. The shí‘í scholars of the day had lost touch with the spirit of Islam, that was well on its way to complete extinction. Shaykh Ahmad revealed the inner meanings of the scriptures and the prophecies concerning the resurrection and Day of Judgement.

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