Thursday 24 March 2016



For well over a century now, Muslims have struggled in countless ways to reinterpret, protect, deconstruct, modernize or stabilize their faith in response to sometimes overwhelming pressures from an outside world intent on ceaseless material and social adventure. A majority have opted for a broadly conservative stance that tolerates technological and political change, but frowns on any radical reworking of social or intellectual structures, much less of religious or religio-legal forms. Others, fewer in number, have attempted a more far-reaching re-think of how Muslim communities should live, seeing modernity as a challenge that offers Islam the possibility of deep internal renewal.

Reformism of this kind, however, whether developed through innovative tafsir, reinterpretation of classical legal rulings, or new approaches to the corpus of hadith, have generally foundered on one rock above all others: the sense of finality inherent in Muslim religious consciousness: Islam is the last religion, the sharia is the ultimate sharia, Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets, the Qur’ān is the final scripture, the Gate of Ijtihad is closed. There is, in a sense, nowhere to go. Reform of a certain kind is possible (and implicit in the Imami Shì'i doctrine of continuing ijtihad), but far-reaching change seems ruled out by the finality clause written into the Muslim constitution.

As often as not, a modicum of revival has seemed adequate to the demands of the time, and the idea of mujaddidun every century or so has been ample cause for reassurance. But every so often times get harder than that, and millennial dreams are dreamed. The nineteenth century witnessed a number of Muslim millenarian movements, from North Africa to China. Most of these advocated some form of violent overthrow of the status quo, mainly through jihad, but only one promulgated a wholesale dismantling and recreation of the sharia. This was the Shi'ite sect of Babism, which produced the only religious movement in Islamic history to have broken successfully with Islam, namely Bahā’ism.

Muslim writers, obsessed with what they see as Bābi and Bahā’ì heterodoxy, and unable to conceptualize a paradigm shift of this order, have generally failed to appreciate the significance of these two movements and their different responses to modernity. Babism, in a sense, delved to the depths of Islam and came out on the other side de-Islamicized and ready to adapt itself to reform thinking in ways no Muslim movement could have done.

It will help our understanding of this complex process if we summarize the stages through which the movement passed. In its inception, Babism resembled many other millenarian movements. Sayyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirāzi, the Bāb, was a layman of intense religious conviction and charismatic qualities who, in 1844, began to attract to himself a following of mainly young clerics in search of someone capable of providing access to the Hidden Imam. In the initial phase of the new belief, the Bāb’s self-proclaimed role was no more than that of a gate to the Imam and a commentator on the Qurān.

In keeping with this, both the Bāb and his early followers maintained a strict adherence to the shari'a. His first significant book, the Qayyum al-asma, ostensibly a commentary on the Sura Yusuf, is consciously modelled on the style of the Qurān and explicitly insists on strict observance of the sharia: ‘God has made the laws of Muhammad and his awliya binding in every book until the resurrection’).[1] Slightly later, in the Sahifa-yi ‘adliyya, he writes: ‘Since no change may be decreed (for the faith of God), this blessed sharia shall never be abrogated. Nay, what Muhammad has decreed lawful shall remain lawful to the day of resurrection, and what he has declared unlawful shall remain unlawful to the day of resurrection.’[2]

As if this were not enough, the Bāb insisted on all sorts of observations that were not strictly obligatory: he banned smoking, recommended supererogatory prayer and fasting, and introduced a range of practices to intensify the religious life. According to one of his followers, Mirzā Muhammad ‘Ali Zunūzi, the Bāb ‘made desirable matters obligatory, and undesirable ones forbidden. Thus, for example, he regarded it obligatory to have four tablets of the soil (from the shrine) of the Prince of Martyrs [H usayn] on which to place the hands, forehead and nose during the prostration of formal prayer; he considered the pilgrimage of ‘Āshūrā a duty; he laid down prayers and supererogatory observances; he proclaimed Friday prayer obligatory . . .; and he fashioned amulets, charms, and talismans such as are prepared among the masses. . . . All his companions acted with the utmost circumspection according to the usūl and fum of Islam.’[3]

The early Bābis become known for their strict adherence to Islamic norms and the austerity of their religious life. This does not mean that they were treated as orthodox. Even in this period, many (including the Bāb himself) were arrested and mildly punished. Nor does it mean that all their behaviour was sharīa-based. One of the Bāb’s earliest works, the Khasail-i sab'a, is reported to have called for seven observances that manifestly take us beyond regular Shi'ite practice. They include the addition to the adhān of the formula ashhadu anna ‘Alīyan qablu Muhammadin ‘abdu baqiyyati ’llāh, and a regulation requiring each believer to wear a ring of white agate bearing the words: ‘There is no god but God. Muhammad is the prophet of God. ‘Ali is the friend of God. 273’ (where 273 refers to ‘Ali Muhammad Bāb Allāh).[4]

One thing that is already clear (and which becomes extremely significant later on) is the extent to which the Bāb fusses about small matters. Another observance in the Khasail-i sab‘a is that believers should drink tea with great cleanliness and delicacy. Many early Bābis refused to wear black clothes or write with black ink, on the grounds that black is the colour of the ‘Abbasids. Having started out as a schism within the philosophically rarified but broadly orthodox Shaykhi school, Babism was quickly acquiring the characteristics of a pietist movement. Anyone reading the daily rule for the devotee set out in the Bāb’s al-Sahīfa bayna ’l-haramayn, will see immediately that only the members of a strictly regulated religious order could have carried out their obligations.

In practice, Babism did not become the pietist clique it might have done. By 1848, it had genuine aspirations to being a mass movement in a number of provinces. Several factors were responsible for steering the sect away from its original, rather precious orientation. Among the most important were the opinions and interventions of an outstanding woman cleric called Fātī ma Khānum Qazvini, better known as Qurrat al-'Ayn or Hadrat-i Tāhira. Belonging to an important clerical family of Qazvin, and long familiar with Shaykhi ideas, Qurrat al-'Ayn embraced the Bāb’s cause at an early date, and soon set up an important circle in Karbala, where she became the focus for what was almost her own sect, known as the Qurratiyya.

From an early stage, she showed a radicalism that suggests she knew exactly which way Babism was ultimately headed. By the summer of 1846 she seems to have inferred from the Bāb’s writings that it was time to suspend the laws of Islam. Shaykh Mahmud al-Ālūsī, the wellknown Sunni Mufti of Baghdad, with whom Qurrat al-'Ayn stayed for two months in 1847, remarked that ‘she was one of those who followed the Bāb after the death of [Sayyid Kāzim] Rashti, and then disobeyed him in some matters, among them religious obligations. It is said that she used to speak of permitting women to be seen by men, and the suspension of all religious obligations whatsoever.’[5]

At this stage, Qurrat al-'Ayn’s motivation for suspending the sharia was tightly linked to her perception that it was time for the revelation of the inner meaning of Islam, transcending and displacing the twelvehundred-year age of outward truth. There is, as yet, no hint that Islam itself has been abrogated, or that a new sharia is to replace that of Muhammad.

Qurrat al-'Ayn remained in Karbala for another year, then embarked on a series of moves which culminated, in the summer of 1848, in her arrival at a small gathering of Bābis at Bidasht in Māzandarān. Just prior to this conclave, the Bāb, now in prison in Azerbaijan, had announced himself to be the Mahdi in person. This proved the trigger Qurrat al-'Ayn was looking for. Now she proclaimed the sharia wholly abrogated, and spearheaded an antinomian faction within Babism.

By now, things were moving with great speed. In a number of places, chiefly the Māzandarān countryside, and the towns of Nayriz and Zanjān, Bābis came into violent conflict with government forces. In Azerbaijan, the Bāb, still two years away from his execution, busied himself with the composition of numerous books, including three works of varying length in which he tried to set out the laws of a new sharia.

In these three books—the short Haykal al-din and al-Bayan al-Arabi, and the lengthier Bayān-i Fārsi—the Bāb created a hybrid in religious literature,[6] a sort of cross between Qur’ān, Talmud, and risala fiqhiyya, weaving doctrine, personal comment, scriptural commentary, and legal ordinances together in an inspired but at times incoherent medley. Insofar as we can separate laws from ritual injunctions, the picture that emerges from these books is one of missed opportunity. The millenarian radicalism of Babism and the desire for social reform evident in some of the Bābi-state struggles,[7] are smothered by a mishmash of rules and regulations that at times are little more than mere whimsy, revolving around some of the Bāb’s own obsessions about cleanliness, polite behaviour, and elegance. It is a shari'a, but not in any practical sense. Certainly, it does not seem to be going anywhere.

Let me try to illustrate this briefly. Here and there we find indications that the Bāb had been impressed by Europeans and that he wanted his followers to emulate them: thus, carrying arms is permissible only in times of necessity, sitting on chairs is made obligatory, the cleanliness displayed by Christians is advocated, animals are not to be cruelly treated or overworked, children should not be severely beaten, the printing of books, even scripture, is recommended, there is a prohibition on the study of logic or dead languages, some forms of legal uncleannness are abolished, and a limited form of interest is allowed to merchants.

On their own, these seem as though they should be part of a more wide-ranging scheme for social change—not altogether systematic, perhaps, but recognizable as such. On the contrary, they are smothered by a vast range of other legislation that either shows a different face or concerns itself with ritual and other minutiae.

The apparent tolerance shown in the many positive statements made in the Bayān is quite contradicted by a string of very harsh regulations governing relations with non-believers. The latter are forbidden to live in the five central provinces of Iran; the shrines and holy places of previous religions (including the Shì'i shrines in Kufa and elsewhere, together with the Ka'ba) are to be demolished; all non-Bābì books are to be destroyed; believers are not to sit in the company of non-believers, nor marry them; the property of unbelievers can legitimately be taken from them by believers.

Once in the realm of worship and ritual, no holds are barred. There are elaborate regulations for pilgrimage, fasting, the drawing and use of talismans, the manufacture of rings, engraved stones, and tattoos, the use of perfume, the washing and disposal of the dead, and so on. Here, more than anywhere, the Bāb gives free rein to his tendency to surrealism. Instituting his house in Shiraz as the new Ka’ba, he writes that it is to measure thirty-six cubits long and wide. If it were possible, his followers would be commanded to fill it to the top with diamonds, to replace its earth with elixir, and its water with red perfume. Since that isn’t possible, mirrors will do instead. Believers are expected to wear or carry any number of inscribed rings, stones, and talismans. Coffins are to be made from crystal, marble, or polished stone. And so on.

One comes away from the Bayān with a strong sense that very little of this is to be taken seriously. It is a form of game, never actually intended to be put into practice, much in the same way that whole sections of the Bāb’s later books don’t in fact mean anything very much, but are elaborate exercises in interesting things you can do with Arabic roots. Or the way so many of the Bāb’s early writings, described as tafsirs on this or that sura of the Qur’ān, are really not commentaries at all.

But there is something else here too, that becomes important at a later date. The Bāb was a cleric manqué, versed in fiqh and other religious sciences, but almost entirely self-taught. We see this in those idiosyncratic compositions in Arabic, where he puts the language through permutations no grammarian would have contemplated. It appears again in his usurpation of what were really clerical privileges: to write Qur’ān commentary,[8] to expound matters of religious law, to reply to questions from his followers, and, more radically, to create a shari'a of his own.

Inevitably, the Bābi legal code remained largely a dead letter. The average Bābì could hardly hope to afford the three diamonds, four yellow rubies, six emeralds, and six red rubies that he was expected to give to the Bābi Messiah, let alone find time to observe all the rules and regulations laid down in the book. For all that, the Bābi shari'a made an impact.

Above all, it stated very clearly that the Islamic code could be replaced. It was a question of how best to do it. In a subtle way, the Bayān will have got across the fact that a religiously-focused code, which replaced one Islamic injunction with another of its own making, just ended up perpetuating Islamic shari'a problems. Interestingly enough, this may have been a very precise influence on a large section of the Iranian reformers who straddle the last years of Nāsir al-Din Shāh’s reign and the Constitutional Revolution. For reasons that have as yet been only imperfectly studied, many of the leading nationalist reformers of this period were or had been Azali Bābis.[9] The Azali branch of Babism was the most conservative, and did not offer an obviously propitious breeding ground for men of such sentiments. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a substantial number of those who agitated for a constitution or called for wider reform in the late Qājār period will have read and believed in the Bayān. Two of the leading lights of this movement, Shaykh Ahmad Rūhi Kirmāni and Āqā Khān Kirmāni even wrote a book in which they tried (rather artificially it must be said) to link the Bābi sharia to progressivism.[10]

The predominant direction taken by these men was towards a broadly secular reinterpretation of Shi'ite society, a route which took them some distance away from the Bayānic norms within which they had started.

Their original rivals, who played next to no role within the reformist movement, were the Bahā’is, followers of Mirza H[ usayn ‘Ali Baha'u'llah, from whose early works we can detect no trace of the madrasa yearnings that influence the work of the young Bāb.[11] Here instead, we have Sufism and classical literature, a predominance of Persian, an easy, lucid prose style, sprinklings of poetry, and a concern with broader themes. The Bāb was a merchant who had unfulfilled yearnings to be a mujtahid. Baha'u'llah is a member of the ruling class with pretensions to be a Sufi pir.

And more than that. In a forthcoming study of Baha'u'llah,[12] Professor Juan Cole marshals an impressive range of evidence to show how the Bahā’i prophet was deeply influenced by reformist ideas, in particular those circulating among the Young Ottomans. It is largely in his later works, written in Ottoman Syria, that we see earlier religious concerns sidetracked by topics that would be at home in any secularist library: the separation of church and state, the need for democratic parliaments, constitutional monarchy, women’s rights, religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and compulsory education.

Cole’s portrayal leans heavily towards the reformer, which is all to the good, since official biographies have always emphasized the prophet. The Young Ottoman Baha'u'llah is a figure who deserves to be better recognized by historians of the Middle East. Nevertheless, the prophet was never displaced by the proponent of reform. Quite the opposite.

We find him laying claim, not only to prophethood, but to a quasidivinity that not infrequently is indistinguishable from out-and-out Godhood.

In 1873, Baha'u'llah, now living in Palestine [then southern Syria], completed the text of the Arabic Kitāb al-aqdas, a short work that has come to be regarded as the basic outline for the Bahā’i sharia.[13] Quite a few laws of the Bayān remain, but almost all the petty regulations have been dropped or modified. The result is a terse resume of basic laws affecting prayer, fasting, marriage, divorce, inheritance, religious tax, the use of alcohol and opium, gambling, hunting, murder, arson, and a number of other matters.

Given its centrality within the Bahā’ì canon, the Aqdas on its own is a surprisingly disappointing book. When placed within the context of Baha'u'llah’s more reformist writing, however, it does show signs of consciously lightening the weight of existing Islamic norms, removing or modifying problematic sharia rulings like those on ritual purity, avoidance of close association with non-believers, holy war, slavery, adultery, theft, the prohibition of music, and the permissibility of interest. It also does away with several of the more restrictive measures of the Bābi sharia, including the mass slaughter of non-believers, the destruction of books and shrines, compulsory marriage at the age of 11, the confiscation of the property of unbelievers, and the prohibition on travel except for purposes of trade.[14]

Oddly enough, there are occasional inconsistencies between the reformist letters of Baha'u'llah’s later period and the legalist text of the Aqdas. The liberalizing emphasis on the equality of men and women is ill-matched by the law of marriage (which allows a man two wives), or regulations such as that awarding a man’s house and clothing to his male, not female, heirs, even should there be no male offspring;[15] the tolerance towards other religions that is shown in the injunction to mix freely with their followers jars with the law that disallows a teacher from taking his share in an inheritance should he be a non-Baha’i; and the general distaste for violence shown in the abolition of jihad and wider exhortations to peaceful behaviour sit a little uneasily with the ruling that arsonists are themselves to be burned.

It is, perhaps, overly optimistic to have expected a wholly consistent programme of reform. Although we have clearly travelled a long distance in a short time, we are still in the world of arbitrary religious revelation, rather than reasoned planning or democratic debate. Baha'u'llah was less a reformer than a religious despot with total power over his followers. It will be obvious that, although this provides some of the strength for his reform project, it is also the Achilles heel of his legislation.

Ernest Gellner has argued very convincingly that those Islamic movements that adapt best to modernity come from the rightist end of the spectrum: he gives the particular examples of the Ismailis and the Murids of Senegal. Gellner’s left and right wings, it may be remembered, are a reflection of the Catholic/Protestant division in Christianity, with Shi'ism and Sufism typified by a reliance on authority figures, images, shrines, pilgrimages, and mysticism.

Gellner writes: ‘A “right-wing” theology, in terms of the Islamic spectrum, continued to be invaluable. A “left” community which requires consensus, mediated by the guild of scholars, makes reform, and in particular drastic and rapid reform, extremely difficult or impossible. Some of the scholars will always see heretical innovation in any change, and if you try to push through some reform, the community will tear itself apart in inner conflict. But if the leader is authoritative and neardivine, if the person of the leader, rather than Book or consensus, is the heart of the faith, reform becomes relatively easy, always assuming that the leader is inclined in that direction.’[16]

The Bahā’ìs, of course, went much further than anyone else, in that they rapidly moved to declare their faith separate from Islam and to widen the intake of adherents by proselytizing in Europe and North

America, among people who wouldn’t have known a Bābī talisman from a Tibetan mandala, and wouldn’t have cared. For Bahā’is themselves, this distancing from Islam was a happy path to tread, in that it gave them the incentive and justification to develop what was slowly becoming a world-wide missionary enterprise.

Oddly, however, the first victim of this new direction was the sharia itself. The Aqdas—a book of some 70 pages—was not made available to believers in English or any language other than Arabic until 1993.[17] Some of the rulings of the new sharia were put into practice in Iran, but virtually none in the West or, as the movement grew, in Africa, India, or Latin America.

In reality, only personal laws can be enforced at present, and even here the official policy still seems to be one of waiting and seeing. Nevertheless, with the publication of the Aqdas, it looks as if there will now be a gradual move towards implementation.

Whether helped by the Aqdas or simply by virtue of having been born into liberal societies, most Bahā’ìs have adapted well to modernity. Bahaì women are well educated and encouraged to have careers, monogamy is universal, female cirumcision does not seem to occur, and women do serve in large numbers on councils and committees, even in the Third World. Bahā’ìs are, on the whole, free of religious and racial prejudice, advocate modern education, are not overly restricted in what they may read or watch, and are active in setting up radio stations, schools, and agricultural institutes in parts of the developing world.[18]

Ironically, their success in these matters may have had a negative impact elsewhere. For would-be reformers of the Islamic sharia, the Bahā’ì experience has been unhelpful. To proceed too far with modification of the shari a is, for many conservatives, to run the risk of leaving Islam entirely, as the Bahā’ìs demonstrate. The reforming zeal of the early Iranian parliament was often blunted by accusations that one deputy or another was a Bābī or a Bahā’ī, or that a piece of legislation was Bahā’i in inspiration. This continues, even to the point of absurdity. Not many years ago, an attempt was made to introduce Mother’s Day celebrations into a number of Muslim countries, including some of the Gulf states. There were loud protests. The day chosen, March 21, was widely known to be the Bahā’i New Year, and so the whole thing was denounced as a Bahā’ì plot. The fact that Naw Ruz is also the traditional Iranian New Year was wholly disregarded.

The point here is simple: to leave Islam is the greatest of all possible sins, and so legal reformism is a type of brinkmanship that cannot be tolerated. A link between, let us say, legislation in favour of compulsory education for girls, and apostasy can most easily be created by direct reference to the Bahā’ìs.

So far, as we have noted above, the Bahā’ìs themselves have been almost blissfully unaware of having a shana. The great question, of course, is ‘how does a nineteenth-century shari'a, however progressive, adapt to the rapid changes of the twenty-first century?’ Official Bahā’ì policy states that the present laws ‘constitute the kernel of a vast range of law that will arise in centuries to come.’[19] In principle, the Universal House of Justice, a ruling body of nine men first set up in 1963, possesses the right to introduce fresh legislation as and when it sees fit, or to abrogate its own laws. So far it has not done so. What it cannot do is abrogate any of the laws of the Aqdas.

There are already signs that this is causing tension within sections of the Bahā’ì community, particularly in North America. Two issues have come to the fore in recent years. Some Bahā’ì feminists have objected to the ruling that only men may be elected to the Universal House of Justice, while there is growing opposition to the law forbidding homosexuality.

Bahā’ì institutions are generally conservative, and it is unlikely that these or other complaints will receive a sympathetic hearing at any level. As for abrogating either law, it is simply out of the question. And that brings us back more or less to where we started.

It is difficult to evaluate all this. Muslim animosity towards the Bahā’ìs on the one hand and Bahā’ì aspirations to be a world religion on the other have meant that the introduction of the Bahā’i sharīa has often been divorced from its true context, as a response to contemporary dissatisfactions with its Islamic predecessor. Baha'u'llah’s very evident concern with wider reform issues guarantees that he will have taken into consideration a growing sense that the Islamic shari'a was dated.

The Bāb’s brief experiment had nothing to do with secular demand for change, and belonged to the very narrow world of Iranian Shi'ism. With Baha'u'llah, however, we are breathing the atmosphere of the Tanzimat, the Young Ottomans, the farāmūshkhānas, the ‘adālatkhānas, and the emergent constitutionalist movement. For those who wanted to break with the Islamic past yet had no wish to forfeit religion entirely, the option of a new sharia will have seemed tempting. In the end, of course, it proved an option that foreclosed others. The Bahā’is became marginalized in every Muslim country, and no-one has since dared to emulate their radicalism.

[1] Sayyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirāzi, Qayyum al-asma, Cambridge University Library, Browne Or. Ms. F. 11, f. 185b.

[2] Idem, Sahfa-yi 'adliyya, n.p. [Tehran?], n.d., pp. 5-6.

[3] Quoted in Mirzā Asad Allāh Fādil-i Māzandarāni, Kitab-i zuhur al-haqq, n.p., n.d., pp. 31-32.

[4] Translated in D. MacEoin, Rituals in Babism and Baha ism, Pembroke Persian Papers, British Academic Press and Centre of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, 1994, pp. 93-97.

[5] Ruh al-ma'ani, cited ‘Ali al-Wardi, Lamahat ijtima'iyya min ta’rikh al-'Iraq al-hadith, vol. 2, Baghdad 1969, p. 169.

[6] The Bāb, Bayan-i Farsi, n.p. (Iran), n.d.; idem al-Bayan al-'Arabi with Lawh-i haykal al-din in one vol., n.p. [Iran], n.d. See further D. MacEoin, Early Babl Doctrine and History: A Survey of Source Materials, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1992. The Persian and Arabic Bayans have been translated into French by A. L. M. Nicolas: Le Béyan Persan., Paris: Librairie Paul Geuthner, 1911-1914; Le Béyan arabe. Le livre sacrée du Bābysme. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1905. An abstract of the Persian Bayān by E. G. Browne is published in M. Momen (ed.), Selections from the Writings of E. G. Browne, Oxford, 1987, pp. 316-406. The laws of the Bayān are summarized in Mukhtasarl az dasturāt-i Bayān, Tehran: n.d. 7. On Bābi ritual, see D. MacEoin, Rituals in Babism and Bahā lsm.

[7] See Peter Smith and Moojan Momen, ‘The Bābi Movement: A Resource Mobilization Perspective’, in In Iran, ed. P. Smith, Los Angeles: Kalimat Press, 1986, pp. 33-93. 3; and Moojan Momen, ‘The Social Basis of the Bābi Upheavals in Iran (1848-53): A Preliminary Analysis,’ International Journal of Middle East Studies 15 (1983): pp. 157-83.

[8] For discussion of these works, see B. Todd Lawson, ‘Interpretation as Revelation: The Qur’ān Commentary of Sayyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirāzi, the Bāb (1819-1850)’. In Andrew Rippin (ed.), Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Quran, Oxford University Press, 1988; idem, ‘The Qur’ān Commentary of Sayyid ‘Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bāb’, Ph.D., McGill University, 1987.

[9] The most important contributions to our understanding of this phenomenon are Nikkie Keddie’s essay, ‘Religion and Irreligion in Early Iranian Nationalism’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 4, 1962, pp. 265-95 (esp. pp. 273-4, 284-9, and 292-5; and Mangol Bayat, Mysticism and Dissent, Syracuse, 1982, pp. 87, 129-31, 140-42, 149, 157-62, 1 67, 179, 180-83. See also D. MacEoin, ‘Azali Babism’, Encyclopaedia Iranica.

[10] Sayyid Ahmad Rūhi Kirmāni and Āqā Khān Kirmāni, Hasht Bihisht, n.p., n.d. The book is a curious mixture of liberal principles (absolute freedom for all men, the equality of men and women, a universal language, universal peace) and progressive measures (constitutional government, the use of modern inventions, the need for properly regulated public institutions) with the trivial (everyone must keep a diary, kings are to erect vast edifices with 95 rooms), the bizarre (men may have up to 19 wives, children are to be taken from their mothers at birth and placed in special schools), and the illiberal (unbelievers may be killed, past shrines are to be destroyed). Drawing heavily on the Bayan, it manages to surpass it in its picture of a utopia governed by little more than caprice.

[11] As a matter of fact, his Arabic was never as bad as his Muslim critics have suggested. There is something enticingly Dadaist about his defiance of linguistic tradition and his explosion of Arabic roots past all ordinary meaning.

[12] I am grateful to Professor Cole for kindly letting me read a copy of the typescript, entitled Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Bahai Faith in the Nineteenth Century Middle East. This has now been published under the same title, New York, Columbia University Press, 1998.

[13] The following editions may be consulted: Bombay, 1308/1890 and from moveable type, 1314/1896; ed. and trans. A. Tumanskii, Kitabe Akdas, in Memoires de l’Academie Imperiale des Sciences de St. Petersbourg, 8me serie, 3/vi, St. Petersburg, 1899; as an appendix to Mirzā Muhammad Mahdi Khān Za'im al-Dawla, Miftah Bab al-abwab, Cairo 1321/1903; by Khadūri Ilyās Ināyat, Baghdad 1913; as appendix to ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Hasani, al-Babiyun wa ’l-Bahaiyun fi madihim wa hadirihim, 2nd. ed., Sidon, 1381/1962 (based on 1890 ed.)

[14] A (generally unhelpful) resume of the laws of the Aqdas may be found in The Universal House of Justice, A Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitāb-i-Aqdas the Most Holy Book of Bahauìlāh, Haifa, 1973, now reprinted alongside the English translation of the text. For a full account of ritual legislation, see MacEoin, Rituals.

[15] In that case, they revert to the Bahā’I authorities.

[16] ‘Post-traditional forms in Islam: the turf and trade, and votes and peanuts’, in Muslim Society, Cambridge, 1981, p. 108.

[17] [Baha'u'llah], The Kitāb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, London, 1993. This edition contains supplementary texts (including the important Questions and Answers), the synopsis and codification, notes, and indexes. An earlier English translation by Earl E. Elder, Al-Kitab al-Aqdas or The Most Holy Book, was published in London in 1961, but Bahā’ìs were dissuaded from buying or reading it. The Arabic text became scarce even in Iran, and there was no official Persian translation. Iranians did have access to virtually the whole of the text, however, via two compilations: ‘Abd al-H amìd Ishrāq Khāvarì, Ganjina-yi hudud wa ahkam, 3rd. ed. (Tehran, 1971-72); Mìrzā Asad Allāh Fādil-i Māzandarānì, Amr wa khalq, vols. 3 and 4 (Tehran, 1971-72, 1974-75).

[18] These last activities seem to be inspired mainly by the demands of proselytization.

[19] The Kitab-i-Aqdas, introduction, pp. 4, 21. This is surprising, since several important topics are currently not legislated for, among them female circumcision, abortion, birth control, in vitro fertilization, and other (often female-related) issues, whereas trivial matters like the length of a man’s hair are already catered for in the Aqdas.


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