Friday, 13 June 2008

The Baha'i Faith and Sufism


One look at the belief system and cosmology of the Bahai faith and one is struck by its simplicity and the willingness to accommodate all the religions of the world. The Baha’i faith appears to embrace the fundamental beliefs of all world religions without their excessive rituals and rites. The emphasis is on compassion, brother hood and universal unity. It preaches respect and acceptance of all faiths and makes no claim to exclusiveness. Just as you do not have to be a Muslim to follow the path of the great Sufi pirs, the follower of any faith could become a Baha’i without forsaking their original faith and members of many Sufi orders were Baha’is. However in the 1920s and ‘30s Shoghi Effendi (the appointed head of this faith from 1921 to 1957) attempted to wean Baha'is away from dual membership in other religious bodies, this led to the end of any membership by Baha'is in Sufi orders. Though individuals within the Baha'i community, with a strong orientation toward `Attar, Rumi, and Baha'u'llah's ‘Seven Valleys’ and other mystical works continue to exist.

The Baha’i faith was founded by Mirza Husayn Ali, in the nineteenth century Persia, who was later given the title of Baha’u’llah – meaning the Glory of God. His compatriot, Sayyed Ali Muhammad Sayyed, who later was given the title of ‘Bab’ or ‘the Gate’ prepared the way for the coming of Baha’u’llah – the Promised One. Baha’u’llah called upon his followers to be standard- bearers of unity based on love for their fellow men. He affirmed the belief in only one God whose essence is beyond the understanding of His creatures. The qualities of God such as His love, knowledge and power however are reflected in the Founders or Messengers of world’s great religions, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time. The Baha’i faith considers Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, and Baha’u’llah himself as among the Messengers of God. This particular claim appears to be the strongest point of contention between Bahai’s and the followers of other faiths.
Much of the early works of the Baha’i faith were in the form of letters to individuals or communities, mostly written by the ‘Bab’ or Baha’u’llah. These are termed tablets. Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas or the Most Holy Book and Kitab-i-Iqan or The Book of Certitude are among his major writings or ‘revelations’.
The similarities between mystical aspects of the Bahai faith and Sufism is striking, which makes one wonder if the Bahai faith evolved from Sufism or is perhaps a consolidated form of Sufism without it’s numerous ‘tariqas’ and excesses which crept into its various orders with the passage of time. While Sufism focuses on individual spiritual growth, the Baha’i faith strives at spiritual unity of the entire humankind.
Baha’u’ullah interacted with many Sufis during his lifetime and also had Sufi followers who were called Baha'i darvishs or urafa, including the well known Darvish Sidq-`Ali, the Baha'i Sufi and companion of Baha'u'llah, Ahmad Yazdi, and Mishkin-Qalam (a member of the Ni`matu'llahi Sufi order). The Baha’i Sufis had community gatherings on the evening of May 22 to celebrate the declaration of the Bab, this involved prayers specifically revealed for this occasion and staying up most of the night, praying and chanting remembrances (dhikr) of God. In fact according to Baha’i sources certain teachings of Baha’u’llah called "Tablets of the Sacred Night (Alwah Laylat al-Quds)" were revealed by Baha'u'llah with the intention that Baha'i Sufis should treat that night as a festival and read these Tablets. The contents of this short Tablet, which is an extended prayer to God, has many parallels with Sufi thought and practice. However these customs, ordained by Baha'u'llah, were discontinued in the twentieth century Iranian Baha’i community, the reasons for which are unclear.

The mystical path in Sufism is characterized by a strong emotional component in worship. Baha'u'llah evokes this aspect of that path when he calls upon God to "fill their yearning with ardent passion." Another goal of Sufism is to attain a mystical knowledge (`irfan) of God. In the beginning of the Most Holy Book, Baha'u'llah makes attainment of such mystical knowledge of God one of two prerequisites for salvation.
Sufis emphasize achieving a powerful understanding of God's Unity (tawhid), which too is mentioned in the Tablets of the sacred Night. Moreover, Sufis often use ‘scandalous’ metaphors for the spiritual drunkenness they seek, and Baha'u'llah also evokes these literary themes in the Tablet when he says, "Yes, my Beloved: give them to drink of the cup of life from the hand of this Youth in this garden," representing himself as the wine-server or "saqi." He speaks of the worship of the Sufis, that they "may make mention of Thee at eventide and sunrise," and such practices are also expected of all Baha'is in the Most Holy Book.
Sufis tended to seek to focus all their concentration upon God, finding Him in all things and using breathing and other meditation techniques to heighten their awareness of the divine. These practices are mentioned by Baha’u’llah in his writings. Continual awareness of God, in every spoken word, in every breath, and in every sight one sees, is an aspiration of mystics in many religious traditions apart from Sufism and Baha’i mysticism.
However there came a time in the history of Sufism when its forms were used and the contents forgotten. This led, for example, to "dervishes begging and expecting to be cared for because they were the holders of special, spiritual knowledge. Another problem was a feeling of superiority to recognized laws and codes of behavior which came about because they felt they had discovered the "real" truth of life. One of the beliefs that had crept in was that it was possible to experience God (the Divine Essense) yourself without a Mediator.
In his treatise called the Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh talks to the Sufis of his day in their own symbols and forms. He uses the oldest form of the Sufi literature, the Seven Valleys (or Cities, as it is also known), of the Sufi poet Attar, to present his vision to the Sufis. His also quotes copiously from the great Maulana Rumi. In this mystical treatise Baha’u’llah sifts the wheat of Sufi teaching from the chaff that had crept in over the years. He says that mankind can have an experience of the Divine (Valley of Love), can grow in understanding (Valley of Knowledge), can experience the unity of all things (Valley of Unity), be content (Valley of Contentment), and experience amazement (Valley of Wonderment), but there is a veil between the Creator and the created which can only be penetrated by a Being of another quality than man. In other words a seeker of the Divine Essence can develop his consciousness considerably in this world, true contact with the Essence is impossible. Full development can only come through recognition of the Messenger and obedience to His Laws.
In recent years, the spread of Baha’i faith to various countries has led to increased organization within the international Baha’i community and ironically, a faith whose founder strived to do away with the ills of organized religions of the world, is itself facing similar problems. There are allegations, especially within the Baha’i community in the U.S. that the followers of this faith have become more fundamentalist in the last four decades. There seems to be an increased emphasis on doctrinal and behavioral conformity as a result, what was initially intended to be a liberal and universalistic tradition is shifting towards exclusivism and sectarianism. There are allegations of key sectors of Baha’i administration being run by Baha’i fundamentalists who misuse their authority to exclude Baha’i liberals in key posts.
There was a time when the Baha’i faith came to the aid of Sufism, perhaps it is time now for Sufism to come to the rescue of the Baha’is.


(photo credits: RonAlmog, Eviljohnius and Diabolic preacher)

12 comments:

Susan said...

Thanks for this article.

As a Baha'i and someone with a background in Islamic history I can certainly attest that many of the motifs found in the Baha'i Writings are derived from Sufism. But as you note, the major distinction is that Baha'is focus primarily on the social goal of bringing about the unity of humanity and not simply the individual goal of obtaining a sense of unity with God. However, there has been increase in spiritual practices within the Baha'i community of late. Now all Baha'is, whether of the East or the West, perform a daily dhikr [remembrance] of reciting Allah'u'Abha (God is Most Glorious) 95 times a day. There is also an increasing stress on devotional meetings and these have become one of the core activities within the Baha'i community.
But because of the stress on the social dimension of religion, Baha'u'llah did not condemn the organizational aspect of religion as you suggest. What he condemned was clerical hierarchies, whether in the form of a priesthood or in the power wielded by the 'ulama in Islam. There is no clergy in the Baha'i Faith, instead our organization structure consists primarily of elected bodies. As for the allegations made by some that we have become increasingly fundamentalist, I think if you looked closely enough at these charges and those who made them, you will find it is these individuals who have changed, not the Baha'i Faith. They can best be compared to those Sufis who in your own words possess "a feeling of superiority to recognized laws and codes of behavior which came about because they felt they had discovered the "real" truth of life."
Yet the goal of all mysticism is, as the Sufis say, fanaa or annhilation of the self. It is the opposite of the kind of pride mentioned above. For this reason when Baha'u'llah speaks of the spiritual path in the Gems of Divine Mystery he insists:

"Know, moreover, that should one who hath attained unto these stations and embarked upon these journeys fall prey to pride and vainglory, he would at that very moment come to naught and return to the first step without realizing it. Indeed, they that seek and yearn after Him in these journeys are known by this sign, that they humbly defer to those who have believed in God and in His verses, that they are lowly before those who have drawn nigh unto Him and unto the Manifestations of His Beauty, and that they bow in submission to them that are firmly established upon the lofty heights of the Cause of God and before its majesty."
http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/GDM/gdm-5.html

george wesley dannells said...

Your review of the Baha'i Faith is very welcome. Thank you. Baha'is look to spiritual brethren everywhere to join us in seeking relief for the persecuted Baha'is in Iran.

You also make allegations regarding fundamentalism, doctrinal conformity, and the like within the Baha'i community. What are the sources that you are using to come to such a conclusion?

Your allegations certainly do not match anything that I have experienced in my almost 40 years of being a Baha'i.

In the interest of fairness, I think that you should provide documentation as to how you come to make these observations?

Also, have you had opportunity to partake of any of Baha'i activities to see for yourself or are you basing your conclusions only on what you read on the internet.

Again, thank you for taking the time to present the Faith on your blog.

george wesley dannells said...

Thank you for posting my comments and questions.

I note that the link to my post aboe is to http://www.bahaiview.org/, a fine site, but not mine.

My blog is http://bahaiviews.net.

Rupa Abdi said...

Dear Susan and George,

Thank you for going through my post and commenting on it. To respond to some of your queries:

I live in a small town in the Gujarat State of India. I have had apportunities of close interactions with Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees and Muslims but unfortuanately not Bahai's. I do not think there are any Baha'is in Gujarat. If you know of any please let me know, I would love to meet them.
Therefore all my info. on the Baha'i faith has been through books and internet.
The problem of fundamentalist tendencies among the Bahai's of US is mentioned in the following publication :

Fundamentalism in the Contemporary U.S. Baha'i Community
Juan R. I. Cole
Review of Religious Research, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Mar., 2002), pp. 195-217 (article consists of 23 pages)
Published by: Religious Research Association, Inc.

As I mentioned in the post, this is an allegation, which may not necessarily be true.
You might like to contact this author, who I believe is a well known Baha'i himself and also has a website.

Again thanks for visiting my blog. I plan to write some more on Baha'i mysticism and would love to have your reactions on it.

irving said...

A very interesting account of the Baha'i faith. It is interesting that you mention the Nimatullahi Sufi Order at its founding, since I am of that order, and I lived in the Chicago khaniqah for years, and would drive by the magnificent Baha'i temple north of Chicago on my way to work :)

Ya Haqq!

george wesley dannells said...

Thank you for providing the source information re allegations of Baha'i fundamentalism. The person you quote is not a member of the Baha'i community, although he once was. In fact, he is an opponent of the Faith who has vehemently, blatantly, and repeatedly misrepresented it. His descriptions simply do not match up with what is the reality of the Faith for millions of Baha'is around the world.

"Juan Cole ... upon his resignation from the Baha'i Faith in 1996, declared that he was a Universalist-Unitarian. ... In 1999, however, he stated that he did after all believe in Baha'u'llah but would not re-enroll in the Baha'i community. ... He has gone on to an apostate career including the setting up of a website in which there is much material attacking the Baha'i community and the publication of three papers in academic journals expanding on his views."

http://www.northill.demon.co.uk/relstud/apostasy.html

I will watch with great interest for your entries on Baha'i mysticism. There is much academic literature on the subject, the most valuable being written by Baha'is rather than individuals who are outside of the community. The inside view conveys the reality of a religious practice.

There are undoubtedly Baha'is in Gugarat. You can contact the National Centre for information through http://bahai.in/.

Thank you again for your kind and informative response.

Susan said...

Dear Rapu,

As in any community there is continuium of approaches from the most rigid-minded to those who are so 'liberal' they scarcely take the authority of revelation seriously. But you can't take a few internet postings as Juan Cole did and present them as typical of the community as a whole, much less its leadership. I'll be honest with you. I was once a partisan of Juan Cole but when I witnessed the way he was distorting events and even the meaning of texts in his translations, I had to step back. When he began to speak of a secret cabal going back to Mason Remey having taken over the Faith I began to wonder if I wasn't dealing with someone who was seriously paranoid.

There are certainly Baha'is in Gujarat, though perhaps not in the town where you live. The first Baha'i of Hindu background was from Nawsari. His given name was Naranyenrao Rangnath Shethji though he was known as Vakil since he was a well-known lawyer in Surat. He became a Baha'i in 1909. The district of Dang has a large number of Baha'is mostly of tribal background. Here's an article on activities there: http://www.onecountry.org/oc94/oc9410as.html

Anyhow if you are interested in meeting Baha'is in Gujarat, I can certainly put you in touch with them if you contact me privately.

warmest, Susan

SAM said...

I will not add or take from what George or Susan have mentioned here.

Just comment on your text that I truly appreciated since I like a lot reading and studying on Sufism, specially it's connection to Bahá'í Faith.

I also once thought it could be seen as a branch from Sufism. But, while I kept on studying this relationship (Gems of Divine Mistery, The Four Valleys, The Seven Valleys), I noticed that is far beyond that. Bahá'u'lláh used the Sufi "language" when He talked or wrote a Sufi friend, but, for instance, when He wrote Zoroastrians He could look like a renewer of Zoroastrianism (Tabernacle of Unity). This might be a prove that His final aim was, in fact, the unity of all religions of the world, since by doing that (I assume), He was proving all religions come from that same Source.

I look forward to read more on these matters.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Having been a member of the Baha'i faith for a number of years in the 1970's, I can attest first-hand to a fundamentalist streak within the group. Anyone who dissented from the majority belief was labeled a "covenant breaker" and his/her ideas were not only condemned, but forbidden to be discussed.

I was actually introduced to the ideas within Sufism while I was a Baha'i, since I came to that point entirely ignorant of Islam. I am forever grateful for that introduction. I did eventually leave, however, because although they give lip service to the equality of the sexes, women are forbidden to serve on their highest governing body. THe faithful have rationalizations at the fingertip to justify this exclusion, but it always came out sounding to me like "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". To justify the exclusion of women entirely on their "unreadiness" -- which is the excuse offered by their Guardian for doing so -- seems ludicrous on its face to me.

However, to each his own.

Anonymous said...

You have given a short description about the Bahai faith and its origin. This article is very necessary to know about the facts of the Baha'i faith. These type of articles increases information.

Some Info said...

Dear Blogger, You have covered many of the aspects of Baha'i faith except one, Sects.

I would like to inform the readers that there are various sects and divisions among the baha'is. As the agenda of Baha'i faith is to establish universal 'peaceful' government and manage the affairs of the world through their Supreme office in Haifa. This office is chaired by 9 human beings who are all 'infallible'. Their command are the command of God. These are the beliefs of all the haifan bahais except some. So, there are around 19 sects, that hold different beliefs....

You can study about different sects of baha'is here :

http://www.sectsofbahais.com

thank you

Wahid Azal said...

FAQ regarding the Haifan Baha'i Cult

Start HERE (Sourcewatch):

1. Baha'i Faith
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Baha%27i_Faith


2. Baha'i Internet Agency
http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Baha%E2%80%99i_Internet_Agency

3. An Episcopalian view of Baha'ism http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/interfaith/lessons_for_christians_in_the.php

4. Then see,
SECTS OF BAHAIS: A Taxonomy of Baha'i Sects, http://www.sectsofbahais.com/


&


5. Documentary film by independent Israeli film maker Naama Pyritz:

BAHA'IS IN MY BACKYARD
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2877478116441126906&hl=en-AU



6. LAWSUIT

Comment: Larger Haifan Baha'i organization sues smaller Orthodox Baha'i faith for trademark infringement on the name Baha'i and loses.

US NSA vs OBF (Orthodox Baha'i Faith)
Regarding the court victory by the Orthodox Baha'is, and the suit brought by the Haifan Bahai organization against them:

http://trueseeker.typepad.com/true_seeker/court_case.html


Judge's decision
http://www.truebahai.info/court/139-opinion.pdf


**Appellate hearing (Feb 2009)***
http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/LF1FFZY0.mp3

Comment: This is an interesting listen.

Chicago Tribune Article
Monday, May 18, 2009
Baha’i rift: Baha’is upset with Orthodox Baha’i Faith
Mainstream group doesn’t want the name Baha’i by any other group
http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/may/18/local/chi-bahai-18-may18

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24: Naser Emtesali's SCRIBD controversial Baha'i documents page http://www.scribd.com/NaserEmtesali

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25: Interesting conversation with a Muslim convert regarding Bahaism (early 2010)

http://groups.google.com.au/group/talk.religion.bahai/browse_thread/thread/470629758d76627a#
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26: The Haifan Baha'i Agenda for Iran spelled out
http://haifanbahaiagendairan.blogspot.com/
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27: Draconian Ugandan Law supported by Fundamentalist Christians, Fundamentalist Muslims and BAHA'IS (2009)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/sep/17/ugandangaysdemandfreedom
&
http://www.iranian.com/main/blog/nur-i-azal/draconian-anti-gay-ugandan-law-supported-american-evangelicals-muslims-bahais?page=3
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28: Bayanic.Com
http://www.bayanic.com [CLICK tab BAHAISM]

& http://theprimalpoint.com (mirror site)


==CAUTION NON-BAHAIS==