Analysis And Conclusion of A Research Scholar on Bahai Divisions

Very recently a research scholar has submitted his thesis based on validity of the claim made by many Bahá'í scholars with regard to one of the most important beliefs in the Bahá'í world faith; the claim of unity and consequently the claim stating there is no schism within this faith.Below is his Analysis and Conclusion.

Analysis of Baha’i Division

The Bahá'í world faith introduces the unity of its faith as part of its major beliefs. It has claimed that by the teachings of its founders and leading figures, there will never be any sect of the Bahá'í faith and that it would not be subject of schism. This idea is advocated further by emphasis on the will of Bahaullah and the will and testament of Abdulbaha, referred to as the twin covenants.

The first step as we began our research was to look at the description of the term Sect in English dictionaries and also under sociology and religious terminology. Through this,the Bahá'í belief regarding schism within this faith is discussed below. Literary definitions of the term schism, as mentioned above in terminology, provide the essentials to distinguish various views with regards to this claim's acceptance or rejection. Experts, both within and outside of the faith, have voiced their take on the validity of the claim of unity within the Bahá'í faith and the legitimacy of this claim. MojanMomen, a Bahá'í author and activist, through the questionnaire he completed for this research indicates;

"Division ... is a purely description term with no specific definition in sociology or religious studies. "Sect" however has a specific meaning in sociology and religious studies" In his view,the difference between the wording and the expression used to identify these groups makes all the difference in authenticating this claim. By which,he is pointing out that the term sect is "... a religious group that has separated off and formed a community that is distinctive in its beliefs and practices from other groups". His response to the questionof division in Babi cause and Bahá'í cause is "No" in both cases. Even though he admits that there has been faction and division in these two religions,he stated that none of them hold up to the definition of sect, as some only exist by opposition towards the main body of the Baha'i faith. Hence the claim stands unscratched.

Inviolable as this argument may appear at first,the researcher must inquire whether this view, taken by Bahá'ís such as Dr.Momen and the claim of impossibility of schism, promoted by most,if not all Bahá'í groups,is in fact accepted within the Bahá'í community and from one group to another,and do they consider themselves as one united faith. As we have shown in Chapter four the existence of a variety of religious groups, of whom nearly all are known as Bahá'ís and identify themselves as followers of Bahaullah, is considered a peak in this argument. Historical evidences brought forward of their formation and background with reference to the Bahá'í institutions and figures that existed over time shows the division among the distinctive Bahá'í characters. For example one could say that the conflict between Abbas Effendi, and his brother; Mirza Muhammad Ali's right at the prime of the Bahá'í faith world introduction. This is perhaps a dark part of Bahá'í history as the intense communications among the two brothers declare a deep struggle in the nominated line of succession of Bahaullah.As well as religious disputes the two have encountered family disputes regarding the inheritance and power. This is another recorded part of their history which has affected the way the line of succession has been handled after Bahaullah.

On the contrary to people's expectation of Shoghi Effendi's will; to contain instructions on who should succeed him, historical evidences from Bahá'í sources state that the safe containing his will was empty. Consequently disagreements regarding the custom that institution of guardianship undertakes originated among Bahá'í followers.The proclaimed forms included collective guardianship, a single living guardian and a council directed by a living guardian.Collective guardianship means that the hands of the cause must lead Bahá'ís as a council all together. Whereas a single living guardian refers to status of the Guardian of the Cause of God, who would carry on after Shoghi Effendi and be passed on after him. The third form, the council directed by a living guardian to lead Bahá'ís , has so far not been actually realised.

Similarly after Charles Mason Remey, whom some have followed as the Second Guardian,divergences appeared as his followers placed different people as a living Guardian. Some of his followers claim that he should not have taken such high ranking position and that he and his successor are both regents. As explained before, there exists groups who have theoretical differences to the belief set of heterodox Bahá'ís ,among them is those who bring forward various arguments to assert their choice of Remey's successor.

I must acknowledge the approach that heterodox Bahá'ís cholars take towards these sects is that they consider these divergences from Babiand Bahá'í faith as minor disagreements and originated from each individual's ego. Or in some cases they are considered only as a small association or club within the Bahá'í community. Hence the prerogative that formation of these groups does not contradict the belief in the claim of unity within the faith. While the heterodox see this as reason logical enough to prove their claim to the united, un-divided Bahá'ís the question that remains is whether the Bahá'ís whose group is among these agree on this viewpoint as well.

The answer to this lies in the set of beliefs not shared by these other somewhat smaller group of Bahá'ís , who despite the ignorance of the major Bahá'í group claim to still have an organizational structure of their own. In my opinion this line of reasoning does validate the proclamation that no schism exists within the faith. Nevertheless it is obvious that if one accepts noother than itself to be part of the true definition of a term, then any group may make such claims within their faith. We have explored the facts and findings on the background of the claim. As the evidence in chapter three showed the claim was announced by Abdul Baha as a statement of belief and insisted upon by the guardian through the emphasis in his writings, articles and letters. It was argued, by the Bahá'í community leaders and believers, that the origin of the claim lies within the concept of unity which is derived by Bahaullah's mission. He has spoken of his intentions to gather all humanity under one religion. Hence the unity of all its believers is a given and therefore the claim of impossibility of schism is part of the main Bahá'í belief framework.

Shoghi in his book "God Passes by" refers to the will and testament of Abdul Baha, quoting him; "Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God..."It is argued that the two institution of Guardian of the faith and Universal house of Justice is based on verses such as this from Bahaullah. Shoghi then states this as an extraordinary text, significant both as the foundation for the administrative order and doing so in writing, where no other religion has done makes it a unique feature of Bahá'í faith. It is then based on this argument that he emphasises the protective effect of the covenants and Bahá'í faith from schism is manner of providing the order. "Administrative Order which the authorized Interpreter of Baháulláh's teachings has instituted, an Order which ... must and will, in a manner unparalleled in any previous religion, safeguard from schism the Faith from which it has sprung."(Baha'i Refrence Library, 2004) This being the foundation of this claim it is a fact that it's the lack of concrete physical evidence of the claim by Bahaullah that gives the observer questions beyond the point of doubt on this religious belief. It is as if the argument of the claim having its origins in the ideology of Bahaullah is rather an idea and not a factual statement. Considering the mission Bahaullah hoped to achieve is the unity of mankind and belief in one universal religion, it is clear these arguments don?t add up! The entire above arguments aside the notion of unity mentioned by Bahaullah being extracted from Bahá'í scripture and literature as the origin of the claim and upheld by Bahá'ís as part of their belief is somewhat compromised by the mere existence of the divisions mentioned in the previous chapters. As the result of which, many groups and factions, over the 100 years history of the faith, have claimed Bahá'ís m of their own.

History of religion and religious history are both perhaps common subjects scrutinised over and over by scholars and researchers alike. In this research, however we examined a certain belief of the Bahá'í faith; being schism, and approached its history astutely in order to find out the truth about validity of its claim. In the process, a number of scriptures and writings were researched. These included books, academic papers and journal articles, electronic resources including official and personal websites. We also referred to details of arguments made by the Bahá'ís in support of the claim as well as those which are against it within and outside of the Bahá'í faith. Our research took us to the Intellectual Othering and the Bahá'í Question in Iran conference in Canada through which the opportunity to involve experts from the Bahá'í community in this projects was created. Email correspondence and questionnaires were then used to clarify and develop our findings. We investigated the question of schism within the Bahá'í World Faith, looking at the terminology of the term and its sociological definition we then presented the origin and extent of this claim based on the phrase from Shoghi Effendi's written works and scriptures available from Bahá'í references. The evidences brought forward in this research showed that It was the mission, of which Bahaullah has spoken of and described to be the ultimate goal for the Bahá'í faith; the unity of its followers around the world, that was origin of this claim. His words have been translated into the writings of designated interpreters; Abdulbaha and Shoghi Effendi. The writings along with descriptive texts on the twin covenants as well as teachings by Bahá'í leading figures appear to be the key elements this claim being a main part of the modern Bahá'í faith, which has its followers make statements such as one Ruhiyyih Maxwel indicated in her speech in Second world Bahá'í congress in New York.

Based on the terminology of sect and schism in chapter 4.1 we argued the prerogative to consider others, whose set of belief in Bahá'ís m is different to one's own set of belief, non-Bahá'ís and dis-communicate them, does not provide enough ground for the claim?s legitimacy. Also despite the fact that sociological definition of these terms within the religious sciences may be enough for some not to categorise some factions of Bahá'í followers as sects but as groups, clubs or societies it is still a testament to the divergences within the Bahá'í community throughout the history of this fairly new religion. This is enough to question the validity of the claim, origins of which lies in the ultimate mission of Bahaullah; unity among its followers around the world. By looking at the set of divisions that appeared in the history of the faith, variations that has occurred in the administration and discrepancies that appears within their structures of Bahá'í belief, we made the argument that in the first glance this does appear very similar to the rest of Abrahamic religions prior to it. Although it has successfully taken the subject of succession into a completely different angle to the rest it has been and still is in great deal of ambiguity on this subject resulting in friction among its followers as well as on lookers.

The methods of research into the text as described in chapter one gave us the advantage of working thoroughly through the papers which were available to us at the time as well as other resources. It is a fact that the events mentioned in Bahá'í references in order to provide a history of the faith's formation is mainly backed up by their written documentation however we have consulted materials from other sources to confirm account of events. Similarly in order to clarify the beliefs attributed to Bahá'ís , Bahá'í published materials and Bahá'í believers have also been consulted.

It is my finding that some Bahá'í resources such as Bahá'í library however does not provide all materials on all subjects concerning Bahá'ís m. This in turn has made it very difficult to find the scripture one looks for among the catalogue of select work by a select group. However if given the opportunity to further develop this project, researching the original scriptures and attending Bahá'í specialist libraries would be a positive step in the expansion of material which may shed light on some of the speculated findings. The discussion on terminology would be another area, for which perhaps further inquiries could be invested in similarly with respect to sociology of religion there may be possibility of further conversation related to the subject of this thesis. It is only natural that dialogue between those with different religious belief is somewhat awkward and even more so if the stereotype of two opposing ideas come into the picture.

Considering the fact that subject of schism, for reasons described in this text, is one that Bahá'í community is very sensitive about, and the reputation of ICAS as an Islamic college, preceded by even the name, along with researcher's religious sect, this dialogue became very narrow. Lines of communication were quickly closed at some points and negative responses received in some other occasions. It is an unavoidable restraint, which has shown itself during the course of this research project more than ever; only a handful of correspondents with the Bahá'í scholars have come back, of whom only three responded to the questionnaire. Overall I have found that critically researching this claim and by attempting to extract pieces of Bahá'í history in order to find out the truth has brought me to the conclusion that there is still not enough evidence to suggest the foundation of the claim and settle arguments surrounding it, even within the Bahá'í writings.

It is understandable that there is justifications and explanations for this proclamation within the Bahá'í community where there is any question, but it is inconclusive of all the facts and lacks solid evidence. Beside the evidences presented in this thesis, from which we have drawn our arguments and discussions, I find it unsatisfactory to draw the claim of impossibility of division from the theory of universal unity too. Perhaps such reasoning could be detailed further to find out whether such reasoning surrounding this claim can be scientifically proven or not. On another note, even though the development of this thesis has been an exciting journey of research, discussion and discovery, I end my conclusion with great deal of curiosity to seek whether applying historical analysis to theological belief provides a common enough ground, for all those involved in different aspect of discussion, to satisfy and content them with the result?