Monday, February 9, 2009

Islam, the Baha'i Faith and the Eternal Covenant of Alast

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, once stated that for Baha'is the study of Islam was “absolutely indispensable” for “a proper and sound understanding” of the Baha'i Cause. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to understanding the Baha'i concept of the Covenant.

When Baha’is discuss the concept of covenant as it applies to their teachings, they usually describe the chain of authority designed to maintain their unity. They typically focus on what is commonly called the Lesser Covenant as embodied in such documents such as the Kitab‑i Ahd, Baha’u’llah’s Will appointing Abdu’l‑Baha as His successor and the Will and Testament of Abdu’l‑Baha which appointed Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Baha’i Faith after Him, and called for the election of the Universal House of Justice. Hence, the Covenant is seen as that which obliges individual Bahá'ís to accept the leadership of Bahá'u'lláh's appointed successors and the administrative institutions of the Faith.

But there is another covenant upon which this Lesser Covenant is predicated. Frequently this is called the “Greater Covenant,” namely the Covenant which God has made with all humanity, wherein He promises us continuing guidance through His Messengers, “Manifestations” as Baha’is call them, while we are obligated to recognize and obey them. This idea of the Covenant was first articulated in Islam where it is often known as the Covenant of Alast. I would contend that unless our understanding of the Lesser Covenant is grounded in this Covenant of Alast, depth of its significance will largely be missed.

Of course, the concept of Covenant did not originate with Islam either. Christians divide their Bible into two sections, the Old and New Testament, the term testament signifying covenant. In Judaism the term covenant in relationship to God appears first in the Torah in connection with the story of Noah. God assured Noah that the judgment would not again come to men in the form of a flood and that the recurrence of the seasons and day and night should not cease. At that time, exhortation given to Adam to “be fruitful and multiply” was reaffirmed. Noah and his sons were encouraged to eat all manner of meat, but a taboo was placed on the consumption of animal blood and the shedding of human blood. The rainbow is presented as a sign of this covenant.[i] Another covenant is made with Abraham when he is asked to leave his homeland and journey to a land God has promised him and his descendants. It is promised that through Him all the nations of the world will be blessed.[ii] Abraham was told to circumcise all the male members of his family as a sign of this Covenant.[iii] The key covenant of the Torah, however is the one God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai. This Sinai event forms the basis of later depictions of the establishment of the Greater Covenant that God makes with all mankind.

While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain, Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the LORD called to him and said, "Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself.

Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.

You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites."

So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people. When he set before them all that the LORD had ordered him to tell them, the people all answered together, "Everything the LORD has said, we will do." Then Moses brought back to the LORD the response of the people. [iv]

It is only after this response was received that Moses goes back up the Mountain and the Commandments are revealed. Three days later this event takes place and is described with these words:

On the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.

But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.

Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the LORD came down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.

The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him with thunder. [v]

After the revelation of the Ten Commandments, the Israelites again affirmed their Covenant with God and shared a meal together. Such ceremonial meals were considered an integral part of treaty alliances in the Near East, and the Covenant was conceived of as precisely that. Also, a part of such treaty alliances was the practice of calling various deities as witnesses. In the case of the Covenant of Sinai the heaven and earth are called as witnesses. (Deut. 4:26; 30:19; 31:28) As we will see, all these elements will likewise appear as tropes in both Islamic and Baha’i descriptions of the Covenant.

The Sinai event is recalled in the Qur’an with these words:

“When We shook the Mount over them, as if it had been a canopy, and they thought it was going to fall on them (We said): "Hold firmly to what We have given you, and bring (ever) to remembrance what is therein; perchance ye may fear Allah."[vi]

But the Qur’an then goes on to place the Sinai event before and outside of time:

“And (remember) when thy Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their reins, their seed, and made them testify of themselves, (saying): Am I not your Lord? They said: Yea, verily. We testify. (That was) lest ye should say at the Day of Resurrection: Lo! of this we were unaware; Or you should say: Only our fathers associated others (with Allah) before, and we were an offspring after them: Wilt Thou then destroy us for what the vain doers did?”[vii]

This event that establishes the primordial Covenant is known in Islam as the Day of Alast, named after the question God asks, “Am I not your Lord?” alastu bi‑rabbikam

A couple of things might be noted about this passage. First, it is an event that happens in the pre‑existence, an event in which we are all said to be present. Because we all given answer to this question, we all become partners to the Covenant thus created. That Covenant consists of an acknowledgment of God’s lordship, and of our willingness to submit to it. In that primordial response, human responsibility is born. Thus the Day of Alast is intimately tied to the Day of Resurrection. If we fail to subsequently live our lives continuing to acknowledge His Lordship, we can neither claim ignorance or merely doing as our forefathers had taught us. The Covenant, thus conceived, is not so much about what we think or believe, as it is a matter of the directionality of our will. Does it acknowledge God’s Lordship or seek to do its own will?

Annemarie Shimmel describes the significance of this event in Islamic mysticism:

The idea of this primordial covenant (mithaq) between God and humanity has impressed the religious conscience of the Muslims, and especially the Muslim mystics, more than any other idea. Here is the starting point for their understanding of free will and predestination, of election and acceptance, of God's eternal power and man's loving response and promise. The goal of the mystic is to return to the experience of the 'Day of Alastu,' when only God existed, before He led future creatures out of the abyss of not‑being and endowed them with life, love, and understanding so that they might face Him again at the end of time.[viii]

The problem, of course, is that we don’t remember that Covenant, we are forgetful. Forgetfulness in Islam is regarded as the basis of all evil, an evil that can only be overcome by bringing our relationship to God constantly to mind in acts of remembrance.

A major goal of Sufism has been to “remember” the ecstasy of God’s primordial presence and of our response to Him, one that only a true adept is deemed able to attain. Sufis declare they are mast‑e Alast, drunken because God asked men's souls before Creation, "Am I not (alastu) your Lord?" and they affirmed it. This covenant before time itself between lover and Beloved is a source of such joy that its recollection instantly intoxicates anyone who understands it.

Baha’u’llah alludes to this in His mystical poem, the “Mathavi Mubara”

Once someone posted this question to a Gnostic:

You, who've grasped the mysteries of God

You, by bounty's wine intoxicate,

Do you recall the day of "Am I not?"

He said: I do recall that sound, those words

As if it were but yesterday, no less

It lingers in my ears, His call

That sweet soul‑vivifying voice of His

But in the next passage Baha'u'llah takes this traditional trope much further:

Another Gnostic, who had climbed beyond

Had bored the mystic pearls divine, replied:

That day of God has never ended nor

Has fallen short we're living in that day!

His day's unending, not pursued by night‑

That we're alive in such a day's not strange

Had Time's Soul ceased its yearning for this day

then Heaven's court and throne would fall to dust

For through God's power this eternal day

was made unending by His Majesty." [ix]

The Day of Alast then becomes, not something which happened before time began, but something that is happening even now and is most especially present with Baha’u’llah’s Manifestation.

One of the “Hidden Words” especially ties the Day of Alast with both the Bab and Baha’u’llah’s own Manifestation:

Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all‑glorious paradise? Awe‑struck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you. [x]

Here Baha’u’llah’s own Covenant is associated with the Covenant of Alast. According to Abdu’l‑Baha, Baha’u’llah is not talking about a physical gathering. The ‘true and radiant morn’ is an allusion to the Bab, while the ‘tree of life’ is Baha’u’llah and His Covenant. The call was raised within our own souls, but until we purify our hearts we can neither respond nor remember. And this purity of heart consists of desiring only what God desires.

There is another passage in Baha'u'llah's “Hidden Words” which alludes to the Covenant:

O My Friends! Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, situate within the hallowed precincts of Zaman. I have taken to witness the concourse on high and the dwellers in the city of eternity, yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth. Yet knowing this, I waited and disclosed it not.[xi]

Note, that as with the Covenant at Sinai, witnesses are called to attest to it. Abdu’l‑Baha interprets this passage as follows:

As for the reference in The Hidden Words regarding the Covenant entered into on Mount Paran, this signifieth that in the sight of God the past, the present and the future are all one and the same ‑‑ whereas, relative to man, the past is gone and forgotten, the present is fleeting, and the future is within the realm of hope. And it is a basic principle of the Law of God that in every Prophetic Mission, He entereth into a Covenant with all believers ‑‑ a Covenant that endureth until the end of that Mission, until the promised day when the Personage stipulated at the outset of the Mission is made manifest. Consider Moses, He Who conversed with God. Verily, upon Mount Sinai, Moses entered into a Covenant regarding the Messiah, with all those souls who would live in the day of the Messiah. And those souls, although they appeared many centuries after Moses, were nevertheless ‑‑ so far as the Covenant, which is outside time, was concerned ‑‑ present there with Moses. The Jews, however, were heedless of this and remembered it not, and thus they suffered a great and clear loss.[xii]

Here Abdu’l‑Baha explains rather specifically how the primordial Covenant of Alast and the Sinai event are inter‑related. According to Abdu’l‑Baha both Sinai and Alast happened ultimately outside of time and involved generations not yet born who were obligated to ‘remember’ the promises made there.

Here is another passage from Baha’u’llah’s Writings that refers to this Covenant:

I beseech Thee by Thy generosity, whereby the portals of Thy bounty and grace were opened wide, whereby the Temple of Thy Holiness was established upon the throne of eternity; and by Thy mercy whereby Thou didst invite all created things unto the table of Thy bounties and bestowals; and by Thy grace whereby Thou didst respond, in thine own Self with Thy word "Yea!" on behalf of all in heaven and earth, at the hour when Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur stood revealed, at the dawn‑time when the might of Thy dominion was made manifest.[xiii]

Note the allusion to the ceremonial meal which accompanied the establishment of Covenants in antiquity. All creation is gathered here as in the Islamic depiction of the Day of Alast and the meal becomes a symbol of His Bounty. But even more so, here it is God Himself (presumably through His Manifestation) who responds affirmatively on our behalf to the words, “Am I not your Lord?” I don't think it is any accident that this phrase appears in the Baha'i “Long Healing Prayer.” When we cannot answer the question "Am I not your Lord?" we must let God respond on our behalf.

Nowhere is the theme of responsiveness stronger than in the Persian “Bayan.” The bulk of the laws in the “Bayan” were specifically intended to prepare the Babis to receive He Whom God Would Make Manifest. For Him, as with others, responsiveness to God meant responsiveness to His Manifestations whenever and wherever they appear. And the Bab was acutely sensitive to the fact that our responsiveness to God and His Manifestation were intimately linked to the manner in which we respond to one another. Hence we have this chapter in the Bayan:

It is obligatory to answer each letter, question or request received.

It hath been ordained that in this Dispensation, should one write a letter to another the recipient should give reply. And God doth not love prolonged delays in answering. One must reply in one's own hand, or by means of a scribe.

Likewise, should someone ask a question, the one thus questioned must respond in a precise manner. Perchance on the Day of God's Manifestation none will remain ignorant of that sublime Daystar; and when He revealeth the divine word: "Am I not thy Lord?", all shall respond with 'Yea!'

In truth, the injunction to reply hath been ordained for none other purpose except this, yet its obligations extend to the very last atom of existence . . .

There can be no doubt that on the Day of His Manifestation His books shall descend upon everyone; that none should remain ignorant on account of the veils that envelop him, nor fail to answer Him, inasmuch as the reality of one's being issueth forth from one's response. . .

He is a servant endowed with insight who answereth God in every degree and in all circumstances, be it through his to answer.[xiv]

Baha'is share with Islam an emphasis on the Covenant which calls us to remembrance and responsiveness. The remembrance of God as He has revealed Himself in the past and the determination to recognize and respond to Him as He comes to us in the present and the future, whether it be in the form of a Manifestation or in the cry of a child.

[i] Genesis 9:1‑17

[ii] Genesis 12:3

[iii] Genesis 17:11

[iv] Exodus 19:3‑9

[v] Exodus 19:16‑19

[vi] Qur'an 7: 171

[vii] Qur'an 7:172

[viii] Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975) p. 24.

[ix] Provisional translation by Frank Lewis.

[x] Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words, Persian #19

[xi] Persian Hidden Words, No. 71.

[xii]Abdu'l‑Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l‑Baha, p. 207

[xiii] Baha'i Prayers, p. 96.

[xiv] The Persian Bayan, provisional translation by Ismael Velasco.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some Old Charges for a New Religion

As a graduate student I sometimes hired Iranian students to assist me with translating certain Persian Baha'i histories. My preference, of course was to use Iranian Baha'is who would be more familiar with the vocabulary specific to our Faith, but there were occasions when I resorted to non-Baha'is. On one occasion­ an intelligent, rather secularized young man of Muslim background was reading a Baha'i text in Persian with me when he awkwardly asked me the following question: “Is it true that Baha'is believe that before a man gives away an apple, he should taste it first.”

I knew better than to take his question literally, but I wasn't about to guess at what he meant, so I said, “Farhad if you want an answer to your question you're going to have to be clearer.” After fumbling around a bit he finally asked me if it were true that Baha'is believed that a father should sleep with his daughter before he gave her away in marriage. At that point I said, “Think for a minute, Farhad. If you were going to make up stories to discredit a religion, what sort of things would you say?” He then admitted that he had figured the stories weren't true but he couldn't be sure.

This story, as fantastic as it might appear is all too typical of the rumors and slander that are spread in Iran about Baha'is and sometimes believed even by those with no love for Islamist regime now ruling there. The Nineteen Day Feast where Baha'is gather to say prayers, read from their scriptures, discuss the affairs of the community and share refreshments and food are rumored to be sexual orgies. The Baha'i Faith itself is thought to have been a Russian and British plot to destroy the unity of Islam, notwithstanding the unlikelihood of those two countries having colluded on anything in the 19th century. Nowadays it is imagined that Baha'is are receiving their support from Zionists or the US government.

Although the Baha'i Faith is a new religion, charges such as these are really very old. For this reason I would like to discuss the significance of such stories and the function they have played in Islamic history. Aside from the Baha'i Faith itself, Islam has historically been the most tolerant of the world's religions. This is mostly owing to the fact that Qur'an itself asserts that there is no people to whom a prophet has not been sent. (Qur'an 35:24, 16:24.) This opened the door for the acceptance of the legitimacy of nearly all the previous religions, even those not formally considered People of the Book (i.e. Christians and Jews.) Much more problematic has been the acceptance of any claims to revelation after Muhammad. No religion likes to be superseded, but in Islam particularly the notion that there would be no revelation after the Qur'an came to be seen as every bit as fundamental to the religion as the Oneness of God and the Prophethood of Muhammad. Because of this any religious movement arising after Islam had to be explained away as something other than a religion. The stock explanation came to be that such movements were really political in nature, usually instigated by an outsider, often a Jew, aimed at creating disruption (fitna.) For instance, Sunni Muslims hold a Yemenite Jew, Abdallah ibn Saba, responsible for the founding Shi'ism, a belief that goes back at least as far as al-Tabari (d. 934 A.D.)

A classical work which illustrates the manner in which Muslims came to view religious dissidence is in Nizam ul-Mulk's Siyasat-Name or Treatise on Government. Nizam u'l-Mulk served as Grand Vizier to the Seljuks who had invaded the Middle East under the pretext of saving Islam and the Caliphate from Shi'ite heretics. Most especially Nizam u'l-Mulk had to contend with the Ismaeli Assassins, to whom according to some accounts he eventually fell victim. The Siyasat Name presents the Sassanid ruler Khosrau the Just as the ideal ruler and one of the acts which is depicted as bringing him to power was his supression of the Mazdakite heresy. Nizam u'l-Mulk presents the Mazdakite religion as a Manichean-type dualism which was especially dangerous for its social program of community of property and wives. It is difficult to know at this distance if the historical Mazdak really had anything more radical in mind than a more equal distribution of property and ending the practice of the wealthy having several wives while the poor could afford none, but the notion of communism and wife-swapping came to be associated not only with his heresy but with subsequent religious dissidence as well. The Ismaelis, as well as the Babis, were accused of engaging in such practices. While the economic prosperity of the Baha'is of Iran during the Pahlavi period may have dissolved any notion that Baha'is were communists, the idea that Baha'is practiced a 'community of wives' lived on in lurid stories about Baha'i sexual orgies.

As in Christianity, Manicheanism came to be seen in the Islamic world as the paradigmatic heresy, and in works like al-Tabari, it came to be associated with incest as well. Such charges have echoed down the ages and been associated with virtually any dissident religious movement which arose thereafter, especially in Iran.

It is within this context that one must understand the stories which are often spread about Baha'is in the Islamic World, especially the charges that they are tied to Zionism. The truth is that it was largely an accident of history that the Baha'i World Centre ended up in Haifa, Israel, and not because of any ties it might have with Zionism. Baha'u'llah was exiled to Palestine when it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire where He was imprisoned in Akka across the bay from Haifa, which was then a small fishing village.

Recently there has been a renewed  effort in Iran to fabricate links between Baha'is and Zionism. The propagandists have gone so far as to masquerade as Baha'is on internet sites such as run by someone using the name Yohanna, where misleading information is posted regarding the relationship of Baha'is to both Judaism and Zionism. Photos are included supposedly picturing Jewish-Baha'is in New York that in fact depict Baha'is of Christian background in London.

If the Baha'i Faith is not part of a Russian-British-American-Zionist plot to destroy the unity of Islam, what then is its attitude towards its sister religion? I think this can best be summarized in Shoghi Effendi's statement written in the Promised Day is Come that:

"As to Muhammad, the Apostle of God, let none among His followers who read these pages, think for a moment that either Islam, or its Prophet, or His Book, or His appointed Successors, or any of His authentic teachings, have been, or are to be in any way, or to however slight a degree, disparaged."

(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108)

Indeed, in his correspondence with the Western Baha'is, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith repeatedly stressed that:

"They must strive to obtain, from sources that are authoritative and unbiased, a sound knowledge of the history and tenets of Islam -- the source and background of their Faith -- and approach reverently and with a mind purged from preconceived ideas the study of the Qur'án which, apart from the sacred scriptures of the Bábí and Bahá'í Revelations, constitutes the only Book which can be regarded as an absolutely authenticated Repository of the Word of God."(Compilations, Scholarship, p. 27)

He even went so far as to predict that the Western Baha'is would become the defenders of Islam. One of the earliest Baha'is to do so was Stanwood Cobb who wrote Islamic Contributions to Civilization.

Since then there has been a stream of academically trained Baha'is, including myself, who have gone on to teach Islam in western universities, seeking to stem the tide of prejudice against the religion. Baha'u'llah's son Abdu'l-Baha was held in the highest esteem by some of the most noted Muslim intellectuals, including Muhammad Abduh and Muhammad Iqbal. Yusuf al-Khatib, a well-known Muslim orator, said the following at Abdu'l-Baha's funeral:

O concourse of Arabians and Persians! Whom are ye bewailing? Is it he who but yesterday was great in his life and is today in his death greater still? Shed no tears for the one that hath departed to the world of Eternity, but weep over the passing of Virtue and Wisdom, of Knowledge and Generosity. Lament for yourselves, for yours is the loss, whilst he, your lost one, is but a revered Wayfarer, stepping from your mortal world into the everlasting Home. Weep one hour for the sake of him who, for well nigh eighty years, hath wept for you! Look to your right, look to your left, look East and look West and behold, what glory and greatness have vanished! What a pillar of peace hath crumbled! What eloquent lips are hushed! Alas! In this tribulation there is no heart but aches with anguish, no eye but is filled with tears. Woe unto the poor, for lo! goodness hath departed from them, woe unto the orphans, for their loving father is no more with them! "

Likewise the Mufti of Haifa said:

I do not wish to exaggerate in my eulogy of this great one, for his ready and helping hand in the service of mankind and the beautiful and wondrous story of his life, spent in doing that which is right and good, none can deny, save him whose heart is blinded...

O thou revered voyager! Thou hast lived greatly and hast died greatly! This great funeral procession is but a glorious proof of thy greatness in thy life and in thy death. But O, thou whom we have lost! Thou leader of men, generous and benevolent! To whom shall the poor now look? Who shall care for the hungry? and the desolate, the widow and the orphan?”

Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha do admittedly have some harsh words to say about some of the clerics of religion, including Islam. These are mostly aimed at those who have taken advantage of their followers and interfered in the political affairs of Iran. Let's keep in mind however, that Muhamamd spoke even more harshly of them:

"The Apostle of God said: `There will come a time for my people when there will remain nothing of the Qur'an except its outward form and nothing of Islam except its name and they will call themselves by this name even though they are the people furthest from it. The mosques
will be full of people but they will be empty of right guidance. The religious leaders (Fuqaha) of that day will be the most evil religious leaders under the heavens; sedition and dissension will go out from them and to them will it return.' " -ibn Babuya, Thawab ul-A'mal

If one searches through the internet one will find dozens of Muslim-sponsored sites attacking the Baha'i Faith, many of the sponsored by the Iranian government. You willl not, however, find any anti-Islamic sites by Baha'is because they respect Islam and revere Muhammad. Given the amount of persecution Baha'is have suffered at the urging of certain members of the Islamic clergy, this attitude is truly remarkable. Baha'is accept the divine nature of all these religions,  and wish only to promote unity amongst them. We consider the founders of other religions as occupying the same station as our own Founder. As Shoghi Effendi puts it:

“The Revelation, of which Bahá'u'lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it, nor does it attempt, in the slightest degree, to distort their features or to belittle their value. It disclaims any intention of dwarfing any of the Prophets of the past, or of whittling down the eternal verity of their teachings. It can, in no wise, conflict with the spirit that animates their claims, nor does it seek to undermine the basis of any man's allegiance to their cause. Its declared, its primary purpose is to enable every adherent of these Faiths to obtain a fuller understanding of the religion with which he stands identified, and to acquire a clearer apprehension of its purpose. It is neither eclectic in the presentation of its truths, nor arrogant in the affirmation of its claims. Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind.

"All the Prophets of God," asserts Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, "abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith." From the "beginning that hath no beginning," these Exponents of the Unity of God and Channels of His incessant utterance have shed the light of the invisible Beauty upon mankind, and will continue, to the "end that hath no end," to vouchsafe fresh revelations of His might and additional experiences of His inconceivable glory. To contend that any particular religion is final, that "all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the daysprings of eternal holiness no sun shall rise again, that the ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest" would indeed be nothing less than sheer blasphemy.”

(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 57)