Most of Baha'u'llah's writings were produced in reply to questions that were sent to him. Thus his teachings can be said to have developed to a large extent in a dialogue with these questioners, who included many of his followers but also many philosophers, religious leaders, statesmen, and intellectuals who wanted to know his views on religious, social, and political questions.
Baha'u'llah developed his teachings in the specific context of the Middle East in the late 19th century. In the course of his exiles, he came into contact with the major religious and political reform movements that were then current in the Middle East. Baha'u'llah commented on the questions raised by some of these statesmen and political reformers relating to the progress and development of their countries. These responses then formed the framework for the Baha'i approach to social and economic development generally.
Beyond the Middle East, Baha'u'llah was also keenly aware of the wider world situation. In a series of messages addressed to the most important kings and rulers of the world in his time (Emperor Napoleon III of France, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Queen Victoria of Britain, Sultan Abdülaziz of the Ottoman Empire, Nasira'd-Din Shah of Iran, and Pope Pius IX), as well as in a number of other writings, he laid down what he believed to be the conditions for the good governance of their countries and laid out the pathway for world peace. He commended, for example, democracy and strongly condemned tyranny. He called on the world's leaders to gather together and agree on binding treaties that would both resolve their differences and set up arrangements for mutually guaranteeing their territorial integrity. Once they had achieved this, he stated, the world's leaders should then reduce their expenditures on armaments and use the savings for the betterment of the condition of their peoples.
|Baha'u'llah's Address to the Presidents of America
|Hearken ye, O Rulers of America and the Presidents of the Republics therein . . . Adorn ye the temple of dominion with the ornament of justice and of the fear of God, and its head with the crown of the remembrance of your Lord, the Creator of the heavens. Thus counselleth you He Who is the Dayspring of Names, as bidden by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. The Promised One hath appeared in this glorified Station, whereat all beings, both seen and unseen, have rejoiced. Take ye advantage of the Day of God. Verily, to meet Him is better for you than all that whereon the sun shineth, could ye but know it. O concourse of rulers! . . . Bind ye the broken with the hands of justice, and crush the oppressor who flourisheth with the rod of the commandments of your Lord, the Ordainer, the All-Wise.
Most of the early Baha'is were from an Islamic background and so asked Baha'u'llah questions concerning the relationship of his religion to Islam. Baha'u'llah's writings are therefore in a language and using a terminology that is predominantly framed within the context of the Islamic cultural world. He wrote commentaries on verses of the Quran and treatises on questions that engaged the Islamic world. He made extensive reference to his own Iranian cultural heritage, often quoting the great Iranian mystical poets in the course of his writings. He himself wrote mystical poetry. He also wrote two works within the Sufi tradition in response to questions raised by Kurdish Sunni Sufis. There were, however, also religious questions raised by Jews and Zoroastrians who had become Baha'is in Iran, Christians whom Baha'u'llah met in the course of his exiles, and even from an Indian religious leader. Among the inquiries put to Baha'u'llah were requests to expound on the pathway to spiritual advancement, to interpret obscure passages from the questioner's own scriptures, and to explain how Baha'u'llah fulfilled the prophecies of the questioner's religion, especially since there did not seem to have been a literal fulfillment of them.
'Abdu'l-Baha (the servant of the Glory), Baha'u'llah's son and successor (1844-1921), continued these teachings. During his ministry (1892-1921), the Baha'i Faith began to spread in the West. Because of this, and particularly as a result of 'Abdu'l-Baha's own travels to Europe and North America, the new Western Baha'is raised new questions related to social issues then current in the West—such issues as women's suffrage, the arms race and world peace, labor relations and economic questions, the treatment of criminals, and the issue of race in the United States of America. 'Abdu'l-Baha also commented on current affairs, especially the struggles that were going on for greater democracy in the Middle East and the arms race in Europe. While he was traveling in the West in 1911-1913, he repeatedly foretold and warned of the dangers of war in Europe. 'Abdu'l-Baha was also asked about such scientific matters as Darwinian evolution and about such metaphysical ideas as pantheism and reincarnation, which were being discussed at that time. Baha'is often use 'Abdu'l-Baha's responses to these issues as the basis of their own presentations of the Baha'i Faith.
The next leader of the Baha'i Faith, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), was educated at Beirut and Oxford, studying especially history and political science, and was a close follower of world events. He would often comment on these in his writings, interpreting them in the light of the Baha'i teachings and scriptures. Such classical works as the King James Bible influenced his style of writing English, and especially his translations of Baha'i scripture. Subsequent official English translations of Baha'i scripture have largely followed this style.
|Shoghi Effendi's style of translation:
Opening words of Baha'u'llah's Book of Certitude
|No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you and enter thus the tabernacle which, according to the dispensations of Providence, hath been raised in the firmament of the Bayan. [The word Bayan refers to the Holy Book of the Bab.]
1. Much of what Baha’u’llah wrote was in response to questions that came to him from a wide variety of people. Who asked him these questions?
2. Which kings and rulers of the world did Baha’u’llah address and what did he say to them?
3. Much of what ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote was also in response to questions. Who asked him these questions and what sort of issues did they raise?
4. What influenced the writings of Shoghi Effendi?