Our Daily Bread: They Who Know what God Knows

Today we’re having more fun with Bahá’u’lláh’s Book of Certitude …

Bahá’u’lláh cites verse 3.7 (3.6 according to some) of the Qur’án twice in his Book of Certitude. Here’s how Shoghi Effendi (the second successor of Bahá’u’lláh) translated the passage (he translates each citation differently):

None knoweth the interpretation thereof but God and they that are well-grounded in knowledge.

None knoweth the meaning thereof except God and them that are well-grounded in knowledge.

This seems to be saying “no one knows except those who know.” How absurdly circular! But in defense of the Qur’án, every broadly-recognized English translation of that book makes it quite clear that this is not what the Qur’án is saying.

Pickthall:

None knoweth its explanation save Allah. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord;…

Yusuf ‘Alí:

no one knows its hidden meanings except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: “We believe in the Book; the whole of it is from our Lord:”

Rodwell:

none knoweth its interpretation but God. And the stable in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it: it is all from our Lord.’

It turns out, though, that all these translations represent the dominant Sunni point of view, that the ultimate meaning of the Qur’án is known only to God. The Shí’a read it differently, as exemplified by Maulana Muhammad `Alí’s Ahmadiyyah translation:

And none knows its interpretation save Alláh, and those firmly rooted in knowledge.

The Shí’a reading, that “only the knowers know” turns out to be the scriptural foundation for the idolatrous Shí’ah doctrine of ta’wil.

What’s so idolatrous about it? First, if men can achieve perfect, divine, knowledge, then men can become equals—or at least partners—of God. They can become infallible, as the Twelver Shí’a regard their “14 infallibles”. By the same reasoning, it is also an elitist doctrine, thereby contrary to what many Muslims consider to be the egalitarian spirit of Islám. Second, if the Qur’án is the perfect word of God and it can be understood perfectly, then the Qur’án itself is an idol; a divine image.

Ok, so it’s idolatrous, but what’s wrong with a little divine imagery? Here’s what’s wrong with it. If a man makes an idol of an image, he becomes enslaved to that image. If a man makes an idol of an idea, he becomes enslaved to that idea. If a man makes an idol of another man, he becomes enslaved to that man.

The whole thrust of Islam is against this kind of enslavement to anyone or anything but God, yet it is a hard lesson to learn. Even though the Qur’án makes it clear that Muhammad was a man who could err and be scolded by God, most Muslims have made Muhammad superhuman, and the Shí’a—particularly the Baháí—have made him an image of God.


We should not be surprised that Bahá’u’lláh, himself a Shí’a, puts such emphasis on the Shí’a interpretation of an ambiguous verse:

And yet, they themselves testify to this verse: “None knoweth the interpretation thereof but God and they that are well-grounded in knowledge.” And when He Who is well-grounded in all knowledge, He Who is the Mother, the Soul, the Secret, and the Essence thereof, revealeth that which is the least contrary to their desire, they bitterly oppose Him and shamelessly deny Him. —Kitáb-i-Íqán

Even as He saith: “None knoweth the meaning thereof except God and them that are well-grounded in knowledge.” And yet, they have sought the interpretation of the Book from those that are wrapt in veils, and have refused to seek enlightenment from the fountain-head of knowledge. —Kitáb-i-Íqán

So let’s not blame the translator, even though he cannot decide between the words “they” and “them” (who can blame him?).

Our Daily Bread: Narcissus

It is evident that, for all of his faults, Bahá’u’lláh had no lack of self-esteem:

Would ye laugh to scorn and contend with Him, a single hair of Whose head excelleth, in the sight of God, all that are in the heavens and all that are on the earth?
—Suriy-i-Haykal (Sura of the Temple)

This passage helps us to understand why Bahá’u’lláh let his hair grow so wildly, in spite of forbidding long hair in his book of laws.

This “Sura of the Temple” is also known as the “Sura of the Body”.

John Walbridge writes:

In the Súratu’l-Haykal the primary sense of haykal is the human body, particularly the body of the Manifestation of God, …

Adib Taherzadeh reported in Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh that Bahá’u’lláh wrote that he was both the author and the addressee of this Tablet. We can almost hear Bahá’u’lláh crying into the reflection pool, “make Me to be thine Idol!”

For more information, see Tablet of the Temple by Jonah Winters.

Our Daily Bread: The Good, the Bad, & the Idol

I’ve got a pile of quotations that I don’t know what to do with, so I’m going to attempt to process them by means of a new quote of the day feature.

Let’s start with one from Baha’u’llah’s Sura of the Temple (Suriy-i-Haykal), a sura that was not published in English until 2002, about 133 years after its final revision (that’s right, this scripture underwent a revision process).

Today’s slice is a passage that made the final cut, concerning the personification of Good and Evil.

“The Evil One hath appeared in such wise as the eye of creation hath never beheld. He Who is the Beauty of the All-Merciful hath likewise been made manifest with an adorning the like of which hath never been witnessed in the past. The Call of the All-Merciful hath been raised, and behind it the call of Satan.” —Baha’u’llah

I wonder how one is expected to interpret the closing sentence. Is the call of Satan behind the call of God, such that it might be thought to be coming from the same direction? From the same source?

I doubt that any Baha’i would interpret the phrase He Who is the Beauty of the All-Merciful as anything but an explicit reference to the author, Baha’u’llah. Thus God is once again made flesh, but that’s nothing new.

What’s also interesting about this passage is that Baha’u’llah is juxtaposed against the Evil One. Is Satan also manifested as is God?

I know. I know. Baha’is say they don’t believe in Satan. Perhaps, but I have no doubt that Baha’is are taught to be wary of dark, dangerous, and infectiously evil souls. So is it not likely, then, that one soul in particular has come to manifest a Satanic spirit? If so, who is this masked man?

Could it be … Baha’u’llah?

The Trinity of Islam

I was raised a trinitarian of sorts. I was taught that the Prophets of God are like perfect mirrors, where God is like the sun. The sunlight, though not God, was like the spirit of God—what Christians call the Holy Spirit and my Baha’i friends sometimes call the Maid of Heaven. The idea is that if you want to see God, all you have to do is look in the mirror. I mean—you know what I mean—don’t you?

Muhammad and Gabriel

Muhammad and Gabriel

Now that’s behind us; let’s look at Islam. How does it compare?

Islam’s creed gets off to a great start:

I testify that there is no god but God, …

… but then in falls into idolatry mid-sentence:

… and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.

 

If we are somewhat generous, we might recognize unitarianism in the first phrase of the creed; an assertion that no man can claim any partnership with God.

Unfortunately, that lofty ideal is nullified by the second phrase, which essentially causes the creed to state, “There is no god but God, but every word and act of Muhammad is of God.” Just look at how Muslims generally revere Muhammad as the perfect example of man.

There you have it: a divine incarnation; God in the flesh.

It doesn’t do any good to debate whether God really is incarnate. The only thing we need concern ourselves with is, as they say, the taste of the pudding. Is it a divine image, or isn’t it?

Now Muslims may insist that there’s a difference between “what would Jesus do?” and “what would Muhammad do?”, but I think it all comes down to a choice from among idols.

Moving right along, Muslims generally consider the Qur’an, that is, the words spoken by the Angel Gabriel, to be inerrant and uncreated (eternal). That sure sounds a lot like the Holy Spirit to me. What do you think?

So let us review. The following are the fundamental elements of Islam (more fundamental than the pillars themselves):

1) Father = Allah

2) Son = Muhammad

3) Holy Spirit = Gabriel (uncreated, divine words spoken by Holy Angel)

These three things that Muslims revere above all else are ultimately one in spirit; that is to say, they are one in their divine purpose. They are one so far as the believer is concerned. Muhammad may not be God in his essence, but he is divine in appearance; he is a “mirror”, as the Baha’is say. Is this not a trinity?

I have for years regarded my religion of birth, the Baha’i Faith, to be a trinitarian corruption of Islam, but lately I’m beginning to realize that Islam has been trinitarian from its beginning. I have on several occasions accused Baha’is of elevating Muhammad to a divine station that Islam does not claim. I’m beginning to suspect that I was mistaken.

Sorry guys!

Minions of the Millennium

Recent news in the Baha’i world of “mass teaching” efforts remind me of one of my favorite songs from childhood. It was a Baha’i-ified traditional C-major tune with an occasional descending B-flat for blues effect, probably a Negro spiritual, that I knew as “We Are Soldiers in God’s Army”. I’ve been teaching myself to play it on violin lately, and have felt compelled to some liberty with the lyrics.

The Baha’i lyrics are best described as millenarian, Biblical, and didactic; in general, a call to convert the masses. They begin as follows:

Now the Báb blew His trumpet
Announcing to the world the time had come
And like a thief in the night, He came by the Gate
And said He was the Promised One

Verse after verse, the song parades Baha’i leaders before us, exhorting Baha’is to get out and proselytize in the footsteps of their leaders:

Bahá’u’lláh was the Prophet
He had the Word that is right for now
And when the road got rough and the going got tough
He just stood there and taught anyhow

These verses refrain a curious conflict of tenses (perfect vs. imperfect) that brings to mind some of the intrinsic problems with universal progressive revelation, such as “if it was right for now 150 years ago, is it right for the present “now”? And, “is it really right for everybody?

The chorus goes as follows:

We are soldiers in God’s army
We gotta stop and teach the Word for now
We gotta hold a lotta love and unity
We gotta hold it up until we die

I don’t have much of a problem with the verses, as they tend to say so much about the predominant Baha’i state of mind, and truly, the chorus does as well, but I think some variations on the chorus might do the song some good. For example:

(Oh-oh-oh-owoh-oh …)
We are minions of the Millennium
We gotta stop–and think for ourselves
It’s time to see (its time to see beyond our idol called “Unity”)
It’s time to break it down so we can see.

Here the singer turns from the mic and says “break it down”, whereupon the maestro steps into his A-major improvisation.

Post-solo:

We are minions of the Millennium
We gotta stop–and “see with our own eyes”
We gotta think instead of followin’ the leader
There’s more to life than playin’ “Simon says”

And finally, as the music fades:

We are minions of the Millennium
We’ve had our fun–playin’ blind man’s bluff
We gotta think (we gotta think instead of followin’ the leader)
We gotta use our eyes so we can see.

Offender of the Faithful?

This blog got its name “Idol Chatter” for a reason, or even a couple of reasons. First of all, the blogger is a rather militant unitarian (note lowercase ‘u’). Secondly, he tries not to take his own chatter too seriously.

By “unitarian” is here meant anyone who recognizes the tendency of leaders, doctrines, and ideologies to become idols that stand in the way of our search for truth. Idolatry, according to this school of thought, is a mighty sly shape-shifting devil. As a former Unitarian minister once challenged us:

“We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is through a transfer of the idolatry.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Similarly, a Greek philosopher once cautioned:

“It is wise to listen not to me, but to the Logos, …” — Heraclitus

I use the term “unitarian” because this cautious mode of thinking is embodied in the Unitarian tradition, in which some Christians long ago determined that worshiping Jesus is missing the message of Jesus, who did not forbid blasphemy against himself, but rather forbade blasphemy against “the spirit”. It is the spirit of the message that gives life, he said, not the flesh of the messenger; not even the letter of the message.

In this sense, we can see that Jesus, whom some identify with the Logos, was not so different from Nietzsche’s anti-prophet Zarathustra:

“All the names of good and evil are parables: they do not declare, but only hint. Whoever among you seeks knowledge of them is a fool!” — Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The Great Iconoclast

Imagine if you will a medieval man, centuries after Christ, who was familiar with Judaism and Christianity. Imagine that this man was impressed by the Judaic aversion to idolatry, but also recognized Christ as a man—or messenger—of Truth. Imagine that he rejected the Trinity, and the notion that Jesus is God. Imagine that this man became quite well known for his opinion that Jesus is not God, such that we might consider him the first Unitarian. Imagine that he was a man of his time, and realizing the efficacy of power, mustered an army and ordered that army to pursue idolators and smash idols to the ends of the earth.

Let us call this man, for lack of a better name, Muhammad. Maybe this man was so single-minded about smashing idols that he might be called a prophet. Perhaps he was such a dedicated Unitarian that he rejected the very possibility of any religion other than the religion of Unitarianism, going so far as to call himself “the Seal of the Prophets”:

“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of God, and the seal of the prophets: and God knoweth all things.” Qur’an (Rodwell translation)

Let us further imagine that this man was seen by by his enemies as a militant religious fanatic and his followers as a crusader for his god Allah. Perhaps we can imagine that they had him wrong. Perhaps we can imagine that he was after something more fundamental, and that the rest—his doctrines, methods, and even his personal beliefs—was all circumstantial.

Idolatry in Islam

The man in the painting is not going bowling. If we look closely enough, we find that even Muhammad was an idolator; but who isn’t? Shall Muslims be permitted to rise above the man? Not if they continue to idolize him.

It is commonly understood that Islam means “submission”, but submission to what? Submission to Islam? Certainly not. That would be circular, would it not? It has always been understood to mean “submission to God”; but what is God? Is God to be taken as the Islamic image of God, “Allah”, or is God to be taken as that ultimate, unknowable creative essence behind—or within—things? Perhaps the core meaning of Islam is “submission to no idol, however subtle”.

“Seek knowledge even unto China” — Muhammad

If we were to take this as the essence of Islam, could this not be a religion of the future? Could we go so far as to say that Islam is faith in Reason? If this seems like too much of a stretch, can we at least see how Islam might be seen as a medieval attempt to free humanity of idolatry?

Let the true Muslims step forward to smash the idols of Islam.