Translations of Shaykhi, Babi and Baha'i Texts, vol. 2, no. 5 (August, 1998)

Two Letters of `Abdu'l-Baha to Mirza Haydar `Ali Usku'i

Trans. and Intro. Juan R. I. Cole

I. Letter Regarding contacts with Crown Prince Muhammad `Ali Mirza and the Difference between the Bayan and the Most Holy Book

A. Introduction

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Subject: Bayan vs. Aqdas and Muhammad `Ali Mirza

. . . I [have] . . . translated a . . . letter that had caught my eye that
speaks of contacts in Tabriz with the Crown Prince Muhammad `Ali Mirza, the
provisioning of him at his request with Baha'i books, and that makes a
strong contrast between the theocratic tendencies of the Bayan and a
separation of religion and state in the Kitab-i Aqdas or Most Holy Book. I
am not, however, entirely sure which exact verses in the Aqdas were held by
`Abdu'l-Baha to have abrogated the Bayan's Mahdist tendencies . . .


Juan Cole
U of Michigan

B. Translation

`Abdu’l-Baha/ Haydar `Ali Usku’i in Tabriz. Undated but before the end of 1906.

He is God.

Servant of the most glorious Beauty, who has drawn near: I read what you had written. Praise God that you are busy in serving the Cause and are the recipient of invisible confirmations.

With regard to the bank official of whom you wrote, do whatever you can to cooperate commercially with the bank and its officers. The friends should cooperate with the bank with complete truthfulness, and should provide it with their trade information and show friendliness. But should the bank officials inquire about state affairs and seek information, reply with perfect sincerity that we do not interfere in state affairs. By the decisive text, we are completely forbidden. In no way do we converse about the government nor do we interfere. Therefore excuse yourselves in this regard: “It is for us to treat you with truthfulness, trustworthiness, and respect. To the extent possible we shall cooperate in commercial matters but we will not intervene in political affairs.”

As for the books that the most honorable crown prince wanted and which were given to him, congratulations! But if he speaks one word of the Bayan, say that in the Bayan are obsolete matters that have been abrogated by the Most Holy Book. For the book of revealed law of the Baha’is and the source for them all is the Kitab-i Aqdas, and the Kitab-i Aqdas is the book of the most glorious Beauty (Baha’u’llah). We are commanded to follow it. Haydar `Ali, you know that there are many matters in the Bayan that have been abrogated in the Most Holy Book. Among these is interference in the affairs of the government. By the text of the Kitab-i Aqdas this is abrogated. Therefore say that even copies of the Bayan are very rare among Baha’is.

Upon you be greetings and praise.



II. Letter regarding Evolution


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Subject: `Abdu'l-Baha on evolution

Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 02:50:23 -0400
From: Juan Cole <jrcole@umich.edu>
Subject: `Abdu'l-Baha on evolution

I share below a translation of the letter from `Abdu'l-Baha to Haydar `Ali
Usku'i, from a photocopy of a manuscript in private hands. The entire MS
consists of letters to Usku'i. They are all signed `Ayn `Ayn and their
content demonstrates indubitably their authenticity to anyone who has read
a lot of `Abdu'l-Baha.

This letter comes not long after one that concerns Baha'i relations with
Muhammad `Ali Mirza, the Crown Prince, in Tabriz. That letter cannot be
dated after 1906. The letters range widely in time, coming down to about
1911, and this one could well be from the opening years of the 20th century.

I think it is possible to develop a theology or metaphysics that finds a
way to continue to make essentialist discourse about the species
meaningful. All that I am saying is that one must be clear-eyed about what
exactly `Abdu'l-Baha said on the subject of evolution, and what arguments
he put forward for his case. In the instance below, he has simply been
misled by not understanding that speciation occurs in a time frame of
hundreds of thousands or millions, not of merely a few thousands, of years.
This is an error. Only once we admit that it is an error with regard to
the physical world do we have the grounds to go forward to examine
`Abdu'l-Baha's insistence on the uniqueness of the human species. One
could define a 'human essence' as simply the statistical mean of the human
genome, e.g.

It seems to me also possible that when `Abdu'l-Baha tried this argument for
the static nature of the animals out on Westerners like Clifford Barney and
later in the U.S., they gently informed him of the evidence for species
change. He then switched to allowing for microevolution within species,
but not for macroevolution or speciation.

As for Peter Smith's correct observation that rejecting evolution, as many
Baha'is do, brings starkly into question Baha'i commitment to the unity of
religion and science: It is my own experience that conservative Baha'is
believe in something like Creation Science and that they code the 'unity of
religion and science' to mean that science must be subordinated to Baha'i
scriptural literalism.


Juan Cole
U of Michigan

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From: Bill Garlington
Subject: species essence

Date: Tue, 11 Aug 1998 17:31:32 -0400
From: Juan Cole
Subject: species essence

Many, many thanks to further excellent contributions on this thread . . .

With regard to the passage I translated, I would like to stand by my translation of `uluw as exaltation and dunuw as abasement, since there is a spatial element in the etymology. It seems to me self-evident that this passage is earlier than and contradictory to later statements of `Abdu'l-Baha in which he admits to physical changes in species over time, and that it is evidence that he changed his mind on this issue. And I would like to point out that this entire short passage is suffused with a moral order that is very much tied to physicality.

Thus, animals have qabi:h. or ugly faces, whereas human faces are beautiful. Their 'species essence' is manifest in their physical forms, which he at this point thought changeless. He gives archeological evidence that human beings have never looked like animals, that the physical 'ugliness' of the animal was never visible on the beautiful human countenance. 'There is no alteration in the creation of God.' Animals are abased (and when human beings become abased they descend toward--but do not reach--the animal) whereas human beings are exalted, especially as they ascend away from the animal toward the spiritual. The scales of exaltation and abasement, physical beauty and physical ugliness create the grid for this static view of the cosmos.

So, I agree that what is salvageable from `Abdu'l-Baha's thought on evolution is his vision of a Platonic archetype ("species") of the human being, and the spiritual attributes he sees in it. But I just want to insist that he did not limit himself to speaking of these spiritual realities; he thought the archetypes were consistent with the physical realities, and that the physical realities either were unchanging or changed only in minor ways, and that the bodies of human beings and of animals were in key ways completely different from one another, lacking any genealogical relatedness. The differentiation of lifeworlds implicit in modernity requires us to acknowledge a universe where the archetypes and the bodies do not always accord with one another.


Juan Cole
U of Michigan

B. Translation

`Abdu'l-Baha/Mirza Haydar `Ali Uskui in Tabriz, c. 1904?

You who are firm in the covenant: I have read what you wrote. Praise be to
God that you are safe in the cave of security from tests and trials, and
are basking in the gaze of the eye of loving kindness. You wrote with
regard to the historian and your dialogue with him . . . do not give him
the Most Holy Book. Give such persons tablets like the *Effulgences*, the
*Splendors*, the *Glad-Tidings*. You spoke of Aqa Mirza Hasan, who is
attracted to God. Praise be to God that he has been led by the light of
guidance. But it is not necessary for him to resign from his work. If
they had such a custom they would themslves know that Aqa Mirza Hasan is
self-supporting. But it is better that he not resign.

With regard to the creation, say to that historian that the divinity and
lordship of God have no beginning, and in the same way the attributes of
creatorhood, nurturing, and other divine perfections have no beginning and
shall have no end. That is, the creation has existed from the beginning
that has no beginning and shall exist till the end that has no end. The
species and quiddity of things is unchanging. In the final analysis,
exaltation and abasement occur within species. For instance, the human
species, and the human quiddity, has always been preserved and safeguarded
and always shall be. For as can be seen, the ancient preserved mummies
that they brought out of the pyramids, from the time of whose death five
thousand years have elapsed, differ not a hair's breadth from human beings
[today]. In the same way, the images of animals that are found in Akhmim
are precisely like present-day animals, with the same proportions and the
same ugly features. Human beings are human beings, with that praiseworthy
and beautiful visage. There is no alteration in the cration of God.

Upon you be greetings and praise.

Source: Manuscript of letters from `Abdu'l-Baha to Mirza Haydar `Ali Usku'i, photocopy in private hands.

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