How much really changed in the Aqdas?

Bahá’u’lláh is said to have written the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in 1873, or perhaps several years earlier. This was relatively early in his ministry, so much was added or amended afterward, but the Aqdas stands as the book that Bahá’u’lláh intended to serve as the foundation of his scriptures. The Aqdas, when viewed with its Islamic, Shi’i, Iranian, and Bayanic origins in mind, presents very little original material, and is hence a very traditional book in the Shi’i style, and it contains much that western Bahá’ís and non-Bahá’ís might find hard to swollow. It is therefore no surprise that the Bahá’í authorities did not complete an authoritative English translation until 120 years after its release in Arabic. Its release in English, along with the advent of the Internet, preceeded a surge in fundamentalism in the previously liberal western Bahá’í community.

First and foremost, the Twin Duties assigned by the Aqdas to all men are (1) belief in Bahá’u’lláh and (2) obedience to his laws and ordinances. ¶1 The Aqdas states quite clearly that good deeds—without satisfying these two duties—are worthless. This fundamentalist doctrine of salvation leaves no room for the unbeliever and those who cannot manage to live by the entirety of Bahá’u’lláh’s rules and regulations, which are—as well shall soon see—quite hard to swallow hole. The Bahá’í community, in fact, does not follow many of the directives of the Aqdas, though they claim they will one day when mankind has reached a sufficient level of maturity.

Unbelievers

There are certainly passages in Bahá’í scripture that exhibit tolerance of the unbeliever, but there are certainly passages that exhibit a less than complimentary attitude:

The peoples of the world are fast asleep. … So bewildered are they in the drunkenness of their evil desires, that they are powerless to recognize the Lord of all being, Whose voice calleth aloud from every direction … 39

Islamic Legalism

One of the most striking characteristics of the Aqdas, especially in light of the fact that such gravity is given to its laws and ordinances, is that a number of important issues are omitted while several less important topics are addressed in great technical detail. What the Aqdas chooses to address appears to follow the pattern of Islamic tradition and Bábí law more than issues that concern modern civilazation. Indeed, the Aqdas itself indicates that Bahá’u’lláh wrote the Aqdas to appease the many contemporary Bahá’ís who saw great importance in addressing Islamic law. ¶98

Severe Punishments

It is not enough to say that the Aqdas endorses capital punishment. In many parts of the world where capital punishment is used, it is reserved for extreme crimes. In the Aqdas, the application of capital punishment is more straightforward: if one kills (with intent), one is to be killed. ¶62

Even stronger is the punishment for arson, which appears to be the equivalent of burning at the stake. ¶62 Not to imply that arson is not a dreadfully serious crime, but isn’t that a bit cruel and unusual? Is there no other crime that calls for a punishment of proportionate cruelty?

Unfair Penalties and Allotments

Though Bahá’u’lláh dealt with a handful of topics in great detail, his handling of these topics left something to be desired with regard to fairness.

One example of this are the flat monetary fines applied to fornication ¶49 and manslaughter ¶188 and flat amounts assigned to dowries ¶66: did it ever occur to Bahá’u’lláh that this approach favors the wealthy? It has the effect of making fornication and manslaughter similarly minor offenses for those who can easily part with a little gold.

I have, on occasion, stopped to wonder how a modern criminal court system might be served by the additional load of fornication cases. I also wonder how people might come to be accused of fornication. It’s good for a laugh or two.

Manslaughter is treated as a civil offense for which the blood money is set to about 11 troy oz. of gold. The fine for first offense adultery is about an ounce.

Marriage and Inheritance

The passages of the Aqdas on marriage ¶63-70 are noticeably gender-biased. Men are permitted to have two wives ¶63 (`Abdu’l-Bahá later abrogated this allowance of bigamy). Men are presumed to be the sole bread winners, so no consideration is given to the likelihood that a woman might work ¶67. Whereas adultery is considered to be an offense that men and women can commit ¶49, divorce appears to be justifiable by female adultery only, for, in keeping with Islamic tradition, divorce is not a two-way street: the man divorces the wife; not the other way around. ¶68.

Dowries are set to a couple ounces of gold for city urban Bahá’ís and a couple ounces of silver for rural Bahá’ís. ¶66 Silver is, of course, worth much less than gold. This system favors rural residents whether they are rich or poor, but more importantly, why even bother with such detail? Why require dowries in a modern age in which wives are presumably no longer possessions?

Bahá’u’lláh’s rules for inheritance clearly favor men over women. ¶20–29 The only defense Bahá’ís have for this is that Bahá’u’lláh’s rules are merely a default to be used when Bahá’ís don’t leave a will (which would be illegal). Is this to suggest that Bahá’u’lláh’s inheritance rules are not to be used, even as a model? Of course they are to be used! If failing to leave a will is forbidden, why else would Bahá’u’lláh have specified these allotments? To punish the female descendants only?
Important Topics Avoided

It seems a bit peculiar that, having dealt with incidental topics in great detail, Bahá’u’lláh found his way to sidestep some important issues, such as circumcision—especially the female variety practiced in parts of the Muslim world. He must have been aware of the practice, yet he did not seem to believe it was an issue deserving of his attention.

Some heinous crimes are not touched by the Aqdas. Thievery is addressed in detail, but robbery—the violent equivalent—is not touched.

The Aqdas does not address sexual crimes such as molestation and rape. These heinous offenses may not have been considered as serious from Bahá’u’lláh’s Islamic perspective, but of course that’s no excuse for a universal manifestation.

Good Old-Fashioned Homophobia

The Aqdas fails to discuss rape, sexual assault, or molestation, but it does express great abhorrance for something it ambiguously calls the subject of boys. ¶107 Shoghi Effendi interpreted this as a general forbiddence of sexual relations between males. As ambiguously grossed out as Bahá’u’lláh appeared to be by the subject of boys, Shoghi Effendi was probably reading Bahá’u’lláh right.

Silly Stuff, But Not Harmless

Though the Bahá’ís claim to respect cultural diversity, the very fabric of the Bahá’í Faith threatens cultural diversity, because the Bahá’í Faith is no mere code of international and interracial good will as it has been sold to us; rather it is a complex set of behavioral codes that dictate manner of dress, eating, worship, marriage, and on and on. One directive that drives this point home is Bahá’u’lláh’s directive on the trimming of hair:

Shave not your heads; God hath adorned them with hair, and in this there are signs from the Lord of creation to those who reflect upon the requirements of nature. He, verily, is the God of strength and wisdom. Notwithstanding, it is not seemly to let the hair pass beyond the limit of the ears. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Lord of all worlds. ¶44

It’s a good thing Shoghi Effendi clarified the prohibition against long hair to be directed only toward men! Still, given the apparent spirit of this passage, consider how Bahá’u’lláh kept his own hair. We have included a photo to assist the reader.

The Roots of Shundamentalism

Shundamentalism, the distictly Bahá’í practice of shunning other Bahá’ís who follow another Bahá’í leader, was put forward again and again by Bahá’u’lláh, and an example is to be found in the Aqdas:

Erelong shall clamorous voices be raised in most lands. Shun them, O My people, and follow not the iniquitous and evil-hearted. This is that of which We gave you forewarning when We were dwelling in Iraq, then later while in the Land of Mystery, and now from this Resplendent Spot. ¶37

Later, in Questions and Answers, Bahá’u’lláh utters this remarkably divisive statement regarding non-Bahá’í family members, giving great legal weight to the practice of shunning apostates:

Any heir, from whichever category of inheritors, who is outside the Faith of God is accounted as non-existent and doth not inherit.
# Answer No 34

Why one should not become—or remain—a Bahá’í, according to the Aqdas

Finally, here are some selections from the Aqdas to help motivate good people to keep clear of the Bahá’í Faith:

It is inadmissible that man, who hath been endowed with reason, should consume that which stealeth it away. ¶119

Burden not an animal with more than it can bear. ¶187



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