Green and Pleasant Hell, Dark Satanic Heaven

Published in Sofia – the magazine of Sea of Faith – Easter 2015
William Blake mused if Jerusalem could have been ‘builded’ here among the dark satanic mills and Hubert Parry set these sentiments to music to create a hymn still popular today. Later in the poem Blake looked forward to a time when we would have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. Presumably he was thinking of Revelation 21 verse 2 where it says, ‘And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.’ In his poem, ‘Jerusalem’, Blake wrote ‘And fair Jerusalem his Bride: Among the little meadows green’. Many saw a ‘new Jerusalem’ symbolically represent the advent of a just and peaceful age. At the end of the 18th century Blake’s beloved London still had many rural settings within it with pretty villages like Chelsea and Highgate. It may be that Blake inadvertently planted in peoples’ minds an image of Britain’s greenery and dreamy spires being a potential earthly paradise. However, it would seem that, contrary to most peoples’ assumptions, it was the dark satanic mills that would ultimately hold the keys to paradise rather than a green and pleasant land.

Thirty years after Blake penned this, Loveless and ‘Others’ were in court, accused by ‘Regina’ of forming a ‘friendly society’ and, worse than that, swearing an oath. They were all loyal sons of the soil working in the Dorset ‘green and pleasant’ but were transported to Australia, basically, for daring to suggest fair wages. They did not serve their full sentence due to 800,000 people signing a petition and a march taking place in London. A Dorset vicar had labeled George Loveless a ‘strife maker’ and ‘peace breaker’ and called him that ‘wicked man’. George replied that he and his church were indifferent and hypocritical. The vast majority of the protesters must have been employed in the dark satanic mills for there to have been such a large number.
Tolpuddle was not a one off outrage. For years leading up to the Tolpuddle trial, farm workers were harassed for protesting about lower wages and mechanization, some being executed. The Wroughton labourers in Wiltshire were so angry they smoked their pipes in the churchyard. It sounds a very strange protest but at the time the Church of England was financially linked to the government and ostensibly in tandem with it. The aggrieved Wroughton labourers lived in abject fear of their masters. They resided in tied cottages and one whiff of revolt or insubordination and they and their families would have been evicted, left homeless, penniless and unsupported. No doubt lighting up in the church yard was a coded message of discontent.
In 1848, twelve years after the trial of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Church of England introduced a new hymn which had the lines;
‘The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.’
In hindsight we now know the perilous position of the man at the gate and the arrogant contempt the castle owner had for him.
The fragile justice, fairness and equality we enjoy in many parts of the world today did not begin in a rural landscape where sheep may safely graze. It actually had its roots as a practical reality in factories. The first factories were far from dark and satanic as many were sited in beautiful wooded valleys due to the fact that they needed a stream to power the water wheel. Ironically many of them are now shopping outlets and tourist attractions due to the beauty of their surroundings.
Derbyshire claims its Arkwright water powered spinning mills were the world’s first factories. Most of his employees were children and he granted them an annual holiday as long as they did not leave the village. So Arkwright may have started the factories but he did not start the road to an earthly paradise. That honour went to Matthew Boulton and James Watt and the group who belonged to Birmingham’s Lunar Society. At the end of the 18th Century it attracted philosophers, inventors and entrepreneurs anxious to make sense of the changes afoot with burgeoning industrialisation.
The club included Charles Darwin’s physician grandfather, Erasmus, Josiah Wedgewood a relative of Erasmus and renowned potter, James Watt, the inventor, fresh down from Glasgow in search of kindred spirits and scientist and philosopher Joseph Priestly. Its pivot was Matthew Boulton and the meetings were often in his house. Needless to say members came and went but all deep thinkers and dynamic and most were avowed abolitionists. Sadly in the modern world there are an estimated 30,000,000 slaves in the world, half of whom are in India and around the world 5,500,000 children are slaves. The ‘Lunarticks’, as they called themselves, must be spinning in their graves.
Among their concerns and deliberations was a fair, just and equitable society. Religiously most of the members were dissenters of some sort. Joseph Priestly was a noted Unitarian who eventually left for the USA due to persecution. There were also Quakers and other non-conformists and members whose inventiveness and philosophy was more important to them than their religious affiliation. Benjamin Franklin became a friend and visitor when he was in in the country.
Matthew Boulton, with the aid of James Watt opened a factory to make steam engines that had a personnel management plan, sickness benefits, a welfare system for the workers and an overall atmosphere of care and concern. Most factories built afterwards modelled themselves on Soho Foundry but many omitted the welfare aspect and so the rest of the 19th century saw a titanic parliamentary struggle between those who wanted to get women and children out of dangerous occupations and back breaking drudgery, introduce realistic working hours, protect workers, set up workable inspections and those who did not see a need as each reform ate into profits and was believed to make the country poorer.
The reason dark satanic mills were the catalyst for a better society was that they caused large numbers of people to gather together for the first time. Farm workers were scattered and sparse and could not congregate easily to discuss and air their grievances. Factories suddenly had large numbers of aggrieved people working together. People who were underpaid, overworked, exploited, and susceptible to exposed danger, cheated and in their tiny, begrudged meal breaks they would talk to each other and complain about the injustice they suffered. From this came the Chartists.
The mills and mines of the north of England, the Midlands and South Wales saw the fermentation of this movement, starting four years after the Tolpuddle farm workers were transported. It lasted twenty years up to 1858 and attracted millions of workers to sign their petitions seeking one man – one vote, access to parliament as MP’s for the poor as well as the rich, paid MP’s for the same reason, secret, uninhibited ballots, equal constituencies and regular elections. The duration of the parliamentary struggle is evidenced in that while factories started to be built in the latter half of the18th century it was 1871 before Trade Unions were legalised, exactly one hundred years after Arkwright’s mill in Derbyshire was opened. Commentators believe, despite many Factory Reform Acts in Parliament, it was the 1878 act that was finally inspected effectively to ensure compliance. 1870 saw the act that basically got all children in school. Thus, it was a century from the first factories to effective reforms having a widespread influence in society generally.
The Chartist struggled for some time against most Christian churches and chapels due to the idea that meddling in politics and the business of commerce and manufacture was not becoming of a spiritual life. The nonconformists were generally eventually won round to the idea that Christianity could be practical and Jesus might have been shocked at the practices evolved across much of industrial Britain. The Church of England, on the other hand, did not take kindly to the chartist call to separate church from state and so most working men, as George Loveless discovered, were seen by them trouble makers upsetting a status quo they cherished.
Objections to reform centred on various arguments. Paying the workers more and giving them shorter hours would just lead to increased drunkenness and it was better for children to work than wander the streets in idleness (seemingly never occurred to them to open schools). Despite this, reformers ploughed ahead and change did, very slowly, occur.
Legalising trade unions was not benevolence, it was bowing to pressure after a century of illegal efforts to represent workers’ rights. Efforts that saw draconian punishments for those exposed in their endeavours. Sadly justice, fairness and equality are not evolutionary. They have to be fought over, argued about and introduced slowly. Once established they remain fragile and vulnerable. Evidence today how many reputable and international companies ‘outsource’ to third world countries. That would be wonderful if the rights and protection enjoyed here were extended to these workers but it clearly is not. Possibly more people currently die or are injured working in third world clothing workshops than in traditionally dangerous occupations such as mining and construction. Buildings collapse or catch fire without emergency provision, training or means of escape or the merest hint of concern from anyone in authority. To increase profits western employers and their shareholders appear more than willing to perpetuate a dark satanic hell if it is sufficiently far away.
In 1920 Shoghi Effendi, the great grandson of the founder of the Baha’i Faith visited Manchester. He was studying at Oxford and made several visits to the fledgling Baha’i community in Manchester. One of its stalwarts, John Craven, took the twenty three year old Shoghi Effendi on a tour of the linotype works where he was employed. I can only assume that John Craven was immensely proud of his place of employment as it epitomised all the hard won industrial reforms that made it orderly, fair and just. A year later Shoghi Effendi, at twenty four years old found himself head of the Baha’i Faith with the title ‘Guardian’. Central to His great grandfather’s teachings were justice, equality, honesty, trustworthiness and fairness in all that was enacted by Baha’is. Shoghi Effendi set himself the task of bringing those principles into reality in the Baha’i community through its ‘administration,’ central to which was freely elected assemblies and, for every individual, a right to be heard.
Ultimately if these principles can imbue the practices of the governments and employers of the world then, indeed, Jerusalem will be builded here and the practicality of this process took its first faltering steps in dark satanic mills.


Studying the Tablet of All Food: Acuto October 2014

Surah of Imran
All food was lawful to the Children of Israel, except what Israel made unlawful for himself before the Torah was revealed.

The Tablet of All Food – Lawh-i- Kullu’ta’am – was revealed in Arabic by Baha’u’llah to Haji Mirza Kamalu’d-Din-i-Naraqi, a follower of the Báb, in answer to his question about the above verse in the Quran. It was during Baha’u’llah’s early days in Baghdad and an answer had been previously composed inadequately by Mirza Yahya, causing great disappointment to the recipient. Concerning Baha’u’llah’s response Shoghi Effendi recorded; ‘Turning to Bahá’u’lláh and repeating his request, he was honoured by a Tablet, in which Israel and his children were identified with the Báb and His followers respectively—a Tablet which by reason of the allusions it contained, the beauty of its language and the cogency of its argument, so enraptured the soul of its recipient that he would have, but for the restraining hand of Bahá’u’lláh, proclaimed forthwith his discovery of God’s hidden Secret in the person of the One Who had revealed it.’ (God Passes By p116-117)

Those attending this course had an opportunity to study an unpublished provisional English translation of this tablet. Presumably, like me, for most Baha’is present this was a first encounter with it other than brief references in Adib Taherzadeh’s ‘The Revelation of Baha’u’llah; Volume 1’ or Hasan Balyuzi’s ‘Baha’u’llah; King of Glory’. During the introduction in Acuto reference was made to a published commentary by Stephen Lamden but he, like other western scholars, was able to read the original Arabic and make observations from that.

A question to myself, therefore, was, why this tablet and why now? For many gathered at this meeting there was a shared reaction that it was very different in style from the freely available officially translated Writings we were used to. I can only assume that official translations were made available in respect of a perception of priority. Prior to Shoghi Effendi embarking on translating the Writings in earnest, coinciding with his arrival in Oxford, earlier translations were made. Possibly the most commendable at the time were those of Ali-Kuli Khan, assisted by his daughter Marzieh Gail. Their exquisite translation of the Seven Valleys, for example, was published in 1945. Marzieh, herself, became a prolific translator, and she assisted the Universal House of Justice right up to her passing. An example of her translation is the following; ‘Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief.’ However, Shoghi Effendi, while still in his early twenties and before he became the Guardian, saw fit to re-translate ‘Tarazat’ already available from Ali-Kuli Khan’s translation.

Shoghi Effendi first translations, under the guidance of Abdu’l-Baha, included Tarazat, as mentioned, Bisharat, Tajalliyat, the Epistles to Napoleon III and Queen Victoria, the Hidden Words, the Kitáb-i-Íqán and various others, including prayers. It might seem to most western Baha’is that there was a process involved in unfolding to the west Baha’u’llah’s main, broad-stroke principles that would guide them to realign their lives away from previous interpretations of both the spirit and action of religious living and aid them to build communities based on these new principles. ‘Gleanings’, for example, translated and compiled by Shoghi Effendi was published in 1935.Of it Martha Root had reported to Shoghi Effend, referring to Queen Marie of Romania’s appreciation, ‘She spoke too of several Bahá’í books, the depths of “Íqán,” and especially of “Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh,” which she said was a wonderful book! To quote her own words: ‘Even doubters would find a powerful strength in it, if they would read it alone, and would give their souls time to expand.’ (God Passes By p250) In Ruhiyyih Khanum’s memoirs of The Guardian she notes that after composing ‘God Passes By’ in 1944, Shoghi Effendi was unable to devote any more time to the work of translation due to his other pressing responsibilities. His final translation was ‘Epistle to the Son of the Wolf ‘published in 1941.
It might be worth reflecting that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was not released in its entirety to the west until 1992. Thus, western Baha’is and their communities had grown and developed in their personal and community lives based on general principles rather than detailed commandments. However, the western community and the United States in particular received detailed instructions from Shoghi Effendi in his guidance on building the administrative order. That guidance, of course, was inspired by, in Dr Rafati’s words, the ‘gems’ in the Writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdul Baha. Thus, Baha’i knowledge and experience in the west centred largely on a broad understanding of living a spiritual life as envisioned by Baha’u’llah and explained by Abdu’l-Baha, understanding progressive revelation and the need for unity at many levels and, added to this, Shoghi Effendi’s specific and detailed instructions of how to elect assemblies, sustain them and fulfil the duties of membership and obedience to the covenant as represented in respect for and allegiance to its institutions. ‘The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh’ (a compilation), ‘The Promised Day is Come’ and ‘Advent of Divine Justice’ contain nearly 160,000 words and his letters to individuals and institutions just in the United Kingdom published in ‘Unfolding Destiny ’comes to nearly the same, 160,000 words and these are just part of Shoghi Effendi’s prolific output in respect of guidance to the Baha’is of the West.

The release of the Kitab-i-Aqdas to the west and rolling out laws such as huqúqu’lláh and the very recent introduction of the Badi calendar worldwide may indicate that the world-wide Baha’i community, protected by the shell of the established administrative order, can safely move forward in knowing and applying a much fuller understanding of Baha’u’llah’s revelation and His laws and ordinances. Thus, in Acuto, in October 2014, a group of ardent students gathered to study a tablet new to many in both in content and style.

In this Tablet, which Dr Rafati explained is a Tafsir (exegesis – critical explanation or interpretation), there are recurring references to Israel, the Israelites and, naturally, food. An overarching theme is that religious understanding and practise, with each succeeding manifestation, should move away from literal interpretations of scripture to metaphorical understandings. Truth, Baha’u’llah makes clear in later writings, is ‘relative’ not ‘absolute’ as affirmed by Shoghi Effendi; ‘The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh … is that religious truth is not absolute but relative..’(The Promised day is Come p2) and the world community can only now move forward through consultation, universal participation and compromise. Thus, each of the recurring references to food, Israel and the Israelites have several metaphorical meanings. Food, for example, refers to the bearer of a cause, allegiance, the Bab, love for the Bab and the need for people to begin to value deeds above words. Israel indicates Muhammad, the Primal Point, the Bab, the Primal Will, the Point of the Quran, and the Manifestation of Command (Baha’u’llah Himself). The Israelites refers to Mirza Yahya, all Babis from 1844 to 1863 and the original children of Israel, the Jews. The style reflects one familiar to students of the Shaykhi School and would probably have been expected by the recipient.
Dr Rafati felt it necessary to familiarise us with the very complex history of Islam and the intricate and many layered philosophical and theological rivalries between its factions. This, in my mind, hinted at my question of why this tablet and why now? On pilgrimage in 1982 a pilgrim asked the speaker, why are Baha’is not more conspicuously involved in helping their fellow man by working, for example, with charities? The House member presiding explained that sometimes the ‘important’ must be sacrificed for the ‘most important’. At that time the Baha’i world was still very engaged in the monumental and world-wide task of creating a fully functioning and effective administrative order, a task that would ultimately rescue the world in ways the charities of the day could not. During the first decades of the Formative Age when the administration was being constructed, and successive teaching plans saw Baha’i communities spread across the world, Islam was rarely featured in news bulletins or media outlets and was not in the consciousness of most people outside Islamic countries. That has changed drastically and suddenly and currently, for whatever reason in the spiritual evolution of the planet, it would be difficult to go anywhere in the world and not see in all media, reports of activities related to the events connected to Islam unfolding on the world stage. Thus, now might be a very useful time to understand all the contests, spiritual and intellectual, that have led to such violent disunity and disintegration. To be able to study this particular tablet with a glimpse of the history behind it proved very apposite.

It is possible that different students at this conference left with different emphases on what they felt was learned and the importance of it to their own personal development in a growing understanding of Baha’u’llah and His revelation. If pressed I think I would say that my interest in learning so much about the revelation of this tablet was very much about the person of Baha’u’llah. Due to antiquity we, in truth, know very little about the previous manifestations and what we know is sometimes difficult to verify due to the dearth of authentic accounts. With the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, on the other hand, authentic insights into character and personality are legion. However, there is an irony. The central figures each had their own specific mission and none desired to have attention to themselves distract people from their central message and aims. Abdul Baha averred his only station was; ‘Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection is my glorious and refulgent diadem’. (Dispensation of Baha’u’llah p50) Shoghi Effendi stated he was; ‘a true brother, united with them in our common servitude to the Master’s Sacred Threshold’. (Guardian of the Baha’i Faith p26)

Baha’u’llah’s circumstance at the revelation of this tablet was that He had been mercilessly chained in the prison of Tehran, forced to travel with His family over five hundred miles across hostile mountainous territory in winter with only summer clothes, arriving in Baghdad to find the Bábi community in chaotic disarray. Despite these unimaginable difficulties, on hearing of Mirza Kamalu’d-Din’s disappointment He felt moved to reveal this answer, fraught, as explained to us by Dr Rafati, with complex risks and difficulties. Baha’u’llah makes His distress clear when He says in the Tablet; “Oceans of sadness have surged over Me, a drop of which no soul could bear to drink. Such is My grief that My soul hath well-nigh departed from My body…Give ear, O Kamál! the voice of this lowly, this forsaken ant, that hath hid itself in its hole, and whose desire is to depart from your midst, and vanish from your sight, by reason of that which the hands of men have wrought. God, verily, hath been witness between Me and His servants…. Woe is Me, woe is Me!… All that I have seen from the day on which I first drank the pure milk from the breast of My mother until this moment hath been effaced from My memory, in consequence of that which the hands of the people have committed. (As cited in God Passes By p118).

Those assembled shared a surprise at the reverent references to Mirza Yahya, such as the ‘Temple of Divine Unity’. However, our disdain for Yahya and feeling that he should not be lauded in any way is based on historical hindsight. This Tablet was revealed when his machinations were embryonic. He was, after all, at the suggestion of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb’s appointed leader, he was Baha’u’llah’s much younger half-brother and in his inexperience he was vulnerable to older and more knowledgeable pernicious influences. Thus, it is difficult for us now to gauge Baha’u’llah’s feelings towards Yahya at this time. It was explained to us that Baha’u’llah did not want to cause further disarray by seeming to challenge Yahya’s leadership and as the Bábis still believed there were occasions for justifiable violence Baha’u’llah did not want to be considered their leader, knowing from His experience in the Síyáh-Chál that He was ‘Him whom God will make manifest’ and His revelation would aver non-violence. As Shoghi Effendi explained, pure hearted recipients of Tablets from Bahá’u’lláh, like Mirza Kamalu’d-Din-i-Naraqi would have; ‘proclaimed forthwith his discovery of God’s hidden Secret.’ Baha’u’llah, we understand, did not want that to happen at this juncture.
Not long after revealing this Tablet Baha’u’llah withdrew from Baghdad to live a life of solitude in the mountains of Kurdistan. He made His motive for this decision clear when in the Kitab-i-Iqan He wrote; ‘The one object of Our retirement was to avoid becoming a subject of discord among the faithful, a source of disturbance unto Our companions, the means of injury to any soul, or the cause of sorrow to any heart.’ We discussed the idea that Baha’u’llah could not ‘hate’ anybody. His love was all-embracing, especially for His family, most of whom turned against Him causing Him to say to Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-‘Azíz; So great have been Our sufferings that even the eyes of Our enemies have wept over Us.’ (Gleanings CXIV) Baha’u’llah’s avowed enemies did not distress Him. On more than one occasion He confirmed that; My captivity can bring on Me no shame. Nay, by My life, it conferreth on Me glory. That which can make Me ashamed is the conduct of such of My followers as profess to love Me, yet in fact follow the Evil One. They, indeed, are of the lost. (Gleanings LX) and again My sorrows are for those who have involved themselves in their corrupt passions, and claim to be associated with the Faith of God, the Gracious, the All-Praised. (Gleanings XLVI). Thus, in studying this Tablet it is important to know the extreme difficulties of Baha’u’llah’s situation in respect of the chaos within the Bábi community fuelled by Yahya’s ineptitude and his ambitious advisors. Later, in the Hidden Words Baha’u’llah was to state; O OPPRESSORS ON EARTH! Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed with My seal. When Baha’u’llah pens admonitions and rebukes it would seem He is addressing an injustice rather than expressing an emotional response to situations and events.
This Tablet was the first penned after Baha’u’llah’s vision in the Síyáh-Chál and in it we see the depth and breadth of Baha’u’llah’s love and the many layers of His intense suffering, and we come to an awareness of the complexity of His situation. The Tablet covers too many areas to list them all here and other students of the conference with different experience and knowledge base may allude to them in their thoughts. Therefore, my personal reaction to participating in this learning was that I felt I was brought yet closer to Baha’u’llah having learned so much that I had not previously known.

Indigenous People and the Baha’i Faith.

Published in the Australian Baha’i Bulletin Spring 2014

Should an indigenous person in their own environment be asked, ‘where is your holy book?’ they could justifiably reply, ‘you are standing on it’.

Peoples whose ancestors became literate have a history of recorded spiritual guidance called Scripture. Indigenous peoples on the other hand have no tradition of literature and thus, scripture. However, indigenous peoples have moral codes and cultural traditions that include great teachers that parallel the literate social groupings which rely on written scriptural guidance to sustain social cohesion. This begs the question, how did non literate societies gain and sustain their understanding of social cohesion? One possible answer is intimated by Baha’u’llah when He says: ‘Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world…It is endowed with a power whose reality men of learning fail to grasp’. (“Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas” p142.)

Societies that live entirely in nature by hunting and gathering are sustained by their surroundings and come to understand nature has laws which human groups must mirror to survive. They understand that they must be honest with each other, cooperate and that life is holistic. Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux from North America is reported to have said, “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the centre of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this centre is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” (The Sacred Pipe : Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (1953), as told to Joseph Epes Brown)

Joseph Shepherd, after a year with the Ntumu tribesmen of the Cameroon rain forest, became aware that they concluded council meetings with proverbs rather than clear cut conclusions. He found it very difficult to comprehend but it was explained to him that proverbs had layers of meaning and, thus, satisfied everyone at one level or another.* Indigenous societies it would seem are able to sustain cohesive and moral groups without written scripture, possibly made easier by the smallness of the social units. Once groups become so large that many, if not most, in the group are strangers to each other, moral cohesion needs written guidance. Examples are the holy books of the world’s major religions. Those who travelled as missionaries and adventurers found it difficult to comprehend the bookless yet spiritual and orderly societies they met and the end result was often a cruel and violent exploitation of a vulnerable people.

Doris Pilkington Garimara (1937-2014), a noted Aboriginal writer, author of ‘Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence’ said of her younger days, ‘I actually despised my own traditional culture because we were taught to. We were told that our culture was evil and those that practised it were devil worshippers. I was taught to deny my own people- be ashamed of them even. The blacker your skin was, the worse individual you were.’ (Cited in her obituary. Sydney Morning Herald. April 14th 2014). The reason people held such ideas is explained in the Baha’i Writings. Most phenomenon is subject to a cycle, a wisdom easily gleaned and understood from nature. Religions are no exception and each major religion has its spring, summer, autumn and winter.

Unfortunately for indigenous people most encounter the followers of literate faiths when it is in its twilight, a time noteworthy for certain characteristics in its followers, believing they are God’s only or last chosen people making them superior to non-believers. Perhaps, most importantly, their ‘book’ sustains them and they have no meaningful reference points for people with a different book and definitely not for people without a book. Baha’is now understand that ‘evil’ does not have a life force, being what replaces ‘good’ when it is removed, in the same way that darkness replaces light. The devil is a construct that may have served a time and place in man’s spiritually based social development. ‘Good’ is rooted in human action, wherever and whenever it occurs and like the laws of nature never changes and cannot change.

Another name for ‘good’ action is ‘virtues’. Baha’u’llah has said, ‘Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. These rank, according to the estimate of God, among the highest and most laudable of all acts. All other acts are, and will ever remain, secondary and subordinate unto them.’ (“Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh”, sec.134, p.290) Thus, neither a person nor a culture can be considered ‘evil’ if they practice virtues. The virtues cited above would particularly ring true to indigenous peoples due to the suffering they have undergone over centuries at the hands of non-indigenous colonists. Baha’u’llah makes it clear in this quote that all other acts are secondary which would include the dogma, rituals and trappings of the ‘old’ religions.

With Baha’u’llah’s guidance it is now possible to forge a new interface between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples. At the heart of that understanding is the notion that every person on the planet is equally valued and always has been and always will be. In the Baha’i world every person has a voice and a right to be heard and the listeners must have no hidden agenda and nothing to gain personally from their position, being elected because of their spiritual and intellectual qualities and record of service. Another understanding within Baha’i writings is ‘evolution’ in social development. Some social aspects are an idea, not an evolutionary process. For example, notions of equality are ideas not evolution. Equality of gender, race and education for example have to be fought for, a battle between those who think equality is a good idea and those who disagree. On the other hand technological progress and globalisation are evolutionary processes, not an idea. No matter what, technological advances and globalisation cannot be stopped. Thus, people have no other option than to make sense of it all and make it work for the benefit of everyone. Migration around the world, part of globalisation, is an evolutionary process not a policy. Baha’is inject the idea of equality into most aspects of life and particularly apply it to the process of globalisation. Thus, Baha’is are in a good position to promote understanding between peoples, explain change to those floundering with it, and bring everyone into the debate as equals.

(* ‘Leaf of Honey and the Proverbs of the Rain Forest’ Joseph Shepherd)

Attack on Higher Education

Talu` Golkar, a Baha’i from Tehran, has been sentenced to five years in prison, on charges of having links to the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. The sentence was communicated to her lawyer on January 14, 2014. Talu ` Golkar was one of ten Baha’is associated with the Baha’i Open University who appeared at the Public Prosecutor’s office in Tehran on March 12, 2013. After presenting their defence, they were released on bail. At present more than 10 Baha is associated with the university are serving prison terms in Raja’i Shahr prison and in the women’s wing of Evin prison for their educational activities.

European universities began to form in the latter half of 11th century, Bologna believed to be the first, just beating Oxford whose Merton College began with some involvement from Jews. Piecemeal development occurred across Europe until the 15th century which saw a flurry of university establishment. However, most universities up until the middle of the 19th century had three criteria for admitting students. They had to be male, wealthy and belong to the established or accepted religion. Elizabeth I founded Trinity College Dublin but for its first four hundred years, despite being sited in a catholic country, it was only open to wealthy, protestant males. Ironically when Cardinal Newman, a convert to Catholicism, attempted to establish higher education for Catholics in Ireland in the mid-19th Century he faced vehement opposition from the Vatican and the Catholic Bishops of Ireland. Despite their involvement in Oxford at the beginning in the 12th century, it was the middle of the 19th century, before any Jews entered Oxford as students and many of the very few Jewish students and ultimately academics kept their faith to themselves to avoid obvious discrimination. Jews were banished entirely from the United Kingdom from the 13th century until the 17th century and from the end of the 15th century virtually permanently from Spain and thus, it is likely to assume that across the Christian world and probably the Muslim world as well, Jews found little welcome in institutes of higher learning. Scotland’s first three universities were originally catholic but when the Calvinists broke away from Catholicism they did not put a strangle hold on the universities. Shortly after, Edinburgh was founded and is considered by many to be a first ‘civic’ university not tied to the church, Edinburgh becoming known as the ‘Athens of the North.’ When the United States, at first as a colony of the United Kingdom and later as an independent republic, began to establish universities their first efforts, known today as the Ivy League, were tied to non-conformist Christianity and equally elitist in their protestant male student bodies
The assumption in the west now is that higher education allows a very broad base of studies accessible to those qualified from any gender, race, religion or social background. As ideal as this is it is a very recent phenomena and in many respected democracies of the world it is still not secure. As democratic leaders focus more and more on wealth creation and competition with neighbouring rival wealth creators increasingly the press, radio and television lose their neutrality due to the need to generate income to survive and thereby become, by definition, supporters of the politics of unbridled materialism. Because the focus on wealth creation is utilitarian, funding for higher education can become more scrutinised and it can be seen as expedient to link funding mainly to studies that can be measured in terms of wealth creation. Thus, a freedom of breadth of study in higher education could be eroded for political ends even in a democratic nation.
England’s first academically free university was formed in 1826 in London by James Mill and Henry Broughton. In the United States Brown University was the first to include engineering and in 1852 William Wentworth founded Sydney University with the aim of it teaching a wide range of subjects and six years later Melbourne emulated the vision. The Morrill Land Grant Colleges Act of 1862 and again in 1890 which encouraged the spread of universities across all American states, focused very much on agriculture and engineering, so vital to a rapidly burgeoning economy. Cornell University, founded in 1865 began with an open curriculum embracing many new areas of study but in the United Kingdom, seen by many as the birthplace of industrialisation, the university authorities in England, which was the Church of England, vehemently resisted change and where industrialisation was happening no universities were permitted. It was not until the turn of the century cities across the United Kingdom were allowed universities. Thus, the campaign to open the range of subjects in universities and the diversity of students encouraged to study them was hard fought for over a century and the most virulent opposition came from the established church.
The behaviour of the ayatollahs and mullahs in Iran in respect of higher education is exactly the same as that exercised by the bishops of Christendom for centuries. Namely a narrow view of what is right taken from their own interpretation of scripture, rigid control over both the curriculum and admittance, discrimination and intransigence. Copernicus, Galileo and Charles Darwin all faced the wrath of the established church and relentless campaigns waged against them to discredit their findings. It would be worrying to think that reform in Iran might take the centuries it underwent in Europe but times have changed. Reformers in the past could not get their message to the wider world to elicit support due to the lack of communication opportunities. Secondly there were no effective and successful models in the world for the reformers to laud and prove their case. Today modern communication is a thorn in the side of despots as their atrocious actions can no longer remain hidden and now reformers have many examples of successful practice across the world. Through this it may be possible in the near future to mobilise the necessary support to influence some change.

At the heart of the provision of all education with universal access delivered without prejudice or bias at whatever level is justice. This needs to be appreciated by those privileged to have access to and receive such education and in gratitude raise a voice for their brethren worldwide deprived of this opportunity. Right now, and for several decades this form of injustice has been inflicted on the Baha’is of Iran and, as evidenced by the imprisonment of Talu and her innocent colleagues, looks set to get worse unless pressure can be put on the Iranian government to be conscious of the injustice of their stance and their actions and accompany this with a call for its immediate cessation.