Criticism of the Bahá'í Faith
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The Bahá'í Faith is a worldwide religion that has been established since 1863 and has millions of adherents. It had roots in Shia Islam but established its own laws and teachings that made a clear break from Islam. From its start there have been controversies and challenges over its teachings and accusations against its leaders. Criticism has primarily come from Islamic and Christian leaders who see its teachings as heretical, and particularly the government of Iran, who claims its Bahá'í population to be a political threat.
Criticism falls into a few categories: fault with its teachings, the character of its founders, and ongoing conflicts with its administration.
Unity of religion
Christians have been known to dismiss the Bahá'í Faith as a syncretic combination of faiths or point to discrepancies between faiths to contradict the idea of unity of religion. The Christian doctrine of atonement is commonly understood to exclude all other religions as a path to God. Regarding the Bahá'í teachings of peace and unity, E.G. Browne argued that while they are admirable, they are, in his opinion, inferior to the simplicity and beauty of the teachings of Christ. He further argued that in the case of "Baha'ism, with its rather vague doctrines as to the nature and destiny of the soul of man, it is a little difficult to see whence the driving force to enforce the ethical maxims can be derived."
Christian apologist Francis J. Beckwith wrote of the Bahá'í teachings:
The fact that the various alleged manifestations of God represented God in contradictory ways implies either that manifestations of God can contradict one another or that God’s own nature is contradictory. If manifestations are allowed to contradict one another, then there is no way to separate false manifestations from true ones or to discover if any of them really speak for the true and living God…. If, on the other hand, God’s own nature is said to be contradictory, that is, that God is both one God and many gods, that God is both able and not able to have a son, personal and impersonal, etc., then the Baha’i concept of God is reduced to meaninglessness.
Bahá'í authors have attempted to address this criticism by claiming that the contradictory teachings are either social laws that change from age to age, or human error introduced to the more ancient faiths over time.
Strict Muslim theology regards Muhammad as the last messenger that God has sent and Islam as the final religion for all humankind. In this view, it is impossible for either any prophet after Muhammad or any new religion to come into existence, and thus they reject the Bahá'í Faith. Some Muslims claim that the idea of oneness of humanity is not a new principle; they claim that Islam espouses such a principle. Some Shiʿites have been known to picture the faith as a "heresy" or "a political movement". Many Islamic scholars reject all prophets after Muhammad, and regard Bahá'ís as apostates if they had been Muslims before conversion. Critics also argue that, despite the Bahá'í Faith's claim of unity, there are numerous theological differences between Islam and the Bahá'í Faith, with one critic, Imran Shaykh, arguing that the disparities are evidence to the Bahá'í Faith not being a natural progression of Islam, as is claimed.
While Bahá'í teachings assert that men and women are spiritually equal, author Lil Abdo says that the Bahá'í understanding of sexual equality is different from that of secular feminists. Abdo presented the following list of criticisms of the Bahá'í Faith from a feminist perspective at an annual gathering for Bahá'í studies in 1995:
the ineligibility of women to serve on the Universal House of Justice--this is of particular interest to supporters of women priests within the Christian tradition; the intestacy laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas; the dowry laws with particular reference to the virginity refund clause; the exemption of menstruating women from obligatory prayers and the implication of menstrual taboo; the exemption of women from pilgrimage; the use of androcentric language and male pronouns in texts; the emphasis on traditional morality and family values...
There is some tension over the Bahá'í principle that religion and science should be in harmony. There are statements from the religion's founders of a scientific nature that could be interpreted as contrary to standard science. Prominent among them are references by `Abdu'l-Bahá that humans evolved over a long period, but were never animals. Many Bahá'í authors have commented[excessive citations] that the intention of the comments were in line with a modern understanding of evolution and that the apparent conflict is an unfortunate semantic mistake. One Bahá'í commentator acknowledged that the comments by `Abdu'l-Bahá are not in line with current scientific understanding, but that `Abdu'l-Bahá should not be regarded as infallible in scientific matters.
Claims of Divinity
Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be a Manifestation of God, which is the Bahá'í term for people like Jesus and Muhammad. William Miller says that the wording of Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas made it difficult to distinguish between the words of the author and the words of God. He further opines that "Bahá'u'lláh felt no such distinction was necessary" and that "Bahá'u'lláh claims to be not merely a human Messenger of God, but a Divine Manifestation". This claim of divinity has been criticised by Imran Shaykh who points to this as an example of a discrepancy between faiths.
Family of Bahá'u'lláh
Although polygamy is forbidden by Bahá'í law, Bahá'u'lláh himself had three concurrent wives. Under Islamic law a man may have up to four wives, and Bahá'u'lláh wrote in 1873 that a Bahá'í may have two wives. His son `Abdu'l-Bahá had one wife and said that having a second wife is conditional upon treating both wives with justice and equality, and was not possible in practice. Bahá'ís view the issue as a gradual transition towards monogamy.
Bahá'ís view the Báb (1819-1844) as a predecessor to Bahá'u'lláh, whose claim to revelation established the Bahá'í Faith separate from the Bábí Faith. Before the Báb's death he appointed a caretaker leader named Subh-i-Azal (born Mírzá Yahyá) who was also the half-brother of Bahá'u'lláh. Tensions between Subh-i-Azal and Bahá'u'lláh grew in Baghdad and escalated in Istanbul and Edirne. While in Edirne Subh-i-Azal attempted to murder Bahá'u'lláh with poison, which caused a hard split in 1866 between those Bábís loyal to either Bahá'u'lláh or Subh-i-Azal. When the Ottoman government wished to eliminate the Bábís, they further exiled Baha'u'llah and his followers to Akka, and Subh-i-Azal and his followers to Cyprus, but left several of each in the other's city in an attempt to further stoke conflict. In Akka, a few followers of Baha'u'llah murdered the Azalí Bábís in the city.
The Bahá'í scriptures intend for a line of Guardians to fill an executive role alongside the Universal House of Justice, each Guardian appointed by the preceding one from among the male descendants of Bahá'u'lláh. The first Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, had nobody eligible to appoint and died in 1957 without making an appointment. Six years later the first Universal House of Justice was elected and has functioned without a Guardian. In 1960 Mason Remey announced that he should be regarded as the next Guardian, creating a short-lived schism.
The Bahá'í Faith has had several challenges to leadership, notably at the transitions after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi. Claimants challenging the widely accepted successions of leadership are shunned as covenant-breakers.
Criticism of leadership
Attitude towards Africans
Iranian critics have claimed that comments made by `Abdu'l-Bahá show racial prejudice against Black Africans. For example, in Twelve Principles (2014) `Abdu'l-Bahá is quoted as saying that Africans are "cows" with "human faces".
Responding to this, a Bahá'í blogger (Sen McGlinn) addressed this line of criticism by arguing that the racist references are examples of `Abdu'l-Bahá describing the opinions of others, that with the context of surrounding text `Abdu'l-Bahá does not appear racially prejudiced, and that the writings in question are using Africans as an example of humans "in a state of nature" that can be improved through education.
Bahá'ís have been accused, particularly by successive Iranian governments, of being agents or spies of Russia, Britain, the Shah, the United States, and as agents of Zionism—each claim being linked to each regime's relevant enemy and justifying anti-Bahá'í actions. The last claim is partially rooted in the presence of the Bahá'í World Centre in northern Israel.
Juan Cole converted to the Bahá'í Faith in 1972, but later resigned in 1996 after conflicts with members of the administration who perceived him as extreme. Cole went on to critically attack the Bahá'í Faith in several books and articles written from 1998-2000, describing a prominent Bahá'í as "inquisitor" and "bigot", and describing Bahá'í institutions as socially isolating, dictatorial, and controlling, with financial irregularities and sexual deviance. Cole accused the Bahá'í Administration of exaggerating the numbers of believers. Central to Cole's complaints was a process of review that required Bahá'í authors to gain approval before publishing on the religion.
- See Bahá'í statistics for size and scope.
- Christian website referring to Bahá'í Faith as syncretic
- Ankerberg 1999.
- Article from Christian Research Institute
- Miller 1974, p. 163.
- Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring, 1989, p. 2. Quoted in
- Stockman 1997.
- Smith 2000, p. 274-275.
- Hatcher & Martin 2002, p. 221.
- Basiti, Moradi & Akhoondali 2014, p. 65.
- Hatcher & Martin 2002, pp. 221-224.
- A.V. 2017.
- Shaykh 2010.
- Abdo 1995.
- See, for example: Anjam Khursheed (1987). Science and Religion: Towards the Restoration of an Ancient Harmony; Craig Loehle (1990). On Human Origins: A Bahá’í Perspective. Journal of Baha’i Studies 2(4); Gary Matthews (1993). The Challenge of Baha’u’llah; Craig Loehle (1994). On the Shoulders of Giants; Eberhard von Kitzing (1997). Is the Bahá'í view of evolution compatible with modern science? Baha’i Studies Review 7; Keven Brown (2001). Evolution and Bahá'í Belief: 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Response to Nineteenth-Century Darwinism; Fariborz Alan Davoodi (2001). Human Evolution: Directed? Baha’i Library Online; Courosh Mehanian and Stephan Friberg (2003). Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution. Journal of Baha’i Studies 13:1-4; Steven Phelps (2008, April–June). Perspective: Crossing the divide between science and religion: a view on evolution. One Country 19(3).
- Salman Oskooi (2009). When Science and Religion Merge:A Modern Case Study.
- Elder, E.E., Miller, W.M. and Miller, W.M. eds., 1961. Al-Kitab Al-Aqdas Or the Most Holy Book (Vol. 38). Psychology Press. p. 20
- Smith 2000, pp. 273-274.
- Miller 1974, pp. 70-87.
- Smith 2008, pp. 63–64.
- Miller 1974, pp. 184-185.
- The Iranian (5 January 2009). "'Abdul Baha Says about Africans".;
- Basiti, Moradi & Akhoondali 2014, pp. 70-71.
- `Abdu’l-Bahā. Khaṭābāt. 3. Tehran. p. 48.
- McGlinn 2009.
- "Bibliography of Sen McGlinn".
- Momen, Moojan (2007). "Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha'i Community". Religion. 37 (3): 187–209. doi:10.1016/j.religion.2007.06.008.
- Cole 1998.
- Momen 2007.
- "H-Bahai Website". H-net.org.
- Cole, Juan R. I. (Winter–Summer 2002). "A Report on the H-Bahai Digital Library". Iranian Studies. 35 (1): 191–196. doi:10.1080/00210860208702016. JSTOR 4311442.
- A.V. (20 April 2017). "The Economist explains: The Bahai faith". The Economist. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- Abdo, Lil (1995). "Possible Criticisms of the Baha'i Faith from a Feminist Perspective".
- Abdu'l-Bahá (1982) [Composed 1912]. Promulgation of Universal Peace (2nd ed.). Bahai Publishing Trust. ISBN 978-0877431725.
- Abrahamian, E. (1993). Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-08503-9.
- Affolter, Friedrich W. (2005). "The Specter of Ideological Genocide: The Bahá'ís of Iran" (PDF). War Crimes, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. 1 (1): 59–89. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-11-27.
- Afnan, Abul-Qasim (1999), Black Pearls: Servants in the Household of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, Kalimat Press, ISBN 1-890688-03-7
- Ankerberg, John (1999). "A Critical Look at the Baha'i Faith".
- Barrett, David (2001). The New Believers. London, UK: Cassell & Co. ISBN 0-304-35592-5.
- Basiti; Moradi; Akhoondali (2014). Twelve Principles: A Comprehensive Investigation on the Baha'i Teachings (1st ed.). Tehran, Iran: Bahar Afshan Publications. ISBN 978-600-6640-15-0.
- Blomfield, Sara Louisa Ryan (2007). The Chosen Highway. George Ronald Publisher. ISBN 978-0853985099.
- Buck, Christopher (2003). "Islam and Minorities: The Case of the Bahá'ís" (PDF). Studies in Contemporary Islam. 5 (1): 83–106. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-08.
- Cole, Juan (1998). "The Baha'i Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997". The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 37 (2): 234–248. doi:10.2307/1387523. JSTOR 1387523.
- Cole, Juan (2002). "Fundamentalism in the Contemporary U.S. Baha'i Community". Review of Religious Research. 43 (3): 195–217. doi:10.2307/3512329. JSTOR 3512329.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, US: Bahá'í Publishing Trust (published 1979). ISBN 0-87743-020-9.
- Effendi, Shoghi (1974). Bahá'í Administration. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-166-3.
- Hatcher; Martin (2002). The Baha'i faith: The emerging global religion. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 978-1931847063.
- MacEoin, Denis (1986). "Bahā'ī fundamentalism and the academic study of the Bābī movement". Religion. 16 (1): 57–84. doi:10.1016/0048-721X(86)90006-0.
- MacEoin, Denis (2005). "Bahá'ísm: Some Uncertainties about its Role as a Globalizing Religion" (PDF). Bahá'í and Globalisation. Denmark: Aarhus University Press: 287–306.
- McGlinn, Sen (15 September 2009). "Abdu'l-Baha and the African tribe".
- Miller, William (1974). The Baha'i Faith: Its History and Teachings. Pasadena, California, USA: William Carey Library.
- Momen, Moojan (2007). "Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha'i Community". Religion. 37 (3): 187–209. doi:10.1016/j.religion.2007.06.008. Retrieved December 25, 2016.
- Munirih Khánum (1987). Munirih Khánum: Memoirs and Letters. Kalimat Press. ISBN 978-0933770515.
- Nabíl-i-A`zam (1932), Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Baha'i Revelation, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, ISBN 978-0877430100
- Schaefer, U.; Towfigh, N.; Gollmer, U. (2000). Making the Crooked Straight: A Contribution to Bahá'í Apologetics. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0-85398-443-3. OL 11609763M.
- Shaykh, Imran (July 2010). "Islam vs Bahai Faith - Belief in God".
- Smith, Peter (2000). A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
- Smith, Peter (2008). An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-86251-6.
- Stockman, Robert (1997). The Baha'i Faith and Syncretism.
- Wilson, Samuel (2018). Bahaism and Its Claims (1st ed.). Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-73266-137-4.