Criticism of the Bahá'í Faith
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The Bahá'í Faith has had many critics, who have from time to time found fault with many of its teachings and precepts, discovered apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in its history, and even raised controversial questions about specific policies and actions of past and existing administrative bodies.
In recent times, some of the more common of these criticisms have been compiled in books and blogs. Many Bahá'í authors have also given their own responses to these criticisms.
- 1 Criticism of Bahá'í teachings
- 2 Criticism based on historical events
- 3 Criticism of leadership
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
Criticism of Bahá'í teachings
Unity of religion
A core teaching of the Bahá'í Faith is the unity of all the world's religions; They believe that the teachings of all the major religions are components of a single plan which is directed by the same God, yet that religion is cyclical in nature and becomes corrupted with time. The religions that the Bahá'í Faith claims to be congruent appear to have contradictory teachings. For instance, their attitude toward the Abrahamic prophets (Moses, Jesus, Muhammad) and the way in which followers partake in worship vary significantly among the major religions, and social laws and attitudes vary between traditions.
The principle of universalism itself has many opponents, such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who claims that it not only demeans local and national traditions but also encourages widespread religious supremacy. Sacks disputes the principle of universalism on the grounds that there may not be just one truth about the essentials of the human condition. Bahá'í authors have tried to refute the criticism by claiming to promote unity in diversity.
Anthropologist Fiona Bowie and author on comparative religion Karen Armstrong claim that religious ideas cannot be unified because they evolve out of primitive beliefs in animism and idolatry, ideas at odds with monotheism. Armstrong says that idol worship predates monotheism, raising the question of whether the Bahá'í ideal of unity of religion can extend to ancient beliefs and practices.
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, Professor Browne argued that whilst 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. Fanatical Shīʿites 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.
Whilst 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...
Quoting `Abdu’l-Bahā, Iranian critics claim he saw women as inferior to men. According to these critics, `Abdu’l-Bahā said: "Although women and men share the same capacities and abilities, there is definitely no doubt that men are superior and stronger. Even in animals like pigeons, sparrows, peacocks, and other [birds] this advantage is visible," `Abdu’l-Bahā made the comments in light of being questioned as to why God didn't send any female prophets.
Azadeh Haiati claims that whilst "official statements from the Baha'i administration seemingly promote gender equality and the ideal of justice and equity in the world at large, Baha'i women themselves are treated with injustice". Juan Cole notes that in 1988 the all-male House of Justice "permanently suppressed" an academic paper that was arguing for women to be able to serve in the UHJ. He says they insisted only men could serve.
Some critics have claimed that Bahá'í leaders have tried to portray themselves as women's rights advocates in order to make their religion more appealing to modern society.
"By expressing sympathy for women - especially the women in Iran - Shoghi tries to portray Baha'ism as a creed with equal rights for the genders. When the Baha'i teachings are more closely analysed, it is apparent that there is no equality in rights, rather, there is a great inclination towards men."
According to Shoghi Effendi, the harmony between science and religion is an important Bahá'í principle. However, there is tension over this principle due to several instances of Bahá'í scriptures disagreeing with current scientific knowledge. 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.
Critics claim Bahá'u'lláh said that every star has planets, and that every planet has its own creatures. They claim that science has already "proven the falsity of this claim". In response, a Baha'i apologist by the name of Gary L. Mathews argued that Bahá'u'lláh's teachings explicitly stated that minerals are endowed with life. He further quotes a teaching of Bahá'u'lláh and a teaching of `Abdu'l-Bahá saying this. `Abdu'l-Bahá says this is even said in the Quran, where it supposedly says "All things are living". Critics however point out that this is a misquote of the Quran, which actually says, We made from water everything living . The critics further argue that in addition to this misquotation of the Quran, Mathews leaves out a part of the original quote which they argue has `Abdu'l-Bahá claim that materialists agree that every star has planets and that every planet has life. The critics summarise this by saying, "As if distorting the Quran wasn't enough `Abdu'l-Bahá puts the burden of his lies upon the materialists".
Claims of Divinity
According to critics, Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be God. William Miller says that the wording of the Aqdas made it difficult to distinguish between the words of the author (Bahá'u'lláh) 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". Samuel Wilson writes that the fundamental assertion of the Bahá'í Faith is that Bahá'u'lláh is the incarnation of "God the Father". He further quotes `Abdu'l-Bahá saying, "Thanks to Baha Ullah, [sic] we arrived safely in Liverpool." This supposed claim of divinity has been criticised by Imran Shaykh who points to this as an example of a discrepancy between faiths.
Criticism based on historical events
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2018)
Attitude towards Black Africans
The Bahá'í Faith espouses the need to abolish racial prejudices. Critics have claimed that comments made by `Abdu'l-Bahá are contrary to this principle, and 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". In addition he is further quoted as saying: "The [black Africans] are like animals in human form. The [black Americans] are civilized, intelligent, and have culture. [...] what difference is there between these two types of blacks other than nurture, with one in utter ignorance and the other completely civilized?"
Responding to this, a Bahá'í blogger (Sen McGlinn) claims to directly address the criticism by arguing that the racist references are examples of `Abdu'l-Bahá describing the opinions of others and that with the context of surrounding text `Abdu'l-Bahá does not appear racist 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.
Family of Bahá'u'lláh
Bahá'í Faith and slavery
Bahá'u'lláh very specifically abolished the slave trade among his followers in 1874, but the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh were raised in households that included slaves and, according to Abu'l Qasim, they owned slaves in adulthood too.
The Bahá'í Faith identifies itself as the fulfillment of the Bábí Faith. The separation of the two began in 1863 and was accompanied by conflict and murders.
The Bahá'í scriptures intend for a line of Guardians appointed by their predecessor - the Kitáb-i-Aqdas states that all Bahá'ís must leave a will, however Shoghi Effendi (the first guardian) broke this law and left no provision for the future administration and guidance of the faith. Due to the first Guardian leaving no appointment, the line ended.
Although the Faith emphasizes its own unity, the Bahá'í Faith has had several challenges to leadership, resulting in the formation of breakaway factions. Claimants challenging the widely accepted successions of leadership are shunned by the majority group as Covenant-Breakers. By the time of Shoghi Effendis passing, almost every member of Bahaullahs family had been expelled from the faith.
Criticism of leadership
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.
There has been criticism of the Bahá'í Faith that has centered on what critics see as exaggerated statements concerning numbers of believers.
The table below highlights some differences between Bahá'í-cited data and Census data.
|Nation||Census data||Bahá'í-cited data|
|India||4,572||1,897,651; over 2,000,000 |
Bahá'ís wishing to publish books about the Bahá'í Faith must first submit their work to their respective National Spiritual Assembly for approval through a review process. This process has had critics, some of whom have characterized this requirement as a form of censorship.
Juan Cole refers to this process as "mandatory prepublication censorship" of everything Bahá'ís publish about their religion. He argues that Bahá'í leaders employ control mechanisms to "shape the speech and behavior of Bahá'ís". Furthermore, he says that when a group of editors proposed their idea of discontinuing censorship and having term limits for N.S.A. members, the N.S.A.'s response was to accuse the editors of engaging in "negative campaigning". The editors were then publicly denounced and interrogated by assembly members, who privately expressed concerns that the publication of such a document might have prevented the current members from being reelected. According to Cole, the censorship instituted by the Bahá'í Faith has led to "intellectually acute Bahá'í literature, to a lack of indepedent magazines and to the withdrawal of a number of Bahá'í writers." He states that writers who publicly disagree with the policies of the Bahá'í institutions risk having their voting rights removed, being declared non-members and, the most serious sanction of all, being declared a "covenant breaker".
Rejection of academic liberals
Juan Cole was an American academic who resigned from membership in the Bahá'í Faith in 1996 after conflict with members of the Bahá'í administration, who perceived him as extreme and threatened him with a Bahá'í version of excommunication. Cole went on to critically attack the Bahá'í Faith in several books and articles written from 1998-2002, describing a prominent Bahá'í as an "inquisitor" and "bigot", and describing Bahá'í institutions as socially isolating, dictatorial, and controlling, with financial irregularities and sexual deviance. Soon after his resignation, Cole created an email list and website called H-Bahai, which became a repository of both primary source material and critical analysis on the religion. For example, he wrote in 2002:
... the Baha'i faith in the United States has become more fundamentalist in the past four decades. [There are] trends toward an increasing emphasis on doctrinal and behavioral conformity, resulting in greater exclusivism and sectarianism in what on the surface appears to be a liberal and universalistic tradition... Baha'i fundamentalists see the civil state and academic scholarship on religion as their negative counterparts... fundamentalist Baha'is have become powerful in some key sectors of the Baha'i administration and employ their authority to exclude Baha'i liberals. In some recent instances, Baha'i liberals have simply been dropped from the membership rolls with no formal procedure.
- Article demonstrating unity of religion belief.
- Sacks, Jonathan (2002). The Dignity of Difference. Continuum. ISBN 9780826468505.
- Smith 2008, p. 139.
- Bowie, Fiona (2000). The anthropology of religion. The Blackwell companion to the study of religion. p. 4.
- Armstrong, Karen (1994). A history of God. Random House Digital, Inc.
- 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
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- Smith 2000, p. 274-275.
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- A.V. 2017.
- Shaykh 2010.
- Abdo 1995.
- Basiti, Moradi & Akhoondali 2014, pp. 324-325.
- Maḥmūd Zaraqani. Badā’i` al-āthār. 1. p. 153.
- Azadeh Haiati. "The Fallacy of Gender Equality in The Bahai Faith".
- Cole 1998.
- Basiti, Moradi & Akhoondali 2014, p. 464.
- Effendi 1944, pp. 281–282.
- 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).
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- Basiti, Moradi & Akhoondali 2014, p. 178.
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- Quran 21:30
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