The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: <>
Subject: Re: Bahais, Adminstration and Juan Cole
Date: Tuesday, May 11, 1999 1:50 AM

As-Salamu `alaykum, ya sadiqi:
I think that sociologically speaking you have to remember that the
Baha'i faith is an offshoot of Shi`ite Islam, and in Shi`ism, especially
the more esoteric/batini branches, it is not in fact all right just to
believe in the Prophet and the Qur'an and the Sunnah.  You have to
recognize the Imam of the Age, who is the Vicar (vali) of the Prophet,
and you must proffer the Imam your unstinting obedience.  I think most
Isma`ilis, for instance, would find it very difficult to remain in the
religion and yet be in conflict with the Imam (whether they are Agha
Khanis or Bohras).  The founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, was from an
Isma`ili background, but converted to 12er Shi`ism, and I think it was
because he wasn't on good terms with the Agha Khan of that time.
Likewise, even in Twelver Shi`ism today, it is against the law in Iran
to question the doctrine of the Guardianshp of the Jurisprudent or to
challenge the authority of `Ali Khamenei.
Baha'is, likewise, put much less stress on actually following
*Baha'u'llah's* teachings than on immersing their egos in the will of
the Vicar of the Prophet, which for them is the Universal House of
Justice and to a lesser extent other Baha'i institutions.  This Shi`ite
emphasis on self-surrender to a living charismatic leader or leaders
appeals especially to Americans with a cult-like turn of mind, and for
them obedience is *what the Baha'i faith is*.  All that stuff about
service to humanity and universal love, etc., means very little to many
of them compared with the submission of the individual will to the
Institutions (note that the latter are always capitalized) by these
So it is not like Sunni Islam where if you don't like the local mosque
preacher you tell him to take a flying leap, and pray at home.
In my own case, I was very confused when I saw the Universal House of
Justice acting unjustly over and over again, and blundering into areas
like academic scholarship or hermeneutics, which are not their sphere of
authority.  But in the end, I could not deny my belief in Baha'u'llah
(things you do when you are 19 tend to stay with you), and I finally
understood that it is the lack of a living Guardian that explains why
the UHJ occasionally charges flatfooted into something that is none of
their business.  I also came to believe that this was a problem of the
immaturity of the Baha'i institutions, and the way in which the more
cultist-like Baha'is have come to dominate some of them, and would be
solved through dialogue, consultation and give and take over time.  And
so I made a private declaration of belief in Baha'u'llah last March.
But in order to get to that point, I did have to make at least some
peace with the legitimacy of the Imam of the Age.
cheers   Juan
Juan Cole, History, U of Michigan,
Buy *Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha'i Faith* at:
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