The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


Juan Cole on Baha'i Takfir

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And A Response to Takfir

Juan Cole on Baha'i Takfir

"Refuse to set up once again a sect similar to that of the Shi'ihs." --Baha'u'llah
(Cited in 2002 by "Giangiacomo" <>)

From: "Juan R. Cole" <jrcole@u...>
Date: Wed Apr 9, 2003 1:47 pm
Subject: a Baha'i Vatican II is needed

yeah, yeah, yeah. Ultramontane Catholic priests used to make the same
arguments, before Vatican II, that Jesus Christ does not permit any change
to what he set forth in his writings.

I am not arguing for a change in Baha'i doctrine or law in the sense of
Baha'u'llah's vision of those things. I am arguing for a change in
contemporary Baha'i procedures and fundamentalist mindset, which have
nothing to do with Baha'u'llah. The reactionaries in any religion always
substitute their hidebound misinterpretation of the religion for the real
thing, and then claim it is the real thing, and then claim that no one can
change it because it is the real thing. The whole bit is a shell game for

As for the argument that only the Universal House of Justice can change
current procedure, and only by cozying up to them
and convincing them nicely could you hope to influence them,
the same thing could have been said of the popes. It is a silly
argument, because the popes had a dictatorial attitude and most of
them couldn't be influenced by niceness or criticism. They ruthlessly
silenced or excommunicated anyone who spoke for a Catholic modernism.
What the example of those brave Catholic thinkers shows is that even
a highly authoritarian institution can be changed, and it can be
changed by *criticism* and by *new thinking*. The tyrants on the
current UHJ won't be there forever, and their ability to clone
themselves forever is never secure. And, if a majority of Baha'is
begins to know that they are by their actions contradicting
explicit Baha'i law, they will eventually be shamed into backing off
their indecency.

For example: `Abdul-Baha was implored by the hardline Baha'is of his
day (what Shoghi Effendi later called the dangerous "extreme orthodox")
to declare Mirza Muhammad `Ali and his group infidels, i.e. "not Baha'is."

`Abdul-Baha replied that he could not do this because in the Baha'i
faith, unlike in Islam, there was to be no expulsion of believers
for immorality or wrong beliefs. If someone says he or she is a Baha'i,
the Baha'is are stuck with them. The most you could do to someone
disapproved by Baha'i authorities is to not hang out with them. But
you can't say "so and so isn't really a Baha'i because he believes X."
This is the Baha'i Supreme Exemplar speaking, the appointed Interpreter
of the Baha'i scriptures. `Abdul-Bahaexplicitly said that *He Himself*
could not declare the Mirza Muhammad `Ali people "not Baha'is" because
it would be contrary to Baha'i principle (see the Kitab-i Aqdas).

The present so-called Universal House of Justice, in contrast, declared our
dear Alison "not a Baha'i." They issued a fatwa of takfir against her, [BOLD ADDED]
declaring her an infidel, i.e., a non-believer. They broke Baha'i law in
so doing. When they were challenged on this by Ron House, they wrote back
that individual Baha'is couldn't declare people non-Baha'is, but that the
UHJ had that prerogative. They have a prerogative that *`Abdul-Baha* did
not? They think they are better than He is? That they have powers *He*
did not have? That they can contradict his explicit instructions in an ad
hoc and arbitrary manner, *at will*? And then it is pretended that they
are upholding the *real* Baha'i faith, which no one can change! If you
believe that, well, P.T. Barnum said a sucker was born every minute.

This is what Vatican II says:

"The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to
religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune
from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human
power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his
conscience in religious matters, nor impeded from acting in accordance with
it, in private or in public, alone or in association with others. The
Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on
the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of
God and by reason itself."

This is what one commentator wrote about the situation before Vatican II:

"Both Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos (1832)2 and Pius IX in Quanta Cura (1864)3
condemned the demand for “liberty of conscience” as “insanity”
(deliramentum). The latter pontiff also condemned, in the Syllabus
accompanying Quanta Cura, the proposition that, “In the present day it is
no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only
religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.” His
successor Leo XIII insisted that “lying opinions . . . should be diligently
repressed by public authority, lest they insidiously work the ruin of the
State.” "

This is the sort of situation the Baha'is are in now, the situation of Pius
IX and Leo XIII. "Lying opinions" according to the Haifa authorities
should not be tolerated. Hushmand Fatheazam, a UHJ member, told me that in
future when Baha'is control the government, they would just jail [BOLD ADDED]
. What is the difference between that point of view and the
ideas of the 19th century popes, or indeed, of present-day Iranian
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Jurisprudent?

In contrast, the Baha'i scriptures stand for freedom of conscience and
freedom of expression, *even within the Baha'i Faith*. This freedom has
been quashed by the Saddam Husseins in Haifa, and the reign of tyranny
everywhere is now coming to an end.
cheers Juan


Following 2001 excerpts from posts by Juan Cole from

This is among the most flagrant exercises in blaming the victims in Baha'i
history. What Khan is referring to, without being brave enough to come out
and say it, is that he and his colleagues summarily declared Alison
Marshall of the Dunedin, NZ community, to be "not a member of the Baha'i
community." They declared her an infidel, which in Islam is called a decree
of takfir. Such decrees
were forbidden in the Baha'i faith by `Abdul-Baha, but of course Khan
deeply dislikes `Abdul-Baha and everything he stood for, so this doesn't
matter to him. Alison Marshall was never contacted by any Baha'i
institution with any concerns about her email messages. She was
investigated behind the scenes but never contacted directly. She was never
warned, never cautioned. Her messages were to small, private email lists
with no-forwarding policies. So even the "evidence" of her objectionable
views could only have been obtained by Khan through spying, as with the
Stasi spies for the communist party in East Germany. And, her objectionable
views appear only to be that she thought women should be able to serve on
the House of Justice and that intellectuals have been badly treated. She
woke up one morning to find that Khan and his colleagues had decided she
didn't belong to her own religion, with never a by your leave. It is like
something out of Kafka. And, of course, the New Zealand Baha'is who knew
the particulars and had any backbone were outraged. This is the
"disillusion" Khan is speaking of. It is the disillusion of devoted Baha'is
who thought they were joining Baha'u'llah's religion of universal peace,
love and tolerance. They have suddenly found themselves in Khan's religion,
where Khan straps on his scimitar, binds up his pugri turban, and issues
the fatwa of being a despicable infidel against inoffensive New Zealand
business consultants. And, of course, if these New Zealand Baha'is object
to people's souls being toyed with, that means in Khan's view that they
aren't "spiritual" enough!

This is further confirmation that while Khan thought he was coming down to
condemn Alison Marshall and put out any fires her summary takfir had [BOLD ADDED]
caused, his audience hadn't the slightest idea for the most part what he
was talking about. I find it extremely amusing that Khan says he doesn't
want to "backbite" Alison by actually mentioning her name. But he backbit
her relentlessly without naming her! And what is worse anyway, backbiting
someone or kicking them out of their spiritual community for no good reason?

Then in 1997 they changed the rules again. Although `Abdul-Baha
forbade the practice of takfir or declaring a Baha'i to be not a [BOLD ADDED]
Baha'i, the UHJ did this to Michael McKenny. They just summarily
removed him from the Canadian rolls. Apparently they did not like
the things he was saying on email, in particular his argument that
women should be able to serve on the House of Justice. They did the
same thing, even more arbitrarily, to Alison Marshall in 2000.


4/19/01 2:27 PM 1 out of 14

In Islam there is a custom called "takfir" where some Muslims get together and call other [BOLD ADDED]
Muslims infidels, unbelievers, "not Muslims." Actually, one Shi`ite ayatollah issued such a
decree against Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i, declaring him not a Muslim.

When you are declared 'not Muslim' it puts you outside the law. So, anyone can steal from you,
rape you, murder you, without fear of punishment by the authorities. One of the ways the Baha'is
from a Muslim background in Iran are persecuted is for the clergy to declare them "not Muslim."

Pithy, Dusty and others have declared Alison Marshall and Karen Bacquet "not Baha'i." That is,
they have issued a Baha'i takfir against them. [BOLD ADDED]

There is only one problem, folks. In `Abdul-Baha's Tablet of a Thousand Verses He explicitly
abrogates the custom of takfir. He says it does not exist in the Baha'i faith. Baha'is are not to
declare other persons, who claim to be Baha'is, "not Baha'is."

What about, you may ask, villainous covenant breakers like Mirza Muhammad `Ali? Surely they
could be tossed out of the Faith?

Nope. This letter is specifically about covenant breakers. Even they can't have a takfir issued [BOLD ADDED]
against them.

So, the neo-Muslim-fundamentalist Baha'is on this list who have put on large green turbans,
cultivated bushy beards dyed with henna, strapped on a saber about their waists, and called for
their amanuenses to issue the dire writ of takfir against Karen and Alison may be very proud of [BOLD ADDED]
themselves. But they have broken Baha'i law and displeased `Abdul-Baha, who is weeping at
their antics as he looks down from the Abha kingdom. He thought we'd be able to get past these
feudal customs, of takfirs and heresy trials. It was the point of the coming of a *new* religion.

People like the old.

cheers Juan


4/19/01 7:52 PM 5 out of 14

Yes, removal of administrative rights does not stop someone from being a Baha'i. But that isn't
what was done to Michael McKenny and Alison Marshall by the UHJ. They were declared unfit
to be "members of the
Baha'i community." That sounds to me like a takfir [BOLD ADDED]
pure and simple. I believe that the House of Justice
has contravened the Law of God as laid down by `Abdul-Baha in behaving in this way. Perhaps
it was in ignorance of the Law, but in that case they should reverse their decision.

As for the rest, Pithy and Dusty have stridently asserted that Karen Bacquet is not a Baha'i,
despite her own assertion that she is. That is also a takfir. [BOLD ADDED]

Thanks to Pat for pointing out that it is a severe offense in Islam to issue a groundless takfir.

Here's something I've written on the Tablet, with a provisional translation of the key sentence
and the citation to the original text. There is no official translation.

"In the religion of God," `Abdul-Baha asserted, "there is no practice of declaring believers to be
morally corrupt (tasfiq) or of declaring them not believers (takfir), nor is debasing or showing [BOLD ADDED]
contempt for others permitted."* In Islam, the ulama declared suspect Muslims to have departed
from the faith for reasons of moral lapses or incorrect doctrine. In medieval legal theory,
Muslims found to be actually infidels were open to having their lives and property taken by
others without fear of legal reprisal. This practice was distasteful to Baha'is for many reasons.
For one, they were often victims of it at the hands of the Muslim clergy. For another, it offended
against the ideals of unity, tolerance and freedom of conscience for which many Baha'is felt their
religion stood."

*Abdul-Baha, Majmu`ih-'i Makatib, INBA Private Printing Volume 59 (Tehran: National Baha'i
Archives, 1978; digitally reprinted, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2000), pp. 340, published on the
World Wide Web at


4/20/01 1:08 AM 8 out of 14

I have to keep repeating this. The administrative rights of Alison Marshall and Michael
McKenny were
not removed. They did not experience tard-i idari.
Also, they were not declared covenant breakers, which
is tard-i ruhani. These are the only two sanctions we
know from the time of `Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.

Instead, Michael and Alison were declared to be *not* members of the Baha'i community and
their names were removed from the rolls of the Canadian and New Zealand Baha'i communities
respectively. This was never done by any of the holy figures. These two believers were declared
to be not Baha'is, which is takfir. Takfir or declaring someone an infidel was prohibited by [BOLD ADDED]
`Abdul-Baha. Ipso facto, the House of Justice contravened `Abdul-Baha's explicit instructions
when they acted in this manner.

And, your point raises the perfectly reasonable question of why, if Michael and Alison had in
fact broken Baha'i law, they were not formally charged and tried for doing so, with presentation
of evidence, and why their administrative rights were not simply removed.
Alison not only was not charged with wrongdoing, she had no idea she was even on trial until
she suddenly learned she had been turned into a non-Baha'i. This is like something from a Kafka
novel. You are on trial but you don't know what the charges are. You go to bed a Baha'i and
wake up a non-Baha'i because people you don't know have decided what religion you are.

I know it is very hard for people to hear criticism of the House of Justice. It is especially hard for
those brought up Baha'is, who imbibed reverence for this institution in their childhoods. I
understand that and do not wish to hurt their feelings for no reason.

But it is very hard for *me* to see `Abdul-Baha trashed, to see the clear text of his explicit
command blithely ignored. I feel he has been disrespected, major-league. We used to sing about
him, "Look at Me, follow Me, be as I am." Don't people sing that any more? Don't they want to
be like our Exemplar?

In this case the House of Justice has contravened a clear principle of `Abdul-Baha. There are no
easy choices. Either you can sweep aside `Abdul-Baha's concerns and disobey his clear
directive, or you can stand up for the arbitrary actions of the Martins and Khans. You may love
and want to obey `Abdul-Baha and love and want to obey the House of Justice. But here you
cannot do both. If you acknowledge `Abdul-Baha as having a higher station than the House of
Justice, then you must recognize that He is right and they are wrong.

The institution is new, is growing in maturity, and will make some mistakes along the way.
These expulsions are such mistakes. Recognizing and fixing them will make the Faith stronger
and better. Leaving them to fester will undermine it.

cheers Juan