The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


This letter is essential to understanding the censorship and coercion of conscience that has become increasingly pervasive in the bahai faith since 1970. It was apparently written by the uhj to Anthony A. Lee, editor of Kalimat Press, a small but distinguished bahai publishing house, which initially had an agreement with Columbia University Press to distribute Prof. Cole's book to bahai readers: 

Compare Prof. Juan Cole's response to excerpts of this letter at 

Three reviews of Cole's book, from different perspectives,  may be found at Modernity and the Millennium

For the use of similarly coercive tactics by the bahai administration, see Hoda Mahmoudi's coercive email of 1997.

See also Censorship of Salmani's Memoirs by Baha'i Authorities in 1982, published by Kalimat

For those unaware, it should be noted, beforehand, that it has been alleged by a number of bahais and ex-bahais, that the uhj has apparently forced some couples to divorce in order to prove their loyalty and obedience and some family members to cease associating with siblings, children, and parents, such seems to be the background to the threats at the end regarding Mr. Lee's marriage. Cf. Steven Scholl

August 1999

 Transmitted by email:  XXXXXXXXXXX


 Dear Baha'i Friend,

      The Universal House of Justice has reviewed the letter of 8 May 1999
to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States,
signed by you on behalf of VVVVV Press and copied for the House of
Justice, on the subject of the manner in which VVVVV has promoted to Baha'is
Juan Cole's book, Modernity and the Millennium.  We have been asked to write
as follows.

      A good deal of the work of VVVV Press, which you have ably directed
during the twenty or so years of the firm's existence, has constituted a
significant contribution to the advancement of the Cause we all love and
seek to serve.  It is clear, too, that, beyond the administration of VVVVV's
activities, this valued contribution owes a great deal to your own
creativity and professional talents.  These circumstances move the House of
the Justice to share with you candidly the deep concern it feels regarding your
relationship with the Baha'i Faith.

      As you are aware, such concern prompted earlier efforts, including
those made by Counsellor Stephen Birkland and Dr. Pierre-Yves Mocquais, a
member of the Auxiliary Board, in their interview with you and your wife,
Dr. GGGGGGGG, in May of 1996, to draw to your attention the serious dangers
of the course you have long been following.  At that time, you expressed to
Mr. Birkland your deep regret over actions on your part that were seen by
the House of Justice to be clearly in conflict with the beliefs you profess
as a follower of Baha'u'llah, as well as your firm assurance that your
actions would not again give cause for such intervention.

      It is impossible to reconcile professions of this kind with the
arguments made by you in the 8 May letter.  The inappropriateness of the
promotional statements and of the approach taken in the letter serves as an
 illustration of the attitude and behavior on your part that have long been
a source of difficulty.  It is these personal elements that the House of
Justice has asked us to address.

      Clearly, no one would dispute the right of Dr. Cole to write and
publish whatever work a publisher is prepared to handle.  Nor has anyone
questioned the right of a Baha'i who is interested in such a book to
purchase it.  To suggest that the House of Justice is saying otherwise would
be to seriously misconstrue
the nature of its concern.  The book itself is incidental to the problem of

 Mr. XXXXXXX                                             3
 August 1999

 attitude on your part that the National Assembly was asked to raise with
you. As a participant in various Internet discussion groups over the past
five years, and particularly in the last year or two, you cannot but
be aware from these exchanges that Dr. Cole has embarked on a deliberate
assault against the Baha'i Cause, in which he has not hesitated to attack
its institutions, to misrepresent its fundamental teachings, and to abuse
the trust of Baha'is who had been led to believe that they were engaged with
him in a detached and scholarly search for the truth.  These same Internet
exchanges exposed you, like other participants, to a flood of calumny and
invective against a great many of your fellow believers, on the part of Dr.
Cole, that is scarcely credible in rational discourse.

      Had such a book as Modernity and the Millennium been written by a
disinterested non-Baha'i scholar, its misconception of the nature of
Baha'u'llah's Mission and its other shortcomings would have represented no
more than understandable weaknesses of an honest attempt to explore a
religious phenomenon as yet little understood in the West.  Indeed, in this
context, such an attempt to make the Baha'i Faith comprehensible to the
Western academic mind, however inadequate it might appear to knowledgeable
Baha'i scholars, would surely have earned its author a measure of genuine
Baha'i appreciation for the writing and research skills deployed in devising

      As you -- like other participants in certain Internet discussion
groups -- are well aware, however, the book's author is not a disinterested
scholar. Rather, he is a deeply embittered individual who, as his book was
in preparation, had just denounced in the most intemperate language an apparent
twenty-year allegiance to Baha'u'llah, in the wake of a failed attempt on
his part to impose his private ideological agenda on the Baha'i
community's study of Baha'u'llah's Message.  Modernity and the Millennium
represents an effort to provide the current stage of this long-running
scheme with the underpinnings of scholarly rationalization.

      What is this rationalization?  Although distorted by its evasion of
Baha'i Texts that contradict its main assertions, and blurred by reliance on
speculations peculiar to its author's purpose, the thesis appears to run
somewhat as follows:  Baha'u'llah's work and Writings represent essentially
one of several efforts by Middle East thinkers to work out a "response" to
the challenges posed by European modernity in the form of
rationalism, revolution, nationalism, economic upheaval, feminism and other
contemporary developments.

Although Oriental in origin, this particular "response", in contrast to
various others, was unusually "progressive", "liberal", "idealistic", even
"radical". Because it "grew up" in a congenial modernist era, its Author was
able gradually to adjust and revise the ideas with which He had been
"grappling", through benefiting (in a manner generally insinuated rather
than explicitly stated) from successive interactions with other thinkers and
movements.  By 1862, apparently in order to deal with the problem of
religious exclusivity in the Muslim world, and in response to some form of 
"private mystical experience", He "decided to make a prophetic claim of his own".

      As mentioned above, if such a view had represented the interpretation
of Baha'u'llah's Mission arrived at by a non-Baha'i as the result of his
objective study of the sources, no Baha'i institution could have an
objection.  Its relevance to the concern of the House of Justice about your
behavior arises rather from your long-standing and widely recognized
involvement with a few present and former members of the Faith who seek to
foist this  caricature of

 Mr. XXXXXX                                             3
 August 1999

 the Cause on the Baha'i community, and your perceived identification with
their purpose.

      The Covenant, the distinguishing feature of Baha'u'llah's Revelation,
has been made the central target of this effort (a maneuver that Dr. Cole's
book is at particular pains to shore up).  Although forced to acknowledge
the appointments of `Abdul-Baha and the Guardian as Interpreters of
Baha'u'llah's Message, every effort has been made to call such authoritative
interpretation into question wherever it presents a problem for the notions
being promoted. Similarly, although ostensibly acknowledging that the
Universal House of Justice is Head of the Baha'i Faith today, this
opposition has tried by every means possible to undermine the broad
authority conferred in Baha'u'llah's own words and emphasized in the
Master's Will and Testament.  (In Dr. Cole's book, this agenda makes its 
appearance in the conclusion: namely, that the Faith founded by Baha'u'llah 
has failed in its mission because, like "the Khomeinist state in Iran", it has
 been somehow captured by "fundamentalists", by which term Dr. Cole has 
repeatedly characterized the members of the Universal House of Justice.)

      Why would a Baha'i or a Baha'i publisher who is genuinely devoted to
advancing Baha'i scholarship and to encouraging confirmation of believers in
Baha'u'llah's Covenant seek to persuade his Baha'i readers that
a device intended as the mainspring of an attack on their Faith is "an
indispensable book for any serious student of Baha'i history"?  How could an
effort to represent to the Baha'i community such a work as "a brilliant,
scholarly analysis of the life and teachings of Baha'u'llah" serve the Cause
of God? What moral benefit do you imagine a Baha'i reader could conceivably
derive from taking seriously the theories of an individual whose apparently
ungovernable malice has made his activities the focal point of contention
and disharmony among any believers unwise enough to be influenced by him?

      Indeed, what relevance do Dr. Cole's academic credentials, so strongly
emphasized in your letter of 8 May, have to the moral and spiritual issue
raised in the letter from the National Spiritual Assembly? Clearly, no
reader, Baha'i or otherwise, would be interested in reading a supposedly
scholarly study whose author lacked the relevant scholarly qualifications.
Nor, presumably, would any publisher, Baha'i or otherwise, promote a
work from such an unqualified source.  It is both meaningless and
disingenuous to argue that these qualifications, however valid in
themselves, assure that a publication meets the moral and spiritual
standards that are made explicitly clear in the Writings of the Faith whose
interests VVVVV's activities are ostensibly designed to serve.

      The assumption of Baha'i institutions is that the purpose motivating a
group of believers to create a publishing house that enjoys privileged
access to the Baha'i community is in order to promote the advancement of the
Baha'i Cause.  The House of Justice has always assumed -- as is no doubt the
case with Baha'is generally -- that this was the desire that motivated you and
your associates to create VVVV Press.  If some different conception of
purpose underlies the VVVVV enterprise, then it is essential that you advise
the United States National Spiritual Assembly of the facts of the situation,
frankly, unequivocally, and without delay.

 Mr. XXXXXX                                             3
 August 1999

      The House of Justice calls on you to meditate profoundly on the
questions raised in the foregoing, as these issues bear directly on the
relationship that binds you to your Lord.  Does not the Master in His Will
and  Testament itself, specifically warn:  "According to the direct and
sacred command of God we are forbidden to utter slander, are commanded to
show forth peace and amity, are exhorted to rectitude of conduct,
straight-forwardness and harmony with all the kindreds and peoples of the
world"?  Does He not, in that same foundation document of the Cause, counsel
all of us:  "O ye beloved of the Lord!  Strive with all your heart to shield
the Cause of God from the onslaught of the insincere, for souls such as
these cause the straight to become crooked and all benevolent efforts to
produce contrary results"?

      The impressive services that you have rendered the Faith, with GGGG's
loving support, represent for you a spiritual treasure.  God forbid that so
precious a capital should be squandered.  While there is yet time, the
House of Justice earnestly appeals to you to turn away from the course on
which you have long been set, a course that has been marked by steady
spiritual deterioration and that will lead to grievous loss in both this
world and the next.  As you will recall, because the matter was of direct
concern to her, GGGG asked urgently to be included in your discussion with
Mr. Birkland and Dr. Mocquais. Because these issues continue to bear so
immediately on the well-being of your family, you need to recognize your
moral obligation to take her fully into your confidence also on the contents
of this present letter.

      In the past, you have expressed bewilderment that your actions should
have required the intervention of senior Baha'i institutions.  The House of
Justice expects that you have now understood clearly what is at stake and
that you will resolve, unambiguously and at once, to abandon the course you
have, alas, been pursuing.

      The House of Justice will pray ardently at the Holy Threshold that you
will be granted the courage and will to meet the spiritual challenge you

                                     With loving Baha'i greetings,

                                     Department of the Secretariat